Saturday Matinee #130, Erik Week: "Lonesome Ghosts" (December 24, 1937)
Published June 29, 2013
by Albert Gutierrez
Happy Erik Week! Our fun-filled week has been devoted to Erik Anderson, resident character expert and adventure-seeker. Many of his favorite things have led us on adventures, be it a family outing at 'Ohana, a rousing golf excursion with Mickey as our guide, the meek Fenton Crackshell transforming into the amazing Gizmoduck, some crazy and mixed-up adventures with THE INCREDIBLE HULK, and of course, hidden Mickeys and fun finds in Adventureland itself. Our adventure continues as we decide to chase down some old ghosts in one of Erik's favorite shorts: 1937's "Lonesome Ghosts."
On a cool, December night, four bored ghosts decide to have some fun. They have nobody to scare, so they call up Ajax Ghost Exterminators. After all, what's better than scaring some ghost busters? At the other end of the phone line are a trio of sleeping exterminators: Mickey, Donald, and Goofy. A mad scramble for the phone leads to Goofy listening, Mickey answering, and Donald literally caught in the middle. The ghosts tell them to come quickly, throwing in several screams and other menacing sounds to entice our heroes. The three excitedly arrive, they finally have a customer. Upon arrival, no ghosts appear. Mickey decides that a divide-and-conquer approach would work best, leading into isolated incidents with ghosts.
When Mickey encounters his ghost, the ghost plugs his shotgun, then leads him on a chase upstairs. There, the ghosts do a little dance before hiding themselves in a closet. As Mickey opens the closet, a surfeit of water bursts through.. all part of their illusions. Donald doesn't seem to have much luck, either. They take full advantage of his fears, often by dropping noisy things or even just striking him outright. Donald's fear naturally translates into anger, making his encounter with the ghosts the most amusing.
Perhaps Goofy exemplifies our reaction towards ghosts the best when he states "I'm brave, but I'm terrified," followed later by the eerily prescient "I ain't a-scared of no ghosts!" He engages in a mirror routine with a ghost (all that's missing are Groucho Marx glasses and mustache), which eventually leads to the three - Goofy, Mickey, and Donald - to go careening down the stairs and into the cellar. When they emerge, covered in molasses and flower, the ghosts themselves become terrified. "Real ghosts!" they cry, and run away in fear. As the molasses and flour clear away, Mickey, Donald, and Goofy watch in delight. Another job well done.
"Lonesome Ghosts" stands out as one of the finest Mickey-Donald-Goofy shorts made, likely to be ranked as the most popular among viewers. We get to see the three of them given equal screen time, even when in isolated incidents. This chemistry between the three also reflects greatly on the animators. When you look at which animator worked on which shots or scenes, all the isolated incidents come together extremely well. For example, one of my favorite shots in the entire short is the door that crashes down when Mickey, Donald, and Goofy first arrive. The sheer perspective as it seems to drop towards us really envelops the audience into the short, then pushes us out once again after the door gives Mickey, Donald, and Goofy the slip. Mickey then decides on their divide-and-conquer approach, and the three shake hands.
This scene was animated entirely by Marvin Woodward, altogether lasting roughly fifty seconds. It's his only work in the short, as eight other animators were assigned to this project - much of the second half split between Dick Huemer and Don Williams - but contains the key moment in the entire short: the trio agreeing to work together. Thus, the reflection to the animators comes full circle: they work in isolation, contributing parts to a whole, which ultimately creates an unstoppable unity.
I always remembered "Lonesome Ghosts" best through the ViewMaster slide we had, which condensed the story to eight shots, rendered in stereoscopic 3-D and sometimes framed differently than the actual cartoon. I had discussed this previously (in Saturday Matinee #24), where I actually provided a shot of a ViewMaster frame. Unfortunately, due to time constraints (and a newly-reorganized storage room), I couldn't find the ViewMaster or its slides in time to get a picture for this week. However, the final shot of the ViewMaster was consistent with the final shot in the cartoon, with our trio looking on. It always seemed a perfect way to end any Mickey-Donald-Goofy short, with just the three of them contemplating what just happened. "Boat Builders" featured the same type of shot, which was another ViewMaster favorite.
Perhaps that's why Mickey-Donald-Goofy shorts have remained timeless and popular all these years. Everything always works out for them, the unity and camaraderie between the three never fails. By the end of any of their shorts, two-reels, or feature films, they stand together. And, in some shameless way to bring this full circle with Erik Week, it's always after some grand adventure. Just look at their teamwork in Mickey and the Beanstalk or The Prince and the Pauper. And The Three Musketeers pretty much drives that point home in spades, complete with a lyrical re-working of "Can Can" into "All For One and One For All."
"Lonesome Ghosts" can be found as a supplemental cartoon in the Gold Classic Collection DVD release for The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad, originally released in 2000 and still available today (usually during Halloween season - due more to the involvement of ghosts, and less with the short's wintry setting). It also is featured in 2001's "Walt Disney Treasures: Mickey Mouse in Living Color," which collects the mouse's color appearances between 1935 and 1938. The short later saw inclusion in the direct-to-video film Mickey's House of Villains in 2002, and appears in original (yay) and edited (blegh) form on 2010's "Have a Laugh, Volume One."