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Birth of An Industry: Blackface Minstrelsy and the Rise of American Animation

Nicholas Sammond, Author

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Introduction, Page 6

Although blackface is usually thought of as a live performance tradition, it evokes in its tension between surface and interior—between makeup and the face underneath—a fantastic black persona analogous in some ways to the cartoon characters who dwell in the flatlands on the surface of the page, or cel, or at the boundary of the screen onto which they are projected. 

This liminality is the central gag in the nostalgic Disney short Get a Horse (2013), which depicts the boundary between the past and present as between 2-D and 3-D. During a hayride, Mickey and his pals encounter Peg-Leg Pete driving a car and shouting "Make way for the future!" The cartoon soon gestures towards its own 2-dimensionality when Mickey is thrown through the screen by Pete into "our" three-dimensional, color world. 

The rest of the cartoon builds on this gag, moving between the screen and stage, the 2-D of the 1920's style-cartoon and the 3-D richness of contemporary animation, as the characters gambol through the hole between the stage and the screen. Manipulating the screen by turning it upside down and twirling it they manipulate onscreen gravity, and the characters who live in the 3-D world exert much more control over the scene until they all return, except for Pete, to two dimensions.

And all of this is done to the tune of "Turkey in the Straw," also known as "Old Zip Coon," which Mickey first played with great gusto in the famous Disney short Steamboat Willie, in 1928.
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