25 February 2013

Mickey Mouse Mondays: Week 6: When the Cat's Away

The design of Mickey Mouse is truly a wonder. Nowhere is this more apparent than in a short like When the Cat's Away which sees Mickey interacting with a number of other mice. To differentiate the secondary mice from the star their design is slightly more angular in the face and that makes all of the difference. These peripheral mice look like rodents while Mickey and Minnie on the other hand remain as cuddly as ever. In this minor but pleasant short, the mice have broken into the home of one Tom Cat who has drunkenly gone off with his shotgun for the day in a tantalizingly unanswered side story. Shaping a colleague into a key, Mickey unlocks the padlock and the mice run rampant in the house.

Tom must be some sort of musical virtuoso because he possesses a piano, violin and saxophone, as well as a robust record collection. The short plays out with the mice finding clever ways to play the instruments and culminates in one mouse twisting himself into a makeshift record player while another uses his tail and a funnel to amplify the sound. The best part of the short is Disney and Iwerks's attention to getting the musical bits synched correctly. Whether it is Minnie and Mickey dueting on the piano keys or a when a piece of swiss cheese is used as a roll of music in the player piano, the actions and presumably the notes are right. This difficult and subtle effect makes the short much more engaging. Another great thing about the film is that Mickey and Minnie are the correct proportions for their species. When they pop out of a hole on Tom's porch they are tiny little creatures. This small size adds to the charm of the early versions of the mischievous mouse. He remains endearing because he is so plucky. One would never mistake this David for a Goliath.

Mickey gets some decent moments here, the best being when he stretches his tail to avert a mouse trap which he eventually uses to bound up to a high shelf to retrieve the soon-to-be-musical cheese. (It's also a clever gag that the depiction of a mouse acquiring cheese does not result in the cheese being eaten.) However, the best moment in the short comes from one of the secondary mice. After Mickey and Minnie play their piano piece, the film cuts to a group of mice applauding enthusiastically, save for one, who for some reason is displeased with the performance. He stands defiantly in the front and interrupts the cheering with a loud raspberry, which he repeats offscreen as Mickey and Minnie plan their next number. This little guy is onscreen for perhaps five seconds and he steals the show!

Viewing Verdict: Worthwhile

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