Ub Iwerks

Alice’s Wonderland (1923, Walt Disney)

Depending on the process director Disney used to marry live action with animation, Alice’s Wonderland is either mediocre or just plain bad. If it’s the latter, Disney has no concept of perspective or, you know, shadows.

The first three minutes are awesome. A little kid (Virginia Davis, in an awful performance–it’s probably Disney’s fault) visits an animation studio and is amazed at how the cartoon characters come alive on the animators’ panels. Disney’s conception of the studio is something technology still hasn’t produced (and probably never will). It’s spellbinding.

Then it becomes about Davis and gets bad. All the little cartoon animals love her and applaud her lame, poorly directed dance. The technical wonders of the first few minutes become lame and cheap tricks, a couple of shocking incompetence.

The animation’s mostly lame with occasional exceptions. Unfortunately, a couple great gags can’t make up for all of Alice‘s failings.

1/3Not Recommended


Written, directed and produced by Walt Disney; directors of photography, Rudolf Ising and Ub Iwerks; animated by Hugh Harman, Ising, Iwerks and Carman Maxwell; released by Margaret J. Winkler.

Alice in the Wooly West (1926, Walt Disney)

While the title suggests this cartoon is about Alice, it’s really about her sidekick, Julius; he’s the attraction of Alice in the Wooly West. Maybe Disney just didn’t have the budget to have Alice (here played by Margie Gay) do any actual action shots. The mix of live action and animation, like a lot of Wooly West, is ambitious but Disney isn’t able to realize it.

The cartoon’s real problem is the animation. Disney will come up with great shots and the animation just can’t sell them. There’s also a lot of repetition in the gags, maybe even reused frames. There’s about three minutes of content in six minutes of film.

But Wooly West is appealing thanks to Julius. While he’s a little shy with the ladies, Julius is an absolute Western badass of the Clint Eastwood variety. It kills any tension, but it’s cute to see a gunslinging kitty.



Directed by Walt Disney; director of photography, Rudolf Ising; animated by Rollin Hamilton, Hugh Harman, Rudolf Ising and Ub Iwerks; music by Paul Dessau; produced by Disney and M.J. Winkler; released by Margaret J. Winkler.

Starring Margie Gay (Alice).

Alice Cans the Cannibals (1925, Walt Disney)

The animation is a strange mix of great and mediocre in Alice Cans the Cannibals. The principals, whether it’s Julius (the titular Alice’s sidekick), the variety of animals they encounter or the cannibals presumably out to eat Alice (though why they’re chasing Julius, a cat, is never explained), all move with grace and attention. They move against a generic, barren backdrop however. Presumably it was difficult to mix Alice–a live action actor (Virginia Davis)–with the cartoon environment.

Cannibals is rather charming, especially since Alice’s friendship with Julius the cat is portrayed so well. Disney really gets a great performance out of Davis, but only when she’s opposite her “co-stars.” In her one close-up, the reality of the medium breaks.

Also of note is the importance of reading. Many gags require the audience can read, making silent cartoons a little headier than their talky descendants.

Alice‘s swell.



Produced and directed by Walt Disney; animated by Rollin Hamilton, Thurston Harper and Ub Iwerks; director of photography, Mike Marcus; released by Margaret J. Winkler.

Starring Virginia Davis (Alice).

Balloon Land (1935, Ub Iwerks)

For lack of a better word, Balloon Land is disturbed. It’s a cartoon about a magical place where everyone is a living balloon. Not just people, but plants too. Objects are solid though.

The new balloon people–Iwerks opens showing the reproductive process–are made through one creature’s snot and then inflated. We later learn balloons can be made but not immediately inflated and the snot can also be used as a gooey weapon.

It’s a happy place with a happy song, except outside the gate there’s the Pincushion Man, who murders balloon people with his infinite pin supply. Since he’s been cast out, he’s had to settle for killing the balloon plant life.

Two newborns head out of the protected area and piss him off and Balloon Land‘s narrative gets underway.

The animation’s fine and all that, but it’s a freaky cartoon once one gives it any thought.



Produced and directed by Ub Iwerks; music by Carl W. Stalling; released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

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