Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Horrors of October - Scary Disney Shorts

Disney is more widely known for their more happier fare but they have quite often took their kids gloves off and delivered some sheer nightmare fuel. These terrorizing works came in the form of their short cartoons, which would much later be mined thoroughly as part of television specials and video releases. I will eventually get around to covering A DISNEY HALLOWEEN, a televised hodge-podge of scary cartoons and movie clips which aired annually on ABC during the 90s, but I want to cover something more closer to my heart first. Way back in 1990, my parents bought me "Walt Disney Cartoon Classics Vol. 13: Donald's Scary Tales", which contained three creepy cartoons with Donald Duck as the poor sucker of various horrors. Today, I'll be reviewing those shorts as well as other famous horror-themed Disney cartoons.

The Skeleton Dance (1929)

A group of skeletons dance during the night. What more do I have to say?! Considered one of the greatest cartoons of all time, thanks in large part of being the very first cartoon use non-post-sync sound, THE SKELETON DANCE really banks on you being entertained by the sight of bone-men boogieing. This is the perfect example of the modern derision of old Disney cartoons, as it literally features characters bopping their knees up and down and playing instruments through weird means. Legendary animator Ub Iwerks does a great job with the more tricker shots, such as a 3D take of "Ring Around The Rosie", and does he ever unsettle you whenever a skeleton comes in for a close up or jumps right toward the viewer. Give it a glance or save it for background material for your Halloween party.


The Mad Doctor (1933)

Mickey sees a cloaked figure stealing Pluto and he ventures through a dark castle in order to save his dog. This short was so frightening at the time, some theaters refuse to show it and apparently Britain banned it for a short time. Even today, it is drenched in haunting imagery and gory details. I mean come on, the villain Dr. XXX literally wants to cut Pluto and a chicken in half and stitch them together in order for the possibly of "it" asexually reproducing their mutated breed. The B&W artwork is just gorgeous, with the showstopper being an amazing pseudo-3D sneaking scene. Everything is pumping on all cylinders, the gags all work, and it grows darker and darker in tone up until the lame ending where, you guess, it was all Mickey's dream. Regardless, it still a great watch and the perfect material to scare your unsuspecting little kids with.


Pluto's Judgement Day (1935)

Pluto suffers through a nightmare where he's on trial for crimes against cat kind. The odds are stacked against him as the judge is a cat, the prosecutor is a cat, and the jury are all cats. Yep, we have another "it was all a dream" scenario but here the makers spoil it early by literally showing Pluto's dream figure exiting his body to chase after a baiting cat. This short is pretty disturbing in how much detail and great animation was put into creating a hellish courtroom. The scariest moments come whenever the prosecutor is barking at the chained up dog, especially with the extreme closeup on his eyes at one point. Unfortunately, there is one thing that really hurts the overall quality of the short and that is plain old racism. There's a segment where three black kitten with badly braided hair sing a tune about their Uncle Tom. Yeah, you can't get anymore racist than that. Also, I can't end this review without mentioning how adorable the little kitten at the end is.


Lonesome Ghosts (1937)

A group of ghosts living in a haunted house sucker in paranormal investigators Mickey, Donald, and Goofy so they can have some fun. The playful nature of the short, along with the eye-catching color and design of the ghosts, has sustain this as one of the most popular Disney cartoons ever. However, despite seeing it many, many times, I just do not have very strong feelings about it. The animation is really good, especially during the gag with Goofy and the dresser, and I do like the final joke where the trio unexpectedly defeat the well-dressed spirits. But the overall comedy doesn't work wonders with me and I always feel a little disappointment as it progresses. Also, fun fact: Many viewers point to this short as the inspiration of GHOSTBUSTERS, particularly when Goofy says a variation of "I ain't afraid of no ghosts!"


Donald's Lucky Day (1939)

Superstitious delivery boy Donald has a hard time avoiding a playful black cat and not realizing that he's delivering a ticking bomb. The only creeps this short gave me as a kid was the evil piercing eyes of the sender behind the door. Outside of that, the short never really warrants any spooks whatsoever, as it focuses more on the somewhat lame slapstick between the duck and the cat. I will say that the cat's purr is the true highlight, as I just find it very cute. A fine enough watch but not something I will go back as much as I once did.


Donald Duck and the Gorilla (1944)

Donald and his nephews have to contend with an escaped gorilla running wild in their house. This short has one of my all time favorite jump scares: Huey, Dewey, and Louie are laughing their faces off after pranking Donald with their gorilla costume, only to cut straight to a random window and a lighting flash reveals the animal to be outside. I also love the constantly interrupting radio announcements from a bored reporter, who states helpful hints at serendipitous moments. The short loses some steam in the middle when the duck family have a random slapstick segment to themselves but it quickly gains it all back with a fantastic chase sequence to close out on.


Duck Pimples (1945)

A dark and stormy night at home causes Donald to be physically and mentally tormented by pulpy media. I could write a whole essay about how amazing and demented this cartoon is. I point to this short as the genesis of my love for psychological thrillers as this just freaked me the hell out as a child. I still laugh at its jokes and can quote it verbatim but it gives me the creeps even to this day. For example, there's an early gag where a seemingly romantic radio drama suddenly turns into a crime show, as a woman is pushed off a cliff. The bloodcurdling scream is both funny and frightening but the lady's cry at her hubby Harold takes it to a dark turn, as it just reminds of the news story last year where a guy literally named Harold killed his wife by the doing the exact same thing. The short then moves into total surrealism, as it just throws out a ton of disturbing imagery amid all the humor, the backgrounds change on a dime, and Donald is rendered mute and threatened with police brutality. The dark antics get so off the rails that an author surrogate walks in and quickly gives an unfortunate resolution to the central mystery. And then the short ends on a disturbing final note, with a new sinister voice bellowing out at Donald and the poor tortured duck just stands in total shock. I absolutely adore this cartoon.


Trick or Treat (1952)

Donald gives his costumed nephews a nasty trick when they come to his door, causing a witch to intervene and show that two can play at that game. This is the perfect Disney short to watch every Halloween, since its one of the few if not only one to center around the major holiday. It also has that delightful earworm title song that will have you humming for days. To further help its case, you have legendary voice actress June Foray playing the sorceress Hazel and employing her witch voice two years before applying it to the witchy Looney Tunes character also named Hazel. My only setbacks with it is that the theme song really overshadows the magic-based comedy and the moral of the story is pretty hammered into you.


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