Monday, December 7, 2009

Mickey's Service Station

We’re back to black and white for Mickey one more time in Mickey’s Service Station, but it’s also notable in that it’s the first of the “Fab Three” shorts. Mickey, Donald and Goofy work together in this one, to create the amazing chemistry and laugh a minute fun that they would become known for over the next few years.



Like many of those later shorts, this one starts with the three of them on the job. This time, it’s as the attendants at a service station. The trouble comes when Pete, in his typical bully role, drives up with his souped up roadster, and demands that Mickey and the gang get rid of the squeak in his car in the next ten minutes.



What follows is a rapid fire succession of gags, as the three tear Pete’s car to pieces trying to locate the source of the squeaking sound. Donald tears off the front grille and unwinds it like a sweater, Mickey pries a tire loose, Goofy climbs on the engine block and reaches all the way to the bottom, curving up to goose himself. That’s just the beginning.



This is Disney animation at its finest, no doubt. The characters each get their own spotlight, and it is here that we see them developing the distinct personalities that they would become known for over the years. Donald grows more and more frustrated as he can’t locate the source of the sound. Goofy ends up harming himself more than anything else and Mickey is well, the least interesting of the three.

Whereas Goofy has his clumsiness to distinguish him, and Donald is the irritable one, Mickey doesn’t have a single distinguishing characteristic. It’s here that we are finally seeing what the animators dealt with, having a corporate symbol as the lead character. Mickey can’t be a goof or be angry all the time, so he simply goes through the short trying his best.

I guess you could say that Mickey is the hero, but that’s probably overstating it a bit. It is Mickey who discovers the source of the squeak, a little cricket. But Mickey is more the loveable loser than a hero type. It’s hard to identify with him more than the fondness you already hold for him as a viewer of these shorts. Just my opinion, of course, but it demonstrates what a change has come over our favorite mouse in the years since Steamboat Willie.



My two favorite bits in the whole short come near the end. First, Goofy accidentally jacks up the hastily rebuilt car, and ends up catapulting the entire lift mechanism into the air, landing in Goofy’s pants. Goofy stumbling about and trying to get the car safely back to the ground is classic Goofy.



The final bit is Pete entering his car and starting it up. It predictably falls apart, but then the engine turns into a dog like character and starts chasing him. The humor of seeing Pete run off into the sunset chased by this car he obviously mistreated cannot be missed.



Mickey’s Service Station marks an ending and a beginning – the end of Mickey in black and white, but the beginning of the trio shorts – with Mickey, Goofy and Donald working together. I am really looking forward to the next set of shorts featuring these three, because they are some of my favorites.

All images copyright Disney. All rights reserved.


6 comments:

  1. Ryan, there is one more black & white Mickey cartoon before things shift to color. It’s “Mickey's Kangaroo,” but we have to get past “The Golden Touch” Silly Symphony first. ^_^

    I agree that the production team seems to be struggling to figure out what to do with Mickey in this one. Mickey’s only gags that I can recall are him getting stuck in an empty tire rim hoop and getting tangled in an inner tube. This leads, conveniently, to him finding the “source” of the squeak, a single cricket. Even though all the characters seem to be able to get the car to squeak in a similar manner no matter what they touch! ^_^

    I remember there being some discussion back when the Ub Iwerks shorts were being reviewed that Ub wanted Mickey to be an “everyman” and Walt wanted him to be a swashbuckling hero. It looks like Walt came around to Ub’s way of thinking, but it also appears that Walt was right to begin with and there just isn’t much for Mickey to do, (other than get tangled up in things), if you cast him as “the working stiff.”

    Looking forward to seeing how things evolve!

    -Brian

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  2. "It’s hard to identify with him more than the fondness you already hold for him as a viewer..."

    And we wouldn't hold that fondness if we hadn't seen the cartoons from 1934 and earlier, with Mickey as a real personality. It really does seem to be the jump from TWO-GUN MICKEY to MICKEY'S MAN FRIDAY in which some level of exuberance just leaves the character.

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  3. I hadn't pinpointed it like that, David, but after reading your comment, I went back and watched both shorts you mentioned. You're absolutely right. There's something missing in Mickey's Man Friday - that heroic, loveable loser mentality - that was there in Two Gun Mickey.

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  4. But in TWO-GUN MICKEY Mickey's not exactly a lovable loser. He's a swashbuckling winner for whom a lot simply goes annoyingly (and comically) wrong along the way—like a punch from Pete knocking him out of everything but his underwear.

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  5. "It really does seem to be the jump from TWO-GUN MICKEY to MICKEY'S MAN FRIDAY in which some level of exuberance just leaves the character."

    I'm afraid I have to agree. I think that letting this happen to Mickey was one of Walt's biggest 'mistakes'. There's still something special about the Mickey of the colour cartoons. As a child, he became my favourite character even though I only had the chance to see Mickey cartoons from 1935 onwards - there was just something about him. However, it's undeniable that Mickey has 'lost' something and just at a time where his cartoons could have become really spectacular too. A pity.

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  6. "Mickey is well, the least interesting of the three"
    "It’s hard to identify with him more than the fondness you already hold for him"

    I strongly disagree, and I never understand this kind of comments towards Mickey. I mean, being a character doesn't mean being an over-the-top one. As you said Mickey is "the lovable loser", he tries his best, even when -as always happen with the Trio shorts- he will going to fail. He's got an unique approach to what he does. I mean, he's not like the annoyed Donald or the casual Goofy, Mickey is the one who really believes in the job everytime; you can see he strongly believes he's going to make it this time! His expressions and his reactions to the problems are incredibly funny because of this laid-back optimistic personality that never sees the problem coming even when obvious.
    Just look at the "Donald&Goofy" shorts without Mickey: watching it you feel they miss something. It's the different comedy Mickey usually brings in.

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