This past Sunday night, the 86th Annual Academy Awards premiered on ABC. After months of build-up and anticipation, the ceremony came and went without too many surprises. One of the biggest upsets of the night, however, occurred in a category that historically doesn’t garner much attention at all, no matter how shocking the results end up being. I’m referring to Best Animated Short Film. Get A Horse was the extremely popular and well received short that ran in theaters before Disney’s Frozen. The short film that ended up taking home the prize was a Fraco-Luxembourger production by the name of Mr. Hublot. While I don’t pretend to understand the minds of Academy voters, I’ll just take it on good faith that Mr. Hublot is a wonder to behold. But this post is about Get A Horse, so lets get back on track and discuss how this classically-inspired short captured the hearts of so many people with its blend of fundamental animation and modern-era storytelling.
The story starts out fairly straightforward as Mickey and Minnie are enjoying a hayride with Clarabelle Cow while being pulled by Horace Horsecollar. Then Peg-Leg Pete shows up and steals Minnie away on his jalopy (car). As Mickey attempts to get Minnie back, Pete overpowers Mickey and Horace and sends them flying in the air… and into the screen… and through the screen… and into the audience! Mickey, while stunned at the turn of events and transferring of dimensional planes, breaks back into the screen-world and eventually beats up Pete and wins back Minnie.
This is where the history of animation comes in to play. So many mainstream animations strive for realism and authenticity but just in different worlds and with more extravagant colors. However, animation is built on stock-type characters (like animals or humans) in everyday settings doing the impossible. George Herriman is a famed cartoonist who’s most popular work was a character named Krazy Kat. This cat had a tail unlike an ordinary cat’s tail. The movements and extent of motion that this particular tail possessed was downright magical. It defied the physics of everyday life, but quickly became a staple of animation sequences involving silly cats.
Patrick Sullivan and Otto Messmer are two more famed cartoonists with their claim to fame being Felix the Cat (notice a theme here?). Their style of animation pushed the boundaries of the medium by striving to be more cinematic by utilizing techniques such as the zoom, perspective, visual jokes, and breaking the 4th wall.
All of these traits can be found in Get A Horse. Mickey’s leg elongates exponentially and stiffens in the shape of a set of stairs to assist Minnie in climbing aboard the hayride.
Clarabelle plays the bagpipes by blowing in to her tail and having the music come out of her utter.
When Mickey is thrown out of the picture, he literally breaks the fourth wall and waves “hello” to the audience.
This is when Disney starts to modernize what we the audience all thought was some retro homage/throwback to the olden times of Disney. Horace gets to use a cellphone.
Color is in the foreground and we can see that it is actually the screen that makes the images black and white because once a hole is ripped, we see that Mickey’s world is full of life and color! Then Mickey pulls aside the theater screen curtains to open the story up from the antiquated 4:3 aspect ratio to today’s standard 16:9 high-definition aspect ratio.
There is another sequence where Mickey flips the screen sideways, back and forth to make Pete go forward and backward in the animation motion. It references flip-book animation.
Finally, in the most breathtaking sequence, Pete is chasing Mickey and company from the outside world back to the screen world then back to the outside world over and over again in a carousel fashion. This sequence is a callback to the old-fashioned zoetropes where the animated characters go around in a circle within the same background.
Another facet of the homage is how close it is to Mickey Mouse’s debut, Steamboat Willie in 1927. What made Steamboat Willie such a hit was the use of sound and sound synchronization. It was literally groundbreaking. The balance between the practical sounds in the foreground and the background musical score are so in sync and are a direct homage to Steamboat Willie, right down to the plot of the short (The World History of Animation, pg. 97).
The short film is a lot of fun and beautifully made. But overall, the importance of the picture remains clear: without the foundation of black and white animation from the early 20th century, we wouldn’t be able to enjoy and appreciate the comedic stylings found in today’s pictures that we all just take for granted.
And now here is a clip of the first minute of Get a Horse!