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Saturday Matinee

Saturday Matinee #75: "The Band Concert" (February 23, 1935) - published June 9, 2012

by Albert Gutierrez

For me, Mickey Mouse's career began to wane shortly after his conversion to color. He was becoming a good guy that couldn't always be as mischievous as he once as. Granted, that was expected, as he became much more loved by the audience. He couldn't be seen doing some of the things he did in the past. Thankfully, that's where Donald came in. Donald could get angry, and the audience would laugh at him for it. This week at Saturday Matinee, we'll look at 1935's "The Band Concert." It's notable for being Mickey Mouse's first color cartoon, and one of the rare examples of both Mickey AND Donald getting angry throughout the short.

The Mickey Mouse Orchestra (at least that's what I call them) are holding an open-air concert. They've just been giving their bows for the selections from "Zampa," and Mickey then shows the next card of music: the William Tell Overture. The gang begins playing, but soon encounter a distraction: Donald is walking among the crowd hawking his lemonade, popcorn, and ice cream. He's bothering them all, and doesn't help when he decides to join the stage. There, Donald begins to play "Turkey in the Straw" with the band. They get confused, and rather than continue with "William Tell," the band plays "Turkey in the Straw" with Donald.

Mickey gets angry, and he breaks Donald's flute. Ever the resourceful one, Donald pulls out another, continuing with "Turkey in the Straw." That flute gets broken, but this pattern continues for awhile before a trombone shakes Donald of all his flutes. He's kicked off and tries to play "Turkey in the Straw" once more. Only this time, he's distracted by a bee. He tries to get rid of the bee, who ends up flying towards Mickey. Donald throws an ice cream at the bee, but it goes down Mickey's back. As Mickey shakes it away, the band plays "Snake Charmer" since he's moving like a snake. Eventually, Mickey kicks out the ice cream, and they play another song.

However, the bee decides to continue to bother Mickey, and his swats at the insect are misconstrued by the band as conductor signals, and they play accordingly. Eventually, the bee makes a landing on Goofy's hat, where Horace Horsecollar tries to hit it with first a cymbal, then a mallet. Goofy's head disappears into his body, but he continues playing. The bee decides to give up and go away, just as Mickey turns his sheets and sees that they will reach the "Storm" segment of the overture.

Unbeknownst to the band, but beknownst to us, a tornado begins heading towards the audience. They run away, as do the park benches, but Donald gets caught in a braided tree. The band valiantly continue playing, even though their lives are on the line. The storm literally tears them apart, but they still manage to get through the song. By the end, they're all in various states of disarray, spread out like ornaments on a Christmas tree, with nobody left to applaud their performance. Well, one person is. Donald Duck claps and proclaims "Bravo! Bravo!" before he pulls out one last flute. He starts playing "Turkey in the Straw" once more, only to be booed by the gang.

"The Band Concert" is one of the most acclaimed shorts in the Disney canon. Ironically, the cartoon was not nominated as one of 1935's "Best Animated Short Films," the honors instead going to Disney's "Three Orphan Kittens" (the winner), "Who Killed Cock Robin?", and MGM's "The Calico Dragon." Comparing those three shorts to "The Band Concert," I'm rather surprised it didn't score even a nomination. It surely deserved it more than "Who Killed Cock Robin?" Then again, Academy Awards shouldn't automatically equate greatness, anyway. Besides, the short was still voted #3 in Jerry Beck's The 50 Greatest Cartoons, making it the highest-rated Disney short on the animation-industry-voted list.

I think what makes the short so enduring is the masterful blending of short gags with appropriate music. The "William Tell Overture" is actually played out of sequence in order to fit the gags, which range from the "Turkey in the Straw" playing to the errant bee to the tornado. The band-playing-in-tornado gag would even be used in "Mickey's Philharmagic," a 3-D show at Magic Kingdom's Fantasyland. And even peppered among those three episodes are individual gags involving the characters themselves. There's an excellent moment between Goofy and Clarabelle where their hands travel across the clarinet and flute to play each other's instruments, seen above. And Mickey's facial reactions throughout the entire short is probably the last time we ever see him so entirely aggravated at a situation.

My favorite gag in the short, however, is the "William Tell Overture / Turkey in the Straw" mash-up. It shows just how music can itself become transformed, while also showing how universal the language is. The two songs share the same tempo and similar melodies, making the change very easy for the band. This gag would later be imitated in an episode of "I Love Lucy" entitled "Bull Fight Dance." As usual, Lucy manages to get involved in one of Ricky's shows. He decides to try and make her drop out by giving her a difficult task: sing "Humoresque" in tandem with him singing "Swanee River." The two have similar melodies, which is sure to confuse Lucy. And, of course, it does. She starts off singing one song to one melody, but ends up singing the same lyrics to the other melody. Even after switching songs with Ricky - "I know this song better," she claims - Lucy still can't do it. Ricky ultimately ends up giving her a non-singing part: as a dancing bull for a matador number.

"The Band Concert" is only available on two Disney DVD's. It was one of three bonus cartoons on 1946's Make Mine Music, released in 2000 and still in print. The short was later featured in 2001's "Walt Disney Treasures: Mickey Mouse in Living Color," which covered Mickey's shorts from 1935 to 1938. For some time, the short used to be part of a cycle of cartoons ("Steamboat Willie," "Flowers & Trees," and "The Band Concert") presented at Exposition Hall in Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom, but that area has since been transformed into a meet-and-greet area.


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