Saturday, February 10, 2007

A Mickey Mystery



A fan/historian going under the internet handle The Spectre pointed out that the draft for Mickey's Birthday Party lists the Music Room as responsible for the majority of footage in the two Mickey Mouse dance sequences. Ken Muse is credited with a small amount of footage for the first scene and Riley Thomson a small amount of footage for the second. Footage attributed to the Music Room (which was really the director's room) means that the scene either had no animation or had existing animation lifted from another film.

When I did the mosaic for the film, I definitely didn't look closely enough at the draft and assumed that the credited animators were responsible for the whole thing.

In comments when I printed the mosaic, Galen Fott said that he had a drawing of Mickey that he was told was from Mickey's Surprise Party, which was a commercial that the Disney studio made for Nabisco for use at the 1939 World's Fair. Galen's drawing matches the costuming of Mickey in that cartoon, but there is no dance animation in it. Furthermore, the pose in Galen's drawing matches a frame in Mickey's Birthday Party pretty closely.

At this point, I do believe that the dance animation pre-existed Mickey's Birthday Party, but there are several unanswered questions. Was the animation originally done for Mickey's Surprise Party and cut from the film for some reason? If not, what film was the footage done for? Finally, who animated this great dance? It always looked like Ward Kimball to me before I got a look at the draft. Is it Kimball? Fred Moore? Of course, it's possible that Muse and Thomson animated the scenes for an earlier film and then added some new material to make it fit into the new film.

If there is anybody out there who can shed some light on this mystery, I'd love to hear from you.

21 comments:

Stephen Worth said...

When I worked at FllmFair back around 1982, I would pump the animators and directors for stories. Gus Jeckel owned the studio, and Ken Walker was an animator.

Ken told me that Gus had great Freddie Moore stories, since he was like a son to him and even lived in the trailer with him for a while when he was low on cash. But Gus wasn't particularly approachable (and that's putting it mildly!)

One day I was assigned to drive Gus to the airport and I saw my chance. I told him that I heard that he was friends with Freddie Moore and asked him to tell me about him. Gus said that Freddie could do enough footage in a day to satisfy his quota for the week if he put his mind to it. As an example, he pointed to the funny dance in Mickey's Surpise Party (I think that was the one... but back then I didn't know the films as well as I do now.)

He said that Freddie started off his day going on his rounds... wandering through the animation building visiting and kibitzing and acting out bits of the dance for everyone. Then he went out to a liquid lunch and came back and took a little nap. When he woke up around 4pm, he went to his desk and knocked out the dance animation in a white hot flurry. By the time he was ready to quit for the day late that night, he had animated an incredible scene that had everyone at the studio looking at with awe.

Gus said that Freddie would get in trouble sometimes for roaming around and joshing with the other guys. But he wasn't just idle. While he was visiting, he would act out bits of his scenes and work it all out in his head. When he sat down to draw it, he was able to just draw since the thinking had all been done. Gus also said that the assisting of that scene took much longer than it took Freddie to draw it.

Gus also told me some stories about Freddie's death that may not have been true, so take it for what it's worth. I'm positive that Gus believed what he was saying was true. He had great fondness for Moore and was angry at what happened to him at the studio.

He also told me two wonderful stories about Kimball, but I'll save that for another time.

See ya
Steve

the spectre said...

By the way, BCDB (and www.disneyshorts.org, but I think they get most of their information from BCDB) credit Ward Kimball with animation on this short, but it may be the result of "hearsay and conjecture".

Galen said...

Okay, in the interest of history I cracked open the frame on my drawing and scanned it. There's a huge jpeg here:

www.grundoon.com/images/mysterymickey.jpg

And here's the certificate I got from the now apparently defunct Gallery Lainzberg:

www.grundoon.com/images/gallerylainzberg.jpg

Hope this helps solve the mystery!

Pete Emslie said...

Seeing the certificate that Galen has now posted the link to, my guess is that Gallery Lainzberg just had it wrong to begin with. It would be a simple and understandable mistake to get those two cartoon titles confused, as they are so similar.

Judging from the style of drawing in "Mickey's Surprise Party", I would say there's no way the dance was originally created for that cartoon. 1939 was the same year as "The Pointer", where Mickey first had complete eyes, a transition from 1938's dot-eyes of "The Brave Little Tailor". But Mickey was still being drawn in that rather sweet and gentle style of the late 30's. It wasn't until 1941/1942 when he started to be treated a lot wackier in the Riley Thompson shorts, collectively nicknamed the "Drunk Mickeys".

That dance sequence is most definitely a "Drunk Mickey" if ever there was one, and I can't help but believe it had to be done specifically for 1942's "Mickey's Birthday Party".

Jenny said...

