Poster

The Jazz Fool

A Mickey Mouse Cartoon

Release Date : October 15, 1929

Running Time : 5:57

Synopsis

Mickey and Horace gather a rural audience and put on first a xylophone performance, then an elaborate piano solo.

Characters

Mickey Mouse
Horace Horsecollar

Credits

Director
Walt Disney
Music
Carl Stalling

DVD

United States
Mickey Mouse in Black and White Volume 2
Germany
Mickey Mouse in Black and White Volume 2

Television

The Ink and Paint Club: Episode 44: Musical Mickey
Donald's Quack Attack: Episode 45
The Mickey Mouse Club : February 23, 1956

Technical Specification

Color Type: Black & White
Animation Type: Standard animation
Sound Mix: Mono : Cinephone
Aspect Ratio: 1.37 : 1
Negative Format: 35mm
Print Format: 35mm
Cinematographic Process: Spherical
Original Language: English

Released by Celebrity Productions, Inc.

Comments

From Ryan Kilpatrick at The Disney Film Project : The Jazz Fool, our latest Mickey short, takes the Mickey musical numbers to the extreme, as the whole short is basically two stitched together musical acts. Of all the Mickeys so far, this features the least action or storytelling. But that’s not to say there is not some good stuff here, though.

The best is the personality animation of Mickey, showing his anger, frustration or happiness at what he’s playing on the piano. It’s very well done, with simple moves of the eyebrow and eyes, turns of his mouth, or the direction of his nose or shoulders expressing the entire emotion. It’s a very expressive Mickey, part of the evolution of his character over the last few shorts.

Unfortunately, that’s where the good parts end, in my opinion. Where do I start? How about this – there is nothing going on in this short. The basics are that Mickey and Horace have a traveling road show, and they have an audience of animals following them around. They play music on the road, then stop and have Mickey do a piano solo. That’s it.

It wouldn’t be so bad if there were real inventive pieces of animation or new gags to make it easier to watch. But there are not. The majority of the short, at least four of the six minutes, consist of Mickey seated at either the organ or the piano. Sure, his expressiveness is quite good, and we see some of his character that way, but there is nothing for the viewer to latch onto.

There is another issue that I have with this short – it is a repeat in many places. Mickey’s piano solo, while a little longer here, is almost exactly lifted from The Opry House. Considering that The Opry House was released earlier in 1929, it’s very disappointing to see Walt and his team recycling the same idea just a few months later. Even down to Mickey pounding on the keys and the piano striking back, the two scenes are extremely similar.

That’s not the only theme that repeats. Again, we have the barnyard theme going on, with the animals forming the audience for Mickey’s show. There’s Horace using another animal as an instrument and the vaudeville show with the ratty curtain as well. Mickey’s work on the xylophone is really the only original part of the short.

I’m being very hard on this short, probably because I have seen all the others. That’s part of the project here, but I think if I had seen this one on its own it wouldn’t be quite as bad. It’s not terribly done. If you have not seen the previous Mickey shorts or the Oswalds, then The Jazz Fool would be fine. But when tracking the evolution of the Disney animation style definitely a step back.

That’s the most interesting thing to me so far about the Mickey shorts. In the Oswald shorts, there was a developing style of a story with conflict, a strong central character, and a supporting cast (even if it was just a girl and Pete). Meanwhile, in the early Mickey shorts, there is no consistent focus, Mickey can be the focal point of the short or merely a window to the main goings on, and the supporting cast changes drastically from short to short. Why the change? That’s the question I will be examining as we move forward in the Mickey shorts.


From Mac : After some slightly ugly animation of Mickey turning his head early on (somehow the angles are all wrong) the 'cleanliness' of Mickey's Choo Choo continues and we've got a pretty good-looking short. The barns Mickey travels past look very clean and less run down than in previous shorts. Also, although the wheel might need a little fixing and the curtain has been patched up a bit, Mickey's Big Road Show looks very clean.

My favorite part is when Mickey and Horace first arrive at their destination. The music at this moment is at it's most catchiest (for me at least) and the animation is at it's most delightfully bounciest! It's cool how Horace plays his teeth, shoes, head, a cat etc in perfect synch.

This also has maybe the weirdest moment in a Disney cartoon so far. Mickey finds and spanks the piano's bum! It's unusual enough how the piano sometimes seem to be just a piano, but can reveal a face and attitude when he's being treated to rough, but for it to have a human-like backside as well? It's weird, yet somehow works according the odd logic of this early era!


From B. D. : My best guess as to why the format of the shorts has been changing from the Oswalds and proto-Mickeys would be a shift in the focus of the audience. In the Oswald era, there was no sound, so presumably the main attraction of the shorts would be the gags or the story, necessitating a formula that allowed for a strong plot with plenty of room for bodily distortions and any other gags they could come up with. In the Mickey shorts, it's often been reported (and is clearly on display here) that their popularity was largely due to the novelty of sound, so they presumably wouldn't need the old story/gags formula, and would be concentrating primarily on doing whatever allowed them to shoehorn in as much music as possible. In a few years, once the novelty started to wear off, they went back to relying primarily on story and gags again - in fact, the Oscar nominated Building a Building, from 1933, is essentially a Mickeyfied remake of Sky Scrappers.
From Ryan Kilpatrick at The Disney Film Project : I have to say, Mac, that the animation quality, as far as the strength of the line and 'cleanliness' as you put it, is very good. I do think the skill of the animation has improved, even though the storytelling has not.

