29 April 2013

Mickey Mouse Mondays: Week 8: The Karnival Kid

The Karnival Kid sees Mickey slinging hot dogs at a ramshackle fairground. He incurs the ire of a carnival barker whose showmanship is questioned by Mickey's unconsciously competitive and much more honest shouts. Mickey ends up moving his food cart elsewhere and he meets Minnie. The couple then play meet cute over a grill of living, dancing weiners. The short is slim on plot, almost entirely devoid of humor and unpleasant to listen to. The caterwauling that constitutes the two musical numbers is intentional but that does not make them any easier to stomach.

For the most part, The Karnival Kid is just plain weird. The aforementioned spotlight showered upon living hot dogs aside, a strange recurring gag throughout the short involves characters removing parts of their bodies or pulling back their skin. The first one to do it is Mickey, ever the gentlemen, who in lieu of tipping his cap to Minnie pulls off his ears along with the upper part of his cranium in deference to her. We even get a glimpse of the hollow hole inside his head. Shortly thereafter Minnie peels back her leg to retrieve money to purchase a hot dog. The gag is surreal and surprisingly disconcerting but the short doubles down and we get at least four such instances of casual mutilation, each version less effective than the last.

One promising element of the short is its inclusion of a larger character population. Earlier shorts, especially the last few, have seen mostly clones of Mickey and Pete as the tertiary characters. Here, the fairgoers represent the most diverse menagerie we have seen thus far. Of course, cats and mice still take center stage but we get glimpses of a monkey musician (whose beats sound surprisingly contemporary), as well as pigs, cows, and other barnyard animals. These characters have yet to be more fully integrated into the plots but their background appearances make the film's world feel that much larger and is a sign that the productions going forward will be richer.

Viewing Verdict: Avoidable

15 April 2013

Mickey Mouse Mondays: Week 7: The Barnyard Battle

War is hell. It is chaotic, ugly, and dehumanizing. Rare is the film that manages to outweigh the death and destruction with the virtuous and noble. Certainly there are heroes but they too are forced to commit atrocities. The fifth Mickey Mouse short of 1929, The Barnyard Battle brings several iterations of war home, pitting a ragtag group of neighborhood mice against the hulking, vicious felines that stalk the land. The short depicts a sort of cinematic fever dream of war, incorporating imagery of the First World War - the trenches and inexhaustible barrage of bullets - as well as harkening back to the primitive reality of the Civil War, with a marching band playing "Dixie".

The film begins with enlistment and we see Mickey going through a demeaning physical, where he is stripped naked and his insides are throroughly examined by a sadistic superior. Deeming the recruit fit for death on the battlefield, the physician brands the cadet with a stamp on his buttocks. OK. Once the war begins, we get several wonderful shots of angled perspective, the two best being the introduction of the ugly, monstrous cats who stalk into the frame before swallowing it whole, and then the shot from the battlefield as bullets and cannonballs fly hither and thither, exploding directly in front of the camera, showering the screen with exploding boulders. The short once again showcases Disney's inherent grasp of music. At the onset, a bugler playing reveille strains so hard for the high notes that he loses weight. Later, holed up in a house with a submachine gun, Mickey runs out of ammo and must resort to using the keys of a nearby piano, which when fired plays a descending scale as the ivory flies out the window.

While The Barnyard Battle is short on plot, it crams a lot of scenes and gags into its seven minutes. The short feels much faster paced than those that preceded it. However, the best cinematic moment of the film is when the proceedings actually slow down. Pete has trapped Mickey in the house. Fearing for his life, Mickey finds salvation when he grabs a shotgun from a nearby wall. Unfortunately, the gun is nothing more than a toy, which Mickey learns only after pulling the trigger. Here the film slows down to a glacial pace as Pete towers over Mickey, fuming and preparing for revenge. Mickey meanwhile tries to play off the fact that he just tried to murder Pete. Whistling a tune, chuckling to himself and walking around in circles. The scene drags on well past the point of credulity - certainly Pete would have assaulted Mickey by this point - and turns into a sort mini-burlesque, with Mickey the hapless performer and Pete a captive audience.

Viewing Verdict: Worthwhile