From 1932 to 1933, jazz musician, songwriter, and bandleader Cab Calloway was featured in three pre-Code Betty Boop cartoons as a singer and dancer: Minnie the Moocher (1932), Snow-White (1933), and The Old Man of the Mountain (1933). While Calloway was not the only jazz musician to be featured in Fleischer Studios’ Betty Boop cartoons (Louis Armstrong notably appeared in I’ll Be Glad When You’re Dead You Rascal You ), his contributions to both the jazz and the animation worlds through his work with the Fleischers was impressive, especially because of the cartoons’ groundbreaking use of rotoscope technology to graph Calloway’s signature dance movements onto the bodies of his cartoon avatars. Of the three cartoons, Snow-White in particular reaches dizzying heights of complexity and coolness, but all three short films are important artifacts of jazz history and are particularly notable for their contributions to the shaping and styling of jazz celebrity in the popular imagination.
Steamboat Willie (1928). 8 minutes. Directed by Walt Disney and Ub Iwerks. Voices by Walt Disney. Music by Wilfred Jackson and Bert Lewis.
Steamboat Willie is a black-and-white animated Disney short that was the first cartoon of any kind to use completely synchronized sound. It draws thematically from both the 1911 song “Steamboat Bill” and the 1928 silent Buster Keaton comedy Steamboat Bill, Jr., but it was also inspired by the technological revolution launched by The Jazz Singer (1927), the first feature-length movie to use partially synchronized sound. Steamboat Willie is notable today for its historical achievement and for being the first widely successful cartoon to feature Mickey Mouse, but in addition to these accomplishments, it remains extremely silly and a good example of how charming early animation could be.
The story follows the iconic rodent protagonist as he works on a riverboat. A large cat (Pete) orders Mickey around and banishes him from the ship’s bridge. Mickey … Read the rest
Flowers and Trees (1932). 8 minutes. Directed by Burt Gillett. Produced by Walt Disney.
Flowers and Trees broke new ground in 1932 as the first animated short to use three-strip Technicolor. Its producer Walt Disney had exclusive rights to the three-strip process until 1935, which meant that during this period, other animators had to use the two-strip process with its more limited color palette or else continue to rely on black-and-white techniques. The use of cutting-edge Technicolor in Flowers and Trees, while perhaps not as revolutionary as the use of sound in Disney’s Steamboat Willie (1928), was nevertheless a considerable achievement and was undoubtedly one of the reasons that Flowers and Trees won the first Academy Award for Animated Short Subjects, the first color production of any kind to win an Academy Award.
The plot is fairly straightforward. Flowers and Trees follows the antics of two leafy green trees, one male and one female. A dried-out stump tries … Read the rest