B.D., I think the sound is a big part of the change, no doubt, but there was some decent storytelling in Plane Crazy and The Gallopin' Gaucho. Why did that suddenly devolve into the world's earliest music videos? I know that sound was credited for a big part of the early Mickeys success, but it was not entirely the reason, was it?


From B. D. : Well, Plane Crazy and The Gallopin' Gaucho were originally animated as silent films. The first one designed with sound in mind was Steamboat Willie, which doesn't have much of a plot.
From Kevin C. : The live action film musical was quickly established as the favorite, most popular form of early talkie motion pictures. "Review" pictures, featuring favorite photoplay stars in all talking, all singing and dancing numbers, were being churned out by every major studio in Hollywood at this time.

The best, most widely recognized of these?

These very same Mickey Mouse cartoons we are reviewing here.

Keep in mind, also, that nobody had ever seen such perfectly synchronized sound and drawing before. There IS something awfully funny, to this day, about the way Mickey beats the HELL out of his piano, all perfectly in time. It's the shear pleasure of watching such great, clever comic mayhem all working out perfectly to the beat of the music before our eyes. What's going to happen next? Who knows. Imagine the excitement at the Disney studios as each short pushed the limits of what went before. Imagine theaters full of people howling and screaming with laughter at the most clever film footage they had ever experienced.

You wanna see something creaky and old? Try getting through "The Broadway Melody" from 1929.

Personally I'd rather watch Mickey Mouse.

It's more fresh and alive!


From Ryan Kilpatrick at The Disney Film Project : No doubt, these cartoons were original and fresh for the time, and yes, sound is a big reason why. It just seems like the advent of sound somewhat slowed down the progress that Disney had made with storytelling and animation in the Oswald shorts.

It's a good point, B.D., that Plane Crazy and The Gallopin' Gaucho were silent films that had sound added on. It seems as though since that point, the soundtrack was the dominant force in the shorts, while the characters and the story were secondary.

I'm probably biased, because I prefer strong story to anything else. I'm not trying to say that the Mickey shorts are not good, because they are. I enjoy every one of them. But when you've seen someone achieve more, you always want them to keep up that level of achievement. It just seems like sound cartoons have slowed the progress, not helped it along.

Kevin, I agree, these cartoons have energy that other sound musicals did not have. They are still good films, but there's just something missing, and that something is the story.


From Mac : Ryan, as much as I like these happy, dancing musical cartoons, I can understand your frustration. The focus and progression of fun, simple stories has been somewhat replaced by a new kind of entertainment which can be a bit repetitive (especially when the same ideas are reused - like the biting piano). It's a shame because Mickey is such a cool character with great potential for adventures and mischievous fun!

The good news is that later on, when storytelling becomes more key to the process again, music will play an important role. Therefore, we get a wonderful balance of music and visuals in order to tell a story. I suppose I'm trying to say that Disney's experience in both story-based and music-based cartoons will combine to make something new. We'll see this in B.D's example of Building a Building and it will lead on to other things like Snow White (imagine Disney's version of that story told without music).


From Ryan Kilpatrick at The Disney Film Project : I see what you're saying, Mac. I think watching all the cartoons in a compressed time frame brings out the flaws more so than if I saw them months and years apart as originally presented.

I definitely recognize the role that music is playing in these early shorts. The Silly Symphonies are pure music videos, and they are delightful for the most part. And I know that in later shorts, like The Band Concert, that Mickey has a story and music integrated perfectly. It's just hard to see the pendulum swing so far one way after we saw such great storytelling in the Oswald shorts.


From Jerry Edwards : Various animals dance in the street while Mickey plays on a calliope, pulled by Horace Horsecollar. Mickey later appears on stage and plays the piano. He plays the piano so violently that it bits him on the bottom, hanging by its "teeth" until the curtain falls. Nothing really new from the numerous other Mickey "singing and dancing" cartoons, which quickly get really old for me.
From Ryan : This is what I would call a somewhat "retarded" short. It was kind of stupid and I did not care for it much. The dancing underwear and bloomers were really dumb and all the characters did was play music. On a scale of 50 to 100, I 'd probably give it a 70.
From Bill : I am a sucker for the musical shorts. I enjoy the music and this one is no different. It is a basic story; Mickey playing the organ while his wagon is being pulled by Horace Horsecollar. All the animals follow him to the stage area. Although this short did not have a lot of gags, the one where the poor piano, after Mickey beats him up and pounds him half to death, retaliates by biting Mickey in the butt was great. It is very interesting to see the early shorts develop and grow. Ub did a nice job on this one.
From Steven : This is an okay short, nothing special about it. There was some ugly animation of Mickey in some scenes and despite the title wasn't much "jazz" in it. I'd give it a 5 or 6.

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