.....A band (with Mickey as its conductor) bows graciously after finishing the overture from Louis Joseph Hérold's Zampa before moving onto its next selection, the William Tell Overture. Mickey quiets the cheering crowd, and his band begins playing. However, not long into the performance, a voice calls out from the audience, irritating Mickey to no end. The voice belongs to a certain loud-mouthed duck named Donald, who is pushing a cart in an attempt to sell refreshments.
"Hot dogs! Lemonade! Hot dogs! Peanuts!"
.....The duck quickly notices the band playing, and excitedly pulls out a flute. After blowing a few notes, Donald climbs up to the stage, takes a bow before the audience and begins playing.....
"Turkey in the Straw"! The band veers off from its performance, and when Mickey realizes what has happened, he storms over to Donald and rips the flute out of the interloper's hands, and angrily breaks the instrument in two.
Mickey throws the broken flute down in front of Donald and returns to his podium, failing to notice Donald as he pulls another flute out of his sleeve.
.....While Donald gets ready for another round of mayhem, Mickey taps his conductor's baton loudly on his music staff, bringing the band to attention. Mickey restores order, and Donald resumes playing "Turkey in the Straw". Mickey rushes back to Donald right as the band joins in and breaks Donald's second flute in two. Mickey leaves again, and again misses out on Donald at he winks, checks his right sleeve, twirls his right hand, and produces a third flute!
.....By now, Mickey has gotten the band back under control (and back playing the William Tell Overture), but this is all for naught, as Donald begins playing (again), causing Mickey to return again. However, before Mickey can grab the flute, Donald breaks it in two.
Adding insult to injury, Donald hands the broken flute to Mickey, and begins laughing hysterically as the mouse angrily slams the instrument to the floor.
"Ha, ha-ha-ha-ha, Ha, ha-ha-ha-ha!!!!!"
.....Unable to hold in his anger anymore, Mickey lunges at Donald and misses. Before he can consider chasing Donald, Mickey realizes that the band is still playing "Turkey in the Straw" and rushed back to the podium, tripping over the base in the process. Mickey finally quiets down the band by tapping on his music stand (so hard, in fact, that the stand retracts) with his baton. After adjusting his music stand, Mickey gets the band to resume playing the William Tell Overture, hopefully putting the entire mess behind him.
.....Donald, however, who has been hiding by a trombone player's music stand, has other ideas, and produces yet another flute. However, just as Donald begins playing "Turkey in the Straw" again, the trombone player hoists Donald off the ground (sending flutes flying all over the stage)
and tosses the duck right into his neglected refreshments cart (much to the delight of the audience). Now upset, Donald challenges the trombone player, who just taunts him with a few notes from his trombone.
.....This only angers Donald even more, who then picks up a flute and begins playing "Turkey in the Straw" with fierce determination.
His playing is ignored by Mickey's band, but attracts the attention of a bee, which flies into the flute, and down Donald's throat. Donald spits out the bee and bats it away with his hat, but the bee gets caught in the hat, and bounces around in it after Donald puts it back on.
.....The bee soon manges to free itself, and flies over to Mickey and lands on Mickey's hat, where it proceeds to give Donald the razz.
A furious Donald responds by hurling ice cream at the bee, which hits Mickey's hat on its way to landing in the horn of a nearby trumpet. The trumpet player glares in disgust at the food stuck in his instrument before blowing it out. The ice cream then lands unceremoniously on the back of Mickey's head, sliding down his back as the band changes it tune to match Mickey's shimmying.
.....Once Mickey gets the ice cream out of his shorts and kicks it aside, he quiets down the band (again), and leads the band out of the Overture and into the Springtime sequence. The bee returns, however, and Mickey tries to swat it, but misses completely (which also has an effect on how the band plays). Meanwhile, Goofy and Clarabelle Cow serenade each other as Horace Horsecollar tries to flatten the bee with his cymbals as it flies near him. Horace smacks Goofy with the cymbals while trying to hit the bee, and when the pest lands on Goofy's hat, Horace produces a mallet....
missing the bee completely, but bashing Goofy's head down into his torso.
