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Happy 90th Birthday, Mickey Mouse!

celebrating mickey

Don’t be fooled, we’re not reviewing this release here, but it’s probably good!

Did you hear? The legendary Mickey Mouse turns 90 on this day owing his debut to Steamboat Willie, which premiered November 18, 1928. Now, nothing momentous seems to occur these days without a dash of controversy. Most fans of Disney and Mickey are well aware that his first cartoon was actually Plane Crazy from earlier that year, but Disney considers Steamboat Willie his true debut since it was the first with synchronized sound and was the first widely distributed. If that’s the criteria Disney wants to use then so be it. It doesn’t really matter since either way Mickey Mouse has endured for 90 years. In that time he’s been a cinema darling, television host, and brand mascot for the massive Walt Disney Company and he’s quite possibly the most recognized fictional character around the globe. If he’s not, then the list of competitors is rather small.

Over the years the Disney company has celebrated Mickey in various ways, some small and some not so small. He’s always been front and center at the various parks, and yet he is still awaiting his first actual ride (with one in production). Walt Disney famously remarked that it all started with a mouse referring to Mickey’s star power in the early days, though he’s only had one theatrically released cartoon since 1995. He did eventually make the jump to television, but his appearances there are most relegated to the younger crowd as opposed to a general audience. This isn’t to say that Disney has mistreated their mascot at times, but to someone like myself who adores hand-drawn animation it does disappoint me that Disney doesn’t celebrate the earlier work of Mickey as much as it could.

mickey oreo

Disney has found some “creative” ways to celebrate its mascot this year.

For Mickey’s 90th, that has been partially rectified. Disney recently released the Blu-ray Celebrating Mickey which is a collection of 13 cartoons that reach all the way back to 1928 and as far forward as 2013. As tempted as I am to check out some Mickey cartoons in high-definition, I did not pick up this set since I already own all of these cartoons elsewhere. I’m still happy to see Disney put out such a package, but cutting it down to 13 feels like such a tease.

In celebration of Mickey, I’m going to list out some cartoons I think are worth checking out. I’ll do one for every decade of Mickey’s life, while also trying to pick a cartoon from each decade (not every decade contains a new Mickey cartoon) to highlight. Almost all of these cartoons can be found on one of the Walt Disney Treasures collections, with the only exception being the cartoons released after 1995. And to make this a companion piece to Disney’s Celebrating Mickey release, I’ll refrain from doubling-up on any cartoon released on that collection (which does include some of my favorites like Mickey’s Trailer and Brave Little Tailor).

mickey haunted house

Watch black and white Mickey get terrified!

The 1920s – The Haunted House (December 2, 1929)

Just sneaking into the 20’s is this one, The Haunted House, which features Mickey in (you guessed it!) a haunted house. Animated by Ub Iwerks, The Haunted House contains lots of flashy, spooky, imagery and great sound design. Mickey mostly plays the role of scared victim while an eerie shadowy figure chases him and forces him to play the organ. Don’t worry though, as Mickey does eventually escape, but I like that there isn’t a twist to the ending. The house appears to be legitimately haunted.

pluto judgement

Hell is mostly cats (I say this as a cat dad).

The 1930s – Pluto’s Judgement Day (August 31, 1935)

The 30s is probably Mickey’s best decade and it’s loaded with good stuff. Pluto’s Judgement Day is one of Mickey’s earliest color cartoons and it centers around Pluto who dreams about going to Hell. It’s ruled by cats and the whole thing is brought on by Pluto feeling guilty about being mean to a kitten and the whole thing is really surreal. It has a cute ending so we don’t feel too bad for old Pluto.

goofy donald moose

Not the sort of predicament one wants to be found in.

Moose Hunters (February 20, 1937)

To make up for no Mickey cartoons in the 60s, we’re doing another from the 30s. Moose Hunters co-stars Donald Duck and Goofy as the trio try to hunt a moose. They’re terrible at it and get into all kinds of mischief, including Donald and Goofy disguising themselves as a female moose and attracting the affection of a bull moose. It’s all good slapstick, and for some reason hapless hunters make for good comedy characters.

donald symphony hour

Donald mostly steals the show here, as he often would.

