Tags

, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

mickey's 90th

As a lifelong Disney fan I can’t understate how much of an impact Mickey Mouse has had on me. In childhood, he was an icon and friend – instantly recognizable, a source of joy and entertainment, a hero and a role model. I know this is making me sound like one of those cheesy sponsors reading off a cue card, but when you’re talking about a mouse, expect plenty of cheese to be involved.

In the spirit of Mickey celebrating his 90th birthday, I’d like to share with you my 20 favorite shorts he starred in. Why 20? Because I couldn’t narrow it down to ten and I like to go nine steps beyond as opposed to one.

There were only two rules I set while making this list:

  1. Mickey is the main focus, or at the very least he must be given as much to do as the other characters he shares the cartoon with. There’s a lot of great shorts out there that has Mickey’s name in the title – Mickey’s Parrot, Mickey’s Circus, Mickey’s Birthday, Mickey and the Seal, Mickey’s Christmas Carol, etc. – or has his face in the intro that advertises it as his adventure, but upon watching you find they’re really about Donald, Goofy or Pluto or literally anyone else but him.
  2. Shorts only, no segments from full-length films or direct-to-video works. This means no Mickey and the Beanstalk from Fun and Fancy Free or various bits from Mickey’s Once/Twice Upon A Christmas, but sadly no Sorcerer’s Apprentice from Fantasia. I thought of excluding any short that ran over the usual length of five to seven minutes to about twenty, but that made my job even harder.

Now before we get to the countdown, here are a few Honorable Mentions:

  • Mickey, Donald and Goofy in The Three Musketeers – If I were including full-length films on the list, this would be in the top five, bar none.
  • The Sorcerer’s Apprentice from Fantasia – It would easily take the number one spot if it didn’t overlap with the #2 rule.
  • Plane Crazy – The mouse’s first appearance on the silver screen, though he wouldn’t make as quite a splash until his sound debut in Steamboat Willie a few years later
  • Orphan’s Benefit – One of my favorites as a kid. It made me laugh something fierce and still does, though a large part of it has to do with Donald and Goofy’s segments, hence why it’s only an honorable mention. Also, did you know that the color one we’re mostly familiar with is actually a remake of an earlier black and white version?
  • Mickey’s Delayed Date – Pluto and Mickey tussle for attention in this outing.
  • Haunted House – Spooky and atmospheric. Classic Disney nightmare fuel.
  • The Gorilla Mystery – Mickey plays Minnie’s white knight yet again as he goes to-to-toe with a dangerous gorilla.
  • Two-Gun Mickey – An American Tail: Mickey Goes West.
  • Mickey’s Surprise Party – After Minnie’s dog spoils the cookies she was making for Mickey, he saves the day with some shockingly transparent corporate sponsorship. At least I take comfort in the fact that Mickey’s favorite cookies are the same as mine.
  • Hansel and Gretel – Mickey and Minnie stumble upon a treacherous witch to the ominous strains of Danse Macabre.
  • Mickey’s Cabin – Mickey outwits Pete and his dimwitted cousin with a little reverse psychology when they hold him hostage in his winter cabin. Hilarity ensues.
  • Croissant – Mickey’s first short in the modern style proved you can’t keep a mouse on a mission down.
  • Yodelberg – Continuing with the previous short, it’s modern Mickey at its most fast-paced and stylish fun.
  • Shanghaied – It’s up to Mickey to save the day and Minnie again, this time from Pete and his dastardly crew of pirates.
  • Mickey’s Christmas Carol – Mickey’s first cartoon in 30 years has him slightly out of the spotlight, but still got him back in the public eye for good.

20. Mickey’s Trailer

mickey's trailer

This gets the lowest spot because the first half mainly focuses on jokes surrounding Donald and Goofy in their cool little mechanical trailer. But when it reaches the second half? That’s when things really kick into high gear. Goofy obliviously unhitches the trailer as they’re traveling through a perilous mountain pass and it’s up to Mickey to keep his vacation from reaching an untimely end. It’s amazingly suspenseful, with plenty of close calls from oncoming vehicles, trains and cliff sides. They still manage to sneak in a few decent moments of slapstick, but not at the cost of any of the tension. My only wish is that we could have seen Mickey and Donald’s response to Goofy’s cheerful “Well, I brought ya down safe and sound, a-hyuck!” at the very end. No doubt it would have been hilariously karmic.

