Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Non-Nominated Highlight - The Band Concert (1935)

Well, today is the day Disney's latest film Frozen opens wide, which is all fair and good, but more importantly it also means that Oscar contender Get a Horse! will finally move from the film festivals to the general public. Yes, I've already gone to see it, and I've updated my thoughts on the film in my entry on the Shortlist (which you all must read because I'm getting desperate). And you can stay for Frozen, which is, you know, pretty good.

But today is also the week after the 1935 review went up, and while Three Orphan Kittens, Who Killed Cock Robin? and The Calico Dragon were good films, those were far from being the film animated film from 1935. No, there is one film that came out that year that topped them out and may as well be the best Disney film of all time. (At least the animation professionals polled by Jerry Beck sure think so.)

Mickey and his group of friends have been practicing for a long time in their new orchestra, and they are finally ready to bring their talents to light with a public performance of Gioacchino Rossini's legendary William Tell Overture. Things begin smoothly enough, but soon a loud food vendor comes bursting into the scene, wanting to join in the fun by taking out his flute and performing Turkey in the Straw. The band joins along much to Mickey's chagrin. He destroys the food vendor's flute, but the vendor seems to have an unlimited supply. To make things worse a bee comes buzzing along causing havoc among the band members. And finally, when the band reaches the "Storm" section of the overture, a real tornado comes charging along. Can the band finish their tune?

Mickey Mouse is still the universally recognizable mascot of the Disney empire, a title he has held since helping lift the Disney animation studio into the top of the cartoon world in the late 1920s and 1930s. He was in over 70 films between his debut with Steamboat Willie in 1928 (85 years ago last week) and 1935. There was one thing that all 70 films had in common, other than they starred Mickey Mouse. They were all in black and white. The Silly Symphonies had gotten the Technicolor treatment back in 1932, but it took three years before Mickey Mouse entered into the world of color, and it was The Band Concert that served as his color debut. Well, it's true that Mickey and his friends were still primarily black and white, but they wore uniforms in dazzling color. And it looked gorgeous.

So yes, the fact that it served as Mickey Mouse's color debut is one reason why The Band Concert is still remembered today. However, the reason why it's beloved today is because it's a legitimately great film. It is one of those films that put animation to orchestrations of classical music, something we've seen several times in the past. The Band Concert was one of the early films that did this, and most importantly the animators knew that what people wanted to see in these types of films is not necessarily the music, but the gags. So while the overture itself was kind of scattered in that the finale was seen in the middle, the film itself is filled with some of the best gags seen in a Disney film. You've got jokes involving people playing instruments, anthropomorphized inanimate objects, and they all work very well. Plus the scenes involving Donald Duck as the food vendor are classic. Yes, this was one of Donald's earliest appearances following his debut in the Silly Symphony The Wise Little Hen. While his current characterization was established in the 1934 version of Orphan's Benefit, his role in The Band Concert further cemented his personality of being a major troll, one that would help him become Disney's most popular cartoon star.

Even excepting the brilliant three-strip Technicolor, the animation for The Band Concert is terrific. Even if Disney was at the peak of the animation realm, they still used a lot of looping animation in certain large crowd scenes. There was a few of that in The Band Concert, but for the most part much of the animation is quite original, which fits in with the diverse number of gags. Everything is detailed and well animated, and there are some very stirring scenes, most notably the scenes involving the storm. The scene of the tornado terrorizing the countryside is very well done, and the image of the band spinning around in the middle of the storm is way ahead of its time. And while the overture is kind of tossed around, it still carries with it a unique flavor. And it highlights some of the lesser known movements of the famous overture, such as Prelude and the Storm. I can never listen to the Storm without thinking of The Band Concert now.

I have no idea why the Academy decided not to give The Band Concert a nomination. Perhaps it was never submitted, or perhaps they just found the film too different. Butchering a piece of classical music and setting it to animation? The audacity! Still, it is remembered today as one of the best films by Disney, being the highest ranking Disney film on the 50 Best Animated Short list organized by Jerry Beck, behind only Duck Amuck? and What's Opera, Doc?. It is certainly a well deserved honor. Enjoy the film below.

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