Adorable Couple (2014)

Comebacks are tricky things to pull off, and tend to fail more often than they succeed. For every Elvis there’s a dozen Lil’ Kims. It takes a mixture of luck, talent and, most importantly, perseverance. The character of Mickey Mouse has been pretty vaguely defined over the years, but one thing that does stay constant about him is that he never gives up, which is appropriate for a guy who’s been trying to make a comeback for eighty years.

See, Mickey Mouse was, at one point, no question, the most popular cartoon character in the world. A beloved American icon. And that period lasted from his debut in 1928 aaaaaaaaaall the way to…1935. When he lost the top spot to a tattooed stroke victim.

“Huuuuuuukukukukukukah!”

Mickey was a perfect salesman for early talky cartoons, but his generic everyman persona was quickly outshone by more distinct, dynamic characters like Popeye, Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck and even his fellow Disney stablemates Donald Duck and Goofy and he never regained the kind of adoration he’d had in the years after Steamboat Willie.

The uncomfortable fact is this: Mickey Mouse is pretty difficult to like. Aside from an…interesting…vocal performance by Walt Disney who decided long ago that his flagship character should sound like a castrato in agony, his ubiquity on every piece of over-priced tat the Disney corporation has tried to sell over the last nine decades has made him more mascot than character, with more in common with Ronald MacDonald and the Nesquik Bunny than his fellow cartoon stars.

 

You sold out, man.

 

This left Disney with a conundrum. They were a company famous for creating beloved cartoon characters, whose mascot was a cartoon character beloved by virtually no one. And so, over the decades, Disney tried to relaunch Mickey not just as a brand but as a character. And they tried it again…

 

And again…

 

And again…

And again…

 

And again…

 

And again…

 

And again…

 

And again…

And while some of these attempts were definitely worthwhile in their own right, no one’s going to claim that Mickey Mouse is what makes Fantasia an all-time classic.

This guy. This guy is what makes Fantasia a classic.

It seemed that Mickey was simply a character that could not be salvaged and made interesting*, and the Disney corporation’s insistence on trying to make him happen was starting to get downright sad. To put it in perspective, imagine if Warner Brothers, instead of embracing Bugs Bunny as their mascot, was still trying to make America fall in love with Bosko the Talk-Ink Kid.

“Too racist!”- 1930’s America.

But then, in 2013, Disney unveiled a new series of Mickey Mouse Shorts directed by a coterie of modern animation stars including veterans of shows such as Dexter’s Laboratory, Sym-Bionic Titan and Powerpuff Girls.

And stick cheese in my cheeks and call me a gerbil, but they actually did it. They found a way to make Mickey Mouse work in a modern cartoon. These cartoons are awesome, almost definitely the best use that’s ever been made of the character outside of some classic Golden Age shorts and honestly? I’m not even sure if that’s not just nostalgia talking. What makes them so good? Well, if I might get a little technical here, they’re really good because they’re really good. By which I mean the animation is fluid and engaging, the backdrops are gorgeously designed, the voicework is top-notch, the music is beautiful and expertly integrated into the action and they’re crammed with great jokes both visual and verbal executed with crack timing. They’re also crammed with shout-outs to Disney fans, which, with all manner of obscure character showing up for a cameo. I knew this series was for me when Mickey and Minnie went to a dance with the kids from the “All the Cats Join In” sequence from Make Mine Music. I mean, that is a deep cut.

It’s fascinating to compare and contrast the new Mickey Mouse shorts with the older classic shorts to see how they’re different and also how they’re similar. Because they are different, no question. They have a very modern sense of humour despite being set in a classic Golden Age cartoon world where everything from the animals, to the sun, to the buildings is a sentient, talking being. And they’re…I don’t want to say “dark and edgy” because that conjures up some kind of twisted Frank Millar-esque nightmare whereas these shorts are glorious, sunny little things fit for all ages. But they are darker than the original cartoons, and certainly more willing to actually see Mickey Mouse suffer for comedic effect. The characters are also more flawed. Goofy is a bit more of a jerk, Donald is much more of a jerk. But the real revelation is how the cartoons treat the character of Mickey Mouse. And the remarkable thing is, Mickey hasn’t really changed at all. He’s still the same perpetually happy, squeaky clean, goody-two shoes that he’s always been. The key difference here, is that now that’s the joke. The cartoons take Mickey’s essential lameness and find ways to mine rich humour from it. Take for example, today’s short: “Adorable Couple”.

