Monday, July 22, 2013

Review of Vintage Mickey

As I was thinking of countdown activities to do with my kids, the idea came to me to have the family watch every Disney movie ever made.  then I realized 1) If you count sequels and all live action movies, it is a verrrrry long list, (more movies than watching one a day for a year).  2) Not all of the Disney movies have tie-ins in the parks.  That being the case, I decided to tweak the list to include original animated movies (no sequels) and all movies that inspired attractions found in the Disney parks.  This opened up Star Wars and Indiana Jones for viewing.  

So how to organize my list?  We own some of the movies Peter Pan, 101 Dalmatians, etc.  Some of them I know we will have to borrow from Netflix or the library.  If you are interested, I will be posting the list in a PDF format in the future so you can use it for potential countdown activities.

Walt Disney once said, "I only hope that we don't lose sight of one thing - that it was all started by a mouse."  So, following Walt's advice, I decided to start with the mouse that started it all.  I looked online to see if I could lay my hands on Steamboat Willie, the first Mickey Mouse film.  It turns out it is part of a collection of short films with Mickey Mouse starting in 1929 called, Vintage Mickey. When I was looking for an image for this post, I found that Disney has now uploaded Steamboat Willie and other original shorts to YouTube. 

This review will include our ASD point of view.  

Steamboat Willie starts out with Mickey Mouse steering a steamboat and whistling--an image I think most Disney fans are familiar with.  The cartoon progresses and we find Mickey being chased off the wheel and yelled at by a "Pete"-like character.  Mickey is apparently the hired hand.  Minnie boards the boat and has her music she is carrying eaten by a goat.  Mickey cranks the goats tail and it begins to emit music from its mouth.  I think it was "Turkey in the Straw".   Mickey Mouse then proceeds to run around and manipulate or "play" other animals to create additional music.  

My kids were appalled by Mickey's behavior.  They couldn't believe Mickey was so rude he would pull off suckling baby pigs to pull on and play music with the mother's teats.  At one point Acroboy, who loves Mickey Mouse more than anyone I know, exclaimed, "I hate Mickey!"

The next short wasn't much better.  Mickey tries to get barnyard animals to help him build an airplane.  He finally succeeds by modifying a car in a cartoonish manner and pulling off the tail feathers of a frightened turkey to create the plane's tail.  Once he has a working airplane, he takes Minnie up in the air.  He tries to get a kiss from her and when that doesn't succeed, he does some aerial acrobatics that scare Minnie into his arms.  Then he kisses her and she slaps him. She is not really having any of it and manages to leave the situation by parachuting out of the plane and using her bloomers as a parachute.  

My kids were once again outraged by Mickey's cad-like behavior.  

This is a challenging collection of cartoons for kids on the Autism spectrum to watch.  My kids don't pick up on social cues and rules naturally, and I often have to let them know the rules for acceptable and unacceptable behavior, and now we watch a movie where a beloved character is breaking all the rules I've taught them.  (Don't touch other people's things, respect other's personal space, don't touch, hug, or kiss unless you've been given permission, etc).

I had to explain to them that the cartoons were at least eighty years old (and older) and it was a very different society than the one we live in today.  I had a history teacher who once taught us to not judge the past by today's social mores.  Now I find myself trying to pass that lesson on to my children.  

My husband and I could see other reflections of early twentieth century America through the pastoral setting of most of the cartoons.    We have seem to have completed the shift from the agrarian based society to an urban emphasis.  

Towards the end of the collection, Mickey Mouse begins to act more like the lovable character we all know.  The last cartoon was of a surprise birthday party Minnie threw for Mickey.  There was piano playing and dancing and it made my kids laugh.  Acroboy decided Mickey Mouse was okay after-all.  

I'm having a hard time figuring out how to wrap this review up.   Like I told my children you can't really judge the past based upon today's societal norms.  I personally am not a fan of slapstick (though I watched my fair share of "Tom and Jerry" in the past).  The humor in these cartoons is often outdated and slapstick.  (Mickey stealing kisses was funny in 1930, but would get him hit with a sexual harassment lawsuit in 2013).  I enjoyed watching "Vintage Mickey" for the educational value of seeing what was considered funny in the late twenties and thirties of the last century, as well as comparing and contrasting the leaps we have made technologically in the film industry since the first film.  (Brave is worlds apart from Steamboat Willie).

This film was more challenging for my children to watch.  My kids didn't really know how to handle a Mickey who did not abide by the rules of what we've taught them is acceptable behavior.  (Why should Mickey be allowed to invade the personal space of others or not respect their belongings?)  They are at an age where they appreciate slapstick more than I do, so they enjoyed some of it more than more than I did. 

All in all it was a mixed experience.  I can recommend this movie for its educational purposes, but if you watch it with your kids, be prepared to explain differences in humor from different eras.

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