Animation Trails
July 29, 2020 posted by Charles Gardner

Toons Trip Out (Part 1)

Summer is here – and will probably be regretted by most this season as a time to perspire profusely into one’s face mask. As the present situation has put a crimp into nearly everyone’s plans to “get away from it all” for the season, once again it appears an appropriate time to live vicariously through the efforts of our classic toon stars to find some vacation R&R domestically and abroad.

A few parameters to keep the subject manageable. No coverage here of “day trips” – we shall concern ourselves with endeavors requiring an extended holiday. Also, because the sheer number of such episodes renders the category a virtual genre unto itself, we will try to exclude coverage of hunting excursions – which actually might also qualify as day trip material anyway, as camping isn’t necessarily required. Thirdly, many simple travelogue spoofs may be bypassed, as most are only about spot gags on a particular country or location rather than the getting there. Fourth, as it would seem contradictory to the season we celebrate, we’ll avoid wintery excursions for skiing (already covered within these webpages) and to remote snow-covered lodges and cabin retreats (such as Mickey Mouse’s Squatters’ Rights) – this will also of necessity mean bypassing the many cartoons involving birds flying South for the Winter. Finally, there will be only minimal coverage of safaris (many of which are not truly populated by vacationers at all, but by hunters or scientific types). There’ll be a few minor exceptions to these guidelines where other content of the films seem conducive to our subject, but these limitations will allow for “smoother sailing” to navigate the many epic ventures toons have taken in search of their vacation paradise.

One of the earliest animated travelers was Farmer Alfalfa – usually a total stick-in-the mud about staying close to his barnyard surroundings and chores, but he once got bitten by the vacation bug in his early days. Of course, despite a change of surroundings, he doesn’t venture far from his live-action boss’s home turf. In Farmer Al Falfa Sees New York (Paul Terry/Bray Studios, 10/18/16), our country bumpkin arrives by train, and one look at the station alone causes him to have the jitters and pound on the door to be let back on board the train. A porter asks if he’d like him to take his bags – and Al infers “take” as for keeps and runs for it. Outside the station, a taxi driver doesn’t even wait to be hailed, and dumps the farmer inside his hack, Al ultimately falling out the back window. He is sighted by one “Periscope Pete”, who observes him with binoculars from a high tower vantage point, then telephones an alert to a femme fatale named Sapho that a “live one” has just landed, “filthy with coin”. She intercepts the farmer with a “come hither” glance, then invites him into a swanky café for cocktails. Two drinks, and the farmer is dancing on the table – then out cold on the floor. Sapho reaches into Al’s satchel for his bankroll, but is scared away by Al’s dog, who is playing burglar alarm inside. Al comes to, having no idea what’s happened, and stumbles out of the café still pixilated to the point of engaging in a flirtation with a lamp post. Along comes another street denizen, and spying Al’s cash, ushers him to a meeting of his “millionaire” friends – a crooked poker game. There the other three fellows engage in some sleight of hand, exchanging cards under the table. Al’s dog comes to the rescue again, intercepting the card passes, and delivering the swapped cards to the farmer. When the time comes to reveal his hand, the farmer slaps down a five card hand of “All aces!” His dog knows this can only mean trouble, and jumps for the chandelier, knocking the lights out, as pistols blaze in the darkness. Al and his dog high-tail it out the door, Al’s satchel loaded with his winnings. The final shot finds Al back on the train, seated atop newly filled sacks of money and smoking a cigar for the iris out.

Many early characters’ motivations for travel appear to be far from recreational. Colonel Heeza Liar was usually too busy, playing the role of explorer/adventurer. Alice, from Disney’s Alice Comedies series, usually either lived in the exotic locales or was there on some business enterprise. Felix the Cat almost never had anything on his mind outside of finding his next bite to eat. It appears that the first silent characters to regularly make a habit of traveling for the sheer fun of it were Mutt and Jeff, who appeared in a long line of mostly-lost films bearing the names of exotic locales: such probable candidates include “Around the World in Nine Minutes” (1918), Throwing the Bull” (1918), “Mutt and Jeff in Switzerland” (1919), Mutt and Jeff in Spain” (1919), Mutt and Jeff in Iceland” (some think it may have been “Ireland”) (1920), “Touring” (1921), and “Around the Pyramids” (1922).

Two survivors document some of the duo’s traveling exploits. Mixing in Mexico (1925) seems to exist in original form only in a shortened home movie edition, but was color-redrawn by Fred Ladd in or around 1970 from a surviving print that appears to have been missing its dialogue intertitles. The color version suffers from typical draftsmanship errors that make the animation look jittery and clumsy to a point not evident in the surviving B&W footage, and appears to be missing at least one shot from the home movie abridgment – plus even commits a major error where a background is panned backwards so that the characters appear to be running in reverse! But, as it is the only nearly-complete print currently available, it has to be endured, with apologies to the original animators. (There is some confusion over the title of this episode. While the title as listed appears on the color version and in online filmography, the home movie print merely calls itself Bull Fight – which coincidentally is the title of an episode listed in filmography from an earlier season!

