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.
to Saturday Matinee