19. Mickey’s Mechanical House

mickey's mechanical house

Coming from the Mickey’s Mouse Works/House of Mouse era of cartoons, we get a whimsical story in Seuss-esque rhyme, narrated by John Cleese no less. Sick of the inconveniences of his old abode, Mickey moves into a sleek totally automated house. He quickly learns, however, that easy modern conveniences aren’t what make a good home. Unlike the other cartoons made in this time, the art style goes for a 50’s retro look that pays homage to the likes of UPA. I especially appreciate the cameo from the iconic Mars robot from the famous Disneyland episode Mars and Beyond. That’s how you know this short was made by real old-school Disney fans. The story is charming, the gags are clever, and it earns this spot on the countdown.

18. Giantland/Gulliver Mickey

Yes, I know I’m cheating here due to this being a tie, but I found these two shorts to be similar enough that I felt they were both worthy of the same place on the list. Each one begins with Mickey telling a story to his…younger counterparts? Nieces and nephews? Godchildren? They all refer to him as “Uncle Mickey” and they all look like him so maybe they’re really…no, best not to think of the implications.

Anyway, Mickey makes himself the hero of each tale, firstly in the role of Jack in Jack and the Beanstalk (no doubt somewhat inspiring his future gigantic adventures in The Brave Little Tailor and Fun and Fancy Free), then of him being the giant washed up on the shores of Lilliput. There’s some good action all around, and plenty of creativity in showing the giant’s world, Mickey’s storytelling and how the Lilliputians attempt to subdue their captive.

17. Magician Mickey

magician mickey

Mickey’s putting on a magic show, but he’s constantly heckled by a disbelieving Donald. Little does the duck realize he’s messing with the Sorcerer’s Apprentice himself, and Mickey uses all his mystic powers to troll back at him. Even though it’s arguably Donald’s short as much as it is Mickey’s, he does provide the main source of the conflict, and Mickey does not hold back when providing some good old magical vengeance. He remains the perfect showman throughout, and the tricks he plays to get back at Donald are inventive and hilarious. I admit, I still crack up at the running gag where Donald attempts to go in one of his unintelligible tirades and spits out an entire deck of cards. Just goes to show you don’t mess with the mouse, especially when he’s in magician mode.

16. Steamboat Willie

steamboat willie 1

Ah, the one that started it all. Well, technically it was Plane Crazy and The Galloping Gaucho, but Steamboat Willie was what really thrust Mickey into the limelight. It may be simplistic by today’s standards, but this short is nothing…short of iconic. It establishes everything you need to know about the character of Mickey Mouse – inventive, friendly, helpful, but not without a strong mischievous streak. Being one of the first cartoons to have fully synchronized sound certainly helps. It not only pushed the popularity of “talkies” but introduced the world to what would become one of the most recognizable characters of all time. How could I not include it on the list? I already wrote an entire article on its significance, so if you want to know more, feel free to go read it.

15. The Mad Doctor

mickey mosue mad doctor

When people talk about the darkest moments in Disney animation, there’s a reason why this short is often brought up. The Mad Doctor goes for straight-up horror, and pulls no punches. Mickey must work his way through a creepy castle to save his beloved dog Pluto before he becomes the next victim of the titular doctor’s dangerous experiments. There’s lots of shadows, spooky living skeletons, and booby traps galore that threaten Mickey along the way. It’s perfect fare for Halloween.

Without giving away the ending, it’s the kind I’d normally call a bit of a cop out, but I don’t see how they could have worked their way around it. This short was deemed so scary upon release that it was banned not only in the UK, but in Nazi Germany, which really says something. It didn’t frighten me that much when I was a kid, but there’s a pervading sense of dread that makes it unlike any other Mickey Mouse cartoon ever made. Its impact on the canon was strong enough that the Mad Doctor was made one of the main antagonists of the Epic Mickey video game. And getting to take him out after all these years is one of the most satisfying game moments you’ll ever experience.

14. Around the World in 80 Days

mickey mouse around the world in 80 days

Now for something a bit lighter. Some of the best shorts made for Mickey’s Mouse Works and House of Mouse were the “Mouse Tales”, two-part adaptations of classic novels with Mickey and the gang filling in the roles. This is a simplified but still fun take on Jules Verne’s famous globetrotting adventure. Instead of a wager between high society gentlemen and a robbery caper mixup however, Mickey must circumnavigate the globe in order to claim an inheritance and save his orphanage. Goofy and a rescued native princess-turned-love interest Minnie (there’s no way around some of the more dated aspects of this story, is there?) help him along the way, but they also have to deal with a meddling Scrooge McDuck, who’d do anything to get his feathers on the fortune. They manage to squeeze in some great jokes, usually involving Mickey’s deadpan reactions to Goofy’s cluelessness. It’s a decent retelling that hits all the beats and will probably get kids interested in checking out the original story.

