Saturday, November 15, 2008

Disney's Christmas Part 1 : "Mickey's Good Deed"

I know it's a bit early for Christmas; we haven't even gotten to Thanksgiving yet. But I thought we'd get an early start and examine some of the Christmas themed shorts that Disney produced through the years. And since time seems to be against me (especially this time of year) we'd better get an early start.

"Mickey's Good Deed" was one of the first shorts where Disney dealt with Christmas specifically. (The first was the 1927 Oswald short "Empty Socks" which I have not had the chance to see and later "Mickey's Orphans" which we'll look at next week.) And it paints a fairly Dickensian view of the season with the poor and destitute helping each other while the rich get their just desserts. It begins with Mickey as a street corner musician playing his cello for what turns out to be a can full of nuts and bolts. To make matters worse, his cello gets run over by a passing car so even his last possibility of making any money to provide for himself at Christmas seems to be gone. But his love of Pluto is deep enough that when he is offered money for him, he refuses. At least for himself.

At this point it seems that Mickey has nothing. It's when he sees a family of destitute children and a weeping mom where his emotions overcome him and he realizes that there's one thing he has that they don't and that is hope. He sells the last thing he has, Pluto, to the rich family in order to provide a Christmas for the starving family. And at this point he really does have nothing in the way of tangible goods left to him.

Pluto, on the other hand, is ending up getting abused by the rich kid Adelbert. It's interesting to note the contrast between the poor kids who are grateful for the gifts given to them and the rich kid who has everything and is never satisfied with what he has. The father, finally tired of the abuse which reins him in as well, kicks Pluto out and gives the kid a well-deserved spanking. Meanwhile, Mickey is feeling a bit sorry for himself but then a newly freed Pluto finds him again. And with a turkey tied to his tail for dinner! So, Mickey's good deed ends up rewarding him in ways he didn't expect.

Why did this mean so much? Lee Suggs wrote in a comment:

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.

It's very heartwarming and it has a very simple moral: selfless good will be rewarded, evil will be punished. It didn't always end up that way though. Next week, in "Mickey's Orphans" we'll see how Mickey's big hearted ways turned on out just the opposite.

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