-Writings on Disney History, along with insights on other films, animation, and cartoons
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Friday, September 27, 2013

75 Years of "Brave Little Tailor"

Looking at Brave Little Tailor, 75 Years Later   
           This week marks the 75th anniversary of the release of Brave Little Tailor. First reaching screens on September 23, 1938, it would showcase some wonderful sequences of character animation.
Let’s watch the short first:

The film’s production level was higher than other shorts, rivaling the features then in production. It also stands out as one of the iconic Mickey Mouse starring roles. Since his debut, Mickey had since moved into usual costarring or supporting roles whilst Donald Duck and Goofy moved into center stage. But Brave Little Tailor featured Mickey as the full-fledged hero.
         The film came in an era of transition for the animation department. Early stalwarts like Fred Moore and Bill Tytla were beginning to be rivaled in skill by newer hires such as Frank Thomas or Milt Kahl. The feature Pinocchio (1940) would further the transition, with Bambi in 1942 cementing Thomas, Kahl, along with others like Eric Larson and Ollie Johnston as the new standards.
         A whole slew of animators would contribute to Brave Little Tailor, but a few in particular stand out. Les Clark animates Mickey sewing the shirt and whistling, then combatting the flies animated by John Noel Tucker. Ollie Johnston single-handedly took the sequence of the townspeople reacting to Mickey’s boasting, “’He killed seven with one blow!’ – ‘Seven?’” One of the short’s funniest bits, where Mickey cowardly runs back to the castle gate after being closed, was primarily handled by Fred Moore through Mickey’s line, “Well I’ll be seeing ya, I hope.” A rather natural bit of casting was Bill Tytla on the Giant. Tytla came to be the master of large, menacing characters that carried great emotion.
Image Source: “Illusion of Life” http://www.amazon.com
Bill Tytla's Giant

         Other lesser-known artists flexed their muscles on the film. Riley Thompson, who earlier was a Porky Pig specialist at Schlesinger Productions, handled Mickey sitting at the rock. Thompson would soon take on directing roles in the shorts department, and later move into comics for Disney. Cornett Wood handles some of Mickey with the Giant; he would later move to Warner Bros. Andy Engman animated some effects like the smoke from the Giant’s cigarette. He would remain at the studio through 1971. George Rowley is another working on Mickey with the Giant. Rowley began on Music Land (1935) and moved into effects animation in the early fifties.
         The true triumph of the film is Frank Thomas’ animation of Mickey Mouse explaining to the King how he killed the houseflies (unbeknownst to Mickey they think he’s describing a giant). The performance is character animation at it’s finest, an acting performance to rival that of any person on stage or screen. Also of note are Walt Disney’s brilliant voice performances in this sequence and throughout.
         Though Mickey’s best performance in the film comes from Thomas, his design came from Fred Moore. Moore had totally revitalized the look of Mickey. In early years, “the more Fred worked with Mickey,” say Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston, “the more he struggled with overcoming the restrictions of a character whose head and body the animators had traced from quarters or half dollars. He kept puzzling about why he was not able to make the drawings that would give him the acting he wanted.”
Image Source: “Illusion of Life” http://www.amazon.com
Fred Moore Model Sheet
         Thomas and Johnston continue: “the natural evolution for Fred was to a pear-shaped body, replacing the hard circle. Now he could get the flow and rhythm and flexibility…he began to get a more appealing Mickey…(who) could be anything now…” Brave Little Tailor was the pinnacle of this second incarnation for Mickey Mouse and was perhaps the “finest for proportions, appeal, and personality.”
Image Source: “Illusion of Life” http://www.amazon.com

         Production took place over the late spring and summer of 1938. Animators like Thomas and Moore had spent previous years on Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937), which at the time of Tailor’s production was taking the world by storm. They would soon move into work on the next feature, Pinocchio.
         The film was nominated for the Best Animated Short Film Academy Award in 1939. It would lose to another Disney nominee, Ferdinand the Bull (1938).

Image Source: “Walt Disney’s Mickey Mouse Tales” http://www.amazon.com
-Later that same year (1938), a version of the story would be published in poetic form in “Good Housekeeping” magazine, accompanied by illustrations. The key difference in the story is Mickey’s cockiness in taking on the Giant, compared to the film where Mickey is oblivious to the Giant’s existence. A limit of five stanzas, not allowing for much exposition, is most likely the reason for the story’s changing. 

“Bring on your giant!” Mickey bragged.
         “With trusty shears and thread
I’ll capture him; then, Minnie mine,
         Perhaps we two shall wed!”

The King heard Mickey’s restless boast
         And took him at his word.
As Giant Killer Number One
         The tailor felt absurd.

The giant was a fearsome thing;
         Like thunder was his sneeze.
But little Mickey tripped him on
A rope between two trees.

The giant fell and shook the earth.
         Then Tailor Mickey sped
To get the weapons of his trade-
         His scissors and his thread.

He sewed the monster up so tight
         He couldn’t get away.
And Princess Minnie was so thrilled
         That they were wed that day!

Image Source: “Walt Disney’s Mickey Mouse Tales” http://www.amazon.com

-"The Brave Little Tailor." The Encyclopedia of Disney Animated Shorts. N.p., n.d. Web. <http://www.disneyshorts.org/shorts.aspx?shortID=277>.
--Thomas, Frank, and Ollie Johnston. The Illusion of Life: Disney Animation. New York: Hyperion, 1995. Print
-Walt Disney's Mickey Mouse Tales. New York: Universe, 2013. Print.

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