The 1940s – Symphony Hour (March 20, 1942)

Some consider this the unofficial sequel to The Band Concert, Mickey’s colorized debut. This one is a full ensemble piece as Mickey leads a symphony to impress Pete, who is referred to as Mr. Macaroni in the cartoon. Everything is a disaster though, and Donald has to blow a gasket while Macaroni howls with delight at the misfortune of the band. He turns angry though as the show gets worse, though he comes around when the show ends with applause.

Squatter's Rights chip

Pluto’s nose as a speed bag is a pretty good gag.

Squatter’s Rights (June 7, 1946)

No Mickey cartoons in the 70s either, so here’s another 40s toon. Squatter’s Rights was Mickey’s first cartoon in several years, and includes some lines or sounds recorded by Jimmy MacDonald, the second official voice of Mickey Mouse. It also includes Chip and Dale, who are woken by Mickey who returns to his hunting camp to find the chipmunks sleeping in his stove. Or rather, Pluto is the one to make the discovery which begins a bunch shenanigans in which Pluto keeps getting blamed for Chip and Dale’s mischief. It includes a bit of a dark spot with a gun, and it’s also somewhat notable since Chip and Dale end up winning the encounter.

mickey and seal

The seal is adorable. While he didn’t feature in any other Mickey shorts, he has appeared in the preschool show Mickey Mouse Clubhouse where he’s named Salty.

Mickey and the Seal (December 3, 1948)

Mickey’s only cartoon in the 80s is Mickey’s Christmas Carol, a fantastic long-form short that you’ve probably heard about (or seen me rave about in the past). Rather than revisit a short I’ve blogged about more than once, here’s another favorite from the 40s. Mickey and the Seal is quite possibly Mickey’s cutest cartoon. It’s similar to a Chip and Dale cartoon, but instead of the chipmunk duo we have a seal who Pluto is well aware of, but Mickey is oblivious to. There’s a great sequence where Mickey and the seal bathe together and if you aren’t completely charmed by the happy little seal pup then you have a heart of stone.

mickey pluto christmas tree

Oh yeah, there’s the good stuff.

The 1950s – Pluto’s Christmas Tree (November 21, 1952)

All right, I have talked about this one before and more than once, but Mickey only had four cartoons in the 1950s and two of them are on that new Blu-ray. Plus, this one is so super charming and worth watching even when it isn’t Christmas time. It is derivative of Donald Duck’s Toy Tinkers, but it once again pairs up Pluto with the duo of Chip and Dale and it just works so well.

feral mickey

Feral Mickey too scary for the masses?

The 1990s – Runaway Brain (August 11, 1995)

Some claim this is the Mickey cartoon Disney doesn’t want you to see. I’ve always been skeptical of such, but it is further reinforced by the fact that Disney scrubs this bad boy from YouTube frequently, leaving some alone that are of poor quality, while it mostly leaves the other cartoons alone. That could just be because it’s a more modern cartoon and Disney therefore feels it has more value than cartoons that are 60 years old. Whatever the case, this one is a lot of fun and it’s so 90s in style which is great since it’s the only true Mickey Mouse short from that decade. Mickey starts off the short playing video games, for crying out loud! Kelsey Grammer voices Dr. Frankenollie, and it features Mickey swapping bodies with a monstrous Pete (who features a peg-leg!) therefore leading to the character fans refer to as Feral Mickey. It makes Mickey scary, so perhaps that’s why Disney doesn’t promote this one any longer.

new shoes normal

Order restored at the end. Note the life of Donald.

The New Millennium! – New Shoes (April 14, 2018)

So Mickey Mouse has only had one theatrically released cartoon since 1995’s Runaway Brain, and that was Get A Horse which was paired with Frozen and is on the Celebrating Mickey Blu-ray. Rather than spotlight that again, how about we go with the television/web series of Mickey cartoons that began in 2013? This series is great, and it’s a more manic, Looney Tunes/Spongebob take on Mickey and the gang that I absolutely love. Yeah, it’s not traditionally animated, but what is these days? New Shoes is one of my recent favorites from this series and it features Donald and Goofy as well. The trio swap bodies with hilarious results (Mickey becomes Goofy, Goofy becomes Donald, and Donald becomes Mickey). It’s particularly amusing to see how horrible Donald’s life is, as experienced by Goofy (who while getting beaten he sings the old Donald Duck song) while Mickey exhausts himself by trying to take advantage of Goofy’s monstrous height to help people. Donald just mostly enjoys being loved and celebrated as Mickey for a change. Just a great, funny, smart cartoon.

