Gordy, The Sqrlian Being (xyzzysqrl) wrote,
Gordy, The Sqrlian Being

Streaming With Sqrlmog: 'Steamboat Willie', 1928

All the furniture is still plastic-wrapped, the set decorations haven't arrived, and I still have a price tag in a very uncomfortable place, but we're set up enough around here that we're ready to roll with this inaugural episode. But hey, if I'm in a state of disarray, at least I'm not as bad as the Disney Plus launch. They were simply not ready for the sheer number of people trying to watch at once. TV shows were in a strange jumbled order, the search bar didn't, the website was slinging error messages every second click, and the movie list would stop loading whenever it felt like it.

That last one isn't a problem if you really like films starting with the letters A, B, C, and D but it was kind of a problem for everyone with a taste for deeper cuts of the alphabet.

There was some stuff I thought about, writing this first entry. Did I want to have a rating system?
(No, not really.)
How long should I write for something like this?
(Begin at the beginning, go on 'til you come to the end, then stop.)

Most importantly, though... what would I watch first? What would set the proper tone, what's the best beginning? When a company like Disney dumps a shedload of their history in a giant heap on your lawn, even starting to pick through it is a daunting task.

Would I go with a beloved legendary classic or one of those weird and fascinating bombs dug out of the bins of history? Should I just click at random, or try to impose some sort of order? What do my heart, head, guts, and inner child have to say about this?

I gave those four some weapons and let them rampage around while I added stuff I wanted to check out later to my watchlist. Eventually they came back with a consensus.

Steamboat Willie
Released: 1928
Have I seen this before? No.

Plot Outline:
Such as there is one.
Aboard the steamboat probably called Willie, a familiar-looking mouse pretends he's the captain until a giant cat (Pete, the actual captain) shows up and kicks him off the bridge. Mickey lands in a bucket of water and the ship's parrot laughs at him, so he douses it with the water. Meanwhile, Pete is amusing himself by spitting tobacco into the wind until this backfires on him.

Mickey then does his actual job for a while and hefts animal cargo on board the ship, but is interrupted by his girlfriend Minnie, who brought some instruments and the sheet music to "Turkey in the Straw". Unfortunately while she's distracted a goat eats them, so she winds up the goat like a music box and everyone present (the two of them) put their backs into a dance party.

Mickey plays along on improvised instruments for a while: Some pots and pans, a passing cat which is spun over his head, a cow's teeth, pig teats.

Pete shows up and puts him on potato-peeling duty for slacking off, and the parrot laughs at Mickey again. This time, he hucks a potato at it and the parrot plunges into the river and drowns. Last laugh: Mickey's.

My Head Says: This is a culturally and historically significant work. Steamboat Willie was one of the first successful cartoons synchronized to a soundtrack, early enough that they were still doing it with a live band and Walt Disney making squeaky voices over the recording. The first time they tried to synch a recording to the cartoon it was such a failure that Walt had to sell his car to pay for a second take. He really believed in this, and it kind of shows.

It's hard to see here, but this was important to people. This made them laugh like crazy back in the day and while a lot of the gags are very basic, the wonder of the animated mouse is not that its gags are predictable but that it cracks the joke at all.

My Gut Says: Yeah, but Steamboat Willie is also the reason we're drowning in Disney Copyright Law Rewrites. Even if it's just this scrabbly early version of Mickey and Minnie, they will do ANYthing to avoid having them fall out of copyright. As important as this cartoon was to people in the late 1920s, it's done irreparable damage to the landscape of American creativity today, to say nothing of keeping a fleet of Disney lawyers in business suits and nice apartments for longer than I've been alive. Can't feel good about that.

My Heart Says: Which is weird, because if anything you would think this strangely cruel and sketchy version of Mickey Mouse would be a great candidate to just let slip out of their grasp. Mickey Mouse as he's depicted today is an everyman hero, a cheerful and unflappable homebody who probably wouldn't twirl a cat around his head by the tail while grinning directly into the camera like a maniac. This felt SO WEIRD to watch, knowing of all the evolution that would come later.

My Inner Child Says: Oh THIS is why those Bosko cartoons they used as padding on Nickelodeon were LIKE THAT. Wow that makes sense now. Uh anyway this was kind of funny but mostly just felt strange to watch. They got a lot funnier later on. Also I think Mickey just killed a bird and laughed about it on-screen?
Is he allowed to do that?

Consensus: Steamboat Willie is a weird relic of its time, a fascinating historical curio that has very little plot and provokes more "Wait, did that just happen?" moments than genuine laughs today. It's important and it matters, but it is not aging well to contemporary eyes.

Would I watch this again?
Probably not, but it was entertaining to have seen it once, and this codified my ideas on how to deal with these writeups. I think I got something with these four as co-perspectives.

See you next feature!

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Tags: streaming with sqrlmog
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