MICKEY’S GOOD DEED (Burt Gillett, 1932)

A great American film of the Great Depression, producer Walt Disney’s Mickey’s Good Deed is both heartrending and sharply satirical. Mickey Mouse and faithful dog Pluto are homeless at Christmastime; while Pluto pathetically moans on cue, Mickey plays “O Come O Ye Faithful” on his bass fiddle as seasonally compassionate passers-by drop coins into his cup. At last Mickey and Pluto can have something to eat; but as they approach a restaurant, Mickey discovers that only nuts and bolts have been deposited into his cup—a ruse that allowed people to “give” without sacrifice. They merely played at having the Christmas spirit, and meanwhile Mickey and Pluto may starve to death.
     By contrast, Mickey makes a real sacrifice, selling Pluto to a family of rich pigs (perfect!), hoping that Pluto at least will be well taken care of. (Pluto instead is abused by the spoiled little pig who had wanted him—and part of the abuse is sexually sadistic. Pluto is summarily kicked back out into the snow.) Mickey uses the money to play Santa, bringing toys to an immense family of kittens whose mother Mickey earlier glimpsed, through the window of her shack, crying at kitchen table. In an incredible image, Santa/Mickey, leaving, peers again through the window; the simulated long-shot shows the innumerable kittens each at play with a toy. The intricacy of activity suggests Heironymus Bosch.
     Mickey has money left over to eat outdoors, his companion a snow figure of Pluto; but the real Pluto replaces the fake, filling the hole in Mickey’s heart.
     In its fantastical and simplified way, Mickey’s Good Deed recalls Chaplin’s City Lights (1931)—and suggests on what shaky footing even the closest of relationships can find itself under economic duress and the convenient rationalization of charity.

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