Which film has actually misattributed its title, or whether the filmography has listed the same film twice by alternate titles, remains unknown.) Turistas Mutt and Jeff pass a bullfight arena, whose Spanish-language wall poster translates for the audience by way of a dissolve to announce a $10,000 prize for anyone who stays in the arena 15 minutes with the “Mad Bull”. Mutt is of course anxious – to volunteer the services of Jeff to win the prize. But Jeff has different ideas, as he witnesses one Torero crashing through the side of the arena wall in a daze, and a pair of stretcher-bearers arrive to await another brave matador’s flight over the arena wall and into the street. Jeff shakes his head in a definite “No” to Mutt and runs for it, but persistent Mutt catches up with his little friend, insisting that he has a plan. From a parked car, Mutt yanks out a pair of tall springs, and fastens them to Jeff’s feet. It takes a minute for Jeff to get the hang of balancing on these, but he does see the obvious advantages of some extra “spring” in his step.

Mutt then swipes from a clothesline the makings of a matador’s outfit, with long stockings tall enough to conceal the springs. Dressed to the nines, a bouncy Jeff makes his way into the arena. For reasons unknown (was it supposed to be ladies’ day?), Mutt appears to avoid the price of a ticket by himself disguising as a beguiling senorita with a mantilla-topped hairdo. Unfortunately, he spends the next several minutes attempting to ward off the unwanted attentions of a macho bandalero. Some material is undoubtedly missing from the print (for example, a pepper shaker is shown as if a secret weapon brought in by Mutt, yet never appears to be used in the continuity of the film). Nevertheless, Jeff has a wild time playing leapfrog with the bull, and using his sword in a blade-to-horn battle more resembling a musketeer duel than standard toreador passes. Jeff also engages in some fancy capework, at one point transforming his cape into an umbrella, then the next into a wall to hide behind. Finally, the bull is maneuvered so that he crashes hornfirst into the wall below Mutt’s and the bandelero’s seats. When Jeff realizes the bull is caught, he puffs up his chest in defiance, approaches the bull from the rear, and kicks him. Grabbing the bull’s tail, he uses it as a whisk broom to dust himself off, then forms it into a lariat to perform rope tricks to please the crowd. But the bull has had enough, and with a mighty tug, yanks out the section of wall his horns are stuck into – taking Mutt and the bandelero along with him, riding on top of the severed wall section. The chase is on, and both Mutt and the bandelero bounce off of their perches and into the line of fire of the stampeding bovine. The bandelero is hit and sails over the wall like the previous toreadors. Mutt and Jeff frantically keep exchanging places as to who is closer to the bull’s now-freed horns. Another blow is struck by the bull, and Mutt goes sailing to the street. As Mutt paces in anticipation outside, the stretcher-bearers reappear again in wait for the next victim. He arrives in short order – but is not the victim intended. There in the stretcher rests the bull, with a goofy look on his face, thrown for a loop. Mutt’s eyes pop – even more so as Jeff emerges a moment later, lugging a money sack nearly bigger than he is, and bows to fans cheering him from over the wall, while Mutt finishes the picture in a manner commonplace to his adventures – fainted dead away.

The culmination of M&J’s travel adventures is a late entry which shows all the earmarks of being a “cheater” – cobbled together from various clips of world visits the pair had performed in earlier years. In The Globe Trotters (1925), Mutt and Jeff fall asleep in an otherwise empty theater waiting for the start of a lecture, and imagine themselves as the lecturers, presenting to a full house movies of their exploits on an adventure around the world. (Perhaps this was the borrowed premise from the original “Around the world in Nine Minutes”.) This film is currently available online only in its redrawn color version, this time commissioned by Bud Fisher himself in the 1930’s in Kromacolor (possibly a Cinecolor knock-off), which version is missing intertitles as well as a few shots of animation, some of which have turned up on a nearly complete B&W original on an “Inkwell Images” DVD collection which is worth having. One of the missing shots shows our heroes taking off in a dirigible, depicted by way off a live-action model against a 3-dimensional globe. First stop for the pair is the North Pole (perhaps there really was a previous Iceland episode), where they celebrate its discovery – only to find they have arrived a little late, as a gentleman dressed in traditional outfit of rich Uncle Pennybags from a Monopoly game steps in and presents them with a business card, from the North Pole Real Estate Company, offering a choice selection of icebergs and igloos. Our heroes as usual faint dead away. Next stop: Russia (possibly a clip from Saving Russia (1918)). Out duo investigate a mattress factory, where Russian Bolsheviks enter through one door with full black beards, and exit another door facially sheared. Inside, a crew removes each man’s whiskers with a lawn mower, then stuffs the cuttings into the new output of mattresses with a claw shovel.

