Posted by: Andrew | March 1, 2010

Blog Post 6: Are You Plane Crazy?

In reading the introductory chapter on Walt Disney in Of Mice and Magic – A History of American Animated Cartoon, I read about the famous “Steamboat Willie” Mickey Mouse animated short; but I also noted the mention of the lesser know “Plane Crazy” as another animated Mickey Mouse short.  So I decided to look into a little of the history surrounding Mickey Mouse’s “Plane Crazy”.

I did not realize that, while not as recognizable as “Steamboat Willie”, “Plane Crazy” was actually the first Mickey Mouse short made by Walt Disney.  Interestingly enough, “Plane Crazy” was shown as a silent animated short in May 1928 as a test screening.  The test screening was held in a failed attempt to get buyers for the short.  This was the first appearance of Mickey Mouse as well as his female counterpart – Minnie Mouse.  It was shown five month before the premiere of “Steamboat Willie”.  “Steamboat Willie” was a huge success, with the major difference being sound.  Steamboat Willie was the first Mickey Mouse animated short made with sound – and this made all the difference.  As a result of the success of “Steamboat Willie”, Walt Disney remade “Plane Crazy” with sound in 1929 with much more success.

About halfway through the short, the character of Minnie Mouse is introduced for the first time.  She enters to what would become her trademark theme in the early days of the Mickey Mouse animated shorts.  In a little bit of trivia (at least to me), Minnie utters a single line of dialogue here – here voice being done by Walt Disney himself, in a falsetto voice that he would eventually use for Mickey. There’s no doubt that Minnie is meant to be Mickey’s love interest from this very first short.

The sound for these animates shorts, including “Plane Crazy” consisted of basic sound effects, simulated farm animals noises, and music from various recognizable sources – all weaved together.  “Plane Crazy” takes place in a barn yard.  Near the beginning of the short, Mickey is flipping through a “How To Fly” book while the tune “Yankee Doodle Dandy” plays.  As Mickey turns to a page with Charles Lindbergh’s image “Hail to the Chief” starts to play.

Watching and analyzing this short revealed to me a lot of the great cartoon devices that are still in use today were used here, such as gravity-defying antics, musical footsteps, and rubbery characters, to name a few.  This is not only a testament to the longevity of these devices, but of the ingenuity of Walt Disney and his staff.  One such cartoon device was the tree Mickey crashes into.  It may be simplistic by today’s standards, but it is still very effective.  The crash itself shows that “Plane Crazy” was originally a silent cartoon, as the action was illustrated with words as much as sound effects.

I decided to judge for myself the difference between the silent version of “Plane Crazy” and the one with sound.  I believe the difference between the two is huge.  While the silent version was entertaining enough, the addition of sound gave a whole new dimension to the animated short.  I would like to know what you think about this – so click on the below link and view “Plane Crazy”.  First, view this six minute short with the sound muted; then replay it with the sound on and see if you notice a significant difference in the entertainment value.

I think that “Plane Crazy” should be considered as much a classic and milestone of animation as “Steamboat Willie”.  I can also see why this funny little mouse became a Walt Disney institution.  You may not fully associate the mouse in “Plane Crazy” with today’s Mickey Mouse.  This Mickey Mouse is not as fully defined as the 21st century Mickey Mouse, but I don’t think that Mickey’s first produced cartoon should be as refined.  Although it should be entertaining, and I believe it definitely is.

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Responses

  1. I definitely noticed a huge difference when I watched it muted, then with sound. The music makes a huge difference and definitely contributes to the cartoon as a whole by adding a lot of comedic timing and sound effects.

    Another interesting thing to note: Mickey’s kind of a jerk in this; as he’s basically forcing Minnie to give him a kiss, and then making the plane do dangerous loop-de-loops when she outright refuses… kinda different from the friendly, amicable Mickey that most people know nowadays…


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