Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Alice's Mysterious Mystery

I have to say, I have watched a lot of cartoons while doing this project. I’ve watched all the Alice Comedies up to this point, and I’ve even seen some Looney Tunes, Felix the Cat, some Ub Iwerks shorts from his independent days and many others. In all of that, I’ve never seen a short so brutal as Alice’s Mysterious Mystery. It’s just….breathtaking.

The thing is that this short is such a departure from some of the topics of earlier shorts. Instead of taking care of a cute kid like in Alice’s Orphan, this short mutilates them and turns them into sausage, and I’m not even kidding a little.

The whole thing opens with Pete and his mouse chauffer driving through the countryside when they spot a school yard nearby. Several young dogs are playing outside, which gives Pete an idea. He and the mouse don what can only be described as KKK robes, and sneak up behind the school.

That alone would be enough to probably get this cartoon banned today, but it gets worse. The mouse scampers up to the top of the schoolhouse, rings the bell, and the dogs run inside. As soon as the last one is inside, Pete slams the door shut, picks the house up off its hinges, then dumps the dogs into his car.

Alice and Julius are nearby, and hear one of the dogs scream for help. They follow Pete out of the country into a city. Pete somehow has let the dogs go, and is trapping them with a beautiful female dog in a window. When the dogs get close enough to profess their love, Pete signals the mouse, and the dogs are dropped through a trap door into the horror factory below.

Once down there, they are hit on the head by another white robed figure, then tossed into one of three different pens, labeled Grade A, B or C. Then, they come out of the pen and are escorted to the “death chamber,” and yes, it’s labeled as such in the film. One dog is even taken to a priest first by the white robed figure.

This is chilling imagery. I can’t even describe how it made me feel. I understand the idea behind the short, but the thought of young dogs, which are representing children here, being led to their deaths is simply horrible. This is a Walt Disney cartoon?
Finally, Julius puts an end to this horror by kicking Pete down the chute, then releasing the dogs to chase him away.

I really am speechless about this one. The war imagery from Alice’s Little Parade was not gruesome in any way, but instead gave you the cartoon violence you would expect, although ramped up from some of the earlier shorts. Alice’s Mysterious Mystery is way beyond that. It’s simply scary. I can imagine some children having to be ushered out of theaters after seeing it.

Based on what I have read about Ub Iwerks later shorts, I have to believe that he was responsible for this short. Ub’s humor always tended towards the more outrageous, and when he went out on his own, that was amplified. He had St. Peter flip the bird to someone in one of his shorts, for example. If I’m correct, then the theories about Ub and Walt’s partnership seem to be true – that without Walt’s guidance to the tastes of the public and storytelling acumen, then Ub was not able to succeed. But the inverse is also true – without Ub’s designs and animating skills, Walt was not able to succeed as well.


  1. Ha ha! I like this one. Dark humour is something that is certainly not to everyone's taste and this one is full of it! The hospital scene in Little Parade seemed to try and mix a little bit of horror and comedy, but the bad things that happened were of no consequence. The imagery featured Julius in pieces in the remains of a blown up hospital, but he was quite happily being put together and was in no pain. Therefore everything that happened came across as just more silly antics.

    However, in this one, the sick humour really comes across. There is no doubt that the puppy is pleading for his life with that sinister cloaked figure and he actually does get killed – the joke being that he is very quickly turned into a string of sausages. The humour is very dark, but it is comedy.

    Later, as the characters became more believable and sympathetic, Disney would rarely use horror as comedy in quite this way (and never as dark as this). Instead horror would be used for dramatic effect. Think of the donkey changing scene in Pinocchio. Although is starts out humourous (Pinocchio thinks he's seeing things from drinking as smoking) as soon as the reality of what is happening is realised by the characters, the sequence turns to all out horror.

    I'm not sure if the dark tone of this story was down to Ub. This may be the Disney cartoon with the sickest sense of humour ever, but Walt had the idea for an early comic strip in which Mickey tries to commit suicide (read about it here: http://www.mouseplanet.com/8158/Mickey_Tries_to_Commit_Suicide). Also there are similar sick sausage gags in the later Three Little Pig cartoons (e.g a picture of sauages on the wall is labeled 'Mother') and in the earlier Alice and the Dog Catcher (in which one of the dogs is rescued too late and is already a string of sausages – albeit an alive one – "Oscar!! My darling!")


  2. That's what was weird to me, was that I love dark humor, and yet this was just such a switch in tone that it was startling. I mean, I've spent the last few months watching these films, and this seemingly came out of left field.

    I agree that Ub may not be the sole source of the humor in this short, but it's much more consistent with his brand of humor than with Walt's.

    I also think there is something to draw from the time frame. To me, as a parent, I can't imagine anything more horrifying than someone taking my child from school and killing them. But back in the 20s, parents probably did not fear such things, because they were less publicized, etc. Probably the same thing with Little Parade, because audiences back then did not see as much of the horror of war as today's viewers do.

  3. Sadly, horrible things happen to animals in American slaughterhouses every day, but they happen to pigs, chickens, and cows instead of dogs. I haven't seen this cartoon yet, but I doubt whatever's in it is worse then the truth of America's meat industry unless the dogs are boiled alive, branded on their skin, or have parts of them cut off while they're fully concious and without painkillers. There's a video of this stuff happening called "Meet your Meat" which can be found on youtube and at www.meat.org.


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