Next destination: Switzerland (undoubtedly from Mutt and Jeff in Switzerland (1919)), where Jeff milks a goat to the point of deflation, then pours the milk into a large vat in which Mutt operates a churn hooked to his rocking chair. After a minute, Mutt produces a giant cheese out of the vat, which they roll into a courtyard. There, a drill team of armed sentries is put through their paces by a sergeant, who gives orders to fire as the cheese is rolled in. Here possibly is the origin of the oft-used gag repeated in practically every Terrytoon about Switzerland, as the firing squad’s shots produce the holes to make Mutt’s creation into Swiss cheese.

Stop #4: Venice. (I can’t seem to locate a likely title in the filmography to identify this clip’s source – any guesses are welcome.) Mutt and Jeff come to a canal, and don rubbers in an attempt to wade across – only to sink completely into the water’s depth. Swimming back to the sidewalk, they spot a gondola left unattended, and hijack it. They observe the traffic system for municipal Venice, as cross-traffic is directed by a traffic cop standing waist-deep in the canal, turning a set of stop and go signals to let continuous lines of gondolas through. Finally, the duo arrive back in little old New York (source for this clip is also unknown), with a Times Square sign wishing them a welcome home. Unfortunately, a New York welcome is far from gentle, as the team is swept aloft a flow of humanity into the subways during rush hour. Below, opening subway cars receive the tumultuous throngs to the point of overflow, each car ballooning into the shape of a rounded oversized sausage. Yet somehow, no matter how many trains arrive, Mutt and Jeff are always left outside when the doors close, lying trampled on the platform floor. (There is a definite mystery in connection with this sequence. The identification of a New York base of operations suggests that this was an East Coast production. The Charles Mintz studio would later include a mix of East and West Coasters, and strangely seems to have acquired all the drawings for this subway sequence years after the Fisher studio’s closure, for exact reuse in Krazy Kat’s 1933 production, The Broadway Malady. Who was the common denominator between these rival animation studios?) The scene finally dissolves back to the theatre, where a guard (in a probably lost intertitle) appears to announce to our hapless pair that the lecture was cancelled, and hurls the two out into the street for the fade out.

Vacation (Fleischer/Red Seal, Out of the Inkwell, 7/23/24) finds Koko the Clown struggling with Max’s pen-point to pull out from it a traveling suitcase, for the start of his scheduled vacation. Telling Max not to be stingy with the ink, he gets Max to draw him some scenic surroundings, with a tent and a bright summer sun. But the sun is a little too much for Koko, who begind to perspire profusely – causing him to use the tent fabric to seize the sun from the sky, roll it up in a ball, and toss it back into the inkwell. “Not that kind of a vacation”, Koko complains. “I want life – pep – something with a kick.” Max draws him a mule. While Koko struggles to figure out how to mount the critter without finding himself facing the beast’s tail end (the mule keeps turning around, making Koko wonder in his mind’s eye if the animal is a headless version of a pushmi-pullyu), Max plans a trick on Koko – setting up to draw his next set of backgrounds and props by mixing the ink with a liberal dose of liquid rubber. Max draws Koko a carnival and midway. Koko first tries the merry-go-round, having the mule substitute as one of the horses – but Max draws in the brass ring with the rubberized ink, so when Koko catches it, it merely stretches without pulling out of the ring chute, then draws Koko back, halting the rotation of the ride. Next comes a Ferris wheel. Koko enters one of the wheel’s cars, but its floor stretches dramatically under his weight, then the rotation of the wheel throws and flops him around almost as is swinging a limp fish.

Koko lands in front of a hot dog stand, but Max has rigged this too, with rubberized hot dogs that can’t be chewed. A live dog spots the wiener as if reunited with an old friend, shouting, “Rover!”, and the two take off. Koko pursues them onto a pier, but falls off. No worry – the water is drawn in rubber, too, on which Koko merely bounces around. The wiener finds its way to Koko’s mule, who swallows it – and instantly becomes rubberized too, incapable of supporting Koko’s weight, and folding onto a shriveled wad of ink lines. A creative shot has Koko bounce off several items of background, finally getting the idea that the set has been sabotaged, and screw himself clockwise into the ground, stretching everything as if he were pulling in the world with him – then reversing the process by unscrewing himself counterclockwise. (If some of these ideas give you a case of deja vu, it should be noted that the Ferris wheel scene and the background stretch were reused nearly verbatim years later in the sound short, Betty Boop’s May Party (1933).) In cutaways to the live action world, we intermittently see shots of Max feverishly building a contraption of wood and nails inside his studio. Koko finally bounces off the background, and discovers what Max has built – a scale miniature “marble maze” style roller coaster for Koko to slide down, wuth the ever-waiting inkwell at the bottom of the chute – and Max slides the inkwell stopper down the chute after Koko to “put a lid” on another episode.

