Thursday, January 28, 2010

Mickey's Elephant

The relationship between Mickey and Pluto must be a fragile one. I mean, we saw Donald taking in Pluto in Donald and Pluto, there was the rivalry between Pluto and the kangaroo in Mickey’s Kangaroo, and now we have Mickey’s Elephant. Seems like any time someone new shows up, then Pluto gets jealous.

I say that jokingly, but it seems to be true that Pluto can’t appear in a short without becoming the star and completely taking over. In the comments section on Donald and Pluto, David Gerstein mentioned the “Nichols Rule,” which he postulated was that Pluto will “invariably get the most attention, no matter how interesting the other characters/situations might be.” He named it for director Charles Nichols, but it applies to other directors as well.

I’ve stated here that I think Pluto is one of the most interesting characters in the Disney shorts, because he does not speak, and animators cannot use typical human gestures to communicate his feelings. The animation work has to be a hybrid of animal/human expressions and gestures to convey emotion. Therefore, I feel that Pluto is one of the best characters for animators to show their skills.

In this short, though, it seems very much a retread of Mickey’s Kangaroo. Mickey gets a gift of an elephant named Bobo from a fictitious Rajah. As you’d expect, the elephant and Pluto do not hit it off. Bobo begins playing with a ball, and it slips under a nearby fence, where Pluto encounters it. Watching Pluto see the ball mysteriously disappear or float in the air as Bobo sucks it back to him with his trunk is hilarious. Again, Pluto’s expressions are priceless.

When the little green devil pops out and starts telling Pluto to get rid of Bobo, though, it seems very much like Mickey’s Kangaroo. The devil gag is a frequent one with Pluto, and it’s a way for him to talk without actually speaking. Unlike Mickey’s Kangaroo, the devil is physically present, rather than Pluto talking into the camera, but it’s the same effect.

The final gag is Pluto blowing red pepper into the elephant’s face, causing Bobo to go on a sneezing fit. Mickey tries to stop it, but Bobo’s sneezes end up causing the destruction of not just his new house, but Pluto’s as well. The short fades out with Pluto squashing the devil and looking dissatisfied with the outcome.

That’s the biggest problem with the short – there’s no resolution. Pluto and Bobo don’t become friends, Mickey doesn’t tell Pluto that he’ll never be replaced, and there’s no idea what became of Bobo. The story was all laid out there, then never finished. Sure, shorts don’t have to be a complete narrative, but this one was there, and left undone. Seems like a repetitive, less than stellar effort, although the actual animation is quite good.

All images copyright Disney. All rights reserved.


  1. Bobo was going to be be in another cartoon that was going to directed by Frank Tashlin (Looney Tunes). This cartoon was going to have a resolution with Bobo and Pluto. Unfortuantly, Tashlin left the studio and the cartoon was never made.

  2. It’s interesting that Nic mentions Frank Tashlin here. He was hired in 1938 by Disney to help with their writing. It may be that they were recognizing the same things as Ryan, that while the artistry in the animation was quite good, the writing was getting a bit weak.


  3. Interestingly, Tashlin's cartoon started as a Mickeycentric short, with Mickey and Bobo cleaning Minnie's house. But it slowly evolved into a Pluto cartoon, insofar as the moment Pluto was brought in, he took it over.
    Harry Reeves at a story meeting argued against using Pluto: "When you get Pluto, you have to sacrifice Mickey" - but others disagreed, In retrospect, Reeves was right, though I'm not sure WHY the studio had evolved to a point where this was the case.

  4. Very interesting comments. I always feel a bit sad when I hear about Tashlin's time at Disney. From every thing I've read, he seems to have had a lot of really good and unusual ideas for funny cartoons starring the Disney characters without losing sight of their personalities. However, very few of these ideas made it to the screen. A short cartoon where Mickey and Bobo clean Minnie's house sounds like a lot of fun to me. Imagine the creativity, the chaos and Minnie's reactions!

    I remember watching Mickey's Elephant with my mum when I was a little kid and she hated the seemingly abrupt ending: "They don't even become friends?!". It's true, this short is unsatisfying with Pluto's jealousy just ruining things for everybody.

  5. Woaw... "the true genius of Walt Disney"? Disney didn't make any of his films. You could say he was a part-director in them.

    I'll give him credit though for instilling in his artists a certain standard(*in his eyes)
    Though unfortunately, he sometimes never gave credits to alot of his films. That has always bothered me.

    Nice Blog though :) I'll have a look around.


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