In this short Mickey and Minnie are as they have always been, disgustingly cute and ridiculously saccharine. The short’s genius is to recast them as THAT COUPLE. You know the kind. Maybe you’re in one.

“I love you Pumpkin.”

“I love you too Honey Bunny. ALRIGHT EVERYBODY BE COOL, THIS IS A ROBBERY!’

In the short Mickey and Minnie come across Donald and Daisy who, by contrast, are constantly arguing with each other. They’re so distraught by what (they think) is the ducks’ unhappy relationship, that they try to make them happy by bringing them cycling and dancing and all the other wholesome activities that happy, healthy people do, damn their eyes.  This causes the rain cloud that hovers over Donald and Daisy at all times to disappear, which makes the ducks miserable and so Mickey and Minnie have to pretend to fight to bring the rain cloud back. The short’s a delight, my personal favourite moment being Minnie’s impression of Daisy (“Quack! Quack! Look at me! I’m bored and sassy!”) and it ends with the message that everyone’s relationships are different and that’s fine.

This series has made me re-evaluate Mickey as a character, particularly just how elegant and versatile the original Ub Iwerks design actually is. It’s also proof that any character can be made appealing again with just the right tweaks. By heightening the traits that Mickey always had, he goes from being a bland corporate mascot to a lovably square oddball.

You do you, Mickey.

The whole series of shorts is up on YouTube and I strongly recommend checking them out if you haven’t already.

***

Thus ends Shortstember, the month that lasted from August 2016 to April 2017. Hope you guys enjoyed it, I sure did. Maybe we’ll do it again.

 

*Of course, regular readers of this blog know that Mickey Mouse is in fact a demon of inestimable power conjured as the familiar of the warlock Walt Disney who committed many abominable acts, culminating in the annihilation of an entire dimension before being destroyed by Don Bluth as part of his ongoing vendetta with Disney, but that’s not widely by the general public.

 

 

30 comments

  1. Great one to end on, these shorts are fantastic.

    Yeah, someone finally got Mickey right. After the decades as a corporate mascot shaved off what little edge he had to his personality, making that the joke was a stroke of brilliance.

    I think Mickey now works for the same reason Captain America does. In the 1940s Cap was a squared jawed goody-two-shoes because that’s what heroes were at the time. When they thawed him out, he was suddenly an oddball because of how little he fit in, and as the years have gone by, he becomes even more out of place.

    It did take a while for the animation to grow on me, I’m ashamed to say. I can appreciate that they are going for old school, but this seemed almost like taking it too far. Like, if John Kricfalusi did a cruel parody of Mickey and friends, it would look like that. But the characters move so fluidly and are so funny that I soon grew to enjoy it.

    1. “In the 1940s Cap was a squared jawed goody-two-shoes because that’s what heroes were at the time.”

      No, those were the heroes of the Silver Age, post-Comics Code. Golden Age heroes were overall vicious in how merciless they could be. Even Original!Superman would put crooks in the way of the bullets they’d fired and Original!Batman broke Cossacks’ necks and machinegunned mutated asylum inmates down. The heroes from smaller companies were even worse, especially once Supes and Bats mellowed down (in Bats’ case, quickly after adopting Dick Grayson).

      Cap was always kinda actually soft hearted for a Golden Age costumed hero, despite being a soldier in the battlefield.

      1. True, but a lot changed in just a couple of years.
        Batman basically went soft as soon as Robin showed up, and that was 1940. The first couple of Superman stories had him a bit rougher, but he quickly became nicer as well.
        And by the time WWII rolled around, all these guys were smiling at the reader and selling war bonds.
        I mean look, here’s a comic featuring both Batman and Superman that came out the year Cap made his debut. I think it’s safe to say they weren’t gunning people down by this point.

    2. It took me awhile to warm up to the animation too, so you’re not alone there. (For awhile, I actually thought the shorts were parodies because the animation was so different from Disney’s usual.)

      The humor really does work better when Mickey’s sunshininess is the joke. Rather like Spongebob, come to think of it, with Donald as Squidward.

  2. Good short! It is like a parody of what people think that Mickey and Minnie are like (which is not that far from how they are portrayed in this short, even if they exaggerated it for comedic effect). And it also highlights the contrast between Mickey/Minnie and Donald/Daisy in a brilliant way. And I also love that in this age of endless ugly 3D animation, this series of 2D shorts is only four years old!