Perhaps Betty Boop’s secret middle name was “Jonah”. It seemed like any time she got aborad a ship, you could bet it would sink. (But then, as Popeye observed in Mutiny Ain’t Nice, women are a jinx at sea.) Betty’s first encounter with an ocean cruise was Swim or Sink (Fleischer.Paramount, Talkartoons, 3/11/32 – Dave Fleischer, dir., Seymour Kneitel/Bernard Wolf, anim.). The film opens on a terrific storm at sea, with waves battering against a hapless liner and lightning flashing from the heavens. Oddly, although Boop, Bimbo and Koko are the featured stars of this episode, they are never seen in the storm sequence. On board, crowds of passengers run for the lifeboats, but a large hippo blocks their path. “Stop! Women and children first!” He of course instantly dons a female wig and jumps into the boat himself – for his efforts getting nothing but falling right through the boat’s bottom into the sea. A pig is about to dive overboard, then stops himself, realizing he’s forgotten something – he pulls out a book titled “How to Swim” and begins to read up on his first lesson. A dog jumps out a porthole wearing a life presever – and a mouse follows using a donut for the same purpose (a gag while would be regularly pirated for reuse by many a Terrytoon). A passenger already in the water catches up with a floating life preserver – but sinks like a stone into the sea the minute he puts it on. Another swimmer thinks he’s found a floatation device, which only turns out to be the humps of a partially submerged camel. A flock of passengers wash up on the neck of a swimming giraffe. Finally, the waves’ froth forms into fists to sock the ship both stem and stern, then fold the ship in two to drag it beneath the surface. A lightning bolt develops a partial face and acts as a fight referee, counting from one to ten to count the ship down and out – but making it a “long count” by adding to the numbers “Jack, Queen, King.”

As dawn breaks, Betty. Bimbo and Koko are finally seen, adrift on a raft, with Koko’s shorts serving as a signal flag. Helpless Betty sings “Oh, Mamma, What Can We Do?”, while we get one of the usual gratuitous shots of her underwear. A ship appears on the horizon, causing the trio to dance around the raft with glee – until the ship’s closer approach reveals the insignia of the Jolly Roger on the sails, and the ship’s bow literally swallows our trio on board, spitting out the raft. The pirate captain orders the crew to take the boys below into the brig, but “Leave me the woman.” “You mean?”, an angry Betty inquires. “Uh huh” says the captain, briefly turning into a snake, and eying Betty both with his good eye and the obviously undead-one lurking under his eyepatch. The reflection of Betty is seen in each eye, scoping down to her pretty legs, causing Betty to rearrange her hemline to avoid another display of her unmentionables. Below decks, the brig is not all it’s cracked up to be – just cracked – as the chains holding Bimbo are only made of paper, and the wall manacles holding Koko are stronger than the wall itself, the whole section of which cracks away from Koko’s tugging. Everyone winds up in a chase on deck and in the uppermost rigging (a giveaway as to how much image is missing from current prints at the top and bottom, as characters leap too high to be seen, then reappear on the next mast, due to current prints being zoomed in to fit conventional Academy ratio, while the original film was made in the taller, narrower Movietone format). Our trio run out onto the ship’s plank, where a huge fish (a dogfish, perhaps?) awaits below with open mouth. The pirates advance onto the board, but our trio merely jump over their heads back aboard ship, leaving the pirates to fall into the mouth of the fish, who submerges with the whole crew. (See. I told you Betty was a Jonah.) Betty, Bimbo and Koko laugh heartlessly at the crew’s fate. But in the briny depths below, the pirates’ fate may not be all that bad. As the fish winces with indigestion, an x-ray view shows the pirates inside, who have somehow managed to bring with them their galley table, glasses, and a barrel of rum, busy toasting each other and singing the old chantey, “What Do We Do With the Drunken Sailor?”

As an added treat, I present this episode with my own reconstructed titles. UM&M TV really did a number on this one. As was their custom with most black-and-whites, they would grab a single frame from the original main title, and doctor it to zoom in the image so that Paramount copyright would be removed from the bottom of the frame, then slip their own name in somewhere within what was left of the image. This time, some hopeless idiot chose a frame before the full name of the cartoon had even faded in! So, instead of the copyrighted title Swim or Sink, all that appears onscreen are the first letters – S O S – with large gaps between letters waiting for the rest of the title to fade in. The soundtrack and the “electrical” style of the lettering font further clue us that the “S O S” letters were highlighted to accompany the sound of the traditional ship’s Morse Code distress call heard on the soundtrack – suggesting that the lengthy duration of the signaling heard on the cartoon was intended to be accompanied by an animated effect – the blinking of the “S O S’ letters in sync with the soundtrack beeps. I have duplicated this “lost” effect to the best of my ability, with painstaking frame-by-frame synchronization to match the soundtrack beeps, and hope you enjoy this rare view what this cartoon should have been in its proper presentation.