13. Ye Olden Days

mickey mouse ye olden days

Nothing like a good old-fashioned medieval romance to warm your heart. Humble minstrel Mickey attempts to rescue fair damsel Minnie when she refuses to marry foppish Prince Dippy Dawg – that’s Goofy’s early moniker to those not fluent in early Disney – and winds up engaging in a joust for her hand. Mickey and Minnie may not be the most fascinating couple in film history, but their earnest devotion to each other shows why their relationship has stood the test of time.

When I was rewatching this to see if it deserved a spot on this list, I was particularly impressed by how spirited Minnie was – she does not take her arranged marriage lying down, slapping the self-absorbed prince in the face while declaring “Never!” and fighting her captors every step of the way as she’s dragged to the tower as punishment. Plus, it’s her intervening on Mickey’s behalf that saves him from the guillotine and allows him to engage in trial by combat. Mickey, ever the underdog, uses his size and cleverness to his advantage, outdoing the prince in all his regalia with nothing but a spear, a suit of armor fashioned from a potbelly stove, and an intrepid donkey. I really don’t have anything to say other than this short’s simplicity and sweetness never fails to win me over.

12. The Pointer

the pointer mickey mouse

An expertly animated adventure for Mickey and his loyal canine, even if the idea of the Mouse going hunting wouldn’t fly today. I just love Mickey and Pluto’s interactions; they remind me so much of me and my dog and the time we spent together (though let it go on record that I never have or most likely will engage in hunting for sport). This isn’t a case of the pet being smarter than the master like in future shorts, either. Those always aggravated me because of how they really dumbed down Mickey. Both are on equal footing here, and both get into equal amounts of trouble.

The moment where Mickey tries to talk his way out of an encounter with an angry bear is equal parts tense and humorous. It’s also one of the rare times I can recall Mickey attempting to use his own popularity to escape from a jam (“Well I’m, uh, Mickey Mouse! You know, Mickey Mouse? I hope you’ve heard of me…I hope.”) According to Andreas Deja, animator Frank Thomas incorporated a bit of Walt’s own actions while recording the lines for this scene, giving it a superb bit of what Thomas would call “the illusion of life”.

11. Lonesome Ghosts

lonesome ghosts

Here we have another Mickey-Donald-Goofy venture with shenanigans surrounding the last two, but there’s enough of Mickey in there to make it count. Now tell me if this sounds familiar: a trio of oddballs, one smart if in way over his head, one irascible and sarcastic, and one delightfully naive, go into business capturing ghosts. And yes, at one point one of them says “I ain’t afraid of no ghosts”. It’s a shame Disney wasn’t able to capitalize on this fifty years later apart from syncing this short to the Ghostbusters theme in the DTV Halloween special. Lonesome Ghosts is a spooky jaunt where half the fun comes from the various ways the titular quartet of specters tease our hapless heroes. How the protagonists manage to send them packing kind of confuses me, but it still makes for a good chuckle. Steeped in atmosphere and loaded with laughs, Lonesome Ghosts is a ghoulish good time.

10. Mickey’s Good Deed

mickey's good deed

It’s Christmas Eve, and Mickey and Pluto are out in the cold with nothing but a bass fiddle that earns them barely enough to eat. A bratty rich half-pint sets his sights on Pluto and goes Veruca Salt on his father, leading to him offering Mickey a fair bit of dough in exchange for the dog. Mickey refuses, until he spies a poor widow and her many children even worse off than he is. This leads to him making a heartwrenching sacrifice to ensure they have a merry Christmas. It’s a short that runs the gamut of emotions. You feel for Mickey every second as he either loses everything he owns or willingly gives it up for a greater good, and there’s plenty of joy to be had when he gets his reward in the end (as well as when that terrible child is given his due punishment). I love watching this every Christmastime, and it exemplifies the giving spirit of the season.

9. Runaway Brain

runaway brain

You wanna know where that infamous image of a demonic Mickey came from? Well here ya go. Fast-paced, frightening and hilarious, Runaway Brain is a wild ride from start to finish. In some ways it feels more akin to a Looney Tunes short than a Disney one. The comic and story beats come right after another, yet leave room for sight gags and references a plenty. There’s even a brief shot that visibly homages The Exorcist. IN A DISNEY SHORT.