.....After Horace slinks guiltily back to his place, Mickey flips the page in book, and is shocked to see the music for The Storm-a complicated and tumultuous sequence if there ever was one. Undeterred, Mickey braces himself for the coming challenge, and begins conducting. Goofy struggles to play his part as the weather begins to get nasty while Horace takes off his jacket and starts playing the tympani, eventually banging the sticks against his jaw in the process. Clarabelle Cow has equal difficulty, as one of her gloves gets caught in her flute while playing. In the end, she's forced to leave the glove in her flute and continue playing.
.....These problems, though, turn out to be minor, as a twister appears, and begins wreaking havoc.
The twister makes its way to the park, and the crowd assembled to watch Mickey's band play scatters,
and is quickly followed by the park benches, which don the crowd's discarded hats and make a hasty retreat.
.....Donald, who still has a flute in his hands, watches with surprise as the audience hightails it away from the tornado, and follows their lead when he sees the tornado uprooting telephone poles as if they were toothpicks. He climbs up a tree, but is caught there after the twister wraps up Donald in the tree and two other nearby trees. Mickey's band continues playing, even as the tornado uproots everyone, sending them spiralling upwards.
.....Mickey ends up flying through the remnants of a fence, through a doorway, and past the remains of a living room, and out a window while the trumpet player slides along the top of the fence. Clarabelle Cow bats away a wayward pair of long underwear before an umbrella gets caught in her flute, turning it inside out, but still manages to play.
.....The band reaches the climax of The Storm, and for a moment, everything stops dead in its tracks.
As the band continues playing, the storm dies down, and begins depositing everyone and everything on the ground below. Clarabelle Cow lands in a baby carriage on the branch of a tree, while Goofy lands in a high on yet another branch of the tree. The trumpet player's clothes get caught on a branch, and he eventually lands on the stage inside an empty barrel. The tuba player lands in the trumpet player's underwear, while Mickey lands unscathed in the same place he started. All told, everyone except for Mickey and the trumpet player end up in the tree along with an assortment of appliances, with the area surrounded by a number of upside down trees. Ending the performance is Horace Horsecollar, who lands in one of his drums just in time to catch his cymbals and end the abridged performance of William Tell.
.....Mickey takes a bow, but is surprised to find only one person applauding the band's effort-Donald Duck. Never one to give up, Donald produces yet another flute and begins playing, once again, "Turkey in the Straw", as the band throws their instruments at Donald, who emerges from a tuba to happily finish his tune.
.....Regardless of any of its other merits, "The Band Concert" is destined to be mentioned among the great Mickey Mouse shorts simply because it's the first one to be produced in color (specifically, the three-strip Technicolor process that Disney maintained exclusive rights to in 1935). It's fortunate, though, that "The Band Concert" is a truly worthy effort by the Disney studio.
.....Any real discussion of this short is incomplete without an assessment of the Mickey series in 1935. Simply put, the Disney story men were running out of ideas, primarily because Mickey just isn't a particularly humorous character. The move to color, in concert with an increased reliance on Mickey's supporting cast (something that had been developing since Pluto was introduced in late 1930/early 1931), was hoped to extend the life of what was still a hugely popular (and profitable) series, and possibly become the launching point for other cartoon series. On one hand, this can be deemed a shrewd and largely successful move by Walt Disney, as many of Mickey's best cartoons were produced in the following seven years (including all but one of the enormously popular Mickey/Donald/Goofy ensemble pieces) while Donald, Pluto, and Goofy all graduated to their own successful series by the end of the '30s. On the other hand, however, one can argue that the move was slightly desperate. Case in point: Warner Bros. and Fleischer/Famous Studios produced successful black and white shorts (in addition to their color cartoons) through 1943. Additionally, Disney themselves were re-issuing black and white Mickeys and Silly Symphonies in the '40s.
.....Despite what may now seem like dubious reasons for making the switch to color, there's no doubt that Walt wouldn't have allowed the first color Mickey to be an ordinary short; it would have to be something special, flying far above Disney's already lofty standards. If "The Band Concert" was to be the short to bring Mickey Mouse into Technicolor, it would have to live up to that standard first and foremost. Also, when the story for this cartoon was being formed, Walt insisted that Donald (who was originally intended to appear as a saxophonist) have a larger role, a move that essentially made the cartoon work.
