Tuesday, October 6, 2009

The Mad Doctor

Yesterday’s short, Building a Building, was nominated for an Academy Award. It may be heresy to say, but I think that The Mad Doctor, today’s subject, is far better. While Building a Building was a remake of Sky Scrappers, The Mad Doctor is much more original and very funny.

The basics of this one are that Mickey has a dream where Pluto is abducted by a ghost like figure, who turns out to be a mad scientist. The scientist has a plan to graft Pluto’s head on a chicken’s body and vice versa. Mickey pursues Pluto and gets involved himself, as the scientist captures him and is about to cut him open before he wakes up from the dream.

That’s the simple storyline, but there’s so much more to this short. For one thing, this has some of the best use of light and dark and lighting effects I’ve seen in any of the Disney shorts. Mickey’s entrance into the mad scientist’s castle is lit by torches, and we get side shots of him illuminated by a fire that really shows the rounded edges of the design and gives Mickey a depth that has not always been present.

One thing that is lifted from another Disney short is Mickey’s travels through the catacombs of the castle. This looks like a direct lift of the background from Egyptian Melodies, with Mickey replacing the spider in that short. It’s still a great effect, that calls into mind the modern day POV video games, again showing that Disney was ahead of their time.

Mickey’s constant battles with skeletons is the real central part of the short. We see Mickey fighting skeletons in a variety of settings, as they pop out of walls, from under stair cases, appear as ghosts, throw their heads at him and even form a spider that ultimately traps him. These skeletons are some of the most imaginative characters I’ve seen, and they are expressive, even while remaining skeletons. Great animation work.

The mad doctor is a great character as well. He is instantly menacing and his craziness comes across quickly. Something that should be ludicrous – grafting a dog’s head on a chicken – really gets scary. Pluto’s emotions are evident on his face and in his body, as an x-ray shows his bones collapsing in fear. Again, wonderful gags that really set the mood.

This has to be the scariest Mickey short so far, even if it does turn out to be all a dream. It manages to toe the line between funny and scary, much in the same way the Haunted Mansion does at the Disney parks. The skeleton designs are much more realistic and frightening than in other Disney shorts, but they show emotions that make them humorous. This is a fantastic short, and watching it as October dawns put a big smile on my face. A great way to kick off the Halloween season!

All images copyright Disney. All rights reserved.


  1. "Mickey's Good Deed", followed by "Building a Building", Mickey scores a hat trick with "The Mad Doctor", another of his absolute best. Great mix of silly and gruesome imagery for a really fun short. A few of my favourite chills include the staircase where each step turns out to be a coffin for an undead skeleton, Pluto's terrified x-ray and the really detailed and 3D skulls the skeletons pull off their own bodies to hurl at Mickey. Also I've gotta love the horrible scene of Mickey running up the ladder and right inside a skeleton getting trapped in a rib cage!

    Again songs are playing a role in the story telling plus there's a chilling mix of darkness and magic in the scene of Dr XXX cutting Pluto's shadow in half. This is the kind of sinister fun we'll find in later Disney entertainment; e.g the Queen's transformation in Snow White, or, as you pointed out, The Haunted Mansion.

    As much as I love this cartoon, I do feel it could have been even better with a couple of minutes extra footage replacing the cop out dream ending. I really wanted to see Mickey rescue Pluto and take on the Mad Doctor for a climactic battle in the lab. How much cooler would it have been if Mickey managed to escape the operating table after a near miss with the saw (maybe using the blade to cut his restraints). Even if they kept the 'all a dream in the end' finish, it would have been good to see Mickey take on the doc and have things get really wild before he woke up (maybe the Doc could have transformed into a monster using his potions or the whole castle could have exploded).

    Still it's a wonderful cartoon and the closest I've seen to an appearance of comics Villains the Phantom Blot in a classic short (when Doctor XXX is in his hood kidnapping Pluto it really looks like him).


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