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'The Chain Gang' is a delightful Mickey Mouse short from his early
sound period. I was surprised that this one features Mickey in prison
(on a chain gang, no less), and we're never told how he came to be
there in the first place. The cartoon manages to imply that he's guilty
of something, rather than stitched up.
I'll just address a couple of points that modern viewers might miss. IMDb viewer Ron Oliver says that Mickey performs something called 'the classic "Prisoner's Song"' (I must have missed that one) in this cartoon. That's not correct. Mickey and the other inmates perform a maudlin waltz-time ballad that was very well-known in 1930, when this cartoon was made: so well-known that Disney didn't even bother to have his voice artists sing the words, apparently figuring that cinema audiences would recognise the song from its melody alone.
The song which Mickey and the others are performing has a lyric which begins like this: "If I had the wings of an angel, / Over these prison walls I would fly...". Since I recognised the melody, I thought it quite funny that these cartoon inmates were performing this particular song.
Many of the early Disney toons were quite vulgar, with gags featuring racial stereotypes or crudities such as Mickey playing a melody on a female dog's nipples. The nearest we get to such things in 'The Chain Gang' is one visual gag quite early in the toon. When the warder (played by Big Pete) threatens Mickey, the mouse raises one hand in a placating gesture with fingers splayed. Then he turns his head into profile to look at his own hand. At this point, Mickey grins mysteriously and then drops his hand. If you look closely, for one brief instant Mickey's head and hand are in just the proper position so that he's thumbing his nose. In the 1930s (and earlier) the gesture of thumb to nose was considered extremely vulgar in the United States; if Disney had tried this gag a few years later, with the Hays Office in place, he likely wouldn't have got away with it.
I shan't spoil the end of the cartoon for you. It was a big surprise for me, since Mickey ended up someplace unexpected. I'll rate 'The Chain Gang' 7 out of 10. Now that nobody recognises (nor stigmatises) the nose-thumbing gesture anymore, parents can put this cartoon on their family viewing list.
The early Mickey Mouse cartoons show a Mickey different from the solid, dependable mouse we've grown to know in his later years. Could it be that, in his formative years, Mickey was a scamp and a rapscallion? Actually, Mickey displays the same irreverence the Marx Brothers display and The Chain Gang is a prime example. Very good cartoon and one that will see print again. It surely deserves to and soon. Well worth tracking down. Recommended.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
THE MOUSE WAS approximately two years old then; being in human years,
that is. In this early strictly Black & White cinematic world, Mickey
was most often portrayed as being quite mischievous and wasn't above
doing some shenanigans on his own. Settings varied widely in these days
and whatever bits of mischief that he had been up to prior to this
picture, it did manage to land him in the hoosegow.
WE OPEN WITH a highly varied assembly of prisoners all hooked up together. Present are a huge hog, some canine types, Clarabelle Cow (a Female!) and Mickey Mouse. They are under the direct supervision of Peg-Leg Pete and some other equally nasty tempered Goons.
AFTER SOME MUSICALLY choreographed rock-breaking in the prison yard, all hell breaks loose as a huge and seemingly spontaneous jail break erupts. Mickey, being the shameless little rascal that he was in those days, joins in and manages to spring himself with the aid of a teeter board and the weight of his ball and chain.
NOW, THIS WOULD perhaps have been a highly uneventful foray into cartoondom, save for what happens next. A pair of bloodhound doggies were sent in tandem with a prison guard holding their leashes in pursuit of the now escaped Mickey. After a short while, the young rodent was relocated back in his cell, singing as joyfully as ever.
WELL, BOYS & GIRLS, the Bloodhounds were both drawn as the same character. It was the very lovable, irrepressible pup; who we all now know as Pluto! This was his first appearance.
AND NOW YOU, my dear Schultz, you have "the rest of the story!"*
NOTE * With a very respectable tip of the hat to the late Mr. :Paul Harvey (1918-2009).
Not one of my favourite Disney shorts, but as ever likable enough. The story is somewhat unremarkable, and I don't think it is ever explained why Mickey was in the prison in the first place, for all I know it was just an excuse to put him in another setting and nothing else to it. This said, this short is still a lot of fun. The pacing is rapid without feeling too rushed, and there are some great sight gags, such as the prisoners speaking into the camera, the guards- who all look like Pete- shooting at one another and Mickey's means of escape. The animation is crisp and smooth, while the character animation doesn't stand out in the same way it does with other Mickey Mouse shorts, and the sequence with Mickey playing the harmonica does look as though it is from The Shindig, it is still very good. The music is energetic and beautiful, with the musical sequence in the middle actually tying in with the story and not taking too long either. Mickey is perhaps at his most cheeky and is always finding means of making us aware that he knows he has an audience(the point of the winking I think), and this persona pays off well for him, he is very charming for it. I also found it interesting that one of the bloodhounds looked remarkably like Pluto. All in all, a fun if not entirely short with a cheeky charmer in Mickey as well as great pacing and gags. 8/10 Bethany Cox
A Walt Disney MICKEY MOUSE Cartoon.
Mickey Mouse attempts a daring escape from THE CHAIN GANG which holds him captive.
This enjoyable little black & white cartoon is notable as the film debut for Pluto, who does double duty by playing both of the bloodhounds which chase Mickey into the swamp. Clarabelle Cow is one of the inmates on the chain & Pegleg Pete portrays one of the scurvy guards. That's the classic 'Prisoner Song' which the Mouse and his buddies perform shortly before the escape attempt. Walt Disney provides Mickey with his squeaky voice.
Walt Disney (1901-1966) was always intrigued by pictures & drawings. As a lad in Marceline, Missouri, he sketched farm animals on scraps of paper; later, as an ambulance driver in France during the First World War, he drew comic figures on the sides of his vehicle. Back in Kansas City, along with artist Ub Iwerks, Walt developed a primitive animation studio that provided animated commercials and tiny cartoons for the local movie theaters. Always the innovator, his ALICE IN CARTOONLAND series broke ground in placing a live figure in a cartoon universe. Business reversals sent Disney & Iwerks to Hollywood in 1923, where Walt's older brother Roy became his lifelong business manager & counselor. When a mildly successful series with Oswald The Lucky Rabbit was snatched away by the distributor, the character of Mickey Mouse sprung into Walt's imagination, ensuring Disney's immortality. The happy arrival of sound technology made Mickey's screen debut, STEAMBOAT WILLIE (1928), a tremendous audience success with its use of synchronized music. The SILLY SYMPHONIES soon appeared, and Walt's growing crew of marvelously talented animators were quickly conquering new territory with full color, illusions of depth and radical advancements in personality development, an arena in which Walt's genius was unbeatable. Mickey's feisty, naughty behavior had captured millions of fans, but he was soon to be joined by other animated companions: temperamental Donald Duck, intellectually-challenged Goofy and energetic Pluto. All this was in preparation for Walt's grandest dream - feature length animated films. Against a storm of naysayers, Walt persevered and over the next decades delighted children of all ages with the adventures of Snow White, Pinocchio, Dumbo, Bambi & Peter Pan. Walt never forgot that his fortunes were all started by a mouse, or that childlike simplicity of message and lots of hard work always pay off.
In this black and white short, Mickey Mouse is in prison. God only knows what on earth Mickey Mouse could've done to deserve this. The first half is a musical sequence with the prisoners dancing around the prison yard. The rest of the short deals with an escape attempt by Mickey. All around, it's only mildly amusing.
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