.....The most important element in this short (as in so many Disney shorts of the '20s and '30s) is the music. The selection from Zampa that opens the short is fittingly upbeat and triumphant, as it heralds in a new era of Mickey Mouse cartoons. Equally fitting is the applause which greets Mickey and his band after the opening credits-something that echoes the joy audiences across the nation (and probably even the world) likely felt upon seeing Mickey in color, finally.
.....Zampa is acknowledged in a nice and unobtrusive manner with the card on the stage.
The following card, announcing the William Tell Overture, is particularly nice, as its art refers to the classic William Tell story involving Tell shooting an arrow at an apple resting on his son's head.
.....There's a nice touch as Mickey clicks his heels together before bringing the band to attention, which is followed by a nice little sound effect when the band members' hats land the second time. Mickey's facial expressions here are excellently detailed, as his intensity is conveyed perfectly as he leads the small orchestra.
Also well handled is Mickey's annoyance at Donald's shouting-the look of frustration is classic.
"Hot dogs! Peanuts! Lemonade!"
Donald's entrance is equally grand, and it spells nothing but trouble for Mickey (and trouble here means funny, and lots of it).
.....Donald's desire to interrupt Mickey's concert with an impromptu performance of "Turkey in the Straw" is part of the genius of this short, because it shatters tradition. Up to this point, all of Mickey's musical numbers were treated fairly respectfully. While far from boring, Mickey's past song and dance numbers (in shorts like "Steamboat Willie", "Mickey's Follies", and "The Whoopee Party") were generally more playful than anything else, whereas here the laughs spring from a bit of contempt for the performance itself (something that Bob Clampett would use to equal effect when his staff at Warner Bros. decided to take a jab at Fantasia in "A Corny Concerto").
.....While most of Donald's devious acts over the years were rooted in his rather malicious sense of superiority, this time Donald's antics are more of a prank. In fact, one could read into this situation, implying that Donald is the rebellious element mocking the stodgy authority that is Mickey. However, the better analysis seems to be that Donald is yet again trying to grab the spotlight. His behavior as he get on stage sells this idea, since his movements are grandiose and basically shatter the fourth wall.
Donald bows to the camera, and makes a point to interact with the camera every time he does something that's basically designed to piss off Mickey, which only makes the moment funnier.
......Even funnier is how Donald takes control, not only of the band, but of the entire picture. After Mickey's first trip back to the podium, the camera doesn't leave Donald until Mickey chases him off the stage. And every second is classic comedy, as Donald mugs for the camera while doing his best to frustrate the normally unflappable Mickey Mouse.
.....There's a great bit of humor as Mickey rushes back to the podium, only to fall flat on his face.
Not since the earliest days of the Mickey series (when shorts would actually end with Mickey losing whatever struggle he was involved in) had Mickey been so greatly embarrassed in one of his own cartoons. And, like in those early Ub Iwerks-drawn shorts, it works fabulously, in part because of some truly excellent animation by the Disney staff.
.....However, Donald doesn't go unpunished. Remembering Donald's Mickey Mouse debut in the original "Orphan's Benefit", the story features Donald receiving his comeuppance, and going into one of his classic rages. The trombonist's mocking laughter with his instrument is a nice counterpoint to Donald, who is the only character with dialogue in the short.
The lines have certainly been drawn, with Donald in his customary role as the heretic, and Mickey and his band as the civilized men. (Not that this cartoon would even dare to push that sort of theme on the audience, mind you.)
.....The transition from Donald to the bee as the short's comedic focus is handled deftly, as the pest interacts with Donald with predictable but hilarious results. This part of the short keys in on a key facet of Donald's character: most of the situations he finds himself in are simply amplified versions of things that happen to all of us, or that we really hope doesn't happen to us. What makes Donald Donald, though, is that he's going to meet the bee that gives him a big raspberry, and he's definitely going to not going to take any of that crap, and going to do something to kill that bee but good.
.....Mickey's impromptu shimmy dance (which, while a common gag in Golden Age cartoons, is still funny as hell) parodies the importance of body language in a conductor's line of work.