Borrowing from The Mad Doctor’s playbook, this time it’s Mickey who’s in a mad scientist’s sights after taking an offer for “a mindless day’s work” at face value, just so he could earn some vacation cash for Minnie. Said mad scientist, Dr. Frankenollie (love the nod there), voiced by Sideshow Bob himself Kelsey Grammar, switches Mickey’s brain with that of his King Kong/Frankenstein-esque creation Julius, who bears more than a passing resemblance to Pete. When the doctor is zapped into ashes by his own experiment – onscreen, mind you – Mickey, now trapped in Julius’ body, must find a way to get back to normal and stop Julius, stuck in Mickey’s form but no less monstrous, from pursuing Minnie. As I said before, the jokes come at you fast and hard. The climax in particular is especially rollicking, with some amazing lighting and coloring choices that pump up the action. As always, Mickey saves the day in the most entertaining – and in this case, bizarre – way possible.

8. The Band Concert

the band concert mickey mouse.jpg

Mickey makes his technicolor debut in one of the first shorts that pits him against a troublesome Donald. All our stalwart conductor wants to do is perform a bit of William Tell for some music lovers in the park, but he’s consistently interrupted by Donald wanting to get in on the action with Turkey In The Straw and an improbable supply of easily breakable flutes. Still, you’ve got to admire both of them for their determination. I’d say nothing short of a cyclone could stop them, but that’s exactly what happens; the climax has them playing through the gale even as they’re hurled through the air! Considering the music they’re performing is appropriately stormy sounding, one has to wonder if they picked up their instruments from Hyrule. The Band Concert is a testament to Mickey’s unflappable perseverance and affinity for music.

7. The Little Whirlwind

little whirlwind mickey mouse.jpg

Lured to Minnie’s by the promise of cake, Mickey agrees to give her yard a good cleanup in exchange for some dessert. Unfortunately, a playful sentient cyclone has other plans. I’ve never been bothered by Mickey’s voice, but this short shows how he works just as well silently. Much of the action is largely in mime with no dialogue. The slapstick is fun all around. I always did feel a bit bad that Mickey got the short end of the stick in this cartoon; after being tormented by the hellion hurricane, he’s pursued by a giant momma tornado who assumes her offspring was bullied for no reason, and when Minnie checks on his progress he’s blamed for the disaster area that was formerly her garden. I don’t know what the hell she was doing in the kitchen to not hear the two cyclones roaring through her yard but I hope it was worth it. At least Mickey ends up getting the cake – though not in a way he was certainly expecting.

6. Mr. Mouse Takes a Trip

mr. mouse takes a trip mickey mouse

Once more we witness Mickey’s loyalty to his equally devoted canine companion. A simple train trip to Pomona goes off the rails when Mickey must shield Pluto from dog-hating conductor Pete and both find themselves on the run from him. There’s disguises and mishaps galore, and it’s a constant back and forth to see who’s one step ahead of the other. Interesting fact: this short is also the source of the only known footage of Walt Disney recording his lines as Mickey.

5. Symphony Hour

symphony hour mickey mouse.png

A spiritual sequel to The Band Concert, Mickey once again plays conductor for a classical orchestra made up of his friends. Unfortunately someone thought it was a good idea to leave all the instruments in Goofy’s hands before their big debut, and they’re quickly destroyed. Now poor Mickey has to keep everything together as the concert falls to pieces and their sponsor Pete fumes from his viewing box.

This short… it’s hysterical. There’s no other word for it. Everything from the animation to the music – which sounds like a precursor to Spike Jones – cracks me up. Mickey is pushed to the limits of his endurance as his show crumbles around him. Not helping matters is the attitude of the performers. Sure, Goofy, Horace Horsecollar and the like soldier on admirably, but Donald threatens to up and leave several times. Yet Mickey isn’t afraid to stoop to any level to ensure the show, no matter how terrible, will indeed go on. And the worse it gets for them, the better it gets for us.

4. Thru the Mirror

thru the mirror mickey mouse

After falling asleep while reading Alice Through the Looking Glass, Mickey dreams of entering his bedroom mirror and exploring the bizzarro version of his world on the other side. Living furniture, card battles and jazzy dance sequences ensue. Out of all the Mickey shorts on this list, this is probably the best animated. The scenes stick out in your mind long after the cartoon has ended. The size-changing walnuts, the catchy tap dance starting with a game of jump rope with a telephone cord that evolves into a Busby Berkeley homage with playing cards, and the escape from said cards while traversing the dangers of a literal living room? It’s golden age Disney at its finest. There’s not much in the way of story, but that’s not the point of this short. It’s just great animation fueled by years of practice and boundless imagination.

