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Thursday, December 07, 2006

Banish drunk Mickey, and banish all the world

A great early Mickey Mouse cartoon called Gallopin' Gaucho is up on YouTube, and it accompanies well Anthony Lane's essay on Walt Disney in the current New Yorker.

Here's Lane writing of what he imagines Sergei Eisenstein liked about early Walt Disney cartoons:
There was insolence and devilry in the artwork, and a definite dash of arousal: selected portions of Mickey would stretch and squeeze, as if his entire shape were tumescent. Take “The Barn Dance,” a seven-minute hoedown of music, mutilation, and rivalry made by Walt Disney in 1928, in which Mickey Mouse takes Minnie to a dance. He keeps treading on her feet, and the more he treads the more his own feet fatten and swell, till they reach the size of anvils. By now he is stamping on her legs, one of which grows so long and thin, like a strand of black spaghetti, that she stops dancing, ties a loop in it, reaches into her bloomers, pulls out a pair of scissors, and cuts off the excess. She also takes revenge, without hesitation, by turning to a second suitor—who is huge and overbearing, with a predatory leer. The little guy, however, isn’t beaten yet. He finds a balloon, shoves it down the seat of his pants, floats over the intruder, lands in front of his girl, and starts to hoof once more. No cartoon balloon, however, has ever gone unpopped, and “The Barn Dance” closes with Mickey, deflated and re-cuckolded, gazing into the camera and weeping inky tears.
To pluck [Mickey Mouse] from that kinetic environment and stuff him into a synthetic suit, with a fixed grin and a padded ass, may be to grant him another dimension, but it is also, and more disastrously, to slow him down. Mickey ceases to be the fount of chaos; he is now a lumbering doll, made soft and safe... Hence the recent scandal, which spread across the Internet, in which employees dressed as Mickey, Minnie, Chip, Dale, and other favorites were filmed simulating sex at Disneyland Paris.
Mickey's popularity is strange. Few people in my generation have actually seen Mickey Mouse cartoons, but he's still immensely popular and trusted. So it's wild to see the unfamiliar Mickey in Gallopin' Gaucho who smokes, drinks, does a mean tango, and frowns when his sword gets droopy. Lane is rightly horrified by America's happy pasteurizing of Mickey into pablum: "It is that smoothing of rough edges which distresses the cineast, appalls the political cynic, and tempts generations of iconoclasts."

Old Mickey, we know thou dost!