Previously reviewed in my past article “Aw, Whadda You Afraid Of? (Part 1)” was Betty’s second cruise ship adventure, Is My Palm Read? (Fleischer/Paramount, Betty Boop, 2/17/33 – Dave Fleischer, dir., David Tendlar/William Henning, anim.) This time, it is seen within the confines of a future prediction in a crystal ball. Again, the ocean liner on which Betty is sailing is trapped in the ferocity of a storm at sea (its forward smokestack holding up an umbrella). The waves grab hold of the ship and flip it upside down, dumping all the passengers into the ocean. As the ship is replaced by the waves rightside up, the ship’s smokestacks manage to pump our a series of large smoke rings which settle on the water to act as huge life preservers, floating away all the other passengers bur Betty before the ship sinks. Betty is left adrift aboard a life preserver, and washes ashore on a “deserted” island (after the waves gently pat her posterior). Well, the island is not quite “deserted” – it seems to be loaded with wildlife who look in at embarrassing moments (such as when Betty is changing out of wet clothes and into a grass skirt) – and includes a hut full of menacing ghosts. Details of her rescue by Bimbo, and the “here we go again” ending as future prediction becomes reality, have been discussed in the prior article.

One additional Boop appears to have Bimbo as the tourist, while Betty plays the native. In Betty Boop’s Bamboo Isle (Fleischer/Paramount, 9/23/32 – Dave Fleischer, dir., Seymour Knietel/Bernard Wolf, anim.), Bimbo cavorts in a small boat with outboard motor, zooming in and out of the Panama Canal between Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, sailing the world while strumming an old ukelele. He suddenly encounters an island and runs straight into a rock. He is flung inland to a stream, where a dark-skinned native Betty Boop sails in a small canoe. “Holy Smack”, Betty reacts (avoiding any other more obvious expletive), as Bimbo lands with a thud into her boat. But she soon befriends the stranger, playing Hawaiian guitar while Bimbo sings and rows. Bimbo accidentally pilots the canoe over the edge of a waterfall, where a tug of war between the current and three fish flip Betty and Bimbo ashore into a clearing surrounded by a spooky chorus of singing trees. (? ? ?) Along comes an angry tribe of other natives to investigate the stranger. To avoid detection as a white man – er, uh, dog – Bimbo darkens his cheeks with mud, and plants a small bone in his hair, then sings to the natives the strains of the “Hawaiian War Chant”. He is greeted by the natives as a fellow islander (in greeting shouts that definitely sound Jewish – if anyone can translate, I would appreciate it.) At a gathering in his honor, Betty performs a sensuous hula dance (rotoscoped from a featured dancer from the troupe, “The Royal Samoans”, who not only provide the soundtrack for this picture, but are seen live in a brief introduction during the credits). But a rain shower passes overhead, washing the mud off Bimbo’s cheeks, and revealing him to be a phoney. As the boards and motor of Bimbo’s boat miraculously self-assemble themselves, Bimbo and Betty take to the sea, while the natives pursue in their canoes. The chase is again seen from a global perspective, up the coast of the Western U.S., across land to the Atlantic, back to sea again down the Eastern seaboard, and into the Gulf or Mexico, where Betty and Bimbo disappear up the Mississippi, while the state of Florida somehow land-locks the natives in the Gulf. Betty and Bimbo share a kiss, seen through the hole of a busted umbrella, for the iris out. (A titling note: it appears that a custom ending is missing from this cartoon, as the soundtrack runs for a longer-that-usual time to allow for the final notes of the Samoans. The film probably ended followed the pattern of the recently rediscovered “Old Man Of the Mountain” and “Dinah”, with the featured performing group seen again in live action while a white stencil version of the Paramount logo fades in over their image.)

In his last short for Columbia Pictures, the famous Mickey Mouse gets in one of his most exotic vacations. Mickey in Arabia (Disney/Columbia, 7/11/32 – Wilfred Jackson, dir.) finds our hero and his lady love Minnie in an elaborate traveling compartment atop a camel, entering a walled city in the far East. A lot of sightseeing takes place in the Bazaar, with Minnie snapping photographs. Mickey poses with a local veiled beauty, who briefly lifts her veil to smile for the camera, exposing horrendous dentures. A juggler manages to halt all his balls in mid-air so they won’t blur in Minnie’s shot. But as Minnie backs up further and further for a long shot, she fails to see the treacherous hands of Sheik Pete lunging for her from over a wall. The Sheik takes off with his prize aboard a fast stallion. Mickey’s steed, however, has gotten into a barrel of beer in the marketplace (a reworking of Mickey’s troubles with his ostrich mount in The Gallopin’ Gaucho (1928)), and staggers and stumbles his way across the sands – even flipping over and running on his humps instead of his legs. (One can only wonder if some of this may also have been reworked from the lost Oswald film Harem Scarem (1928), from which a pencil test was recently recreated of Oswald riding a rickety camel for a brief shot.) While Pete pursues Minnie inside his palace fortress, Mickey scales the wall, leaps in on a chandelier, and kicks Pete headfirst into a signaling gong (a la the later titles of J. Arthur Rank or the credits of Gunga Din). The gong alerts an army of palace guards, who surround the mice. But Pete, turban pushed down over his eyes, does what Pete does best – pulls out two pistols, and shoots blindly throughout the palace. Everybody, including the guards, scatter for cover.