    To be fair though, Mickey Mouse wasn’t always a such a bland goody-goody. Just look at his first couple of shorts, where he forces himself on Minnie and torments animals to make music out of them! But it seems like Walt Disney soon wanted to turn Mickey into a perfect role model, even though it meant that people found him lame and preferred Donald and Goody instead.

  3. Wait, it’s not September anymore?
    That would explain why all my professors are assigning final papers. I thought it seemed early for that.
    Wow, though, those watercolors might be some of the most beautiful backgrounds I’ve ever seen in a cartoon.

  4. That was actually really enjoyable! I still can’t make out a word Donald says but it doesn’t matter. They made me interested in characters I previously regarded as animalised ‘Have a Nice Day’ smileys!

  5. I know this will make me sound like a horrible person but I would have liked this short if Mickey suffered more. The thing is I’ve never liked Mickey Mouse. He’s bland and he has that terrible grating voice.

    I feel like in this short he acts like every annoying happy person you know and nothing bad happens to him. I don’t know, maybe I just despise happiness too much to get into this.

      1. Thanks for the link. I’ll say this, it’s a lot easier to like Mickey Mouse when you can’t hear the voice. Also sass talking, grumpy or suicidal Mickey Mouse is pretty funny. That felt weird to type.

    1. But I don’t feel that Mickey deserved to suffer in this short. Sure, you might see him as annoyingly happy. But he and Minnie also did what they thought was a favor to Donald and Daisy, before they understood that everybody can’t be like them. It was funny too when Mickey tried to be grumpy and fight with Minnie, but he couldn’t.

  6. Good review, but is it just me, or is the text tiny? I had to zoom in to see it. (Pretty bad eyes.)

  7. Good review. I’d have picked my personal favorite, ‘Wish Upon a Coin’, because it has everything: Pegleg Pete, hilarious jabs at Snow White (a movie I really like, mind), outrageous anachronisms, clever subversions of cliches (like Pete just driving around Mickey when he gets in his way, instead of running him flat like any other gag cartoon would have done), Mickey and Minnie being ridiculously sweet at each other, and a Goofy who acts silly instead of being a jerk, which is one of my few peeves about these shorts… they get all characters right but Goofy, who generally feels too callous and selfish for the character.

    Then again, in that one it feels like they kind of exaggerate Mickey’s personality traits a bit, unlike in this one, so ‘Adorable Couple’ is probably a better showing of the series for what it is.

  8. I have not seen many of these slo you saying Glorify acts like a jerk sounds wrong, he is supposed to be lovable! Better make Mickey act like a jerk, that happened in the old cartoons.

  9. I always liked Mickey…but then, I know Mickey mostly from the European Mickey Mouse strips and I always liked his stories, because they were about him going on adventure, figuring out criminals and defeating them. You know, exactly the kind of scenario in which Mickey’s personality is actually a asset. There was even a special series of detective stories featuring Mickey.

    I think that is the secret of Mickey. His personality isn’t as distinctive as Donald’s or Goofy’s, but that makes him way more versatile. He can be the straight man to those two, but he can also go on his own adventures and playing the role of the disobedient pupil, or Pluto’s kind of blind owner or something entirely different, the only rule is that he is never supposed to be evil or of unpleasant personality. He can also have just as much bad luck as Donald has, the difference is that he will react with optimism.

    I really think that one does Mickey a disservice by describing him as “goody shows”. There is a little bit more to him than that. and I actually would describe him more as an unrelenting optimist. And I get that some people think this is annoying, but this is exactly why I like characters like him or Captain America. Live is already depressing enough, I can always use a little bit optimism.

    1. Those are some good points! It all depends on the story and who writes it. But I have to say that in general, I still have to prefer Donald and Goofy over Mickey. They are less perfect than Mickey and have more interesting personalities.

      1. Never had a thing for Goofy because, well, he is stupid, and I dislike stupid character, I always preferred smart characters. Hence my preference for Mickey, at least the Detective version of him.

        I really don’t mind people liking Donald or Goofy more, I totally understand. But the hatred towards Mickey makes me sad. The character deserves better.

      2. Well, stupid characters will often be funny to me. So I have gotten plenty of laughs from Goofy. And even though I normally adore smart characters too, Mickey will rather come across as a bland way too flawless goody-goody to me. Sorry.

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