Oswald the Lucky Rabbit: Mechanical Cow

Today’s cartoon is another silent-era one. I hope I’m not trying people’s patience with these, but they are more commonly public domain (so I feel safer including them), and I find them fascinating, and this is after all a place where I share stuff that amuses me. But, anyway, this one is an Oswald the Lucky Rabbit cartoon, called, aptly, Mechanical Cow. It comes from Walt Disney Productions, directed by Disney and animated by Ub Iwerks and surely others, though it was produced for Universal Pictures, before Disney went into business for himself proper. Famous-in-animation-circles story.

Anyway, the plot is what might as well be the standard-issue black-and-white cartoon: genially pleasant, faintly Harold Lloyd-ish lead character goes about his business, with a string of amusing gags where he does something clever with the stage business, and then his girlfriend gets introduced and gets captured by the big bad guys, and then, the lead has to go rescue him. The plot doesn’t matter. Look at the animation: it’s much smoother, more naturalistic, more skillful than even the very good work of the Fleischers or the other studios of the time. Disney and Iwerks had great talent and great craftsmanship, and that shows through in, for example, the moment when Oswald steals the cow’s bed.

Curiously to my eyes, the fact that this is a mechanical cow doesn’t seem to figure much. You could recast it with a real cow and … all right, some of the jokes would become more disturbing, but I don’t think they’d be that much worse than was already the norm for silent-era cartoons. I have to wonder if the animation team started with the title — and it’s a good starting point for a cartoon, certainly — and then developed the short without quite making full use of it.

Author: Joseph Nebus

I was born 198 years to the day after Johnny Appleseed. The differences between us do not end there. He/him.

6 thoughts on “Oswald the Lucky Rabbit: Mechanical Cow”

  1. My favorite part was when the cow acted more like a horse from the wild west, especially when the lead switches the cow’s head and tail. Pretty funny. Thanks for sharing.


    1. Ooh, yes, switching an animal’s direction by swapping their head and tail is one of those jokes that never quite made it out of black-and-white cartoons. Possibly it would look too vivid and disturbing in color, or be too obviously impossible given that animals after 1940 were drawn less like sausages-and-hoses and more naturalistically, with hind and front legs obviously not interchangeable.


  2. Lol. Cute little cartoon. But, if this were redone in this day and age, I’m sure it would have turned out a little different. I mean—we’re living in the South Park era!


    1. Oh, certainly it’d come out different and I don’t know that I want to think too much how the South Park team would build from the same premise. I tend to think a modern cartoon would also include more explicit pop-culture references, since there’ve been so many robots (and cartoon robots) since then, and making references to the rest of pop culture has become so much more common.


    1. There’s some interesting cross-studio commonalities in the pre-sound cartoons, possibly because everyone was still learning how to make cartoons and what their house styles would be. I do think Disney’s cartoons were better-crafted than the competition’s, even at that stage, though, which explains a lot of the evolution of the studios.


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