Hugh Harman and Rudolf Ising were Walt Disney’s most dogged competitors – friendly competitors to be sure, but they spent much of their time in the 1930s not only trying to keep up with Disney, but determined to top him. They always took careful note of what Walt was doing and seemed to be waiting for an opportunity to get ahead of him.
Safely ensconced at MGM in 1935, with large budgets and great animators, Hugh and Rudy saw such a chance. “Swing” had grabbed the reins of popular music – and here was a subject ripe for animated cartoons. MGM felt the same – and released a rare advertising campaign to promote an individual cartoon (the studio was quite aggressive promoting the various shorts series, but the push behind this one was more extraordinary).
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Harman and Ising made many great cartoons during this period, but The Old Mill Pond really stands out – primarily due to the music and the spot-on caricatures of Cab Calloway, Ethel Waters, Fats Waller, Bill Robinson, Louis Armstrong, the Mills Brothers and others…
The Old Mill Pond didn’t outshine Disney, but the film was a success and was nominated for an Academy Award. The Harman-Ising Jazz Frogs were so popular they followed this film with an even more energized sequel, Swing Wedding (1937) – and incorporated the frogs into a trio of legendary Bosko cartoons. But that’s another story.