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Saturday Matinee


Disney Cartoon #1:
"Steamboat Willie" (1928)
by Albert Gutierrez

Although "Steamboat Willie" was Mickey Mouse's third cartoon produced, it was the very first made with synchronized sound. Making its premiere at the B. S. Moss's Colony Theater (now the Broadway Theater), "Steamboat Willie" featured Mickey Mouse as the pilot of a cargo ship, under the captaincy of Peg-Leg Pete. The ship stops at Podunk Landing, where Mickey has to load various animals, including a cow who is too skinny for the harness. Showcasing the first of Mickey's many mischievous acts in the short, he stuffs her full of hay in order for the harness to stay intact.
Meanwhile, Minnie Mouse has missed the boat, and as she chases after it, Mickey paces back and forth, unsure how to retrieve her. He soon gets the idea to catch her with a hook, and she is soon aboard. Her sheet music falls on the ground, and a hungry goat starts chewing up "Turkey in the Straw". Mickey and Minnie get the idea to turn the goat into a phonograph, and while Minnie keeps the music playing, Mickey turns some kitchenware into drums. It doesn't stop there, as he eventually uses a cat, a cow, and a pig to help make music at their expense. Pete puts a stop to it and sends him to the galley to peel potatoes. When a parrot mocks him, Mickey throws a potato his way, and then laughs at himself as we iris out.

It's amazing to watch "Steamboat Willie" over 70 years after its original release. The seven-minute cartoon is a far cry from what Mickey Mouse and Disney Animation has since become, and yet there is still a charm to Mickey's early escapades. When I was on the WDW College Program in 2005, I would often go to Main Street's Exposition Hall and sit in the theatre, which would play "Steamboat Willie", "Flowers and Trees", and "The Band Concert" on an endless loop. I would sit and watch that loop two or three times before going about my business, and have grown to love "Steamboat Willie" more than any other black-and-white Mickey Mouse cartoon. There is simply a lot to love and a lot to appreciate in those seven minutes. Watching a rambunctious and uninhibited Mickey Mouse was more entertaining for me than some of his later shorts, when he became too nice to pull off any more mischief.

Don't get me wrong, Mickey is still charming in his color appearances. But the wild and crazy Mickey from 1928 to about 1932 shows a side of Mickey that we don't see often anymore. Sure, his shorts were fairly gag-and-music heavy, but they also show an amazing range for Mickey as well. Much of that can be credited to Ub Iwerks, who primarily animated Mickey's early years and helped to enhance the character that Walt created. He brought a spark to Mickey that made viewers fall in love with him. The persona that Ub created helped define Mickey, and although today's Mickey has tamed, at times he'll will surprise us and do something reckless and crazy. It's a nice reminder of his wild beginnings.

 

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