Thursday, November 19, 2009

Mickey Plays Papa

Mickey Plays Papa is a short that features a couple of left turns, but is all the better for it. It also features some great gags, very good animation, and some of the best work on Pluto I have seen in the Disney shorts. It all adds up to make a good gag short, if not all that memorable in the long run.

I say that this short takes some left turns, because the opening sets the viewer up for a vastly different experience than what actually happens. The opening scene features a stormy night outside Mickey’s house, with a mysterious figure creeping into view. Immediately, expectations have you ready for a haunted house or mystery story. In fact, Mickey and Pluto are in bed reading such a story, a murder mystery. It’s the arrival of the mysterious stranger that changes things.

The stranger leaves a baby on the front porch, and the child starts crying, which sends Mickey and Pluto into fits. The cries sound more like screams, which play right into the mystery/ghost vibe established early in the short. It is amazing the work that the animators do in this early part of the short. All the shots feature incredible darkness and establish the mood of dark and creepy.

Then, the baby appears, and the mood changes. Mickey and Pluto set about to entertain the baby, with disastrous results. As a parent, watching Mickey’s struggles to get the child to stop crying were quite funny. I particularly enjoyed Mickey trying to be Charlie Chaplin, to no avail.

Pluto takes over the next sequence as Mickey figures out that the baby is hungry. Pluto, hearing this, brings the baby his bone. Again, a great gag. That’s followed by a few minutes of Pluto doing all sorts of things, from swallowing a duck toy to ending up in a trunk.

The finale of the short comes when Mickey is trying to figure out how to get the baby his bottle. In an accident, Mickey gets the nipple of the bottle stuck on his nose and can’t get it off. He finally is able to pull it off, but the resulting force sends him crashing into a bookshelf. When he emerges, his nose is stretched out, and that causes the baby to laugh, finally. Mickey takes advantage and does his best Jimmy Durante impression to close the short.

Besides the great gags, the other thing that impressed me with this short was the depth of the animation. The characters have more dimensionality and look more rounded than they have in some of the previous Mickeys of this era. The opening shots of the stranger creeping around Mickey’s house are so well done that they look realistic. It’s a great compliment to the gags that make this one worth watching.

All images copyright Disney. All rights reserved.


  1. Whew, finally caught up. I came to this party late and it's taken a while! ^_^

    A few questions for the historians out there: What would the movie theater experience have been like for a kid back in September 1934 when this short came out? Does this show’s release at the end of September indicate that it was Disney’s “Halloween” cartoon for 1934? I'm wondering how these shows would have been presented back then. Since we're in the depths of the Great Depression, what would admission have cost? And what would you get for your money? This is a UA distributed short, would it only have been attached to other UA properties?

    This short has some interesting "culture cues." Mickey’s reading a thriller / mystery novel out loud. Mickey keeps a shotgun under the pillow! ^_^;;; (Mickey has never been much for the safe handling of firearms. Maybe that’s the cause of all the damage to the walls we see in these shows. ^_^ ) The often repeated "abandoned baby" / “Orphan” plot is presented once again. Mickey does Charlie Chaplin and Jimmy Durante impressions. ^_^

    I’ve also been trying to watch contemporary shorts as we go along here. It seems to me that only the Max Fleischer Cartoon Studio can really complete on a quality basis with Disney at this time, everybody else seems to be playing catch-up.


  2. The Mickey cartoons will soon be turning to colour, but on the basis of the early scenes in this short, it's a shame Disney didn't continue to use black and white every now and then. The opening minutes of this cartoon look fantastic and even better than the colour cartoons of this era.

    Although I like the early scenes and, as Ryan says, there's wonderful animation throughout the short, this isn't one I re-watch too often. Post "Playful Pluto" there's an awful lot of 'stuck humour' in this one that gets a bit tiresome for me. Pluto gets a rabbit toy stuck inside him and tangled round his leg, Mickey gets the rubber nipple stuck on his nose, Pluto gets a fishbowl stuck on his bum... The cartoon does make up for it a little bit with the funny outcomes. Mickey getting pinned to the wall by knives, the fish turning nasty and biting Pluto and what Mickey looks like after he's got the nipple off are all funny. Also, if you're immature enough, you can step-frame through some of the rubber-nipple moments and it looks like Mickey's got a condom on his nose!

    In the film Hollywood Party, also released in 1934, there's a scene of the animated Mickey Mouse playing around with the live action Jimmy Durante in which Mickey does his impression again. For good measure, Donald has already done his own Durante impression this year in 'Orphan's Benefit'. Must have been something the animators enjoyed doing!

    Brian, you've asked some good questions, which hopefully some one can answer. I do know that the UA Disney cartoons didn't have to be exclusively attached to UA feature films. Merrit and Kaufman's Silly Symphony book lists where each SS cartoon first opened and with what feature. Sometimes it's a UA film, but it could RKO, MGM, Fox or whoever. I know the cinema-going experience in this era offered feature films, shorts, cartoons and newsreels, but I don't know how it worked out or what it cost.

  3. The little Mickey look-alike kids are so cute!


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