Tuesday, January 02, 2007

The Worm Turns - January 2, 1937

Released on this day in 1937, the Mickey Mouse short The Worm Turns is an exercise in clever cartoon action and gags, gorgeous watercolor backgrounds and brilliant Technicolor. Made in the late 1930s days of the Hyperion Avenue studio, it is a shining example of the outstanding art direction that was a hallmark of much of Disney’s output at that time.

Had Universal’s classic Frankenstein movies been made in Technicolor, the opening sequence from The Worm Turns might give you an idea of how they would have looked. Director Ben Sharpsteen and his crew are clearly paying homage to the good doctor when Mickey, in his white lab coat and red shiny rubber gloves, mixes a vibrant and excitable batch of chemicals.

The object of Mickey’s experimenting is to concoct a bravery potion. The ingredients he mixes together are beautifully staged via two wonderful background paintings:

The details are terrific. For example, the recipe for the Courage Builder is quite detailed, and comes from and old bound tome entitled Ancient formulae.

As the cartoon progresses, Mickey takes on more of a supporting role as he tests his courage-inducing potion on a fly, mouse, cat, and ultimately Pluto. Showdowns build one upon another, leading up to Pluto’s confrontation with a shotgun wielding dogcatcher, played to villainous extreme by Pete.

There are so many standout moments in The Worm Turns; it is truly difficult to name them all. I particularly like the bird’s eye camera shot of Mickey about to dose the mouse:

The clever gag of the cat’s nine lives exit, and then subsequent return, to their host. It is especially funny when Life #1 emerges, and then whistles for #2-9 to follow.

There is also Pluto’s squash and stretch encounter with a brick wall. (Check the wonderful details--the NO PARKING crosswalk and the patched flat tire on Pete’s wagon.)

And the neighborhood backdrop to the Pete-Pluto chase is beautiful:

The film has one interesting continuity error. Near the beginning when Mickey removes a cork from a potion bottle with his mouth, it mysteriously disappears a few frames later.

The Worm Turns is among many other notable Disney shorts from the same time period, on the DVD set Mickey Mouse In Living Color Volume One.

A quick postscript: In my research, I was unable to track down any credits beyond director Ben Sharpsteen and animator Al Eugster. If anyone knows who was responsible for this short's amazing backgrounds, please put a post in the comments section. Thanks!


Hans Perk said...

Hi! I posted a (sadly incomplete) draft on my blog December 9th.