3. Get a Horse!

GET A HORSE!

I remember hearing way back when this short was announced that it was supposedly one from Walt’s heyday which was lost to the ages and recently unearthed. Little could we have realized that it was merely a smokescreen – instead of an old cartoon, we were getting the first new theatrical Mickey Mouse short since Runaway Brain, one that paid tribute to the classic Mickey cartoons of old.

Since I watched Frozen more than once during its theatrical run, I had the privilege of experiencing Get A Horse as it should be: in a big dark movie theater with eye-popping 3D. It gives the perfect illusion that this crazy cartoon with characters jumping in and out and running around the theater really is happening right in front of you. Mickey and friends play around with the screen and the dimensions contained within and with-out in a way not seen since Chuck Jones’ masterpiece Duck Amuck. And having seen many, MANY classic Disney shorts before (if this list hadn’t already indicated), I could even tell where many of the sound bites used for the characters’ dialogue were lifted from. I simply don’t get it when people dismiss this short for “mocking” old school Disney when in reality it does anything but. I think this short is the epitome of what Disney is doing now with their animation, blending the best of the old with the technology and promise of the new. Also, Oswald cameo for the win!

2. The Prince and the Pauper

prince and the pauper mickey mouse

Talk about nostalgia. I watched this short with the same frequency as my favorite Disney movies on VHS. In fact, due to having no sense of time when I was younger, I thought this twenty minute short was about the same length as those films; it certainly flies by at the same speed. Mark Twain’s tale of royal identity switching has seen its fair share of adaptations, but this one will always be my favorite. We’ve got riveting action and phenomenal voice acting (Wayne Allwine, you were the best Mickey outside of Walt and Brett Iwan can’t hold a candle to you).

It’s also one of the most dramatic shorts in the Disney canon. Pete is at his most menacing outside of Mickey’s Christmas Carol. Scenes like where Mickey attends to the king in his final moments and the prince learns of his father’s passing carry so much weight to them. They’re framed cinematically and let you take in the gravitas. Still, that’s not to say there isn’t any comedy to be found. The Prince and the Pauper has plenty of moments that still make me laugh twenty-eight years later. It’s a short that has everything. Easily one of Mickey’s finest moments.

1. The Brave Little Tailor

brave little tailor mickey

If I were to point to one short that summed up everything I love about Mickey Mouse, all you need to know about him, and why he’s so great, The Brave Little Tailor would be it.

Due to a simple misunderstanding, Mickey is thrust into the role of reluctant hero, one who must face down a killer giant no less. But if most of what the previously mentioned shorts have shown, Mickey’s nothing more or less than the perfect underdog. And when he gets into action, he’s like a cartoon blend of Chaplin, Keaton and Fairbanks – not a coincidence as the former two were big influences on early Mickey. Scared though he is, he rarely panics. Instead he relies on his greatest strengths to save the day – his quick thinking, nimbleness from his diminutive stature, and his loyal, caring heart. There’s a reason why I chose this particular thumbnail for this entry. No matter how many times I see this enamored incarnation of Minnie shower her champion with kisses, making him stumble around dizzily and cheerfully cry “Whoopee! I’ll cut ‘im down to my size!” I always, always go “aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaawwwwwww”. It’s just too adorable for words. When you’ve got someone who loves you like Minnie does, you feel like you can take on the world.

I could go on about how the scene where he’s telling the story of how he killed seven with one blow (that’s flies, by the way, not giants) has been studied by animation students and enthusiasts to the point where Junction Point Studios aspired to recreate that level of expression and fluidity when creating Epic Mickey, or how Mickey defeats the giant has been homaged in other shorts as well as the airport fight from Captain America:Civil War, or just that wonderful storybook golden age Disney feel it has from start to finish, but I won’t. By all means, seek out the short and see it all for yourself.

No matter how many times the corporate side of Disney has airbrushed Mickey’s foibles to present him as the bland, perfect company mascot, Mickey’s bravery, kindness, and penchant for attracting trouble has never been fully scrubbed away. Different voice actors, animators, story writers and financial visionaries have come and gone throughout the years, and each has presented their own unique take on the character, but there’s no mistaking the world’s most famous mouse, the one who started it all.

Happy Birthday, Mickey. Here’s to 90 more.


Thanks for reading! What are your favorite Mickey Mouse shorts? Share them in the comments and be sure to follow and check out my Patreon if you want to read more!