Mouse House Movie Club Goes Spooky: Trick or Treat

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It’s October, and that means Halloween. Hurrah for falling leaves, long dark nights, and lots and lots of pumpkins. And hurrah too for scary movies! 

Disney may not be known for their scary movies, but every now and then, they produce something utterly, brilliantly terrifying. Throughout October, this special strand of The Mouse House Movie Club will look at some of the very finest spooky Disney offerings, so you can add a little bit of Disney magic to your frightening fun.

Mouse House Movie Club Goes Spooky #3: Trick or Treat

So far in Mouse House Movie Club Goes Spooky, I’ve covered a couple of lesser know gems, so now I’ve opted for a classic. The Donald Duck film Trick or Treat is one of the best-know spooky Disney shorts, indeed one of the great spooky animations of all time. It’s so good, in fact, that it’s not just a great short. Duck legend Carl Barks took it to the page in a brilliant comic strip that’s become as well known as the film thanks to Barks’ creepy creation Smorgie the Bad being removed from his script. It is, in short, really damn good, and that’s because it’s a perfect storm of brilliance.

The first thing that strikes you about Trick or Treat is how beautiful it looks. Made in 1952, it boasts all the visual splendour of that period of Disney film-making, with its deep night skies and cosy suburban neighbourhoods. It’s a picture perfect vision of American life, similar to the one we’d see a few years later in Lady and the Tramp, and it adds a warmth to Trick or Treat that makes it impossible to resist. You want to live in this lovely little world, even if it does contain a nasty witch intent on making Donald’s life a misery.

Our ‘poor’ hero is subjected to an endless parade of tricks at the hands of Witch Hazel in the limited course of this short but, of course, the little shit deserves it. When Huey, Dewey, and Louie come knocking on his door in their adorable Halloween costumes, they get firecrackers instead of sweets from their ever-loving Unca Donald. This is because – and I can’t stress this enough – Donald Duck is a massive dickhead, and despite his obvious lovableness (how can you not love that voice), it’s great fun to see him tormented by Hazel and the nephews. In song, no less!

Like all great Halloween cartoons, there’s humour in amongst the macabre. Donald is attacked by a giant cackling pumpkin, bullied by crooning ghosts (always the best kind of ghost), and forced to dance until he can dance no more. It’s hilarious and one of the most GIFable Disney shorts of all time. Just look at this awesomeness. LOOK AT IT!

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Despite all this, Donald never relents. Hazel repeatedly tells him he can stop the madness by simply giving his nephews the treat they deserve, but Donald keeps going, keeps believing he can ultimately win. It’s what makes Trick or Treat not just a great Halloween short, but also a great Donald short. Pop culture has rarely given us a character more pig-headed, more stubborn, more utterly determined to do the most stupid thing he can possibly do than Donald. It’s what makes him so charming, and so brilliantly iconic. He’s like a cartoon Sisyphus, doomed to endlessly repeat the same thing over and over and over again.

It’s tragic, it’s beautiful, it’s a melancholic insight into the foibles of the human soul. It’s also got amazing GIFs like this!

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Until next time… stay eeire-sistible. (Ugh, that doesn’t even make sense!)

Mouse House Movie Club Goes Spooky: The Haunted House

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It’s October, and that means Halloween. Hurrah for falling leaves, long dark nights, and lots and lots of pumpkins. And hurrah too for scary movies! 

Disney may not be known for their scary movies, but every now and then, they produce something utterly, brilliantly terrifying. Throughout October, this special strand of The Mouse House Movie Club will look at some of the very finest spooky Disney offerings, so you can add a little bit of Disney magic to your frightening fun.

Mouse House Movie Club Goes Spooky #2: The Haunted House

Early cartoon shorts were heavily focused on the synchronisation of music and action. They had to be really. With complex dialogue impossible in the silent era and music so good at selling an emotion (a sad moment, a laugh, a scary jolt), it simply made sense to match sound to action. Sometimes this simply meant having a wacky bit of score to underline a joke or a clash of cymbals to highlight something frightening, sometimes it meant essentially turning the short into a mini musical and having the characters interact with the music. The Haunted House is an example of the latter; it’s just not a great example.

Don’t get me wrong, I love this short, but the musical section of it is completely misplaced. The plot finds Mickey caught in a storm and stumbling into a creepy house to find shelter. Obviously, as the title suggests, he encounters ghouls, ghosts, and other scary presences while in there, and it’s a really enjoyable little gothic tale… until one of the ghouls asks him to play piano so he and his chums can have a little dance. Then it becomes a variation on the superior The Skeleton Dance (even borrowing animation from The Skeleton Dance at some points) and it loses a little something in the shift.

