Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Mickey's Orphans

The streak of pure fun in the Mickey cartoons continues with today’s short, which is one of the absolute best of the Mickey black and white shorts. In Mickey’s Orphans, we get our first Christmas themed short, and an amazing piece of work that shows Mickey as a “parent” for the first time as well.

The basics are that a cloaked figure leaves a basket full of kittens on Mickey’s front door, in the middle of a snowstorm. The snow itself is a wonderful piece of effects animation, but the heartwarming scenes of Mickey getting ready for Christmas, playing “Silent Night” on the tree with a candy cane and the fire roaring inside are just wonderful.

Mickey brings the kittens into the house, where they proceed to wreak havoc everywhere. There’s a slight difference in the animation from the opening scene of the kittens, where they appear out of the basket to Pluto, to later scenes where they are much bigger, about half the size of Mickey and Minnie. Perhaps just a problem with not following a model sheet, or were they using model sheets yet? I’m not sure.

The scene that gave me the biggest laugh, though, was Mickey and Pluto pretending to be Santa and a reindeer. Seeing Mickey ride in behind Pluto with a sack full of toys was a delight to behold. It really showed what a good use for Mickey is, to be a person who spreads joy and finds the silver lining.

This short also gave me an insight into the limitations of Mickey. There’s no doubt in my mind that you could do this exact same premise with Donald as the homeowner and it would be funnier than this. Donald would not put up with the rampant destruction that the kittens caused in Mickey’s house, and his frustration would feed the humor. It’s easy to see how the animators were worried about having Mickey be too angry.

For example, we see the kittens sawing up couches, knocking over vases and shooting down dishes. But never do we see Mickey or Minnie show any concern or anger over these developments. That keeps the short feeling fun or happy, but it’s not entirely realistic. Since realism is not the goal, it’s fine, but you can easily see how a different character would have played this short.

The finale scene of Mickey and Minnie unveiling the Christmas tree, only to see it savaged and torn to shreds by the kittens, is a fitting cap to the short. The point here is just to have mass chaos, fast moving gags and good natured fun. All of that is achieved in spades.

It does seem that the 1931 Mickey shorts have started to fall into a good pattern that features a lot more dialogue and acting from Mickey, beyond just the singing that he did earlier. The more recent shorts feature great gags, clear storytelling and a sense of light hearted fun that makes them true classics.

All images copyright Disney. All rights reserved.


  1. One thing that Disney definitely seemed to have a handle on (and which you'll see time and time again as you go through the shorts) ... the destructive power of young children in large numbers.

  2. This is the first Disney cartoon we've seen set at Christmas time and, as Patrick says, the first featuring hordes of destructive children.

    Alas, the earliest Disney Christmas cartoon is the lost Oswald "Empty Socks". I know very little about this cartoon other than the synopsis printed in "Walt in Wonderland", but it appears to have some similarities to "Mickey's Orphan's" since it features Oswald playing Santa at an orphanage. It may also be the first to feature a mob of infants since the orphans in this one manage to set the building on fire! An even earlier Disney depiction of rampaging kids may have been featured in another lost Oswald; "Poor Papa".

    I really like this cartoon, especially that early "Silent Night" scene with Mickey, Minnie and Pluto in their nice, warm house. It's impossible not feel all Christmassy at that point!

    One scene I always misread is the little kitten nervously whispering to Minnie. I always think that he's asking to go to the toilet until Minnie quietly takes to get him a candy cane!

    Although the short is all in good fun, I can't help but feel a little bit bad at the end when Mickey and Minnie's beautiful Christmas tree is reduced to a skeleton. I've often felt that the fade to black (rather than the usual iris out) is a little abrupt, but a look at the animator draft on Hans Perk's blog suggests that nothing is missing. Maybe I just think it's abrupt because I'm still reeling from what happens to the tree!

  3. Mac, I had the same reaction about the kid whispering to Minnie. Then I saw his diaper, and wondered why he'd ask to go to the toilet. Funny bit!

    And yes, the destructive power of young children is not to be underestimated. Come to my living room if you doubt it.

  4. Yeah in this cartoon in particular Donald would have been more over the top and funnier for sure, but generally speaking as characters, he can't show a great range of emotions like only Mickey can do, and that makes Mickey unique. That brings a huge difference in acting and comedy.


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