14 January 2013

Mickey Mouse Mondays: Week 2: The Gallopin' Gaucho

The Gallopin' Gaucho was the second short produced by Walt Disney and Ub Iwerks after Plane Crazy and the second film released after the blockbuster Steamboat Willie. The short was originally silent, music and sound effects were only added after Willie's phenomenal reception. This post-production work is readily apparent as the music throughout The Gallopin' Gaucho is more generic than Steamboat Willie's hit parade jamboree. Also, every time a character makes a sound, for example, when Mickey whistles or laughs, we not only get the sound of it but onscreen visual cues such as musical notes and the word "ha-ha". This lack of synchronicity hinders Gaucho, but it is still a fun production. Like Steamboat Willie, The Gallopin' Gaucho is a loose parody, this time of the Douglas Fairbanks film The Gaucho released the year before, in 1927. The short's plot sees Mickey ride up to an Argentinian cantina on an ostrich to smoke, have a beer and watch Minnie dance. However, the sultry chanteuse is soon abducted by the villainous Pete and Mickey sets off to save her.

The greatest bit of character animation in the film comes when Mickey leaves the cantina to chase Pete down. He calls for his ostrich who comes out of the bar drunk as a skunk. Iwerks's depiction of the tottering, giddy bird trying to keep it together is an absolute delight. Meanwhile, the film possesses quite a number of great gags. When Mickey arrives at the cantina, he climbs in through a high window, where he remains perched to watch the show. He takes off his shoe to roll a cigarillo with his foot and his shoe just hangs there in mid-air, an early version of the classic cartoon depiction of gravity defiance. Later, when Mickey arrives at Pete's three-storey hideout, he stretches his tail and uses it as a rope to pull himself upstairs. To do this he brandishes a wind-up key that he inserts into his belly to reel himself in. But the best bit comes at the end, as Mickey and a rescued Minnie ride off together on the bouncing ostrich. They try and kiss one another but the bird's movement thwarts their amorous attempts, so they both twist their tails into springs to cushion the bumping and allow them to make-out. Adorable.

Overall, the animation in The Gallopin' Gaucho is more flat than in Steamboat Willie. The short does not change perspective or try and create a three-dimensional atmosphere. Characters move back and forth across the screen, never forward or backward, and the simple backgrounds remain almost entirely static. But there is a charm to this threadbare style, a ruggedness that works with the characters and this setting. It would be more distracting if the short took place say, in a bustling cityscape, but in a dusty, depopulated South American locale, the design works. Had The Gallopin' Gaucho been released first, the saga of Mickey Mouse may be very different today. It is a thin, ramshackle entertainment, but entertaining nonetheless.

Viewing Verdict: Worthwhile

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