Mickey Mouse: In Living Color

Mickey Mouse:  In Living Color

Mickey Mouse: In Living Color

I love classic cartoons.  They just seem to be so much more developed than present day television shorts.  There’s an emphasis placed on the score and plot while not forgetting the laughs.  The most iconic of cartoon characters from this era include Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck, but is any more well known than Mickey Mouse?  The mouse that built an empire, Mickey was Disney’s original star.  While he ruled the world in the 20’s during his black and white career, he was eclipsed later on by other characters, most notably brand-mate Donald Duck.  Mickey was eclipsed more out of choice than anything.  He became the Disney brand which necessitated him becoming a more wholesome character.  Early portrayals had him playing the role of the trickster at times, but he evolved into more of a straight man (err, mouse) with Donald becoming the more devious character.

As a result, while he wasn’t the most watched cartoon character in the 1930’s he still received all-star quality toons.  When Disney set out to re-release collections of their classic shorts they wisely lead off with this set, Mickey Mouse:  In Living Color which covers the years 1935-1938.  Some of Mickey’s most famous shorts are contained on this set and all appear uncut (save for a minor audio change in “Clock Cleaners”).  Either Disney wanted to create strong demand for these collections, or the company failed to predict how popular they would become because now they can be hard to come by.  They’re worth it though for animation buffs and I’m going to tell you why.

I currently own three sets from the Walt Disney Treasures line.  This one as well as Donald Duck Volume 2 and Mickey Mouse: In Black and White Volume 2.  Picking a favorite is an exercise in futility, and this one is a great starting point for anyone.  It features a total of 26 shorts (listed at the end of this post) all starring Mickey with many featuring Donald, Goofy, Minnie and Pluto.  Perhaps starring is too strong a word as some of the ensemble pieces feature equal screen time for the trio of Mickey, Donald and Goofy and some feature very little of Mickey.  There’s also an easter egg short that’s kind of amusing as it was sponsored by Nabisco so it’s basically an extended commercial (and may have been the first Mickey cartoon to give him pupils).

Mickey and Donald are often friends but also often adversaries.

Mickey and Donald are often friends but also often adversaries.

A few feature Mickey playing off of Donald.  As I mentioned earlier, Mickey became relegated to the role of straight-man with Donald being relied upon for the comedy aspect.  Mickey’s most famous cartoon (other than “Steamboat Willy”) is probably “The Band Concert” where Donald tries to ingratiate himself to Mickey to hilarious results.  There’s also solo cartoons like “Thru the Mirror” which puts Mickey into the book “Through the Looking-Glass” and has him interacting with personified objects.  Fans of the 8 bit and 16 bit era Mickey video games will recognize several scenes from some of these cartoons.  “Thru the Mirror” is a visual delight and one of the stronger cartoons on the set.  For pure comedy there’s “Moose Hunters” which features the trio going after a moose and failing spectacularly.  Another I adore, partly because I had this cartoon on VHS as a kid, is “Mickey’s Trailer” which again features Donald and Goofy.  In this one, Goofy is towing Mickey’s camper while Mickey and Donald are inside.  Goofy, predictably “goofs up” and it leads to some amusing physical comedy.  There’s also a great sequence where Mickey has to get Donald out of bed and relies on the trailer’s technology to assist him.  Another nostalgic favorite for me is “On Ice” which used to be included, in quick clips, with the Mickey’s Christmas Carol broadcasts from the 80’s.  In it, Mickey teaches Minnie how to skate while Goofy tries to ice fish and Donald plays a prank on Pluto.  It’s one of the funnier cartoons included.

Some of these shorts offer a nice glimpse at the era from which they’re from.  In the 30’s, the nation was still coming out of The Great Depression and the short “Moving Day” reflects that as Mickey and Donald face eviction from their landlord.  “Mickey’s Polo Team” features several caricatures of popular actors from that period including the likes of Charlie Chaplin and Harpo Marx.  This  particular toon should be a real treat for film buffs out there and adds another dimension to the viewing experience.  Another short I was familiar with before picking up this set was “Brave Little Tailor.”  This one is another visual treat as it pits Mickey against a giant.  The plot is setup when the king confuses Mickey’s boast of killing seven flies in one blow with killing seven giants with one blow.  Mickey attempts to correct the viewpoint but when he finds out Princess Minnie is his reward if he solves the kingdom’s giant problem he finds it hard to say no.

Mickey Mouse in "Thru the Mirror."

Mickey Mouse in “Thru the Mirror.”

The set comes housed in a tin with images printed on both sides.  Later sets would replace the back print with an insert instead which is actually beneficial as these tins are susceptible to shelf ware.  Leonard Maltin is the host on all of them and there’s a mini documentary included where he goes over Mickey in the 30’s.  He’s also present to educate the masses since these cartoons are not always politically correct.  There’s smoking in some, even by the protagonists, and some jokes that may be considered tasteless.  This set is fairly harmless in that regard when compared with others.  Other sets contain episodes dubbed as “From the Vault” that usually contain images that could be considered racist.  This one contains no such section which is a good thing as those Vault sections contain a mandatory word of caution from Maltin that can’t be skipped.  It just becomes annoying whenever you want to watch those episodes and you have to sit through it each time.  I did mention that there is one edit on “Clock Cleaners” and that’s because some people insisted a Donald Duck line contained the word “fuck,” which was an absurd claim to make since Disney would have never tried to get away with such in the 30’s, let alone now.  Nevertheless, the line was replaced to avoid confusion but it has been released uncut in other sets.  I don’t consider it a big deal though and it’s not something that should affect anyone’s purchasing decision.

Mickey gets to take on a giant in "Brave Little Tailor."

Mickey gets to take on a giant in “Brave Little Tailor.”

This is a wonderful collection of cartoons and anyone who enjoys the medium should try and track down a copy.  Even though these sets only exist in standard definition, the visual quality is very good.  Especially considering these cartoons are over 70 years old.  Some are better than others, but there aren’t any that appear to have deteriorated too bad.  Mickey’s face is pretty much always white and doesn’t appear dirty.  The only one that seemed a little rough around the edges to me was “On Ice,” but it was nothing that could dampen the viewing experience.  This is a fun set to watch and it’s great to experience the joy of these shorts as an adult and I’m sure kids today would still get a kick out of them.  To a lot of children Mickey is just a logo, a character that is featured prominently at Disney’s theme parks, but few have experienced him as a cartoon star.  This set is from an era where Mickey was king of the cartoon world, and it’s not hard to see why.

As promised, here’s the full list of the cartoons included as part of this collection:

  • The Band Concert
  • Mickey’s Garden
  • On Ice
  • Pluto’s Judgement Day
  • Mickey’s Fire Brigade
  • Thru the Mirror
  • Mickey’s Circus
  • Mickey’s Elephant
  • Mickey’s Grand Opera
  • Mickey’s Polo Team
  • Alpine Climbers
  • Moving Day
  • Mickey’s Rival
  • Orphans Picnic
  • Hawaiian Holiday
  • Moose Hunters
  • The Worm Turns
  • Magician Mickey
  • Mickey’s Amateurs
  • Clock Cleaners
  • Lonesome Ghosts
  • Mickey’s Parrot
  • Boat Builders
  • The Whalers
  • Mickey’s Trailer
  • Brave Little Tailor

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