Lost In Time: Minnie the Moocher


Happy Halloween week and hopefully a fitting blog to start of this Tuesday with as I am bringing back maybe one of the weirder old cartoons, Betty Boop, with a holiday themed episode and one of the best song backings in animation displays ever.


So, okay, apart from "Minnie" (or Betty I should say) herself and that whole family dynamic meets incoherent babbling, I love the old cartoon. It reminds me of all the old fantasia, self-sweeping brooms, and the seven dwarves Disney cartoons of yester year.


The cartoon I speak of is based off of a song written by Cab Calloway, christened with a grammy in 1931, and then doubled up with the Disney level technological innnovations that make it spectacular. Not familiar with it? Oh, well let me show you:


Okay so immediate takeaways you might have (no, this is not the first time I have seen this obviously):

- First 30-60 seconds including an appearance by Cab Calloway himself backed by the band and dancing around which was really all I needed to see.


- I have a lot of weird nostalgia for old films that used to put all the credits right at the beginning so you would be forced to know who was in the movie


- hopefully this doesn't become "young kids discover Phil Collins" all over, but the whole dinner scene, while being the cruxt of the reason "Minnie" leaves, just...... I don't get it. Literally everything until the music starts is just white noise to me. Pure white noise and confusion. Which I guess might also be the point?


- If I could, let me direct you over this direction for the top suggested comment on the video when I looked it up for this blog:

I think we can all really get behind this sentiment, let's be honest.


But seriously, because of this comment I started going down to the one's underneath it and I literally read two more and here is what I got:


Okayyyy so immediate takeaways here are simple: Tim Burton has been eclipsed for creepy and I wasn't the only one lost with the dinner scene. Maybe it's not as nuanced as I think and it really is just that she has tuned her parents out.


On the other hand, I find it interesting that this probably is that Phil Collins moment where inexperience of youth meets experience and understanding of age, who can explain the metaphorical meanings while most "youngsters" ignore them and go back to an Avengers marathon.


Or it's all just crap let's be honest, on to CAB!


Let me now start by getting this out of the way:

Since I will most reasonably and most likely never be given the nod to direct or produce act or otherwise be on set of a Joker standalone film, can we get at some point in time a Joker that takes elements of Nicholson and merges it with Cab Calloways stage presence? I know Nicholson is great but just think about how good a guy dancing like cab would be shifting that role in a completely new direction while still keeping it fresh and relevant. BOOM.


Elevator pitched with little to no punctuation.


No here's where we seperate the "old heads" from the "millennial" if you will. Or maybe there's even a third group to fit right between them. But outside of this cartoon rendition of the song, where else might one find Cab Calloway putting on a show to this tune?


Chicago, Illinois as he stalled for Jake and Elwood Blues, the Blues Brothers.


My first ever introduction to Mr. Calloway. And that probably says something about my upbringing I suppose. But I can't imagine Chicago is too terribly different from the upbrining Cab had in Rochester, New York where his older sister was recording and playing with Louie Armstrong as a side man.


And when you grow up with such talent you inevitably become a showman and develop a deep love for Jazz, swing, and dance period. Which also leads me to one of my first real discoveries about Cab: he was one of the ealier influencers!


And I don't think anyone who knows how to find this and read it will have any major contradictions but here's my thinking. While Cab definitely had some pipes with the "Hi-De-Ho" and obviously the aforementioned "Minnie the Moocher", yet I feel like for all that he was just purely an entertainer.


Now sure, was he a little more skilled and crafted than Tik Tok mega-stars and the Kardashians, yeah unquestionably. HOWEVER..... was he an influencer? I vote yes.


So there's that fun fact about Cab.

Now before I move on I have to comment on this scene, because it is one of my absolute favorites of all time. At 73 Cab is still crushing the vocals, dancing his way around the stage, and whether it's extras acting or not, you could convince me he had that whole room eating from the palm of his hand.