I'd bet big money that both Ward(first impression) and Fred(because, well, he'd definitely add some of that at that point in time, if not do it himself)had a huge hand in this. It's just too much like both of them--especially Ward. Hmmm....paging Wilbert! Can't someone over at FA check this out on a lunch hour? ; )

Galen said...

Differences in costume aside, it would seem there's no exact correspondence between any of the frames in "Mickey's Birthday Party" and my drawing. Go here:

www.grundoon.com/images/ninemickeys.gif

and check it out. I grabbed the nine frames from the dance sequence that seemed like possibilities, and overlaid my drawing on them...there's no perfect match. Is this unusual, in comparing rough animation drawings to the finished footage? Or did someone "work this over" more than usual? Which might be some sort of clue...

Galen said...

Obsessed? Me?

Sorry, but another thought occurs to me: My drawing is numbered 176. In scene 18 of the cartoon, it's about 23 seconds before Mickey hits a pose close to mine. I don't know much about how drawings were numbered back then...but if this animation was done for this scene, shouldn't my drawing have a higher number? I mean, 23x24=552...

Mark Mayerson said...

Galen, we'd have to see the exposure sheet to really know what's going on. If the drawing came from a previous film, then who knows how the long the original scene was or what section of it might have been lifted?

The number 176 doesn't work if the scene is on 2's (and I haven't checked lately) and doesn't work if you figure that Ken Muse's new footage occurs at the head of the scene (and there's no guarantee that's the case).

Jenny, if you know anybody who could check it out at Disney, it would certainly be much appreciated. The dope sheet might let us know which drawings were lifted and which were new. It might also have a notation on it for where the drawings came from, if indeed they were lifted from a previous film.

Thad K said...

I have to go with Pete Emslie on this one. Even though Disney was notorious for reusing/putting a facelift on old animation, there's no way this scene existed before "Mickey's Birthday Party".

Galen Fott said...

The dance is animated mostly on ones.

The draft credits most of the animation for scene 18 to "Music Room"...my drawing shows Mickey costumed differently, and its number makes no sense in the context of scene 18...knowledgeable people detect the influence of Kimball and Moore...I'd say there's a LOT of evidence that the animation pre-existed MBP. Maybe not by more than a year, which apparently could still put it in the "drunken Mickey" era?

Thad K said...

Until more evidence shows up, I guess we can't say anything for sure. The Disney drafts have been proven wrong on some occasions.

Pete Emslie said...

The fact that the rough sketch shows Mickey in his traditional red shorts and yellow shoes may not mean much. Chances are the scene may have been well along in the rough animation stage before a decision was made to put Mickey in some sportier duds. The body proportions: big head, hands and feet to smaller bean shaped body, really seems to indicate no earlier than 1941, stylistically. (Thanks, Thad, for your vote of support on this!)

I'd tend to agree with Jenny that the dance sequence in "Mickey's Birthday Party" looks like Ward Kimball's work, due to the sheer wackiness of the animation. In fact, if memory serves me correctly, I seem to recall that dance sequence was used back in the 1970's over the end credits of Ward's "The Mouse Factory" show, accompanied by a fast tempo version of "Minnie's Yoo-Hoo"! (Mark, do you remember that?) This would seem to suggest that Ward may well have done it and was proud enough of it to use it as his signature on the show. Just a thought...

David Nethery said...

I love a mystery.

Stylistically it does seem unlikely that Galen's drawing would have been from late '38 or from 1939 , when the National Biscuit Co. advertising film, "Mickey's Surprise Party" was made. However , there are two stills from "Mickey's Surprise Party" on page 90 of The Art of Walt Disney by Christopher Finch (1983 edition) which show Mickey looking fairly close to the model used in MBP and the still of Minnie on pg. 90 of the Finch book is definitely the scene that is re-used footage in MBP for Sc. 4.1 (credited to Music Room in Mark's mosiac). Being able to see "Mickey's Surprise Party" would certainly help solve the mystery. It is possible that a portion of dance animation existed from the earlier Mickey's Surprise Party which was re-drawn (re-roughed) in the later style from that existing animation for re-use in Mickey's Birthday Party. The other possiblity (as pointed out) is that the Draft is incorrect.

Another possibility is that the drawing #176 under discussion is a rough inbetween that wasn't used in the final scene. Someone kept it in his pile of "throw-outs" and it ended up decades later at Gallery Lainzberg. I have worked on dozens of scenes in my career that have drawings which were done for the scene, but later pulled or altered in some way for the final scene, but they were nice enough drawings that I've saved them for future reference.

Here's one example that will confuse future animation collectors/historians: at the end of Little Mermaid , Glen cleaned out his office and deposited a HUGE pile of unused Ariel drawings from "Part of Your World" in the recycle bin outside his office , which was promptly descended upon by a group of younger artists, whooping and hollering and punching one another in the nose to get at the best drawings in that golden throw-out pile . Looking at any of those drawings one would know that they are definitely Glen Keane's and they are definitely from the "Part of Your World" sequence , but in fact they never appear in the final film . They are variations, drawings that were improved upon or pulled out of the final scenes before they went to camera and clean-up.

