Michael Ruocco, who discovered a lost Fred Moore animation scene on eBay recently, created this side-by-side comparison of the 1934 Disney short Orphan’s Benefit and its 1941 frame-by-frame remake of the same name.
I’m sure there’ll be varying opinions on which one’s better–for the record, I think the original is more fun to watch and feels less labored–but Michael is curious to know why they did this in the first place: “Why would they put so much time, money and effort into a remake when they could use that same energy on making something original? Was it because of the big Disney strike that happened a few years earlier? Were they planning a package feature of remade shorts which never fully came to fruition?”
All I know is that my life would be a lot more productive if I could figure out how to always watch two cartoons at once.
UPDATE: David Gerstein, animation historian and author of Mickey And The Gang: Classic Stories In Verse, posted a comment about why the remake was made. The reasons are more complicated than one might believe and worth reading:
On June 27, 1939, Walt, Riley Thomson and Dave Hand screened nineteen early Mickey cartoons. The plan was to compile the best scenes from the shorts into a two-reel clip show for Mickey’s upcoming twelfth anniversary. MICKEY’S REVIVAL PARTY (as it was to have been called) would have opened with Mickey’s gang arriving at a studio cinema. As the vintage scenes unreeled on a “screen within a screen,” Mickey and friends in the audience would react in various comic ways.
There were only two problems with this. The elaborate manner in which the vintage scenes were to be reused precluded simply lifting them from old negatives and splicing them together. They would have to be reinked onto cels from the original animation drawings; repainted, retimed, and refilmed.
Another hindrance was that the old cartoons excerpted had to be from summer 1935 or earlier. Anything more recent might still be in release. This meant that there were very few color cartoons to include in the retrospective.
Walt decided to kill two birds with one stone. As the excerpted shorts were all to be reinked and repainted anyway, he decided to repaint some in color that had originally been in black and white: ORPHANS’ BENEFIT among them. Walt also saw an opportunity to retouch and improve the color in THE BAND CONCERT, the one short in the show that was originally in color. Story meeting transcripts reveal Walt repeatedly suggesting that remaking or upgrading older shorts could be an ongoing program, independent of REVIVAL PARTY.
That’s what ended up happening. REVIVAL PARTY director Riley Thomson completed a cutting continuity for use in preparing the excerpts; but for some reason, the clip show format ended up on the shelf. Instead, Thomson moved forward with remaking earlier cartoons in full-length, standalone form. ORPHAN’S BENEFIT came first. Then came MICKEY’S MAN FRIDAY, four early color Silly Symphony shorts, and ON ICE.
But then the bottom dropped out. ORPHAN’S BENEFIT, directed by Thomson, ended up the only exact Disney remake ever completed. MAN FRIDAY was shut down partway through animation; you can still see model sheets at various online animation galleries for what the updated models were going to look like.
The other remakes were shut down before animation. I’ve been unable to find out why.