Incredible man. Also call me crazy but was the Blues Brother version the best that exists? I digress.


Apart from Cab - and I suppose the song Minnie the Moocher - there is someone else who is no longer spoken of and that would be Betty Boop. Now I can't actually say she was lost to time because the image and likeness of Betty Boop feels like its Americana in everyway, including the original inspiration for the character and her various forms over the year


But what intrigues me more was that she was different. How do I mean? Well you don't have to be a film historian to recall Walt Disney thought up and sketched Mickey Mouse in 1928, and with Betty following shortly thereafter in the early 1930s. Fresh off the heels of the stock market crash and with the entertainment industry at an all time premium, Paramount and Fleischer stood to make a fortune off of a more serious and real cartoon than the fun loving and rule abiding style of Mickey.


And yet in 2017, Betty finally was able to make a stab at a comeback after 3 decades out of circulation by getting a new digital cartoon but to me that just says too much. Where Walt turned Mickey into a billion dollar corporation (though maybe not fully in his life time), Betty got ignored shelved or just didn't draw like other attractions.


And over the years, I have a feeling the attempts to humanize Betty didn't help for the allure of a cartoon character much either

I mean okay, so would it have been a little less hearfelt and sweet to look at Minnie Mouse in a bikini? Probably, maybe not, who knows you are little kids when that matters and if it still matters as an adult then you got problems. Cartoons can be statements.


And where Betty was edgy, "sexy", and riské, it wasn't clearly what America wanted at that point in time. They wanted to be able to dream and believe in the impossible, in fantasy, in the ability to pick themselves up from the worst economic collapse in the history of the United States. Which I suppose would be a reasonable line of logic when families are without homes and food, and they would rather believe in magic and dreams coming true versus staring at a cartoon rendition of a "flapper".


But then you look at the quality of productions, the talent included with Cab Calloway and a major cartoon figure like Betty Boop, with major studio backing, and becomes hard to understand how cartoons like this didn't keep traction at a high volume outside of the 1930s. And by high volume traction I mean Disney level traction.


Reasonably, there could be arguments made for feminist issues, racial prejudice, and much more probably, but I am also not qualified or educated enough to make those arguments in this blog so I have linked to two other stories that can further delve into those topics, with much more available for you to find.


Outside of that, you could also argue that from a pure business standpoint that while Betty herself was a massive cartoon character, the universe around her wasn't as developed as Disney's. And frankly, it was much more real as I have already said which is... well reality is scary.


That’s such a wonderfully apt phrase: “the old, weird America.” It describes something a lot of people have experienced firsthand: Almost anyone who’s browsed through flea markets or used bookstores knows the feeling of coming across an old toy, children’s book, knick-knack, or advertising sign, and marveling at its combination of artistry and grotesquerie. - Dissolve

Upon Steamboat Willie's realease in 1928, Walt continued to create around him with more short films, in the similar vein to what Betty Boop was doing for Fleischer and Paramount, but equally as dark and creepy as many late 1920s cartoons. Much like Bimbo and Betty, Walt created Mickey and Minnie in 1928, followed closely by Pluto in 1930, Donald Duck in 1934, and finally Goofy in 1939.

But it didn't just stop at growing a family of cartoon characters for independent short films. By the late 1930s, Disney was also expanding from pure in house cartoons to something more exciting: feature length films based on fairy tales starting with Snow White and the Seven Dwarves. Upon it's release in 1939, Snow White cemented Walt Disney and the Walt Disney Company as a powerhouse not just in independent cartoon character shorts but in feature length films.


Look the bottom line is this. I have watched this short so many times and yet I still can't get over the fact that it didn't turn into more. Which I suppose is a testament to Disney's vision for feature films and ultimately theme park attractions.


Regardless of my cartoon versus cartoon babble, one fact remains above all.... Cab Calloway oozed swagger and confidence the moment he took the stage.

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