Well, that’s that. As I mentioned, you can find those shorts on the Walt Disney Treasures collection and some can be found elsewhere (Pluto’s Christmas Tree has been re-released numerous times as part of Christmas collections) while New Shoes is free to watch on YouTube. And a lot of those shorts can also unofficially be found there as well, though Runaway Brain might give you some trouble tracking down a good version, but it’s there as well in some form. They’re all wonderful examples of the star power, charisma, and charm of Mickey Mouse. He’s been around for 90 years now and isn’t likely going anywhere. At this rate, it’s all but guaranteed he’ll outlive us all! Now Disney, how about a restored collection of all of Mickey’s classic shorts in HD? Don’t make us wait for him to turn 100!


#5 – Mickey Mouse: Pluto’s Christmas Tree

Mickey_decorating_his_tree

“Pluto’s Christmas Tree” (1952)

A few days ago we looked at “Toy Tinkers” and today we look at its spiritual sequel, “Pluto’s Christmas Tree.” Despite its title, this one is actually considered a Mickey Mouse short (and fun piece of trivia, this i the theatrical short debut of Jimmy MacDonald as Mickey) and not a Pluto one. Like “Toy Tinkers,” it features the duo of Chip and Dale as they try to move-in to Mickey’s house.

The short opens with Mickey and Pluto searching for a Christmas tree. Chip and Dale see the two and decide to have a little fun with Pluto, who ends up chasing them up a tree. Mickey, of course, settles on that specific tree for his Christmas tree and Chip and Dale, electing not try and elude Pluto, go along for the ride and end up in Mickey’s house. Mickey and Pluto decorate the tree and the chipmunks come to enjoy their new surroundings, especially when they find the bowl of nuts on the mantle. Pluto takes note, and unable to get Mickey to notice, ends up trying to evict Chip and Dale himself which results in disaster.

pluto2

Dear Mickey’s Christmas Tree, I want to be inside you.

The setup maybe similar to “Toy Tinkers,” but the gags are separate. Pluto, being unable to speak, is easy to feel for because he’s obviously frustrated by his inability to communicate to Mickey that they have a rodent problem. Chip and Dale, naturally, have no interest in leaving the warm confines of the house and refuse to go without a fight. They’re a bit villainous though, and I find myself naturally drawn to Pluto, though the spirit of the holidays would say everyone should coexist in peace. The artwork is excellent, especially the backgrounds. Seriously, the Disney artists convinced me living in that tree would be bliss. It’s funny and cute, and its more inclusive attitude towards the Christmas holiday helps elevate it above “Toy Tinkers” for me, but both should be considered holiday classics.

“Pluto’s Christmas Tree” is actually rather easy to come by. It’s been re-released many times on various holiday collection DVDs and sometimes is shown on television during the holidays. Most recently it was included as a bonus feature on the DVD/Blu Ray release of “Mickey’s Christmas Carol” which has yet to return to “The Vault.” However you choose to view it, I suggest you make the time to watch it this year and every year after.


Mickey Mouse: In Living Color, Volume 2

175px-DisneyTreasures03-mickeycolorAs the 1930’s came to an end and Disney transitioned into the 40’s, Mickey Mouse saw his starring roles in cartoon shorts dwindle.  He was, more or less, unofficially retired by the time the decade came to a close and relegated to hosting duties on television and as the official mascot of the Disney brand.  There were several factors contributing to the decreased screen-time for the world’s most famous mouse.  For one, Disney had moved on to feature-length productions and was producing fewer cartoon shorts.  And when Disney was producing shorts, Donald Duck was usually the star, not Mickey Mouse.  As the Disney brand grew, Mickey was not surprisingly delegated as the face of the company.  As such, Disney felt that Mickey needed to be a role model.  While the Mickey who starred in numerous black and white shorts could be kind of mischievous and a bit of a trickster, this new Mickey needed to embody a more wholesome image.  Donald Duck could be the bad boy, and as a result, the funnier of the two characters which made creating shorts for him a natural process.  Donald Duck could be the hero or the villain of any cartoon he starred in, while Mickey was forced to be the straight man.  Another reason why Mickey made fewer appearances in animation is because he was voiced by Walt Disney himself.  As the Disney empire grew, Walt found himself too busy to voice Mickey.  Eventually, he would hand over the voicing duties to sound effects man Jimmy MacDonald because of his too busy schedule.

