Friday, July 28, 2006

Mickey's Birthday Party Part 3

Like many others, I assumed that Mickey's wild dancing in this cartoon was done by Ward Kimball. Kimball used it under the end credits of The Mouse Factory, a TV series that he produced for Disney. However, we can see that the animation was done by Ken Muse and Riley Thomson.

Muse is better known for his work on the Tom and Jerry series, but he made an impression on somebody at Disney who talked to film critic Frank Nugent. In 1947, Nugent wrote an article called "That Million-Dollar Mouse" for the N.Y. Times Magazine. It's reprinted in the book Walt Disney Conversations edited by Kathy Merlock Jackson. In the article, Nugent writes, "Artists like Fred Moore, Marvin Woodward, Les Clark and Kenny Muse have helped [Mickey] to express himself." This was half a dozen years after Muse left, but his name still came up in connection with the Mouse.

Muse only gets three scenes here, but the third one is just plain stunning. Muse was a very strong draftsman and as wild as Mickey's action is, the drawing stays controlled. Mickey is appealing in every drawing.

Thanks to Galen Fott, you can click here and see a rough drawing of Mickey dancing by Ken Muse. Note the difference in costume. That led to some confusion as to whether the drawing came from Mickey's Surprise Party (a 1939 World's Fair industrial Disney did for Nabisco) or Mickey's Birthday Party. We've determined that the drawing doesn't appear in the industrial, so my guess is that Muse animated the scene before somebody decided to change Mickey's outfit. Some poor assistant animator got stuck making the change.

Director Riley Thomson follows Muse to wrap up Mickey's dance and in my opinion is even better. Thomson is more willing to push his timing accents, uses a stronger line of action and is generally more willing to distort Mickey for effect. I can imagine Thomson directing this cartoon and deciding the scene was too juicy to give away, so he kept it for himself.

This cartoon is heavily cast by character, and Bernie Wolf gets Donald. Wolf was an important animator in the '30's, working for Fleischer, Iwerks and Disney. He was in the First Motion Picture Unit during the war and later worked for Hanna Barbera and Film Roman, though I have no idea what he was doing in the period between the war and his TV years.

Scene 28 starts out with some solo dancing by Donald, and Wolf is willing to push his poses for the musical beats as much as Les Clark. What's really interesting is that for scenes 36.2 and 36.4, Clark and Wolf each take a character in the scene. 36.4, in particular, has a lot of character interaction. Donald rides on Clara's rear and she bounces him against the wall several times. I'm guessing that Clark had to go first, with Wolf working to Clark's drawings. When the interaction really gets wild in scenes 40 and 40.1, it was impractical for two animators to handle it, so Clark did it all.

This is the third Mickey cartoon directed by Thomson that's been discussed here. They're great cartoons and every one of them contains great animation. It's clear that Thomson valued that, being an animator himself, and he really gave his crew opportunities to shine.


David N said...

Re: Berny Wolf you wrote:

"He was in the First Motion Picture Unit during the war and later worked for Hanna Barbera and Film Roman, though I have no idea what he was doing in the period between the war and his TV years."

Wow, Mark, you read my mind. I was going to post a question about Berny Wolf in response to your previous posting on Mickey's Birthday Party ; i.e. "whatever happened to Berny Wolf after Disney's in the 40's ? Where did he go after Disney's , before he shows up at Hanna-Barbera in the 70's and 80's" ?

I was fortunate to meet Berny Wolf, around 1990 when I was working on animated commercials at Baer Animation, which at that time was up the street from H-B where I think Berny had been working lately. One day Dale Baer told me that Berny Wolf was coming in to pick up some freelance on a commercial we were starting on. If memory serves it was originally going to be Ray Patterson who was picking up that work (Ray's daughter Kim worked at Baer Animation as an Animation Checker), but then something came up and Ray didn't have time to do it, so Berny came on to do the job. (both Ray Patterson and Berny Wolf were by that time being credited at Producer/Director's at Hanna-Barbera, but I guess both of them didn't turn up their nose at getting a little freelance animation on the side now and then... and I think production work had sort of slowed down at H-B or wherever he was working at that time, maybe it was Film Roman ...) Anyway, I was so excited --animation geek fan-boy that I was and still am -- that a guy like Berny Wolf, who animated on Pinocchio, Fantasia, and Dumbo, etc., was going to be animating on one of the same commercials I was working on. Not long before that I had found a magazine article about the making of Pinocchio (in Film Comment or one of those types of mags) which had a Kodachrome photo of Berny Wolf at his animation desk in 1940, drawing Jiminy Cricket . I made sure I brought it in for Mr. Wolf to autograph for me. He only did a couple of scenes on that commercial until apparently work picked up again at H-B and I never saw him after that.

And dang-it ! wouldn't you know that sometime over the years since then I've lost that Pinocchio article with his autographed photo. :-(

Sogturtle -Tim Cohea said...


I went and added a post to the first installment of "Mickey's Birthday Party" in which I explained who "Shafer" really is... Hope you (and others) take the time to read it. ;o)

The marvelously talented Berny Wolf (who'd been a director at both Iwerks' and Fleischer's) after the War made a series of very short 'Nursery Rhyme Films", tiny animated shorts for TV... MUCH more interesting is the fact that IMMEDIATELY after leaving Disney he went straight to MGM where he worked uncredited for... Tex Avery!!! Iffffff anybody's ever wondered if there was a tie between Betty Boop and Tex's Red Hot girl, then it was definitely Berny.
Sogturtle-Tim Cohea

Stephen Worth said...

I received word today that Berny Wolf passed away a few days ago at the age of 95. I had the pleasure of interviewing him and he was a real gentleman. I'll be posting some information on his career on the ASIFA Archive site. If you want to add your comments, I'll be happy to link to your blog from that post.


steve waLLer said...

I'm stunned that the animation of Mickey dancing wasn't done by Ward K. You know, the crossed eyes, the tongue wagging, the pantomined trombone, etc. He must have liked it a lot to have used the scene on 'The Mouse Factory' end credits. BTW, I always assumed that it was Oliver Wallace playing the organ during the dance; now I'm not even sure of that!

Galen Fott said...

Does everyone know that this mystery got solved?

Amid Amidi contacted me in 2011, asking for a scan of my drawing for his then-upcoming biography of Ward Kimball. While researching, he had discovered that Kimball did indeed animate the dance, but for "The Reluctant Dragon", of all things. On page 104 of John Canemaker's "Nine Old Men", there are some storyboards showing how Mickey's dance was going to be used in the film.

Disney axed the sequence...and Amid's book, unfortunately, suffered a similar fate.

Mark Mayerson said...

Thank you, Galen. I was unaware of this.