After a minute or so of mayhem, Pete runs out of bullets, and finally gets the turban off of his eyes. Mickey struggles to open a large door padlock, and is almost shish-kabobbed by Pete’s flying scimitar. Mickey attempts to pull it from the door to use as a weapon himself – but only comes up with the hilt – no blade. He narrowly misses having Pete do him in again while weaponless. Pete sources new weaponry from two barrels of assorted knives and swords. Several penetrate a decorative screen, which Mickey bends to spring the weapons back en masse on Pete like a catapult, reducing Pete to his long underwear. (In desert heat, do sheiks really wear red flannels?) Pete pursues Mickey (carrying Minnie in a large earthen jug) up a spiral tower staircase and out onto the palace walls. Mickey misses a step, causing the jug with Minnie to bounce along the wall and off its edge, Mickey narrowly saving Minnie from doom by pulling her up with her hat strap. But the wall edge they are standing on collapses, sending them both falling. A window awning below breaks their fall. Above, Pete dives on them, armed with another scimitar. But Mickey cranks the awning shut so that Pete flies by them, landing with his head buried in the sand below, and the drop-seat of his underwear open. As Mickey and Minnie reopen the awning, one last threat presents itself – the palace guards have regrouped above, and hurl armfuls of spears at them. Once again, Mickey folds up the awning in the nick of time – and the spears all find their mark right in Pete’s drop-seat. Pete runs off howling into the desert with a tail of spears resembling a peacock, while Mickey and Minnie safely land on the humps of their now-revived camel, and go happily bouncing off astride him to their next adventure.

Mickey in Arabia was an obviously influential cartoon – as it spawned two carbon-copy look-alikes from other studios inside of less than a year. The Crystal Gazebo (some sources say “Gazabo” (Charles Mintz, Krazy Kat, 11/7/32 – Ben Harrison/Manny Gould, dir.), and Coo Coo the Magician (Ub Iwerks/MGM, Flip the Frog, 1/21/33), each follow the same basic formula – hero and girlfriend as tourists in Arabia, girlfriend kidnaped by evil magician, hero to the rescue. As the plot is strictly a borrowed formula, both films concentrate all their efforts on action, spectacle, and sight gags so numerous they defy verbal description, rather than develop any real storyline. They are each better seen than read about (although “Gazebo” is sadly unavailable on the web), and so for once I defer to the films themselves. At least, to their credit, each comes up with their own gag material, with no direct lifts from the Mickey original.

Camping Out (Charles Mintz/Columbia, Scrappy, 8/10/32 Dick Huemer, dir.) is among the weakest vacation trips for toons I’ve encountered. Scrappy, Ooopie, and Yippy head for the great outdoors in an overloaded ramshackle flivver, which splits in two when they reach an appropriate destination. This one sentence basically tells the plot – as there is none. For the next six and a half minutes, we see nothing but a random dancing (and howling by Yippy) musicale, mostly of the dog cavorting with birds, a squirrel, owls, bunnies, and a pesky mosquito (who is disposed of by a popgun shot from Oopie). While the animation is competent by 1930’s standards, the film gets nowhere and virtually stands still, while we wait for a storyline that never takes place. Nearly a sixth of the cartoon just has Yippy sitting in a tree “singing” with the birds! The film seems to have been nothing but a “quota filler” to meet distribution schedule when they ran short one project. For historians of the series, the one unique feature of the episode is what seems to be the only instance where Yippy speaks, asking a passing squirrel, “Whar’cha got in the bag?”. The squirrel replies, “Nutz!”.

A season or two later, Mickey Mouse returns to the vacation scene by using the exact same title as the Scrappy venture, Camping Out (Disney/United Artists, 2/17/34 – David Hand, dir.) – but with markedly better results, and a rich palette of gray-tones that perhaps suggests that cels and backgrounds might have been painted in color in the manner used for some of Ub Iwerks’ Willie Whopper cartoons. In this star-laden outing, the quartet of Mickey, Minnie, Clarabelle Cow, and Horace Horsecollar savor the great outdoors, while Mickey plays a rollicking harmonica ditty which, while never receiving a lyric or title on screen, has been revealed by an anthology of Disney melodies recorded by Nat Brandwynne and his Orchestra for Decca Records to have been titled, “Ain’t Nature Grand?” (The piece in fact had an excellent stereo revival as a custom recording made as background music to be played in Mickey’s Toontown at Disneyland, which has surfaced on the internet, and is embedded below.)

