In today’s breakdown, Mickey, Donald and Goofy are fighting blazes in this classic Disney cartoon!
Before 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?”
In 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.
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.)