Chuck Jones would mine this single idea for the classic Bugs Bunny short, "Baton Bunny", but here it comprises about half a minute of this short, and that illustrates not only why this short is so great, but why a lot of Disney shorts are so good. Walt Disney insisted that his directors, animators, and story men have the time and resources to refine everything he produced, something that Warner Bros. (and most of the other studios) never had with (to put it mildly) cheapskates and morons like Leon Schlesinger and Eddie Selzer at the helm (or, at the least, in control of the money).
.....Goofy (who is drawn very oddly in this short, even if it's before his redesign for the color era) is again paired off with Clarabelle Cow, albeit a lot more overtly than any short before or since.
The move is a bit awkward, but is certainly a part of Goofy's wayward character development, which would never be fully cemented until Art Babbitt defined the character at the end of the decade (and even then Goffy would continue to evolve, as the '50s era Goofy and the Goofy of Goof Troop would attest to). Part of the problem is that Clarabelle Cow, of all of Mickey's supporting cast, seems to be the least interesting, and by far.
.....Horace Horsecollar's appearance is a bit more in tune with how he would (and really should) be used, as his determination really drives his desire to kill the bee. Other than Donald (and possibly Goofy, given the right circumstances), Horace is the only Disney character that could pull out a mallet and try to smash the bee with it. The result of his attempt is a great visual cartoon gag, and the effect on Goofy's playing makes it unique (since, let's face it-this is gag had been done a million times before, and would continue to be used through the present day and beyond).
.....Mickey's double take upon seeing the sheet music for The Storm is classic 'toon material, but still a joy to behold, since it's one of the great set-up gags in the annals of animation.
Another winning gag is the shot of the sheet music, which is, mildly put, a mess.
Mickey scores a world of "hero" points as he moves on despite the obvious challenge, and enters the sequence that, with the exception of Donald's entrance, would becoming the most remembered part of the entire short.
.....Goofy, while wildly off-model, is wonderfully exaggerated as he begins playing.
Also great are the images of Horace Horsecollar and Clarabelle Cow as they start playing.
.....Of course, the tornado soon arrives and this short has its most memorable images from here on out. The crowd's reaction is nice, but the really fun part is seeing the benches flee as well. Donald again breaks the fourth wall as he looks at the audience in confusion, a moment that's funny simply because it's so out of place in the middle of all the chaos.
Donald's infamous bad luck also strikes here, as he ends up stuck between three trees.
.....What may be the greatest legacy of "The Band Concert" is that anytime a great number of people hear The Storm being played, they're reminded of Mickey and company flying through the air in the eye of the storm. Besides the climatic pause, the images of Mickey flying through the remains of the house (with the front door that closes after Mickey floats through it),
the trumpeter flying along the fencepost,
and Clarabelle Cow playing through her distractions are pretty indelible moments in this cartoon.
.....The landing is also quite memorable, with some rather ridiculous images of the band members.
Mickey lands safely and in the same spot he started, which is not only his hero's perogative, but an off-setting moment after seeing everyone else fall down in an increasingly silly fashion.
.....However, the following wide shot is an even greater moment comedically.
There's a bit of realistic humor as we see everyone hanging in the now-bare tree like ornaments in a Christmas tree, to say nothing of the upside down house in the background. The performance ends with a bit of symmetry when Mickey clicks his heels again, expecting applause.
Instead of the audience, Mickey is met with the applause of his tormentor-Donald.
The short gets in one last joke, as Donald pulls out one last flute.
Donald is still delightfully playful, even as he evades all of the band's instruments, and fittingly manages to get the last, triumphant, notes of the short.
....."The Band Concert" is an odd animal among Mickey Mouse shorts. It marks the beginning of Mickey's color era, and also marks the true start of Donald Duck's rise to prominence after his debut in "The Wise Little Hen" and two black and white Mickeys, as well as ushering in a truly exceptional era for Mickey Mouse. However, it also marked the beginning of the end, as Donald is the true star here (so much so that most of the 214 screen grabs I racked up for this short are of Donald, or of reactions to Donald), and would mark the beginning of a string of shorts where Mickey would be window dressing in his own series. However, with the shifting focus would come new ideas and, as in this short, some wonderfully enjoyable cartoons. While there is a nagging desire on my part (and that of others) to warn of the coming end of Mickey's theatrical career, I feel that it's better (especially this month) to celebrate something great.
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