Short Stack – 1932

I try this every so often, but it’s the new year so I’m going to try newer. As a self-proclaimed Oscars fanatic, I’m always interested in how as when you look further back in time, the categories change, get eliminated, get revamped, or just get renamed, like Best Production Design this year. But one element of the Oscars that gets pretty well overlooked in Oscar obsessives obsessing is the shorts categories. The documentary short category has been around since 1941 and the live-action short and documentary short have been around since 1932! And to be perfectly honest, this was at a time when short films were actually played in movie theaters, making it a more relevant prize and not the bathroom break we know it as today. And here’s the contradiction to end all contradictions. Yes the short films are seen as just excuses to ruin an Oscar pundits guessing records and besides that worthless, but today our society is unknowingly addicted to the short film medium. It’s called YouTube. Charlie Bit My Finger is actually just a very funny yet ineloquent documentary short. So join me as I slowly take a look at all of the Oscar nominated short films available on YouTube. Sit back and relax cause this could take a while.

Flowers and Trees

Flowers and Trees is supposedly the first ever full color cartoon (I guess there were two-color cartoons prior to 1932). Fortunately, Disney didn’t waste the novelty on a lackluster cartoon. Flowers and Trees has the goods. It’s a little cleverer than it needs to be and lives up to the Silly Symphony franchise name by including several snippets of famous orchestral pieces from Handel’s Wedding March to Rossini’s William Tell Overture. The trees and flowers are beautifully rendered with real personality. It’s cartoons like this that really make me appreciate the beauty of the art.

Mickey’s Orphans

As part of the already well-established Mickey Mouse series, this is Disney’s first animated short to be about Christmas. And although I’m a couple of weeks too late, when December 2013 rolls around and people ask for some recommendations, I think I’ll pass along Mickey’s Orphans. 7 minutes seems to be the standard length of time for an animated short this year and that’s just long enough for this little gem. The premise is simple. Mickey, Minnie, and Pluto are peacefully enjoying a warm and toasty Christmas as Minnie plinks out Silent Night on the organ. Then a poor person (cat?) out in the cold rings their doorbell, drops off a basket, and vanishes into the night. When Mickey and Minnie open the basket, it turns out there are precious orphaned kittens. Well, they start off precious, but they mysteriously multiply as the film goes on and get more naughty by the second! That’s it. If this were a lesser Christmas movie, Mickey would get upset with them, concoct one or several elaborate plans to get them out, and he would succeed to comic effect. Instead, Mickey and Minnie just seem to adore having these kittens demolish their house. And it is a lot of fun. I don’t want to spoil anything, but the hilarity gets kicked up a notch and Mickey dressed as Santa brings some of the least appropriate presents.

It’s Got Me Again

Of the three cartoons nominated for Animated Short in 1932, this is the only non-Disney one and it’s from the other powerhouse, Warner Bros. However, if you only watched it casually, you would be forgiven for thinking it was a Disney property. Not because there are mysterious intangible qualities passed down from the studio system that surely only I, your master of short film ceremonies, can deduce. Nay. The main character of this flick is a black mouse with big ears that looks suspiciously like Mickey Mouse. But we’ll call him Steve. Steve realizes no one’s home and it invites all of his friends out to play music and have a grand old time, which I’m pretty sure is the premise of all Merrie Melodies cartoons. Their party is quickly ruined by my favorite character the cat. It fails short of having the joyous manic energy of the others, but it still gives you enough to make it through the seven minutes.

My pick for the category: Mickey’s Orphans

The only other short nominated that year that can be found on YouTube was the winner of the live-action short. It’s a Laurel & Hardy film called The Music Box. While I had never seen a Laurel & Hardy sketch before, I very easily figured out their shtick. The premise is absurdly simple. Laurel & Hardy become deliverymen and have to deliver a player piano to a house at the top of the hill. Hilarity ensues. Every slapstick joke you’ve ever seen can probably trace its way back to The Music Box. Things fall, things explode, people fall, but sadly and probably due to budget, no one explodes. I found myself laughing despite how clearly dated this piece is. The pacing is a certainly a little too slow to compete with modern slapstick standards, but the sincerity of the sketch and the Sisyphean hijinks are more than enough to keep you engaged.

Already only four short films in, I’m realizing that there is a lot of franchising and branding going on. With any luck, we’ll all become Merrie Melodies experts in just a few short weeks.

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