Do kids still dream of being cowboys? I’m not sure that I ever did. I was too consumed with Star Wars to be thinking about ropin’ and ridin’. I’ve got to admit, though, as an adult living in Colorado…the West…I’ve often thought it’d be cool to go walkin’ around in the full cowboy getup. I guess that’s the part of people’s imaginations that the animators at Disney were tapping into with this 1956 animated short, A Cowboy Needs a Horse.
The film opens in an ultra-modern 50’s style house where a little boy is sleeping in his bed. As he sleeps a repetitive little song begins. “A cowboy needs a horse, needs a horse, needs a horse.” As it continues we hear all the other things a cowboy needs…a rope, a song, a hat, fancy boots, shiny spurs, and so on.
While the music plays, we see what is going through the little boys mind as he becomes a cowboy riding on a stylized horse. He then begins to have a whole series of western adventures. He first meets up with a band of Indians. They start by firing a wall of arrows at him, but before long they turn friendly and the boy smokes the peace pipe with the chief. Don’t worry, bubbles come out of the pipe for the boy. He also ends up dealing with some crooks trying to rob a stagecoach, a train careening toward a recently blown up bridge, and a young damsel in distress.
There are those out there who like to accuse Disney animation as being a bit too cutesy. That’s an unfair generalization, but in this case…yup, we’re in cutesy territory. This one was definitely made with kids in mind and there’s nothing wrong with that. Seeing into the mind of a little boy dreaming of being a cowboy has an undeniable sweetness to it. The film does also manage some decent comedic moments. The boy actually ends up with some superhero type qualities as he manages to round up a dozen or so Indians with one toss of his lasso. He even rescues the train Superman style by laying across a section of missing track and allowing the train to pass over his body. If he had started flying around the earth to turn back time I’d have started worrying, but here it’s silly fun.
The best thing about this short is the wonderful 50’s style designs. Before we even get to the western sequences, the boy’s house has such a great design. It looks like the art you might see on an old jazz album cover. The western environments are even more stylized. It certainly brings to mind some of the backgrounds we were seeing in Chuck Jones’ series of Road Runner shorts over at Warner Brothers. We also have the cool geometric character designs that is part of what makes 50’s animation so fantastic.
Some viewers will struggle to get past the cute overload of A Cowboy Needs a Horse. However, it’s beautiful artwork is not to be missed.