Exploring Cartoon Convention – Moving Day

Today is the anniversary of a great Mickey Mouse short, Moving Day.  Released June 20th, 1936, Moving Day was directed by Ben Sharpsteen.  Sharpsteen is responsible for some of my favorite Disney animated shorts, including the cutest Silly Symphony of them all, The Cookie Carnival.  I’ll be exploring a lot more of his work in upcoming installments of this series.

Sharpsteen started at Disney as an animator in 1929 and quickly became invaluable, producing some of the studio’s most memorable work.  He animated on over 100 short films in the 1930s and directed in some capacity on each of Disney’s first five animated features.  He was also from my neck of the woods in northern California, so I automatically like him.

Moving Day Title Screen – Ben Sharpsteen, 1936

Moving Day opens with Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck pacing the floor in their home.  On the wall is a calendar.  The date is October 1st and the rent is six months overdue.  When a knock comes to the door, our delinquent pals run and hide.

Mickey Mouse hides inside a hanging trench coat and hat in Moving Day (1936).

Recognize this shot?  We see another lovable character hide in the same fashion, 53 years later in Who Framed Roger Rabbit.  That movie is a whole other post, though.  Possibly a book.  Mickey and Roger are not the only ‘toons to hide inside hanging clothes, however.  We’ll see it at least once more in the course of this series.  My favorite thing about this particular shot is Mickey’s stony expression.  It brings to mind some of the films noir of the same era, doesn’t it?  It’s an expression Sam Spade might wear.

When Mickey and Donald do muster up the courage to answer the door, they find that they’d feared: Sheriff Pete is there to order them out.  Shortly after, Goofy comes home and the move begins.

Mickey Mouse attempts to close his overstuffed luggage in Moving Day.

Mickey and Donald try to tame an overstuffed suitcase.  That’s something that’s used a lot in cartoons, and maybe even live-action films to a lesser extent.  Off the top of my head, I can’t think of any other Disney cartoons that feature this gimmick (although I can think of a couple from Warner and MGM), but I know some exist. I’m sure we’ll find some in the course of this experiment.

Elsewhere, Goofy tries to load a piano onto his truck, but it seems to want to spite him.  Every time Goofy turns his back, the piano rolls back off the truck, sometimes with painful results.

Goofy is flattened by a piano.

Getting flattened like a pancake is something we commonly see from the more slapstick ‘toons.  It happens to Wile E. Coyote, to Daffy Duck, to Tom (of Tom & Jerry fame), and other cartoon schlubs throughout the years.  Goofy seems to be the main target for this kind of torture in the Disney canon.  The earliest version of this gag that I know of was in the fittingly named 1902 live-action short, Michael Casey and the Steam Roller.   I bet you can guess what happened.  Characters have been getting flattened with little to no consequence for over 100 years since then.

After Goofy rights himself, his tussle with the piano continues to go on for a little too long.  The entire middle of the film is dedicated to it.  It may not seem like much, but for a 9-minute short, it is.  This film could have easily had two minutes taken out and it would have been just as good.  There are a few nice gags in the middle, though, so I don’t begrudge Sharpsteen for not wanting to take out any of his animators’ good work.

Donald Duck shows his fight face as he prepares to do battle with the plunger attached to his backside.

Next, Donald has a series of problems with the house’s gas hookups and various objects attaching themselves to his rear end.  First it’s a plunger, then a fish bowl.

Donald removes the plunger only to find himself stuck with a fish bowl.

Cartoon characters being stuck in fish bowls is fairly common, though we tend to see it more often attached to the ‘toon’s head.  You know the scene I mean.  The fish bowl looks like the helmet of a space suit, but there’s a cute little fish swimming laps around the character’s face.  I believe the 1931 Mickey and Minnie short, The Birthday Party, has a good example of that.

While Mickey still struggles with packing his suitcase and Goofy tries to outsmart the piano, Donald frees himself, but finds he’s once again stuck.  This time his beak is in the open gas line and he starts to inflate.

Donald Duck inflates and begins to float.

Cartoon characters inflating is a convention so common I hardly need to cite other examples.  It’s happened to Oswald, Mickey, Donald, Goofy, and probably even Pete.  Sometimes it’s fun or harmless.  Sometimes it’s disastrous.  In this case, it’s the latter.  Donald’s inflation causes such a ruckus that Pete returns.  He doesn’t seem to notice the gas line he’s standing next to and lights his cigar.  What results is one of the best cartoon end scenes I know of.

Pete and the bathtub are all that’s left of the house.

We’re shown the remains of the house.  All that’s left standing is the bathtub.  This scene is a specialty of madcap cartoons.  I’ve seen it before in Fleischer productions such as Granite Hotel (1940) and the Popeye cartoon, House Tricks? (1946).  I’d love to find other examples of it because I’d really like to know if the Walt Disney studio was the first to end a cartoon this way.  It may be that, as was often the case, Disney was ahead of the curve.

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