When I replied, he sent me a scan of one of his acquisitions, telling me only that it was a Disney cel. Here it is:
I decided it would be fun to see how much I could deduce from the image, based on my own knowledge of the evolution of Disney styles and practices.
First of all, the characters were unknown to me--probably one-offs that did not appear in any other cartoons. Most likely, it was from a Silly Symphony.
Notice the peg holes at the bottom: there are 5 of them. This confirmed that it was Disney, all right, as the system is similar to Acme punching in that the end holes are oblongs and the center hole round. The second and forth holes are uniquely Disney: a system for archiving the cels in binders; in this way the binder rings do not deteriorate the registration holes. However, at Disney the old registration system of just two round holes was used into the early 1930's, so this cel must have come from a production that came after that innovation.
My next clue was more subtle: the drawiing style. There is a crudeness and casualness to the drawing that, to me, places this example in the early thirties. By 1936 the whole studio had been transformed by drawing classes and by high-minded work on Snow White into a temple of deliberately stylish drawing, often influenced by anatomical knowledge even in the case of the most cartoony characters. The famous Three Little Pigs of 1933, despite its fine animation and characterization, still contains much design of the old school of animation: circles for heads and bodies and some rubber-hose style limbs. Notice in the cel, how the judge's hands are inconsistent in their rendering: on the right hand, the little finger is longer than the ring finger, and the thumb seems to be confused with what may be a button on his robe. A year later, no such ambiguity would be permitted at Disney. The left hand with the mallet is equally casual with its small thumb and uncertain grip on the handle of the mallet, the head of which is squashed unconvincingly.
Even though this scene may have been the work of a junior animator, by the late thirties the styling even of inbetweens was rigidly consistent throughout the studio.
So I told Mr. Miller that I thought his cel was from between 1934 and 1936, and most likely 1934. And it was! Turns out it is from the Silly Symphony Who Killed Cock Robin?, which is most famous for its Jenny Wren character, a marvelous caricature in styling and movement of the voluptuous actress Mae West. Released in 1935, it was probably drawn in 1934.
On YouTube, with a little work, I managed to isolate the very frame of film that captures this cel. Here it is:
Notice that the expanding white impact flash now stands out well against the painted background. The blur lines that trail after the mallet, however, hardly can be seen.
If you would like to see the whole cartoon, here is a good link.
This cartoon is a good example of the old style being overtaken by the new. Let's look at a few more examples of this.
|The repeatable gag, not repeated.|
|The cloned character gimmick.|
But again, times were a-changin'...
|Seven cops, seven different movements.|
|The stereotype of the simple and lazy black man.|
|The tough guy raises his belly up...|
|...then lets it drop in a gesture signifying the bravado of a bully.|
|Pete in Steamboat Willie, 1928, before he got his peg leg.|
|Mae West aka Jenny Wren.|
Please let me know if you enjoy this kind of analysis of some of the old Hollywood animation. If I get a good response, I will do more.