The Haunted House was the first horror-themed Mickey short, and before the skeletons start having a hoedown, it’s really darned creepy. I love gothic visuals, and from the very first shots of Mickey in the rainy, windswept countryside, this is full of them. Whether it’s the eponymous house moving from side to side as the wind blows it around or something as small as the way the rain moves, there’s something iconic and cool about The Haunted House when it goes full gothic. So much of what we’ve come to expect from gothic films was shaped by early films like this, so it’s exciting and revealing to rewatch all these years on.

The really exciting action comes, of course, after Mickey enters the house – pushed in there by a malevolent tree (what is it with trees and malevolence?). Ub Iwerks and Walt have a huge amount of fun imagining creepy situations for Mickey to get himself into, and the short executes them all perfectly, my favourites being the self-locking padlock, Mickey’s sentient shadow, and the barrel of bones he falls into at the short’s end. It’s a beautiful blend of comedy and gothic horror that works so well… until they all start dancing for a super long time.

Don’t let that put you off though. The Haunted House may not be an unqualified success, but it’s still a success and definitely worth watching by the light of a pumpkin with a toffee apple hanging out your mouth.

Until next time… sweet screams.

(So bad. Again.)

Mouse House Movie Club Goes Spooky: Pluto’s Judgement Day

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It’s October, and that means Halloween. Hurrah for falling leaves, long dark nights, and lots and lots of pumpkins. And hurrah too for scary movies! 

Disney may not be known for their scary movies, but every now and then, they produce something utterly, brilliantly terrifying. Throughout October, this special strand of The Mouse House Movie Club will look at some of the very finest spooky Disney offerings, so you can add a little bit of Disney magic to your frightening fun.

Mouse House Movie Club Goes Spooky #1: Pluto’s Judgement Day

As far as the classic Disney characters go, Pluto is second only to Donald Duck in my affections. He’s a truly wonderful silent actor, capable of expressing great emotion with the curl of his mouth, blink of an eye, or wag of a tail. The best Pluto cartoons are the ones that allow him to experience a range of emotions, plunging him through joy, sadness, terror, and all the way back again. That’s exactly what Pluto’s Judgement Day does.

We open with Pluto chasing a cat through the countryside. He follows the little fella through a muddy puddle, and then chases it inside Mickey’s house, making an awful mess and climbing all over his Mouse master, which ticks the big guy off a bit. Understandable really, he’s probably got Minnie coming round for a bit of special alone time. Wit-woo!

Anyways, Mickey tells Pluto off, and Pluto looks a bit sad and goes for a sit down by the fire. So far, so unscary. (Unless you’re scared of oversized talking rodents shouting at their dogs. Which…. I suppose…. I mean… Mickey’s pretty terrifying if you think of it really. Has anyone ever done a realistic take on Mickey? Like, a giant talking actual factual mouse. That’s… that’s really horrifying.)

Ahem…

Back to the short. So, Pluto’s asleep and starts dreaming the dream of a guilty pup. He’s lured to a massive feline lair (think Castle Greyskull but, y’know, with cats), clapped in irons (which are brilliantly animated to look like snakes) and put on trial. By a kitty judge in front of a kitty jury. Poor Pluto.

The concept itself isn’t inherently scary, but this was 1935, the early days of animation. Before Disney became the family friendly studio it is now, before Snow White birthed the feature length cartoon, before animation was considered a legitimate art form. These early shorts are sometimes darker than we’d expect from Disney because the studio had to establish itself, and that drive makes Pluto’s Judgement Day what it is.

Which is terrifying. Really, really terrifying.

The kitty lair (GREAT name for a Bond Girl, by the way) is suitably dark and dingy, the feline judge wears a red gown and has sticky uppy ears that look like little devil horns, and the jury all hiss and shout at Pluto, baying for his blood. The whole thing is shot with stark light producing long villainous shadows that are more reminiscent of something from a 30s noir or Universal horror than what Disney would become.

The cats also sing.

Yep, they sing the whole time, which weirdly makes it so much scarier. They’re celebrating Pluto’s demise, they’re enjoying subjecting him to a trial he can’t possibly win. It’s truly the stuff of nightmares, the kind of scenario where you feel like no matter what you do, you can’t escape. If I were a dog, this is undoubtedly the kind of bad dream I’d have.

Of course, Pluto realises it’s a dream, wakes up, and learns a valuable lesson about not chasing cats. But this is a short that stays with you. Like all the best scary films, it seems benign, but is really, truly unsettling. It’s therefore a perfect way to start off this special strand of the Mouse House Movie Club.

Until next time… ghoul-bye.

(That was terrible. Sorry)