Happy Cars Week, everyone! We bring Cars Week to an end with a cartoon that's quite recent (2001) but rather hard to find. "Wait, recent? So it's not Susie the Little Blue Coupe?" you ask. After all, for Cars Week, you'd assume I'd go for the 1952 short cartoon that deals directly with cars and was the inspiration for the visual style of Pixar's Cars. I had every intention of covering that short cartoon, but when I was watching it on YouTube (it's in public domain, I'm allowed!), I stumbled upon something else: "Max's New Car." It's an episode of "House of Mouse" that I hadn't seen in ages, and it became the perfect choice for this week. It incorporates not only Susie, but we also see an animated Herbie the Love Bug, and appearances from various other Disney vehicles!
Like all "House of Mouse" episodes, there is a framing story for the overall episode, and mini stories that occur in the short cartoons (from "Mickey Mouse Works") featured. The framing story involves Max, the valet parker for House of Mouse, who wants a car, but Goofy thinks he's not responsible enough. We then go to the first cartoon: "Mickey's New Car," which stars Mickey and Minnie, and involves Mickey trading in his slow and rundown car for a sleek new one that gives him nothing but trouble. When the cartoon concludes at the House, we see that the next car Max has to park is the new car from the cartoon. As expected, it takes control, taking Max for a joyride before crashing into the House and scaring away the musical act: Thomas O'Malley and the Alley Cats. Goofy sees the crashed car and proclaims, "This is not how you prove you're responsible!"
Mickey returns to the stage in order to introduce the next cartoon, "Car Washers." Mickey, Donald, and Goofy are professional car washers who must clean Pete's car before he gets back from lunch. When the cartoon ends, Max is still apologizing profusely to Minnie. He asks if there's anything he can do to make up for it. She suggests that he go on stage in place of Thomas O'Malley and the Alley Cats. Max agrees, and decides to introduce some clips from "Motor Mania," showing how dad Goofy drove in 1950. It's not a pretty sight, as there's road rage, rat races, cut-offs, and car crashes. Goofy is slightly embarrassed, and eventually relents. However, rather than get Max a car, Goofy gives him something better: a parking space!
Among the cars featured in this episode:
Susie the Little Blue Coupe
- Herbie the Love Bug
- TRON Light Cycles
- Autopia Racecar
- Cinderella's Pumpkin Coach ("A car you can make into a pie!" Max says)
- Mr. Toad's Motor Car
- Mickey's Car (tricked out with a jet rocket)
- Benny the Cab
The two shorts featured in the episode feel completely natural for Mickey and the gang. There's a lot of great gags - especially in "Mickey's New Car" - that would be right at home in a 1930s cartoon. However, I feel that the short is sometimes superior to the gag-heavy ones of the past, mainly because it does more to establish Mickey as a well-reasoned person. It's especially apparent when Mickey brings the car to a gas station, where he has a one-way conversation with Burt, a silent ape who sits back whilst Mickey tries to justify getting a new car. The "talk to someone else, when really talking to yourself" concept is a sitcom staple, but using it here creates both humor (because Burt says nothing) and advances the story (because Mickey tries convincing himself he made the right decision).
The next cartoon, "Car Washers," doesn't exactly strive for any story development, it's all gags from beginning to end. I've always loved that about the "Mickey, Donald, Goofy" shorts, they get played strictly for humor - in both the classic cartoons and their "Mickey Mouse Works" incarnations. We get some familiar gags, such as "Donald as a telephone." It was used earlier in "Thru the Mirror," but granted, that was an actual phone being a phone, so there could be some leeway there. In addition, the establishing shot of the trio at the office feels very reminiscent of their establishing shot as Ajax Ghost Exterminators in "Lonesome Ghosts." Also, Mickey's "Car washers, we wash cars!" opening line also is a clever nod towards other "Mickey Mouse Works" cartoons which included similar lines: "Organ donors, we donate organs!", "Sandwich makers, we make sandwiches!", etc.
"House of Mouse" has always been one of my favorite treatments of Mickey and the Gang, because it turned them into working professionals in a rather meta-fictional way. Seeing various other Disney characters as patrons of the House also help establish the "Disney Universe" as a real and working environment. You can imagine House of Mouse being a local watering hole and nightly entertainment venue a few blocks away from Disney Studios, where our beloved characters sit back and relax when they're not making movies or doing meet'n'greets. The characters also occasionally make reference to the fact that they are Disney performers. I recall one episode where Daisy wants to put on a nighttime spectacular called "Fantasduck!", a clear riff on Fantasmic. Another involved Clarabelle's announcement that she had juicy gossip, and we see various characters confessing things, like Chernabog being afraid of the dark and Mickey starching his ears so they're always round.
I always hoped the series would have lasted longer - there are only 52 episodes - however, it's understandable why it didn't. The licensing costs - even if it's characters the company itself already owns - must have been high since the House audience was always made up of various characters from animated films. It's no wonder that much of its cartoons were simply re-purposed from the recent and cheaper "Mickey Mouse Works" (1999-2000), rather than making regular use of the classic 1920s-1960s shorts (although a few do show up). At the same time, there is definitely a feeling of missed opportunity in the short-lived series. With so many characters in the company's history - and many more emerging with each new film - the folks behind "House of Mouse" could easily still be making new episodes today, they would never run out of material.
Unfortunately, the majority of "House of Mouse" is not on DVD (save for the first episode and the two direct-to-video movies), and so I can't exactly tell you where you can buy this particular episode. I had to settle for watching it online, although I'd greatly prefer if "House of Mouse" were legally available on DVD. In order to provide you with opportunities to watch some cars-related cartoons after you're done reading this article, here's a list of some cars-related cartoons, and where to find them on DVD and/or Blu-Ray:
"Motor Mania" (1950)
- Walt Disney Treasures: The Complete Goofy - DVD
"Lucky Number" (1951)
- Walt Disney's Funny Factory with Huey, Dewey & Louie, Volume Four - DVD
- Walt Disney Treasures: The Chronological Donald, Volume Four - DVD
"Susie the Little Blue Coupe" (1952)
- The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad: Gold Collection - DVD
- The Love Bug: Special Edition - DVD
- It's A Small World of Fun!: Volume Two - DVD
"Mike's New Car" (2002)
- Monsters, Inc.: Collector's Edition - DVD & Blu-Ray
- Pixar Short Films Collection, Volume One - DVD & Blu-Ray
"Cars Toons" (2008-2010)
- Mater's Tall Tales: DVD & Blu-Ray
This week's Saturday Matinee has been brought to you by...
"Supercalifragilisticexpial-Insurance! Teenage driver in the house? Too many speeding tickets? Reckless driving convictions? We cover anyone whose driving is really quite atrocious! ... Atrocious drivers will pay extra."