Sunday, March 24, 2013

Cell Break

Animator Ub Iwerks, co-creator of Mickey Mouse, was born on this day in 1901. The other co-creator was, of course, Walt Disney. Walt asked Ub to draw a mouse, and he did just that. Earlier the two men had co-created Oswald the Lucky Rabbit for Universal Studios. But Walt wanted to be his own boss, so he went in business for himself, bringing Ub along with him. Steamboat Willie was their first big hit. Other classic cartoon shorts that they made together include The Skeleton Dance,  The Gallopin' Gaucho, The Barn Dance, The Opry House, The Plow Boy, The Karnival Kid, Haunted House, Springtime, Summer, and Autumn (what, no winter?), all of which made Walt Disney a household name. Ub Iwerks, meanwhile, decided he'd like to be his own boss, and with the help of producer Pat Powers, left Disney to go in business for himself.

Here's some of the delightful results from Iwerks brief (yes, I'm foreshadowing) stab at independence:

The Soup Song (1931)

The Air Race (1933)

Jack in the Beanstalk (1933)

Balloon Land (1935)

I find these, and many others that I've seen on YouTube, just as entertaining as anything Walt Disney, Max Fleischer or Walter Lantz (who had taken over Oswald) were doing at the time. But 1930s audiences were mainly indifferent, and Ub Iwerks never became a household word. However, he did retain a great deal of respect within the animation industry itself. Producer Leon Schlesinger, whose cartoons were distributed by Warner Brothers, farmed out some work to Iwerks. Schlesinger animators (and future directors) Robert Clampett and Chuck Jones assisted, and these bear more their stamp than Iwerks.

After producing some stuff for Columbia, Iwerks finally closed up shop in 1940 and returned to Disney. While he did some animation, he worked mostly on special effects, and later, even helped develop rides for Disneyland.

Before he died in 1971, Ub Iwerks did have one last hurrah that didn't involve Walt, or anybody you would normally associate with animation. But animation it was, though in order to tell you have to look closely...if you dare:

The Birds (1964)

Maybe Hitchcock should have asked Disney to lend him Donald Duck as well.




  1. You might like this version of the Skeleton Dance:

    1. Thanks for the link, Jim. Holly's music does go well with the images. Were he still around, Carl Stalling (the short's original composer) might even get a kick out this.

      Mickey Mouse wasn't in the original Skeleton Dance (indeed, Walt was trying to prove with this short that he was capable of working without him), so that's from a different cartoon and just been inserted into this one. I believe a scene of a skeleton pulling a cat's tail was cut out to make room for it.

      Dig the pre-Code Mickey heading towards the bathroom.

  2. Loved this! Walt Disney was one of the reasons I started drawing. Charles Schultz was the other. The birds were so damn scary! If only I had known they were animated.

  3. Iwerks work on The Birds was nominated for, but did not, an Academy Award. It certainly has stood (providing your knees don't get too weak watching it) the test of time.

    Schulz was a hero of mine growing up. He still is.


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