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The Brave Tin Soldier (1934)
Ub Iwerk at his Best
This is the song with which the cartoon begins, describing the actions of an old toymaker:
'Hammering away at a desk all day sits a toymaker working on his toys / Soldiers bright and neat, now the set's almost complete, so to bring lots of fun to little boys. / Careful Mr. Toymaker, careful, please, I beg / Aw, now you've dropped a soldier, can't you see you broke his leg
' After the toymaker sees the soldier has been damaged, he tosses him into a wastebasket and retires for the night, as the clock strikes twelve. A toy sentry sounds a bugle, and all the toys in the workshop awaken. Among them are two tumblers resembling Laurel and Hardy; as they tumble about and their heads are knocked together, the 'cuckoo song' heard in the opening titles of their comedies is played. The sharp-eyed viewer will spot that one of the toys is in fact the tree from Disney's 'Flowers and Trees' released two years earlier; Ub Iwerks had a trait of using minor characters who were closely similar to those created by Disney, for whom he had previously worked (in fact, Iwerks single-handedly animated the first ever Mickey Mouse short, 'Plane Crazy', at a rate of 600 drawings per day, or one drawing every minute and a half for fifteen hours NON-STOP). Intrigued by the jaunty music and the dancing toys beyond his wastebasket, the one-legged tin soldier hops onto the floor, but finds he cannot keep his balance. He uses his gun as a prop, and clumsily makes his way through the workshop. Instead of showing him sympathy, the other toys deride him until he is reduced to tears. Luckily, a beautiful ballerina with a most attractive voice falls in love with him, and when he is startled by a Harpo Marx- like jack-in-the-box and stumbles, she helps him stand on his foot again. They then use the stirrup of a hobby-horse as a swing, so that the soldier pushes the stirrup and the ballerina swings on it. All is well, until the arrival of a fat and wicked king, who wants the ballerina for himself whether she wants him or not. Does this plot sound familiar to you? Surely the one-legged soldier will use his cunning to save the day and the toys will eventually accept him for his bravery? Viewer, be prepared for a surprise. The ending of this short is certainly unique. This cartoon was made in 1934 in the Cinecolor colour process, which was inferior to Technicolor, but pleasing to the eye nevertheless. The animation is not bad (I like the way the king morphs from being carriage to person), and the sound effects and music are excellent; the clicking and clacking and so forth. I initially thought there was a lack of background detail, but on second viewing I found that there were objects in the background, such as spinning tops and wooden ducks, and that you just have to look for them. Animation in its infancy was occupied more with sight gags than character development and story, but the characterisation here is splendid- the soldier, the ballerina, and the king come off strongly- and the story is engaging and surprising, and worth your time. You can find this short on the video link in Google.