Saturday Cartoon

Brian Zick

Steamboat Willie Steamboat Willie was the third Mickey Mouse cartoon, but the first in which Disney incorporated the new technology of synchronized sound. The first two (Plane Crazy and Gallopin' Gaucho) were silent films, and they hadn't met with any interest from distributors. But the enthusiastic public reaction to The Jazz Singer in 1928 captured Walt's attention, and Steamboat Willie became the first sound cartoon. It was first screened on November 18, 1928, at New York's Colony Theater. Mickey was soon enormously popular, and he became an unprecedented global phenomenon. Leonard Maltin, in his book Of Mice and Magic, reports that it was harmonica player Wilfred Jackson who showed Walt a metronome and suggested that music could be scored to the playback speed of the film. And this meant that the music did not have to be written first, only the meter needed to be determined. Disney hired Carl Stalling to compose and supervise production of the music for Steamboat Willie. Stalling next proposed the idea of using music not just as background, but to build cartoon action directly on the music, which was done in The Skeleton Dance, the first of Disney's Silly Symphony series. It is worthy of ironic note - given the contemporary reputation of the Disney corporation for diligently crafted inoffensiveness - that Mickey had his detractors. Mickey was deemed vulgar and crude, due to the barnyard humor, and he suffered demands for censorship from self-appointed moral superiors of the times. Mickey subsequenly evolved a great deal, in personality and appearance, and with the cast of supporting players that were developed. And Disney built an empire. But Steamboat Willie was the historical landmark upon which Disney built all the success that followed. Direction: Walt Disney Animation: Ub Iwerks, Les Clark, Johnny Cannon, Wilfred Jackson

Brandon Johnson
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