As his performance continues, Mickey is interrupted when a mosquito lands on his nose, and does what mosquitoes do. He also partakes of Horace’s bloodcount, but Horace manages to land him a blow, putting several folds in the skeeter’s stinger. The injured insect returns to the swamp, where he reports in the tones of a young adolescent boy to an elder in charge how he was just having some fun, and the big ones picked on him. “City folk, huh?”, the old insect declares, and determines to teach them a lesson. Gathering the entire swamp’s population, he leads an aerial assault upon the intruders as the little mosquito cheers them on. Back at the campsite, Minnie screams at first sighting of a sky blackened with the advance of the insects. Horace comes up with an aggressive idea – filling a flit gun with molasses. One squirt, and hundreds of mosquitoes are stuck to a tree by a ball of the goo. However, a second squirt hits a tree that is more springy, and the tree shoots the ball of molasses back into Horace’s mouth, leaving all the mosquitoes stuck to him.

Clarabelle swats with a fly swatter, but the mosquitoes grab one end and unravel it, rendering it useless. Mickey and Minnie use an air pump to shoot peas at the mosquitoes, which get speared upon and block up their nose stingers. However, the mosquitoes come prepared for this, and simply run to a nearby hammerhead on the ground, prying the peas off like a nail from a board. Horace’s next strategy works temporarily – machine gun fire made by an ear of corn placed in a meat grinder. But the insects regroup and try a mass dive from the sky. Horace gathers his friends under an umbrella, as the insects’ stingers get caught in the umbrella fabric. But the skeeters aren’t licked yet, and simply shift into reverse, taking Horace, and then Mickey, aloft with them on the umbrella handle, then turning the umbrella inside out and ripping its fabric off to let our heroes fall. The mosquitoes change formation again, now transforming into the shape of one giant mosquito. Our heroes take refuge inside their tent, but nor before Horace takes some painful stings in the rear end, and has the top of his hat flown through by the swarm. Even inside the tent is not safe. Horace’s rear end bulges too close to the canvas, and the insects spear their stinger ends right through for another direct hit. Horace tries a booby-trap, placing a metal waffle iron over his butt cheeks and letting his posterior protrude again. The bugs fall for it, bending their stingers badly on the metal. But again, these bugs seem to have no shortage of household tools, as they operate a pair of pliers to press their stingers back into straight-arrow form. Clarabelle wages a losing battle trying to trap stingers intruding through the canvas with clothespins. Horace similarly tries to trap skeeters by hitting and bending their noses with a hammer as each enters the tent. Mickey and Minnie hit on the prize idea. Minnie (or perhaps Clarabelle) provides an old pair of ladies’ bloomers, sewn shut at the legs, while Mickey supplies an old stovepipe tied inro the bloomers at the waistline. Sticking the other end of the stovepipe out the tent door, Mickey hangs a sign on it reading “Main Entrance”. The insects swarm into the hole – and fill up the bloomers, with no escape path. Then Mickey shuts the vent on the stovepipe, sealing them inside. The bloomers take on a life of their own, powered by its cargo of mosquitoes, and appear to run down the road, as Horace gives the garment one good swift kick in the pants as a sendoff, for the iris out.

Next Time: Who needs an RV? 1930’s trailers had EVERYTHING!


  • In “Betty Boop’s Bamboo Isle”, the natives respond to Bimbo’s singing with “Ah, landsman! Sholem aleichem!” “Landsman” is the Yiddish word for a fellow countryman, and “Sholem aleichem” (literally, Ashkenazi Hebrew for “Peace be unto you”) is the standard Yiddish greeting, equivalent to “Hello”. (The customary response is “Aleichem sholem [And unto you, peace].”) Sholem Aleichem was also the pen name of writer Solomon Rabinovich, known as the Jewish Mark Twain; his stories about Eastern European shtetl life formed the basis of the Broadway musical “Fiddler on the Roof”.

    Incidentally, that cartoon appears to have been inspired by the song “My Little Bimbo Down on the Bamboo Isle”, written in 1920 by Walter Donaldson and Grant Clarke, and sung by Aileen Stanley in the Broadway revue “Silks and Satins”. It’s about a sailor who has a girlfriend on a “Feejee-eejee isle”, and its chorus goes as follows:

    “I’ve got a bimbo down on the bamboo isle!
    She’s waiting there for me, beneath a bamboo tree.
    Believe me, she’s got the other bimbos beat a mile.
    She dances gaily, daily, she’d be a hit with Barnum Bailey.
    I’ll build a bungaloo on the bamboo isle,
    ‘Cause when I go again, I’ll stay awhile.
    I’ve seen wrecks, plenty of wrecks, out on the stormy sea,
    But by heck, you’ve never seen a wreck like the wreck she made of me,
    And all she wore was a great big Zulu smile —
    My little bimbo down on the bamboo isle!”

