Saturday Matinee #135: "Magician Mickey" (February 6, 1937)
Published August 3, 2013
by Albert Gutierrez
Magic is not so much about deception as it is about showmanship. We buy into the illusions because the art of the con makes us want to believe such impossibilities are possible. This explains why we'll readily accept the use of magic within plenty of Disney cartoons, itself an illusion. After all, how would you explain to someone from, say, the 14th century, that people of today enjoy watching thousands of drawings projected on a screen so fast (24 drawings per second, to be exact) that they look like fluidic action? Animation is a form of magic, just as beloved as sleight of hand. And it always comes down to the showmanship. If you have a magnificent showman, you can have a magnificent evening. And who better for a showman than Mickey Mouse himself?
It's time for a magic show, and who better to test his pre-Fantasia powers than Mickey Mouse? As Goofy raises the curtain, Mickey emerges, dressed in his classic magician costume. Some of his tricks include the conventional "knotted cape into a crow," while others involve more sophisticated trickery. Unfortunately, Donald seems to find joy in heckling Mickey no matter how hard he tries. But Mickey doesn't care too much. He manages to save the show in many ways, meeting every challenge that Donald attempts. He eventually decides to bring Donald into the act. Mickey offers a playing card, which the duck refuses, resulting in Donald spitting out cards. After Donald hurls a water bottle at Mickey, Mickey stops it, and causes it to shoot water back at him.
That's too much for Donald, who grabs Mickey's wand, but can't seem to make it work properly. He does manage ice cream, which shoots into his face. And he can't stop spitting out cards. He even gets shrunken down to size, who delights in turning him into a paper doll, a bullet, a hatchling back in the egg. It's the egg that gets poured and stirred in Mickey's hat that brings Donald back to normal size. He raises his fists, hoping Mickey will put up his dukes as well. Instead, a cactus fights him. At one point, Mickey turns Donald into a kangaroo. Trust me, you haven't lived if you haven't seen Donald as a kangaroo. Or a walrus. Or a monkey. Eventually, Donald tires of all the transformations, and threatens to shoot Mickey. Rather than disrupt with a bullet, the gun seems to shoot a whirling dervish of magic, which causes the stage to collapse (Mickey and Goofy included). And Donald still spits out playing cards.
"Magician Mickey" serves almost as a Trio short, but also doesn't. We see all three characters - Mickey, Donald Goofy - but they're not all tasked on a project, nor are they all on the same side. In addition, Goofy's slight and incidental appearances here make him less of an ally with Mickey and more of a supporting character. In reality, this is more a Mickey versus Donald short, something akin to "The Band Concert." Similarly, Mickey doesn't say much in this cartoon at all. He's a rather mute showman except for his "Look out, it's loaded! Hey, stop, look out!" exclamation. I sometimes wonder if that was due to Walt's busy schedule with Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. In late 1936 and early 1937, they had begun work on the color scheme of the film, even conducting camera tests and lighting effects in January 1937. Either way, Walt's presence with Mickey is rather missed.
The constant back and forth between Mickey and Donald definitely is the highlight of this short. We can see Mickey's abilities to counter anything Donald brings, as well as Donald's unwavering and stubborn stance when it comes to finding new ways to irk Mickey. By the end, Mickey still has the upper hand, as it's Donald who causes the destruction with that magic gun. Mickey knew how to use his "powers" responsibly, getting into that Uncle Ben territory of "with great power comes great responsibility." Donald, on the other hand, is impulsive, shooting off at the hip (or mouth), and never thinking of the consequences. The short serves not only as entertainment, but some semblance of an after-school special with an implied moral.
Perhaps that would explain the internet claims that the short had been edited for television. Apparently, the short sequence seen above (where Goofy holds a light bulb in one hand and plugs his other into the open socket) was shortened or deleted entirely in television prints. Such actions may have been taken in the 80's and 90's, though, when such newfound sensitivity to cartoon gags became rather ridiculous. After all, the 1957 "Disneyland" episode aptly titled "All About Magic" included the scene in its entirety. When The Sword in the Stone was released to DVD in 2001, a lengthy 37-minute excerpt of that episode was included, essentially featuring everything but the final act - a sequence from Fantasia. And the scene remained intact there as well. The Encyclopedia of Disney Shorts notes that the cartoon was featured on "Mickey's Mouse Tracks" and "Donald's Quack Attack," two early-90s Disney Channel shows that showcased classic cartoons, so that may be where the edited versions appeared.
"Magician Mickey" on its own can be found in 2001's "Walt Disney Treasures: Mickey Mouse in Living Color" and 2006's "Walt Disney's Funny Factory with Mickey, Volume One." It is also found in the aforementioned "All About Magic" episode, which is only available on the 2001 "Gold Classic Collection" edition of The Sword in the Stone. Future releases of that film (its 2008 DVD, and its upcoming 2013 Blu-Ray) only include the first act (essentially Walt performing some magical trickery and awakening the Magic Mirror) rather than the lengthier excerpt.