I should have mentioned yesterday that this cartoon is available on the Walt Disney Treasures set Mickey Mouse in Living Color. It's one of the most common Disney cartoons, so I'm assuming that it's out there on other DVD's as well.
By the time The Brave Little Tailor was made, it was rare that Mickey was in a cartoon that didn't include Donald Duck and Goofy. It was rare, too, for the cartoon to be so adventure oriented. In many ways, this cartoon is a throwback to Mickey's glory years of 1932-34, but the film benefits from the addition of color and the increased skills of the artists. It's important to remember that this cartoon was made after Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, so it reflects the advances made in the feature.
There are two star turns here in the animation. The first is the sequence by Frank Thomas, where Mickey describes killing seven with one blow and then reacts to the king's order to kill the giant. While Mickey gets intercut with the king, it's really a soliloquoy and Thomas takes advantage of a great voice track provided by Walt Disney. It's also funny to see how Mickey exaggerates the story beyond the mundane swatting we see at the start of the cartoon.
Thomas really excels at getting expressive poses here. He uses moving holds beautifully to make sure that those poses read clearly. He contrasts fast and slow movements for variety, but no matter what Thomas is doing, he never loses the audience. That's a lesson that's often forgotten today. While Thomas has dialogue to work with, the poses and timing perfectly convey Mickey's story even without sound. It's a great piece of acting and one of Mickey's best sequences ever.
The other star turn is Tytla's sequence with the giant. I'm going to catch flak for saying this, but I think that it's a disappointment. The failure is not Tytla's, it's the way the giant character has been conceived. There's very little personality here. The giant is large and slow-witted, but that's all we get. Compared to Willie, the giant in Fun and Fancy Free, this giant is frankly dull.
This is a wasted opportunity as Tytla has shown what great acting he is capable of with Grumpy in Snow White. While Tytla's drawing always has great physicality, he needs a fully developed personality who goes through a series of emotions to showcase his acting ability. While Tytla's draftsmanship is a great tool, it needs to be applied to a great character. The giant is not such a character.
Probably the two best scenes are 70 and 72. The first showcases anger and the second anger and frustration. Give Tytla strong emotions and he'll rise to the occasion. But the early scenes with the giant just have him out for a walk, a snack and a smoke, hardly the stuff of drama.
Thinking about Tytla, it may be that his best work didn't rely on his ability to portray power. Grumpy and Dumbo are not physically overpowering characters, yet they're completely successful. Stromboli requires Tytla's physicality but also calls on his acting skills. In my opinion, and I know that some will disagree, Chernobog in Fantasia, the Nazi teacher in Education for Death, and this giant all call on his draftsmanship but are too simply conceived at the script stage to give Tytla something to sink his teeth into.
It's frightening to me that they didn't seem to realize this at Disney. They wasted Tytla a good percentage of the time and if Disney didn't know how to play to Tytla's strengths, forget about Terrytoons or Famous Studios. As I said here, nobody at those studios thought in terms that were sympathetic to Tytla's skills.
(For a look at stills of Tytla's work at Terrytoons, see this post by Duck Dodgers. There are other Tytla posts on his blog as well.)
I'll talk about the rest of the animation in a future entry.