09 December, 2013

Review: Get A Horse directed by Lauren MacMullen

Get A Horse is brilliant. Certainly it's not immune to criticism, but the brilliance part is unquestionable. Lauren MacMullen has not only made history as the first woman to solely direct a Disney short, she's also made an important statement about Disney's past and future. This is a love letter to Walt Disney that includes his imperfections.

As a huge fan of Ub Iwerks, the oft overlooked co-creator of Mickey Mouse, I was torn between trepidation and elation when his distinctive style came on screen. Get A Horse has been criticized for it's violence, it's sexism and it's decision to speak more to the adults in the audience than the children. I say way to miss the point. Early Disney shorts were sexist, violent and often racist. To sanitize those elements out of the narrative is to further whitewash history.

By placing the sexualization of Minnie Mouse so blatantly in the center of Get A Horse MacMullen offers the viewer the opportunity to reject it. Minnie's giggling and helpless compliance in her objectification is character consistent. Highlighting Peg Leg's lack of interest in the less attractive (and therefore less valued) Clarabelle Cow shows the dynamic played out in most of the early shorts. Peg Leg Pete is not the misunderstood suitor, he is the rich date rapist. Clarabelle Cow is not a random neighbor, she is the "old maid" who refuses to be pushed out of the party. Clarabelle wants what the smaller, slender Minnie has - male admiration. Minnie's cries for help indicate her higher status. Minnie expects help to be offered and accepts danger as a cost of her privileges. Clarabelle has to elbow her way into the scene, she is only pushed forward if she can absorb a threat for Minnie.

1928's Gallopin Gaucho 
Mickey is scrubbed of the halo that Walt himself despised and returned to his more complex roots. Where modern Mickey wants to be friends, archival Mickey wants a punishing win. And a punishing win is what he has as Pete is subjected to increasingly violent retributions before being removed from Toontown completely. MacMullen deftly plays the old sight gags against modern equivalents to keep the action between now and then going. From Horace's cell phone to timeless gravity gags, Get A Horse offers enough quick cuts to keep the youngest viewer quiet. You don't need to unpack all the slapstick references to enjoy the cartoon. As a viewer well versed in early Disney and slapstick conventions I was enthralled.

Ultimately Walt's Mickey (and this is truly Walt's Mickey down to archival voicing) resumes his place in a newly colorized Toontown. He has no need to walk completely in the modern world. Having ejected Pete, Mickey and his friends plug the hole to resume their idyllic life. In the corner of the final scenes Oswald The Lucky Rabbit pops up to wave. As a cartoon short, Get A Horse was enjoyable. As a tribute to Ub and Walt, it was magical.