As a result, this final set of Mickey Mouse cartoons is much shorter than its predecessors.  It’s also not as good as the first Mickey Mouse:  In Living Color collection, but still contains some classic material and worthwhile bonus features.  Disc one includes the last of Mickey’s original run while disc two contains some of his more prominent starring roles and last theatrical short.  The set captures Mickey’s twilight years, and includes material from his three most prominent voice actors: Disney, MacDonald, and Wayne Allwine.  The set is, if nothing else, a nice piece of history for one of animation’s most famous characters.  The animation is top-notch Disney, as one would expect, making even the lesser shorts still fun to watch.

images-187This may be a lesser set when compared with the previous one, but there are still some classic shorts to be found on disc one.  Mickey often finds himself paired with other characters, such as Pluto, Donald, and Goofy.  in “Tugboat Mickey,” Mickey, Donald, and Goofy spend their time repairing an old boat and little goes right.  There’s plenty of slapstick humor in the same style as other shorts that grouped this trio together.  In “The Pointer,” Pluto and Mickey are out hunting and soon find themselves nose to nose with a bear.  Pluto probably gets equal screen time as Mickey and arguably steals the short.  This is common for Mickey though as the guest stars tend to generate the most laughs.  A personal favorite of mine for nostalgic reasons is “Mickey and the Seal.”  I remember watching this one as a kid and it involves Mickey being followed home from the zoo by a seal pup.  They get into some humorous situations as Mickey is unaware the seal followed him which climaxes is in a very entertaining bath tub scene.  There are some duds though, such as “The Nifty Nineties” and “The Simple Things.”  “The Nifty Nineties” is basically a love letter to the 1890’s.  It contains some nice music and pretty backgrounds, but it’s just really boring.  Nothing happens.  “The Simple Things” is another Mickey and Pluto short, and also the last Mickey Mouse short until the 1990’s.  It’s not so bad in a vacuum, but a lot of the gags are recycled from older Mickey, Pluto and Donald cartoons and have become worn out at this point.

There are some curious inclusions amongst the cartoons as well.  Namely, there are a few Pluto cartoons here that would have made more sense as part of the Pluto collections.  Perhaps Disney felt it needed to include more content on this one, but “Pluto’s Party” and “Pluto’s Christmas Tree” would have been more at home on the Pluto sets, but I can’t say I’m disappointed they’re here.  It’s actually more of a hindrance to the Pluto sets that they weren’t also included there.  The short, “Plutopia,” included on this set actually also shows up on The Complete Pluto, Volume Two as well.

Still breathtaking more than 70 years later.

Still breathtaking more than 70 years later.

In addition to the short-form cartoons are the longer feature appearances of Mickey.  Included on disc one, is “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” from Fantasia and “Mickey and the Beanstalk” from Fun and Fancy Free.  These end up being about three to four times the length of a typical cartoon short, and are essential to the Mickey Mouse legacy.  “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” kind of goes without saying, but for the record I will state it’s an iconic piece of American animation and possibly Mickey’s most famous appearance.  “Mickey and the Beanstalk” is less known, but important because it was the unofficial passing of the torch for the voice of Mickey from Walt Disney to Jimmy MacDonald as portions of the cartoon feature Mickey voiced by Disney and portions by MacDonald.  For a long time, it was thought that this was the last time Disney voiced Mickey, but it was actually revealed by MacDonald to film critic and set host Leonard Maltin that Walt reprised the role of Mickey for the intros to the Mickey Mouse Clubhouse television show.  Those intros, five in total, are included as a bonus feature on this set and are impossibly cool for fans of Disney and Mickey Mouse history.

