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.