Forging political readings of Disney’s output is an overreaching pastime for some film enthusiasts, because, unlike Warner’s Looney Tunes, the Mickey and Donald shorts rarely hold the same sort of subversive thrill. Of the 20 or so shorts collected on Mickey Mouse in Living Color: Volume 2, only the earliest, 1939’s “Society Dog Show,” features a Mickey with jet-black discs for eyes instead of the copiously wide-corneas he’s had ever since. And as they say, it’s all in the eyes. If the first volume of shorts was a bracing reminder of the oftentimes rebellious bent behind some of Mickey’s earliest appearances (“Steamboat Willie” is nothing if not a musical tribute to animal abuse), then this release (which brings us square into the present day with the video-gamey “Runaway Brain”) charts the ascendance of the cartoon icon from the runty, lower-class go-getter character that helped his star rise during the Depression years to the comfortably, downright lazily middle-class reflection of that American postwar sense of entitlement (that’s why his eyes suddenly got so wide). He had the modest pre-fab house, the faithful dog, and a usually (though, as with “Tugboat Mickey,” not always) off-screen series of jobs that allowed him endless hours in his backyard hammock. Hell, the only relatively non-middlebrow thing about Mickey was his suspicious status as a confirmed bachelor. The persnickety and wan Minnie was hardly enough of a character to count as a genuine love interest and the fact that she was the spitting image of Mickey (except with a vagina) was either a nod to narcissism or an endorsement of racially homogenous courtships. The best shorts in the series anticipate the sort of non-narrative reliant brand of anarchism that would soon become Bugs & Co.‘s stock in trade, like “Symphony Hour,” in which Goofy accidentally smashes an entire orchestra’s instruments moments before a performance. Nonetheless Mickey conducts them in a tin-eared suite of cowbells and slide-whistles and still manages, against all bourgeois expectations, to garner social accolades. On the flip side, it would be foolish to deny that the melding of an immortal literary arc with Disney’s pop-culture icons in “Mickey’s Christmas Carol,” a 1983 adaptation that puts Mickey in the role of Bob Cratchit, yields its fair share of good clean emotional catharsis. Dickens’s story gets me every time, no matter how stilted or cheeky the variation, but seeing Mickey placing his son Tiny Tim’s crutch on a cheap, wooden gravestone and losing his composure…finally, those big wading-pool eyes put to good use!
First the good news. You've never seen any of these cartoons look so good unless you grew up with them in theaters. The colors are bold and there's little surface wear and tear. The bad news, at least for me and the three different players I tested these disc out in, is that there appears to be some digital blocking, especially when dealing with the more garish colors. The black ink lines separating red objects from their backgrounds definitely reveal tiny little cubes, as though the palate is made up of sugar. The sound is not hampered by digitization, and in fact is surprisingly full considering its age. (Fantasia didn't sound this good.)
There are plenty of features, and most of them play right into the hands of Disney enthusiasts. The discs feature introductions by their leader Leonard Maltin (I call him Uncle Malt), who puts the films in their proper context. Which is to say: removed of subtexts, in due awe of the Disney factory ethic, and with repeated apologies for any lapses of political correctness (Malt practically begs forgiveness for each short that features any sort of gunplay). There are tons of short featurettes, including looks at Mickey's resurrection in the 1980s (don't expect any Reagan parallels, though) and profiles of the voices behind Mickey and Minnie. Then there's the standard art and promotional (and the art of promotion) galleries. Finally, there are a few choice Easter eggs, including footage of Walt performing as Mickey and a corporate in-house film for Standard Oil. I knew it! The missing link between Disney and corporate America! No wonder it's hidden.
Disney presents the world's most famous neuter and his unabashed swan dive into apolitical, sexless, consumerist passivity.