April 6, 2016 posted by

“Mickey’s Fire Brigade” (1935)

fire brigade-modelsheet600

In today’s breakdown, Mickey, Donald and Goofy are fighting blazes in this classic Disney cartoon!

Walt_Disney_s_Mickey_Mouse_Mickey_s_Fire_Brigade-331149848-largeBefore Fire Brigade, Disney produced two cartoons centered around fire fighting, playing off the comedy of incompetence. The first was Alice the Fire Fighter, a 1926 Alice Comedy. In 1930 came The Fire Fighters with fire chief Mickey Mouse, Horace Horsecollar and Minnie Mouse, who is trapped inside the burning building. (The draft for the latter cartoon can be seen here.) In this cartoon, Mickey plays the fire chief again, this time paired with Donald Duck and Goofy, who previously starred as a comic trio in director Ben Sharpsteen’s Mickey’s Service Station. (The draft can also be seen here.)

Sixteen animators are credited for the animation in Fire Brigade, reflecting the studio’s growth during the mid-1930s— a mixture of stalwarts (animator Johnny Cannon was hired in July, 1927), future directors (Jack Kinney), story artists (Nick George and the renowned “Moose-keeter” Roy Williams), and budding young animators (Eric Larson). Milt Kahl, an in-betweener at the time of this film’s production, recalled animator Bill Tytla asking, “What scenes have you screwed up lately?”

Poor-ol-MickeyIn the earlier Fire Fighters, as befits his global popularity, Mickey is given a great amount of the various gags and its heroism; in Fire Brigade, Mickey, Donald and Goofy are given their own sequences, tailored to their personalities, and gather together near the climax. Different animators are given certain sequences by character; Marvin Woodward and Paul Allen animate Mickey, struggling with the fire hose and subsequent scenes as he is precariously placed on top of a dresser drawer, high above the smoldering building. Wolfgang “Woolie” Reitherman, another burgeoning animator, animates scene 29 of Goofy’s coffee break, with doughnuts, on a table he failed to discard from the window. Reitherman would later specialize on Goofy throughout the ‘30s and ‘40s. Several artists vary during Donald’s scenes, such as Don Towsley, Fred Spencer, Jack Kinney and Eric Larson.

Clarabelle Cow is also seen in this cartoon, completely oblivious to the fire and washing in a bathtub as she practices her vocal exercises. Former East Coast animators Bill Tytla and Grim Natwick primarily handle her scenes. Tytla left Paul Terry’s studio and was hired at Disney’s on November 15, 1934—three days after Natwick. Tytla’s assignments in Fire Brigade were among his earliest for the studio, displaying a keen solidity in his drawing/animation, particularly with Goofy and Clarabelle. Impressed by his draftsmanship, Disney assigned him to animate on the dwarfs in his first animated feature on December 23, 1935—four months after Fire Brigade was released. John McManus, another New York import, previously animated at Fables Pictures and Van Beuren in the ‘20s and ‘30s. He handles the impressive aerial shot in scene 17, as Mickey hangs onto the relentless fire hose, which sprays its water into the camera.

firebrigade-drawing600SAMSUNG CSC

The draft for this cartoon is inaccessible at this time; instead, Mark Kausler’s notes reveal the identifications. With new research developing, we can confirm that the artist credited as “Paul” in the notes isn’t Paul Smith (he left with Hugh Harman and others in May, 1928) but Paul Allen. A previous breakdown of On Ice, released a month after Fire Brigade, has Allen animating on Mickey as well. The notes indicate an artist credited as “Nick,” which was once attributed to animator (and later shorts director) Charles “Nick” Nichols. However, documents for Disney’s 1935 titles don’t include Nichols; instead, it is Nick George, who animated on a few titles released that year. It’s uncertain if Nichols served as an in-betweener at the studio—or if he was even present during this cartoon’s production.

As an added treat, here is the pencil test, salvaged from Ben Sharpsteen’s estate:

Now, here’s the breakdown video!


(Thanks to Mark Kausler, Michael Barrier and Frank Young for their help.)


  • It is interesting to note here how fast and furious this cartoon is when you compare this with the kinds of cartoons that former colleagues Hugh Harman and Rudy Ising were creating at MGM. The fastest the HAPPY HARMONIES ever got were the TWO PUPS or BOSKO or jazz frogs titles, and those are sure interesting to examine, overall. I’ll bet that Pinto Culvig wishes he had dimes for every time his magnificent “putt putt” motor noises were used. He would lend his talents in a similar way to MGM cartoons, including a similar title, “OLD SMOKEY”, and that cartoon gave some terrific rubbery human expression to the brand new fire engine that the Captain wanted to replace the weary old horse for whom the cartoon is named. Thanks for posting this; it’s a lot of fun!

  • That scene by John McManus with Mickey flying in the air on the end of the hose is one of the most exciting and well drawn bits of animation I’ve ever seen! And then, to top it off, the water “hits” the camera lens?!?! Is there any other animation where something hits the camera lens like that? Not that I can recall. What a tremendous sequence!

    • Chuckles Gardner and I would like to remind you of the ending of “Way Down Yonder In The Corn”, a Columbia “Fox and Crow” short from ten years after this one.

      A roller-coaster car, containing F. Fox and C. Crow, careens directly into the camera lens, shattering it into shards and exposing the Columbia “The End” card.

  • While this is good for its own charm, I also like GABBY cartoon FIRE CHEESE. Why? Because of the usage of the “Merry WIves of Windsor Overture”….

  • I love this cartoon, thanks for the breakdown. I especially like the burning away of the titles, and the crazy camera angles. I always assumed it was animated by 3 or 4 animators; it’s a real testament to Disney’s organization that the work of 16 animators can flow together so seamlessly.

  • Cy Young did the burning titles?

  • This cartoon, hands down, is one of my favorite. The noodly Donald Duck, the incredible amount of action, the hilarious Goofy-Clarabelle exchange… It’s a near perfect fusion of ink-spot style characters of the 20s transitioning to the polished grandeur of the 40s.

  • Never noticed this before, and it’s not mentioned on the later cartoon’s draft, but the scene in “Clock Cleaners” of the stork flying out the window and back is a reuse of Goofy’s table in “Fire Brigade”! I always wondered why Woolie was given that scene, since the rest of the stork sequence was by “Frenchy” de Tremaudan. I guess Sharpsteen must have wanted Woolie to trace over his own scene from the earlier cartoon (and created an animation-reuse monster in the process 😉 )

    The scene where Goofy crashes into the bathroom sink off-screen seems to be one of the many gags where they pretend they’re going to show a toilet but then they don’t (see also MGM’s Lonesome Lennie and many occasions of a metal object like an alarm clock under someone’s bed where you would expect a chamber-pot!).

    The animation had certainly improved by “Moving Day”, but Woolie’s scenes in that cartoon have the same “noodly” look as his scenes in “Fire Brigade”.

  • Hi–I just found this blog as I was googling my mother’s cousin–the animator John McManus. I am in my 70’s and we lost touch with that part of my grandfather’s family. Do you know where I can learn more about his animation? Ironically all these
    years later I have two animations of my own in film festivals–but very different from the look of Disney.
    All best,
    Frances B

  • I have a copy of this film in BW 8 mm but it is labeled Donald Duck in the Fireman – is this strange ?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *