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.)
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)