David Nethery said...

Oops, I was too hasty. I just noticed the thread over on The Termite Terrace Trading Post has an entry from Hans Perk who apparently does have access to the National Biscuit Co. advertising film "Mickey's Surprise Party". Hans wrote :

"...at first thought it might be reuse from #2601 "Mickey's Surprise Party", the NaBisCo film, so I had a peek at that, and found that there is no such dancing in there."

So the dance animation is definitely not re-used from "Mickey's Surprise Party" . Now I'm going to lean towards the draft being incorrect in giving most of the scene credit to Music Room... unless maybe Riley Thompson actually animated the big dance scene and the secretary typing up the draft got it confused , since Riley Thomson was also the director (occupying the Music Room) and wrote it up as MR footage . Doesn't help matters that Riley Thomson also did a smaller connecting scene which is credited to his name, not MR.

the spectre said...

The trouble is that there are *two* scenes, *both* of which are clearly separated into the animator's name and the Music Room, with the Music Room getting most of the footage on both. If it is a mistake it seems odd that the same mistake would appear twice, in two very closely related scenes.

Hans Perk said...

David: Mickey's Surprise Party, the 1939 NaBisCo film, is an "easter egg" on Disney Treasures DVD "Mickey Mouse in Living Color," volume 1 disc 2.

Galen Fott said...

Okay, a theory: Mickey's dance for "Mickey's Birthday Party" was animated just a year earlier by Ward Kimball for "The Little Whirlwind". Evidence:

Mickey enters "Whirlwind" looking exactly as he does in my rough drawing: two button shorts, hat, cane. It's very odd how he loses the cane early on, almost like an afterthought. I had to step through it to see that he drops the cane, which quickly exits the bottom of the frame.

So in my theory, he kept the cane as he wafted towards the smell of Minnie's cake. And there, outside her window, to win her approval and a piece of cake, he performed a comic dance. This would fall between shots 11 and 12. Kimball animated shot 12. The dance got cut, which might well explain the jarring continuity problem between shots 11 and 12; 11 ends with the hat on Mickey's head, and 12 starts with him holding it.

The dialog doesn't exactly support this idea, I know; he offers to clean up Minnie's yard in shot 11, so the dance wouldn't logically follow. But my theory does get Mickey doing the "MBP" dance, in the costuming of my rough, in the appropriate "drunken Mickey" time period, and animated by Kimball. Seems like there might be SOME truth in this theory.

As a side note, I love how Walt Kelly IDs his own work on scene 37; the newspaper that blows into Mickey's face is The Bridgeport Post!

the spectre said...

That doesn't explain why he loses the cane so early, though. It does seem strange, though, that he only has it for a few seconds.

Galen Fott said...

Right, it's impossible to see with the naked eye where the cane goes. It's like the mandate to "get rid of the cane by the time Mickey gets to the window" came after scene 4 was animated, and Les Clark wanted to at least keep Mickey's jaunty entrance as it was.

I just noticed that Mickey seems to lose his tail after shot 4. We really at least ought to see the base of it in Kimball's shot 8.

And one more bit of evidence to support the theory: After Mickey has proposed to clean up Minnie's yard, in shot 12 she says "All right, but no more clowning!" Really, the only thing he's done that could be considered "clowning" was wiggling his eyebrows and ears in shot 7. But if he had done the MBP dance somewhere in this sequence of shots, the line would make more sense!

the spectre said...

It is a very interesting idea, but you'd think that there would be an "OUT OF PICTURE" on the draft...

les said...

My name is Leslie Bubik Jr. My mom has a sister Edith and Edith married John Gati. An animator, in New York who over time became a very good Animator, I was told. Edith married a Jew and My mom married a Catholic and that is how I have Jewish cousins and relatives, also in New York.

I wish I could find an animator for my software at www.doltware.com My uncle is gone not but he will a well known animator. And He would have done it for me for free. He died a number of years ago. His name was John Gati, in New York. He told me a very interesting story. There was a kid who wanted my Uncle to see his work and he has no idea why it was him this kid kept bugging. My Uncle told me that this kid was persistent and was waiting outside one of his classes as He was also teaching at Cornell University. So my Uncle had a little time and saw this kids stuff. My Uncle was astonished how good it really was. And He is sure that it was not because of him that the kid went forward but it was my Uncles advice that made this kid very happy. Who was the kid??? Spielberg!!! Perhaps Spielberg could help me make a convincing video to help sell my software. Perhaps you know someone who can help me. Interesting true story, I wonder if Spielberg would remember my uncle?

Les
Help@callrightnow.com
www.doltware.com
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