Northwest Mounted

«Northwest Mounted» shows Barks's work at a time when he was learning the rudiments of story construction. This explains much of the story's unevenness. It contains some wildly imaginative gags but lacks plot and character development. By confining the story to chase-and-fight sequences, Barks' construction was too flimsy.

Following the practice of the Studio, other storymen submitted suggestions for the prepared cartoon as well as critical feedback. The most important were those of Dick Creedon, co-author of the script for the unproduced cartoon, «Morgan's Ghost». Creedon's major criticism was that Barks had departed too drastically from previous shorts by making Tanglefoot, not Mickey, the hero. In a memo to Barks he wrote, "Rather than making the horse very clever and a hero (save by accident), I'd leave the smart stuff and heroics for Mickey. You'll get more comedy out of both Mickey and the horse if the horse becomes the chief obstacle to the rescue (like the drunken horse in 'Steeplechase')"
Barks left Mickey relatively undeveloped and as a consequence his parody of the heroic rescue often fell flat. Creedon: "We need business that will make Mickey look ridiculous - a heroic, satirizing role seems to call for making our hero look futile and ridiculous (Mickey's futile determination to carry on the 'The Band Concert' is an example of the feeling I mean)."
The strength of Disney animation was that its humor derived from the establishment of distinctive personalities. However, Barks did not develop Mickey sufficiently as a character to make him funny. Creedon: "There is little in the board which builds Mickey's do-or-die determination to get his man and rescue Minnie. He just keeps sitting on his horse. Could you think of any quick situations where Mickey, thwarted, calls on his courage and resourcefulness to keep him going? The gag of crossing the chasm on the log is in the right direction."
Creedon noted that Barks overemphasized the chase and rescue sequences, and did not sufficiently establish the personality of his characters beforehand, noting that "I'm usually a bit skeptical, pessimistic, about the possibility of getting belly laughs out of a chase or fight - this type of action usually turns out to be exciting, amusing and very clever in a cartoony way; but lacks the opportunity for developing the personality business out of which our surest laughs seem to come. Therefore, my hunch is that unless a lot of sure-fire laugh business for the pursuit and chase is turned in by the gang, that out best opportunity for laughs and personality are in the first part of the story; and that we will want to cut down the chase and fight to not over 300 feet." (The rereference to 300 feet was the length of film footage.)
Creedon suggested a number of ideas for embellishing the characters' personalities before the chase sequence, such as establishing Pete as a terrible menace to heighten the drama afterwards; showing Mickey's romance with Minnie to make his later ardor comprehensible; and developing the exaggerated affection between Mickey and his horse to augment the parody of the Mountie hero.

Barks himself has criticized «Northwest Mounted» for having too many wild and implausible gags. Because he was unfamiliar with animation he had not yet learned how to "gag" a cartoon in a plausible way. In October 2, 1983 notes written for The Carl Barks Library, Barks said: "At the time I thought Mickey was an interesting character and practically unlimited in the impossible things he could do. I was new to cartoon comedy and had seen only a few movie cartoons up to that time. I didn't know how much of a character's actions should be justified or made logical, or whether any sort of inkwell trick was acceptable. Mickey and Black Pete were almost strangers to me. I assumed they could do anything, as long as it translated into amusing action."
Barks recalls one sequence in particular that was criticized for its implausibility. In the first version of the story Pete, Mickey, and Tanglefoot confront each other, and Pete makes his move: he slips a knife from behind the hood of his parka and throws it with a deadly "ZIP!" It barely misses Tanglefoot, clipping the end of his tail. This is immediately followed, zip, zip, zip, with a series of knives, one after another - and Tanglefoot cowers in the snow. But, in early Barksian excess, it is only then that the knives really start to come. . .to the extent that Pete no longer even has to throw them. He points his arms like cannons and they shoot - putt, putt, putt - out of his sleeves "like machine guns." As Mickey ducks the fusillade of knives, Pete bends over and this endless barrage just keeps on coming, now from under his coat and the back of his neck and finally, in a reversal of direction, Pete turns around and still bent over (but this time with his fanny facing his adversaries), lifts the back of his coat and here comes still more knives, shooting out from under his coat with machine-gunlike fury.
The audience at this point would surely think there would be no more knives. The last one, in fact, strikes Tanglefoot's saddle, scaring him into kicking a barrelful of frozen codfish with a mighty "CRAK!" The barrel hits Pete headlong and, with a resounding "SPLAT", breaks open, showering him with frozen fish. Pete rises in anger and points his arms straight out like cannons once more - just like before - but this time codfish shoot out of Pete's sleeves, phup, phup, phup, phup!
Forty-seven years after drawing this longish sequence Barks still remembered being criticized for it. In an 1982 interview by Bruce Hamilton in the Disney Archives, Barks wryly commented: "They didn't think much of it." Walt Disney himself was critical of such gags. In the October 2, 1983 notes written for The Carl Barks Library, Barks said: "My ideas were pretty wild and too illogical for Walt's taste, so he had me put into a story room with Harry Reeves, who had much experience in what could and couldn't be used in animation comedy."

Mickey vs. Tanglefoot

Part of the problem was the characterization of Mickey that Barks was given to work with. By the mid-1930s the mouse had become a less vital and charming character and was portrayed more as an organizer and planner of other characters' activities, rather than the central actor in his films. He had none of the foibles that made Donald or Black Pete inherently funny. Barks was more successful with Tanglefoot, who exuberantly upstages Mickey through-out the chase scenes and finally captures Pete.

By making Tanglefoot the hero, Barks further undermined Mickey's role as protagonist. As mentioned previously, Tanglefoot, not Mickey, defeats Pete, and by the end of the fight the Mountie is relegated to the role of a bystander who orchestrates his horse's actions from the sidelines. For instance, Mickey motions to Tanglefoot, who kicks the helpless Pete into the Mountie's outstretched handcuffs and we see the manacled villain slumped on the ground in defeat, crying like a baby. Mickey has become relatively gratuitous at this point, supplanted by his horse who has become both the hero and comedian of the story.

The result of this unusual reversal of roles between a cowboy and his horse is less a parody of the hero than a subversion of his traditional role, as is clearly seen in the ending. Most Mickey films conclude by showing Minnie's rescue by Mickey and her reward of a kiss. Barks radically departed from this convention by shifting the focus to Tanglefoot. Instead of the Mickey-Minnie cliché, we see Tanglefoot, a flapjack hanging from his mouth, listening to the mice kiss offscreen. Then Tanglefoot sucks the griddle cake into his mouth like spaghetti and the story ends with an "iris in" on the horse's contented smile as he chews the flapjack. By focusing on Tanglefoot's mania for food and disinterest in heroics, the ending of the story seems to offer a comment on the ridiculous juxtaposition of Mickey's rescue of and romance with Minnie and his horse's love of flapjacks.

In Tanglefoot, there's a glimmer of the ambiguous and very human character Donald would later become: foolish and self-centered, but also loyal, brave, and heroic - if only in unheroic ways. In Barks' cartoon, Tanglefoot locates Pete not out of his dedication to duty but because he smells the villain's flapjacks. As is his later comic book stories, heroism in Barks' universe is always a chancey and ambiguous affair at best.

In 1938, Barks attended a story conference for another unproduced cartoon, titled «Tanglefoot». Barks was probably called in because of his previous work on the character in «Northwest Mounted».

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