Saturday Matinee #91: "Mickey's Steam Roller" (June 16, 1934)
Published September 29, 2012
by Albert Gutierrez
Memory is not always comprised of what we actually remember, but what we want to remember. And sometimes, we'll fill in the gaps with what we believe to be the truth. Such a case happened this week, when I was deciding which short to view. I realized that in a few articles, I had mentioned - but not covered - a couple Donald Duck shorts that featured his nephews, Huey, Dewey, & Louie. Yet I hadn't covered any shorts featuring Mickey's nephews, Morty and Ferdy. So, off to DisneyShorts.org I went to check out their filmography. To my surprise, even though this twosome is well-known, they're only credited for one short: "Mickey's Steam Roller."
Mickey Mouse's job for the day is driving a steam roller throughout town. Meanwhile, Minnie has taken out twins Morty and Ferdy for a ride in the perambulator. They recite "Pease Porridge Hot," a seemingly innocent activity, but one which prompts the two to start hitting each other. Minnie chastises them, and they make up. Soon, the group sees Mickey, and the boys beg to ride the "choo-choo" as they call it. Mickey pulls out some rope attached to an obscenely large hook, and hooks the boys. Minnie joins in the front on the actual roller with Mickey. The group have a fun time, until Mickey decides it's a perfect opportunity to romance Minnie. He gives her candy hearts, the first saying "I Love You" and the second "Kiss Me." Mickey obeys the second, but Minnie is coy and resists his advances.
However, the pair have jumped off the steam roller during their little love fest. This leads Morty and Ferdy to take control and go for a joy ride. Mickey and Minnie give chase, even though the boys clearly are having fun. At one point, Morty or Ferdy decide to hop the steam clouds coming from the roller. Mickey tries to catch them by tossing the rope once more to the obscenely large hook. Morty or Ferdy take a poker to burn the rope down, and runs across it before it runs out of slack. Eventually, the roller ends up chasing Mickey now, with Morty and Ferdy clearly having the time of their lives. Mickey's tail nearly gets caught in the roller, and the entire thing crashes into a hotel, collapsing it immediately - save for the piping. Mickey, Morty, and Ferdy emerge from the rubble, no worse for wear. In fact, with a plank balanced on Mickey's head, the boys begin to see-saw up and down, with Mickey simply looking on and smiling.
I was at a loss for why no other shorts featured Morty and Ferdy. After all, several shorts do include the generic mice orphans: "Gulliver Mickey," "Orphans' Benefit," and "Orphans' Picnic." A singular mouse orphan appears in "Mickey Plays Papa." They have a cameo appearance in the opening shot for "Boat Builders," but wouldn't appear again until "Mickey's Christmas Carol." Like their other cartoon appearances, they're never referred to by name, so even in the 1983 short, we don't know which one played Random Cratchit Kid and which one played Tiny Tim. So why did I strongly recall two characters who've featured in far less shorts than Huey, Dewey, & Louie? I was very certain I'd seen a short in which Mickey took the boys camping.
I soon realized that I wasn't remembering a short cartoon, but an old coloring book I loved as a child. For me, coloring books could only be used once. In my mind, if you colored a page, you couldn't uncolor it. You could try recoloring, but the end-result might look pretty bad. Thus, I was always careful about when I would actually color in the pages, and would spend more time looking through them, rather than coloring them. Over the years, my mind still remembered the story of Mickey and his nephews camping, but mistook coloring book for cartoon, hence my confusion. I realize I've probably wasted your time with this Saturday Matinee, then. After all, this isn't really a look at "Mickey's Steam Roller," but at how my memory cheated me.
Still, "Mickey's Steam Roller" has great moments. The romantic Mickey is always fun to watch, especially when he daringly attempts to kiss Minnie via the candy heart. Minnie ends up forgotten mid-short, as we shift to Mickey chasing and being chased by the Steam Roller. I think it would have been a stronger short if she appeared at the end, ready to chastise the boys once more. Mickey's approving "boys will be boys" smirk at the end seems out of character today, but appropriate for Black & White Mickey. Audiences, however, likely wouldn't agree. Mickey was becoming the good guy, and so condoning such behavior would not make him a good role model.
Morty and Ferdy's behavior is amusing, but seems more at home in a Donald vs. Huey, Dewey, & Louie short. At the time, Donald was still just a supporting player, having just been created that year - 1934 - and not getting his own series for another three yeras. The triplets wouldn't appear in cartoons until a year later, although they were introduced in the comic strips in 1937. The animators probably looked at Morty and Ferdy as a one-off in the cartoons, since they ended up having a healthy career appearing in Disney's comic strips. The comics are where several other of the "junior" characters spent most of their time as well: Huey, Dewey, & Louie (junior Donald), April, May, & June (junior Daisy), Millie & Melody (junior Minnie), and Pierino & Pieretto (junior Pete).
"Mickey's Steam Roller" is available on two DVDs. It first saw release in 2004's "Mickey Mouse in Black & White, Volume Two." A year later, it was one of nine shorts included in "Vintage Mickey," a compilation of some of his popular black and white shorts.