    Bamboo must have been seen as an exotic plant of indeterminate geographical origin, q.v. “Under the Bamboo Tree” (or, “The Zulu from Matabooloo”), a 1901 song by Bob Cole. Judy Garland sang a portion of it in “Meet Me in St. Louis”.

    Bravo to you for the reconstructed title of “Swim or Sink”! It’s on a VHS collection I have, listed on the box as “S.O.S.”, and I always assumed that was the title of the cartoon. (Though they did get one other title wrong: “Mysterious Moose”.)

    Mutt and Jeff also journeyed to “The Frozen North” (1919) and “The Far North” (1921), either of which may be the source of that North Pole scene. The subway scene may have been taken from “New York Night Life” (1919). As for Venice, the only Mutt and Jeff title that even remotely suggests an Italian setting is “Bound in Spaghetti”, so that’s my guess.

    Looking forward to “trailer life” in the ’30s!

  • As for the possible missing ending for “Bamboo Isle”: another Betty Boop cartoon that almost certainly had the Paramount logo superimposed over the live-action performers is “I’ll Be Glad When You’re Dead, You Rascal You”. After the iris out, you get a second or two of Louis Armstrong singing, followed by an abrupt cut to the U.M. & M. title card, with Satchmo continuing to sing, and the band still playing for about 8 to 9 seconds.

    • I’ve already tried to reconstruct that one too, reusing some of the footage of Louis from earlier shots in the film. However, it’s a little jumpy, as it’s difficult to precisely match up the live action bits. Maybe someday I’ll post it.

  • The kidnapped-by-evil-magician-in-Near-East plot also shows up in the Lantz Oswald cartoon “The Winged Horse” (1932), which actually predates “Mickey in Arabia” by several months. Given the closeness in release, their production was likely roughly concurrent and any similarities are coincidental (I doubt Disney was conducting corporate espionage at Lantz), unless there was some even earlier work that inspired all of this brief wave of cartoons.

    • I don’t believe I’d ever sat through “The Winged Horse” before. How crude the animation and gag material! – especially when compared with the spectacle of Mickey. .And the weird perspective of those flying shots. The Oswald may not classify as a vacation film, as the dancing and veil of his girlfriend suggest she, and possibly Oswald, are natives to the terrain. Notably, the villain does not appear to be a magician per se, but a run-of-the-mill sheik who just happens to find himself in possession of a magic carpet (revealed by a manufacturer’s label underneath). So any direct connection to Chandu the Magician as any inspiration may not be there. This would put it more in the category of the Mickey – a straight middle-Eastern – than the Krazy and Flip, which obviously took some lead from the radio or film incarnations of Chandu by including a real magician, though I would still bet they were influenced in equal part by the impressiveness o the Mickey venture. I would definitely agree with you, however, that Disney didn’t steal from Oswald – what major studio in their right mind would steal from that material? Independent inspiration seem more likely. Maybe there was a run of pulp fiction in the day exploiting the setting to give both studios similar ideas. Then again, as both companies rooted from the same earlier lost production of Oswald in the middle East from the 1920’s, maybe both just figured the setting had been out of use long enough that a re-exploitation of the genre was in order.

  • Probably the original inspiration for all these Middle Eastern romance-adventure stories is the Rudolph Valentino film “The Sheik” (1921), a sensation that spawned two sequels, dozens of imitators, songs (“The Sheik of Araby”), and contemporary slang (“sheiks and shebas”). Cartoons like “Felix the Cat Shatters the Sheik” (1926) and Oswald’s “The Shriek” (1933) were directly inspired by it. Though the lead in “The Sheik” isn’t a magician, the oriental fakir was a familiar stock character; vaudeville magicians typically claimed to have learned their secrets in the “Mysterious East”. No mystery there.

    As for pulp fiction, there was a magazine called “Oriental Stories” (later re-titled “The Magic Carpet) published in 1930-34 by the Popular Fiction Publishing Co. of Chicago, which also put out “Weird Tales” and used many of the same writers. It struggled for survival and eventually folded after only fourteen issues, but its very existence seems to suggest that interest in exotic adventure stories was at its height during this period.

    I don’t know if you’re planning to cover Willie Whopper’s “Insultin’ the Sultan” (1934), though it does fall into the broad category of vacation cartoons; for as Willie tells it, he and his girlfriend Mary were in Constantinople “looking the place over, you know, just walking along, taking in the sights” — in other words, ordinary tourists. The cartoon is also notable in that when the villain is finally beaten, he turns into a caricature of Gandhi, as in the Popeye cartoon “I Yam What I Yam” (1933).

Leave a Reply

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