To go along with the list of Warner Brothers shorts from last month, here's the list of my Top Ten theatrically released animated Disney shorts. That's three Donald cartoons, two Mickey cartons, one for Goofy, three Silly Symphonies, and one miscellaneous. There are a few modern 'toons that I thought about including, but I want to focus on the classic shorts era. So, I used the cutoff date of 1965. That means none of the individual "Winnie the Pooh" shorts are eligible, or "Mickey's Christmas Carol."
The Grasshopper and the Ants (1934) - I always liked "Grasshopper" the best of all the early Disney shorts for its catchy music, simple storyline, and excellent characters. It's a perfect cartoon for small children, with its emphasis on big emotions and a valuable lesson learned. The struggles of Hop the short-sighted grasshopper, voiced by future Goofy voice actor Pinto Colvig, remain so affecting to watch. The look on his face when his last leaf blows away has stayed with me to this day.
The Old Mill (1937) - Hayao Miyazaki considered this short his favorite of Disney's works. It presents a snapshot of life in an abandoned mill, leading up to a long storm sequence, with little by way of plot or dialogue. The cartoon was conceived of as a way for the studio to test it's multiplane camera and various effects techniques that would be used in their later animated features. The result is a tour de force of animation, full of drama and suspense, and beautiful images of the natural world.
Mickey's Trailer (1938) - Mickey, Donald, and Goofy worked as well together as they did in their own separate cartoons. My favorite of their outings as a trio was this eventful road trip, taken in an adorable little trailer with striped awnings and all the modern conveniences. The short is stuffed full of memorable gags, silly pratfalls, and tons of action. One of highlights of my last trip to Disneyland was noticing that a replica of the trailer is currently parked in Toontown, not too far from Mickey's house.
Brave Little Tailor (1938) - Mickey's epic fight against the giant is one for the ages. I always thought the mouse worked best when he was in the role of the little guy, and next to the giant, he's literally mouse-sized. However, it's the giant who always impressed me most, the way that the animators found ways to really emphasize his terrifying hugeness and physicality. And then there's the sound design - the sound of the pumpkins bouncing down his gullet, and the massive, destructive sneezes are fantastic.
Goofy and Wilbur (1939) - The one Goofy cartoon that I really love is his first solo effort, about his friendship with a grasshopper named Wilbur. It always struck me that Disney cartoons weren't afraid of sad or heartbreaking moments, and Goofy's desperate attempts to save his pal from harm always tugged on my heartstrings something fierce. This was Wilbur's only appearance, but Goofy certainly proved himself worthy of the leading man status he would go on to enjoy for decades.
The Ugly Duckling (1939) - The last official Silly Symphony produced by Disney was probably the best of them, a remake of a 1931 short of the same name. The animation is feature quality, the story has been given a good reworking, and the cuddly little ugly duckling at the center of the story is one of the most expressive, sympathetic cartoon characters even drawn and painted. After all his adventures, there aren't many happy endings in cinema that feel so well earned and so satisfying to see.
Der Fuehrer's Face (1943) - Donald Duck's stint as a Nazi is not only a fun piece of WWII wartime propaganda, but one of the duck's best cartoons, period. The nightmarish version of life in Nazi Germany is full of sensational visuals, especially the constant saluting and the swastikas everywhere. The theme song is also delightfully catchy, full of puns and raspberries to go along with the visual gags. The short may have only been made to sell war bonds, but the Disney folks really gave this their all.
Donald's Crime (1945) - I remember this as an uncharacteristically sinister cartoon, where it's Donald's own guilt and paranoia that persecute him after he robs the Nephews' piggy bank. Full of shadowy suspense and psychological terrors, this was pretty dark stuff when I was a kid, and I'm still impressed with it now as a prime piece of animated film noir. it also served as a good reminder that in spite of all his battles with nephews, insects, and chipmunks, Donald's worst enemy was always himself.
Donald's Dilemma (1947) - Though Donald's name is in the title, this is really a Daisy Duck cartoon. She's the POV character and the protagonist here, desperately trying to win her Donald back after an accident turns him into a smooth crooner with amnesia. And she's so much fun to watch as she goes to pieces, I will forever wish that she'd gotten a few more turns in the spotlight. It's also hysterical watching Donald play the straight man and well-adjusted one for once - temporarily of course.
Lambert the Sheepish Lion (1952) - Many of the best Disney shorts were built around songs, and there may not be any that are as catchy as "Lambert." I love the return of the stork from "Dumbo," voiced by Sterling Holloway, all the ridiculous gags with Lambert trying to be a sheep, and the meanest looking animated wolf I've ever seen. It wasn't until my late twenties, though, that I saw the full cartoon with the original ending - my copy was edited to cut out the final fate of the wolf.