This week’s breakdown profiles another Oscar-winning cartoon by Rudy Ising!
Through the 1930s, Walt Disney’s status became more revered in animation. He received multiple Academy Awards for the Silly Symphonies, including one special entry, Ferdinand the Bull (1938). After the success of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Disney sought higher ambitions in feature-length animated films, and thus ceased production on the acclaimed Silly Symphonies by 1939. No short subjects from the studio were selected for Oscar candidacy, so other studios previously snubbed by Walt’s triumphs were finally given a merited advantage.
The Milky Way, directed by Rudy Ising, became the first non-Disney cartoon to receive the honor. The two other nominees, MGM’s Puss Gets the Boot and Tex Avery’s A Wild Hare, which marked the origin of Tom and Jerry and crystallization of Bugs Bunny, represented an impetuous approach to animation, but the Academy still favored a captivating spectacle in the Disney fashion. (Incidentally, Walter Lantz’s Knock Knock, the debut of Woody Woodpecker, was screened by voters but hadn’t received a nomination.) Ising’s partner, Hugh Harman, built his post-Disney career at Schlesinger’s and MGM around competition against Walt. Ising didn’t share the same contempt, yet his cartoons for the latter studio displayed charm and warmth that matched their competition.
Ising assigned his animators to entitled sequences for The Milky Way. George Gordon’s “cutesy” style starts and ends the cartoon. Mike Lah animates the little kittens (designed by Bob Allen) dreaming about the Milky Way, finding their means of conveyance and floating up into the stratosphere.
Ray Abrams draws the kittens more rounded and softer in his scenes, where they reach their destination and dive into their newly found Grade-A treat. David Treffman handles various lunar-based gags (the streamlined comet train, the planet Mars’ shooting stars, the North Star and the Dipper “constellations”), and the kittens in peril in the butter-enclosed milk dam.
Pete Burness handles the kittens with the “milk weed” and their discovery of milk contained in gas pumps. Carl Urbano animates the milk geysers, and the rumbling effect that occurs when its liquid is consumed by one kitten. It’s difficult to interpret the artist credited for the shot of the Earth receding in scene 22, which is re-used in the film’s climax to illustrate the vast distance between galaxy and terra firma.
Production phases for several cartoons, including The Milky Way, were announced by September 1939. Animation was assigned by December 1939 and January 1940, as indicated on the draft. By May, Scott Bradley completed the musical score. A couple of weeks before its June 22 release, MGM coordinated with the National Dairy Council, promoting and advertising Milky Way with milk bottle tops, window cards for grocery stores, streamers and billboards to coincide with National Milk Month.
Enjoy the sparkling color restoration on today’s breakdown video!
(Thanks to Jerry Beck, Michael Barrier and Yowp for their help.)