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The premise of this short is pretty simple – Mickey gets cast off onto an island, and proceeds to interact with the animals he finds there. There is, of course, the conveniently placed crate that contains, what else, a piano! He plays the piano and fights off some seals, a tiger, a monkey and a lion before finally escaping on a turtle.
This is a very fun short, although there are not a ton of gags, and none nearly as good as
Traffic Troubles or some of the other funny Mickey shorts. There’s a tone of happiness that is set almost from the beginning, as Mickey is tossed by the waves on his little raft. Even though things are bleak, Mickey is smiling. It is this cheerful optimism that makes Mickey so appealing.
I’ll admit to a groan when I saw Mickey had rescued a piano and set it up on the beach, but rather than just go into silly dancing, the piano is a piece that furthers the story. The piano serves as a point of interaction for Mickey and the animals, not as a way to start a lavish musical number.
For example, when a small tiger cub wanders out of the jungle, he is constantly struggling with Mickey over who will play the piano. The cub first tries to play on the extreme ends of the keyboard, then pushes the foot pedals and finally hops on a tree that bends down to hit the keys. It’s a fun little sequence that allows the animators to have some fun with Mickey’s expressions of happiness quickly turning to frustration.
There’s also some seals that show up to do a little dance when Mickey first gets the piano working. I’m not entirely sure, but they look very similar to the seals from
Arctic Antics, the Silly Symphony. Could be reused animation again, but I’m not 100% on that.
Of course, the idea of a main character on a desert island is not new for Disney.
Alice Cans the Cannibals featured much the same idea, as well as some other Alice shorts. Neither is the jungle interaction new. Mickey did a similar turn in
The Castaway, however, is the best of this idea so far.
The final sequence featuring Mickey running from the monkey then the lion is the best part of the short. He manages to distract the monkey by spinning a rock on his finger, then tosses the rock aside only to hit the lion. The lion gives chase and Mickey gets him to swallow a log, before evading him by jumping on a rock in the river.
An alligator then menaces Mickey from behind, and just as the lion pounces towards our hero, he moves aside and allows the lion to fall into the alligator’s mouth, then ties the mouth shut with the lion’s tail. A great, funny sequence to end the short.
The other thing is that Walt didn't like this cartoon. From "The illusion of Life": "Wilfred Jackson never forgot the sidewalk post mortem after his first picture,
The Castaway. 'Walt had his hat way down and his coat up around his ears', he recalled. 'I walked by and I heard Roy saying, "Walt I don't know if we should release this, it doesn't look like a Disney picture." ' They released it of course, but Jackson learned his lesson; he never made another film that could be called un-Disney."
Ever since I first saw it, I've always enjoyed this cartoon and wondered what Roy and Walt didn't like about it. To me, it seemed like another enjoyable early 30's Mickey. Watching them in order, however, something does stand out about this one. Most of the cartoons we've been watching recently have a nice flow to them, but this one is quite broken up: We start with Mickey getting washed up on the island. Then a piano washes up (pretty contrived) so he can play it and interact with the animals. Then he gets chased and escape from some ferocious animals with no indication of how he gets off the island (did the turtle just carried him all the way back to the barnyard). Maybe the slightly disjointed feel is what disliked about this one?
There's also some pretty cheap reuse of animation which doesn't always blend in so well as in previous cartoons. Some of the seal animation is straight out of
Wild Waves and maybe
Arctic Antics too, as you mentioned. Early animation of the ape is recycled from
Jungle Rhythm which is inconsistent with his next scene where he's suddenly a massive gorilla. Also Mickey's appearance changes when he's fooling around with the rock trying to act all innocent with the lion, looking like he did in earlier shorts (not quite sure if this is reused from an older cartoon or not though).
I'm not entirely sure what is so "Un-Disney" about this short. I agree that it's disjointed, something that continues with the short I looked at today,
The Delivery Boy. It seems as though the Mickeys are very inconsistent now, since the transition from the all singing, all dancing Mickey to the story focused shorts.