It's a real treat whenever a movie is preceded by a short cartoon, especially a cartoon with a beloved character we haven’t seen for awhile.
Young people may find it hard to believe, but back in the olden days of moviegoing, seeing a cartoon was a given — part of an evening-long event that included two feature films, a comedy or musical short, sometimes a travelogue or newsreel, and dancing hot dogs and popcorn boxes musically urging the audience to make a trip to the lobby for goodies.
Of course, there was also a downside. My parents grew up in an era when people could arrive at the theater and wander into the auditorium with no concern about what was on or when it began. People might come in after a film had been on for an hour, then sit through the entire program and watch the beginning of the film to see what they missed. To me that was like opening a book in the middle, finishing it, then starting at the front to catch up. Who does that? (As a child, I drove my parents crazy by insisting we arrive before the film began.)
Anyway, these days it’s more of a rarity to get anything besides the movie itself and an array of obnoxious commercials and trailers.
So last week my wife and I went to “Frozen,” the Disney animated feature that has scored big at the box office — knocking off the “Hunger Games” sequel last weekend to take the No. 1 spot. Which, of course, means Disney’s line of toy dolls has a new princess. Maybe two.
But the real treat when you go see “Frozen” is the Mickey Mouse cartoon that precedes it. Don’t go late; you might miss it.
“Get a Horse!” is a new cartoon short that begins as if it’s one of Disney’s earliest, something that came out around the time of Mickey’s debut in 1928's “Steamboat Willie” — or “Plane Crazy,” if you’re a silent-film purist.
There was a formula to those early cartoons: black and white. Mickey is a happy-go-lucky little guy surrounded by offbeat characters. There’s lots of music, often using inanimate objects or some part of an animal as an instrument. Minnie is his girl, rebuffing Mickey’s advances only to embrace him by the fadeout. The giant cat Pete — aka “Peg-Leg Pete” or “Black Pete” (depending on whether he has the peg-leg) — is the villain, often trying to abduct Minnie. And Horace Horsecollar and Clarabelle Cow are frequent co-stars.
And the action is fast and furious, with gags flying by so quickly it’s impossible to take them all in during one sitting.
All of these elements show up in “Get a Horse!” But then, about halfway through, Mickey is pushed through the screen and into the audience — a la Buster Keaton’s “Sherlock Jr.” or Woody Allen’s “The Purple Rose of Cairo.”
At this point, Mickey is in color with those familiar red shorts, and he has a three-dimensional, computer-animated appearance. But the others are still on the other side of the screen, in black and white. Then they all go back and forth between worlds — and centuries — as the movie-theater screen itself is used to pummel Pete. There are even some funny gags about modern technology thrown into the mix.
There’s an awful lot packed into the seven-minute “Get a Horse!" Maybe more jokes than are contained in the entire 102-minute “Frozen.”
It will be interesting to see if there’s any negative reaction to the mildly vulgar gags, such as Mickey losing his pants or Clarabelle using her udder as if it’s a bagpipe. But these are also in keeping with Disney’s early Mickey cartoons in the 1920s and ’30s, where you would see a pig’s teats providing music or Minnie’s bloomers acting as a parachute.
Or the violence, which is also in keeping with the earliest Mickey cartoons but nothing like the later, more passive incarnations, in which Mickey was softened a bit, along with the physical comedy — unlike, say, the more violent “Tom and Jerry” and “Looney Tunes” cartoons.
“Get a Horse!” is really a remarkable achievement, both artistically and commercially, seamlessly blending hand-drawn and computer animation — and I’m surprised it hasn’t been publicized as a companion piece to “Frozen.”
This is the first theatrical Mickey Mouse cartoon since “Runaway Brain,” which accompanied the 1995 Disney comedy “A Kid in King Arthur’s Court.”
And while we’re in trivia mode, there are a couple more interesting things about “Get a Horse!”
It’s the first piece of Disney animation completely directed by a woman, Lauren MacMullan, who started in TV (“King of the Hill,” “The Simpsons”) and worked on Disney’s “Wreck-It Ralph.”
And the voice of Mickey Mouse is provided by Walt Disney himself, gleaned in bits and pieces from voice work he performed in early cartoons.
Chris Hicks is the author of "Has Hollywood Lost Its Mind? A Parent’s Guide to Movie Ratings." His website is www.hicksflicks.com