East Bay View (a blog about several things)

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Monday, August 25, 2008

The history of the cartoon universe: The Chain Gang (1930)

1930 is an interregnum: Ub Iwerks strikes out on his own and does idiosyncratic, unfocused work. The new Looney Tunes series more or less rips off Disney, except it makes the minstrelry more overt. The Fleischers know they have something in their Clara Bow-lookalike poodle, but they haven't quite worked out what to do with her yet.

So let's say it's still Mickey's year. Of the 1930 Mouse toons I've seen, The Chain Gang edges The Fire Fighters (both are directed by new ace Burt Gillett) through its setting. A group of prisoners trudge in the work yard in ball and chain, while Mickey rides his ball, dragged by an unwitting fellow inmate. There's no hint of false imprisonment here: you know that he's in here because he had a little too much fun at one point, or perhaps for cruelty to animals. He's no tough guy -- he cowers from the prison guard, he can't even break a rock -- but my, that little country boy can play. Then it's the now-standard song-then-chase, with some fun gags involving Mickey escaping with his ball. Also, he gets hit in the crotch, repeatedly. He accidentally ends up back behind bars, and everybody thinks this is fitting.

Next year Mickey would get chained up for good: with his stardom unparalleled and the censors getting tetchy, Walt domesticated him. Mickey would remain an interesting character in his comic strip for many years, but this is the end of the mouse as trickster.



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