I was more than pleased to see the full-length colorized version (and
tape it) on the Disney Channel a couple years ago. I was just describing
the old black and white cartoon to a friend, when "Good Deed" popped up
on the Disney Channel - a stroke of luck!
The short starts out with Mickey playing music for money.(I can't remember
everything that happened in the shot, but I think the instrument he is playing
gets broken). He and Pluto start walking around and find a mother cat, sobbing
because she cannot buy any toys or clothes or food for her kittens. So Mickey
goes to the house of a very rich man, sells him Pluto and goes off to buy
stuff for the kittens.
Meanwhile, Pluto isn't so sure he likes his new home. Some bratty little
pig, (it's really a pig), is starting to treat Pluto like he's a water balloon
or something. Finally, the rich man, (the father), has the butler throw
out Pluto. Then the boy receives a spanking. Nice christmas present, huh?
Mickey is sitting out in the snow, feeling sad about losing Pluto. So
when Pluto arrives, you probably guessed they are very happy.
Oh, the first time I saw this short was on the Disney Channel.
So why do I feel this is an important short? Remember that the Christmas
of 1932 was probably the worse time of the entire Great Depression. Hoover
was still president, and it was probably impossible for most families to
buy gifts for their children. They might not even be able to afford a Christmas
Dinner. Most Americans must have felt pretty hopeless, and it must have
seemed like things were never going to get better. Enter Mickey portrayed
as one of them, in a situation similar to their own lives. By being selfless
he is able to overcome his own hopeless situation to make a difference in
someone else's life.
This must have been an important message to people at that time. All
was not lost, even the most destitute person could help someone else. Mickey's
situation at the end of the short is not any better than at the beginning.
(except for that turkey.) Life, for most people watching
Deed, wasn't going to improve anytime soon. However, this short offered
the hope that if people stuck together and helped each other things could
get better. You didn't have to be helpless. You could still make a difference
if you tried hard enough. This attitude, later expanded by President Franklin
Roosevelt, helped lead the United States out of the depression. Mickey was
probably more a reflection of this attitude, than an inspiration for it,
but I believe this short offered hope at a hopeless time. Pretty impressive
for a cartoon character.
To start with, this is the most expressive and well acted Mickey I’ve seen in a while. Some of the previous shorts in 1932 featured Mickey in some side roles or focused on other actions, but here, Mickey is front and center. He and Pluto start off the short begging in the snow, looking for money by playing a large bass.
Their hunger and desperation leaks through, even though Mickey has a smile on his face the majority of the time. You feel sorry for Mickey and Pluto, which is quite an accomplishment. The animators work hard here to establish Mickey as the underdog. That’s a big task when he’s the star of the short.
From there, we see a young child who is not interested in any of his toys. The child is the prototypical spoiled brat, not satisfied with anything his father or butler tries to provide. Again, this is all communicated in a brief vignette, meaning the animation works extra hard to get the point across.
Here is where the dilemma comes up. The child hears Pluto’s barking, and decides that he must have Mickey’s dog. The butler is sent after Mickey to get Pluto, but Mickey runs away, refusing to sell. But, Mickey and Pluto come across a household of small children (cats in this case) who are poor, and waiting for Christmas. Again, with no dialogue or signage, the animators get the plight of these cats, with shots of the house, including a fish that is so hungry that it’s literally a head with a skeleton.
Mickey decides that he must sell Pluto and help these children. The pathos of that moment is amazing. At that point, you completely forget that these are drawings on a sheet of paper. These are living, breathing characters, and you feel horrible for Mickey at losing his dog, and Pluto for having to leave his master.
Mickey returns to the poor kittens’ house with a load of toys, and surprises them, all while dressed in a Santa costume. Pluto, meanwhile, gets tortured by the boy and his family, causing his trademark chaos by running all over the place. The juxtaposition of the happiness the kittens show when they discover the toys and the unhappy home of the rich people is a great artistic choice.
Finally, the rich family has had enough, and tosses Pluto out, and spanks the spoiled brat. We see Mickey up on a hill, greeting Christmas by grilling a sausage over a campfire, and he’s built a small Pluto out of snow to keep him company. Our favorite dog surprises him by bursting through the snow, and we have our happy ending.
This short is fantastic. The emotions involved take you on a roller coaster, from sympathy for Mickey and Pluto, to disgust at the spoiled brat, empathy for the poor kids, sadness and pride when Mickey gives up Pluto, ending with happiness as they’re reunited. This is Mickey at his best, a loveable underdog who wins in the end, despite the odds.
However, the real Christmas feel of this cartoon comes from the story. A lovely little tale of selflessness done without any smaltz! We get all the kinds of business and gags we'd expect from a Mickey short of this era, but it's mixed in with a heartwarming story. Even my favourite silly gag – the family is so poor the fish is a skeleton – has an edge of pathos. Great stuff!
A couple of things I noticed; one is the use of wipes in this cartoon, from one shot to the next. It's nicely done and I don't think we've seen it before in a Disney cartoon. Another thing is the portrait on the wall – is that Pete who's the father of all those kids? Also, could that be the same mother who tried to palm her kids off to Mickey and Minnie last Christmas in
Click on thumbnail for full size image