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The ending was quite a shock to me when I first saw it - Mickey left crying on
We see Mickey plodding along in his horse-drawn cart, on his way to pick up Minnie
for the dance. Minnie, grabbing her voluminous bloomers from the clothesline, greets
him with a "Yoo-hoo," probably the first instance in which she or Mickey do not
communicate in squeaks.
No sooner does Mickey arrive than he's promptly shown up by Pete, who has come
in his brand-new car, honking loudly. Not to be outdone, Mickey grabs a duck and
squeezes it, providing some impromptu honking of his own. (Which provides us with
probably the first intelligible dialogue in a cartoon, from Minnie's parrot--"Stop
that blankety-blank noise!!") Minnie, fickle thing that she is, snubs Mickey and
prepares to ride off with Pete, whose car falls apart the moment he starts it. Figuring
any transportation is better than none (wonderful gal, isn't she?) she rides off
with Mickey and his nag.
At the dance, we quickly learn that Mickey is anything but the hero in this picture.
He's an awkward dancer (illustrated by feet that get larger and more ungainly with
every step), pulling poor Minnie's legs out of shape. Worth noting is that in these
early days, much of the wild distortion of early cartoons is still in effect--Minnie
simply ties her stretched-out leg in a knot and cuts off the excess. (Disney would
soon abandon this kind of Felix-like bodily distortion). In an effort to win her
back, Mickey resorts to deception--putting balloons in his pants, he becomes literally
"light on his feet", and wins back Minnie, who has gone off with superior dancer
Pete. The deception doesn't last long--the balloon pops and Minnie disgustedly walks
off, snubbing him once again (we know this because her nose grows exceedingly large).
The Mouse is left facing the audience, crying.
Several things are of interest here. As we've seen, Mickey has faults. He's jealous,
a bit of a cad, and not above trickery to get the girl. Worse, he ends up the loser.
This is perhaps the best example of the Ub Iwerks Mickey, who was a bit "edgier"
before he was cleaned up for public consumption. Knowing the corporate symbol Mickey
would eventually evolve into, this is a bit jarring to first-time viewers. Yet,
in a way, it is probably the best incarnation of Mickey, because he has a fully
fleshed-out personality, unheard of in a cartoon character of that era. It was obvious
that while the Mouse lost this time, he was destined for greater things.
Soon he arrives at Minnie's house where she is scene in a distance upstairs in
her room powdering herself. She looks out the window , greets Mickey with her famous
"Yoo Hoo!" (this is before that song was written), and pulls in a pair of bloomers
from her clothesline. Well before you know it, Pete comes driving by in his brand
new car. In fact, I could not believe for a moment that this was actually Pete.
He was so friendly and well-mannered. To top it all off, he was the perfect gentleman.
Minnie comes out with both Pete and Mickey greeting her on both sides of the gate.
She sees Pete's car and runs over to it, honking the horn. Pete starts up the car
by turning the crank (this was in the days before the instant turn-the-key ignition).
He hops in and waves goodbye to Mickey, but soon enough the car collapses. Mickey
stands by his carriage all forlorn and disgusted when to his amazement, Minnie comes
by. The two of them hop into the buggy and are on their way. Mickey, trying to steal
a kiss from Minnie, has a bit of trouble with the horse's tail always getting in
the way. He ties a 50 Lb weight to it, but it just comes off. He finally succeeds
by pulling the horse's neck.
At the barn dance, Mickey and Minnie are dancing to "Pop Goes the Weasel." Mickey
is sure enjoying it, but I could say less about Minnie who's feet are literally
being squashed and stretched. The song is over as the dancers clap. Minnie eyes
Mickey angrily and Mickey's face turns into a donkey's. Minnie cuts off part of
her leg and ties it up again.
The fiddler (obviously the sheriff since he has a badge on) blows his nose and
he, the tuba, and piano player begin playing another tune. Mickey asks Minnie to
dance with him, but poor Minnie has had enough and accepts Pete's offer to dance.
Minnie soon learns that Pete makes the perfect dancing partner.
Standing in the corner, Mickey stares longingly at the couple. He notices some
balloons above him and gets an idea. He puts one in his shorts and floats over to
Minnie and Pete. He asks Minnie to dance again, and she reluctantly accepts. But
to her surprise, Mickey is a better dancer (with a little help of a helium-filled
balloon). Pete finally figures out what's going on and pops the balloon in Mickey's
pants, causing him to land on Minnie. Pete comes by and takes the popped balloon
out of Mickey's pants. Minnie is pretty ticked off and resumes dancing with Pete.
Poor Mickey is sitting on the floor crying when the cartoon closes.
So the next time any of you go to a dance and have trouble dancing, use a different
At its core, The Barn Dance is simply an extension of
Rival Romeos, the Oswald cartoon. Mickey and Pete show up at Minnie’s house, looking to take her to the dance. After some waffling, Minnie ends up with Mickey, and they go to the barn dance. In the barn, Mickey has some trouble dancing, constantly stepping on Minnie’s feet, so Pete cuts in. Mickey tries to come back, popping a balloon in his pants to keep his feet up, but after Pete pops the balloon, Mickey ends the short alone.
The story is simple enough, but there are some great gags. When Mickey’s constantly stepping on Minnie’s feet, his feet grow larger and larger. The comedy of seeing the oblivious Mickey and the increasingly dismayed Minnie is classic.
The score is actually very repetitive in this short, where as it was varied in
Gallopin’ Gaucho and
Steamboat Willie. Most of that is due to the music being played at the barn for the dance, but it’s not that varied even in the first portion of the film. The voices of the characters, which have been poor in the previous shorts, are done better here. Mostly, the characters just have musical cues or light squeaks that are not as distracting as they were in the earlier shorts.
What really stands out to me from this short, though, is what it reveals about the men who made it. One key sequence to me is right at the beginning. Mickey pulls up to Minnie’s house in a horse and buggy, followed shortly by Pete in an early model automobile. When Minnie comes out, she chooses Pete first, but the car falters. Then, she goes over to Mickey and the horse and buggy.
It’s an obvious commentary on the value of old-fashioned ways of doing things, and it’s very interesting, considering what had happened before. Remember Walt selling his car to finance the second recording session for
Steamboat Willie? Think he might have held a little resentment towards cars later in 1928? Just a thought, but it’s something to consider.
The actual barn dance itself is another reflection of the animators. Having come from the Midwest themselves, you would think that most of them had been to one of these dances. Their audience in New York or Los Angeles probably had not. So, the animators were able to bring some of their background to a whole new audience, making it feel fresh and new. The Disney animators definitely grounded Mickey in barnyard humor in his early shorts, so it will be interesting to watch the settings change as we go along.
The Barn Dance is good, but not outstanding. There are no real standout pieces of animation, and it just doesn’t stand out to me among all the shorts I’ve seen. However, the quality is still much higher than the Alice Comedies, and on par with many of the Oswalds.