Alice and Julius, as a team, are one of four entrants in a $10,000 balloon race. The bad guy takes out one balloon quickly. It's not clear what kind of balloons these are, since they are ... See full summary »

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Margie Gay ...
Alice
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Alice and Julius, as a team, are one of four entrants in a $10,000 balloon race. The bad guy takes out one balloon quickly. It's not clear what kind of balloons these are, since they are sealed like hydrogen/helium balloons, but a good thwack on the top by the bad guy sends Alice and Julius plummeting to the ground, balloon still intact. Julius makes some attempts to re-launch, but they fail. He spots a hippo, smoking nearby, and has an idea: using some pepper, he creates a massive sneeze that re-launches them. But he wasn't onboard. Alice throws down a rope ladder, but it isn't anchored; Julius eventually pulls himself up with a rope. They are then immediately under attack by a lightning storm, which deflates the balloon. Julius makes substitutes from, first, a weiner dog and a couple of empty thought balloons, then, an elephant with extra air pumped in. He grabs a passing bird and catches up to the bad guy, then finds himself in another battle with lightning. He throws a bolt at the... Written by Jon Reeves <jreeves@imdb.com>

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15 January 1926 (USA)  »

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1.33 : 1
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Cavalcade of crazy gags
24 October 2016 | by (Westchester County, NY) – See all my reviews

By the time Walt Disney and his crew made Alice's Balloon Race, an entry in their Alice in Cartoonland series, they were getting to be experts at the job. The series had been launched in 1923, and sold to exhibitors on the strength of its central gimmick: each cartoon features a live action child who interacts with animated animals. The first shorts starred a girl named Virginia Davis who sported long blonde ringlets. After eighteen or so shorts Miss Davis withdrew, and was replaced with Margie Gay, a spunky brunette whose hair was bobbed in the latest style. As the series continued, Disney's team became more adept at animation, and the cartoon content increased while the live action footage decreased in both running time and importance.

Like the title says, the main event in this short is a balloon race, a contest for high stakes: $10,000 to the winner. Alice and her cat Julius, who serves as her co-pilot, are among the contenders, while their main rival is a wicked top-hatted bear (a precursor to Mickey Mouse's nemesis Pegleg Pete). Once the race is underway, the bear stops at nothing to thwart his rivals. Thanks to his chicanery, the balloon piloted by Alice and Julius plummets to the ground. Julius manages to re-launch it, but he and Alice are separated in the process. Then a violent storm hits, and our heroes struggle to deal with the storm, reunite, and somehow win the race.

That's the premise, but this is not a plot-driven cartoon. It's all about the gags, one after the other, surreal and dreamlike, coming at you so fast you hardly have time to comprehend them. The rapid pace is one of the best things about Alice's Balloon Race. There's a lot happening every moment, and although the gags are rudimentary, they're punched across with a lot of energy. Also on the plus side, the animation is smooth and sophisticated for the era. From the very first shot, which features a marching band performing in the foreground while race spectators enter the arena in the background, the animators make full use of the frame. The draftsmanship is detailed, and the black & white palate displays a broad range of gray tones.

On the debit side, this short—like all the Alice in Cartoonland series, or at least the ones I've seen—lacks strong characterizations. Alice is pleasant enough but doesn't register as a personality. Julius the Cat, who is the real star of these later entries, is a Felix the Cat lookalike without distinctive traits of his own. And despite the large ensemble, no other character lingers long enough to make an impression. Later on, once Disney's star characters were developed, the plot would become more important as well; here, the balloon race is only a loose framework to allow for the procession of crazy gags, and the short ends without a proper resolution.

In sum, while these Alice shorts are lightly enjoyable, they're best regarded as historical milestones in Walt Disney's career. If you want to see where it all started, you'll find these cartoons worthwhile.


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