It seems at this point in 1950, Disney was passing release slots back and forth between Jack Hannah’s team working on the Donald Duck shorts and Charles Nichols’ team creating the Pluto shorts. That’s not a bad thing when the shorts are good, but it does lead to lots of repetition when you are watching them in succession the way I am. As such, Puss Café, which is a good cartoon, comes off as a little worse than I think it actually is.
Pluto is not really the main character in this short. That honor goes to the two cats that are trying to invade his suburban paradise. The cats are not named in the short, but Disney history names them Milton and Lucifer. I’m not entirely sure which is which and I’m also not entirely sure it matters. What does matter is that they take the lead here, as they see the milk on the back porch, the fish in the pond and the birds in their nest as an all you can eat buffet in Pluto’s yard.
This leads to some very funny moments, as the cats devise various ways to consume this bevy of treats. The very first scene shows them improvising a waiter pouring a fine wine, but instead of aged grapes it is a bottle of milk being poured down the gullet of the other cat. It continues later when one of the cats is sent under the water of the fish pond with a picnic basket, and “picks” the fish out to go in the basket, like picking apples off a tree. Each of these gags is new and different than we have seen in past shorts.
What’s not different is the chase scenes and interactions with Pluto. There’s no new ground covered in how Pluto is used in this short, and that’s okay. It mainly just makes the parts with Pluto seem much less amusing than the two cats by themselves. Based on watching this short, I’d rather see a new Milton and Lucifer short than more Pluto, at least based on what is in Puss Café. Pluto’s character is limited to that of antagonist, which is not a familiar role for him, and not necessarily one he is suited for.
I did especially like the twist ending of Pluto running into a cat that’s just as big and mean as he is. That’s not a bad thing to add to the mix of Pluto’s repertoire, that there could be someone besides another dog that is a menace to him. I left this short thinking that the comedic potential of Milton and Lucifer was much greater than that of Pluto. It’s interesting to see Disney trying out new characters even in 1950, when the shorts program was less and less of the business.