The Prince and the Pauper is hardly a classic, but it's nice to have it included all the same.

The Prince and the Pauper is hardly a classic, but it’s nice to have it included all the same.

Disc two contains more special features as well as Mickey’s most recent cartoons.  The long-form shorts “Mickey’s Christmas Carol” and “The Prince and the Pauper” are featured.  I’ve written more than once on this blog about “Mickey’s Christmas Carol” so I won’t go into much detail here, but there’s some bonus content with some animators who worked on it which is worth checking out.  It’s a neat cartoon for many reasons, but also because it’s the first time Mickey Mouse was voiced by Wayne Allwine, who would eventually go on to become the longest running voice of Mickey Mouse until his death in 2009.  The cartoon also features the Uncle Scrooge character voiced by Allen Young, who would of course go on to voice Scrooge in the very successful DuckTales series.  The cartoon is also the last time Donald Duck was voiced by his original voice actor, Clarence Nash, making “Mickey’s Christmas Carol” one of the most historically significant cartoons ever produced by the Disney company.  “The Prince and the Pauper” is another twenty-four minute short.  Coincidentally, it was released to theaters with The Rescuers Down Under while “Mickey’s Christmas Carol” was released with The Rescuers (Disney apparently likes to group its mouse characters together).  It’s a fairly unremarkable short but does feature some nice animation, though its brightness contrasts it with the muted pallet of “Mickey’s Christmas Carol” in a way that kind of puts me off.  It is notable for being the last time Disney used the Xerox process for its animation, a process that had been in use since 101 Dalmatians.

Runaway Brain feels like it's mostly been forgotten, which is a shame because it's great fun.

Runaway Brain feels like it’s mostly been forgotten, which is a shame because it’s great fun.

The last short include on the collection is, up until very recently, the last Mickey Mouse short, “Runaway Brain.”  Released in 1995 along with A Goofy Movie, it features Mickey and Minnie (voiced by Allwine’s real-life wife Russi Taylor) and marks the debut of mad scientist Dr. Frankenollie (named after longtime Disney animators Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston), who is voiced in the short by Kelsey Grammar.  The plot involves Mickey forgetting his anniversary with Minnie and trying to make up for it by volunteering for a science experiment to earn money for a Hawaiian vacation.  Mickey ends up as a mindless beast and it’s a pretty entertaining cartoon short.  It served as a nice way for Mickey to bow out of animation, though starting in 2013 new Mickey Mouse shorts have been in production featuring a new style and approach in terms of both look and content.

Mickey Mouse: In Living Color, Volume Two isn’t quite as good as Volume One, but there’s enough here that any Disney fan should own it.  More than anything, this set is a piece of Disney history as it documents the changing look of Mickey Mouse as well as the men who gave voice to him.  There’s a little bit of sadness to it as well, as Mickey quietly exited the world of animation with little fanfare or celebration.  It seems like he deserved better, and it’s too bad that generations of kids have grown up without new Mickey Mouse cartoons.  The most recent shorts produced actually aren’t bad, and the few I’ve seen I’ve enjoyed but it doesn’t seem like they get much attention.  Disney would do well to make an effort to keep Mickey’s animation presence alive and well by celebrating his legacy more and pushing his current shorts.  Kids today deserve to know Mickey Mouse as more than a theme park attraction and brand.

Mickey Mouse:  In Living Color, Volume Two

  • Society Dog Show
  • The Pointer
  • Tugboat Mickey
  • Pluto’s Dream House
  • Mr. Mouse Takes a Trip
  • The Little Whirlwind
  • The Nifty Nineties
  • Orphan’s Benefit (1941)
  • Mickey’s Birthday Party
  • Symphony Hour
  • Mickey’s Delayed Date
  • Mickey Down Under
  • Mickey and the Seal
  • Plutopia
  • R’Coon Dawg
  • Pluto’s Party
  • Pluto’s Christmas Tree
  • The Simple Things
  • The Sorcerer’s Apprentice
  • Mickey and the Beanstalk
  • Mickey’s Christmas Carol
  • The Prince and the Pauper
  • Runaway Brain

 


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