THE PLOWBOY (Ub Iwerks, 1929)

Except for music and sound effects, The Plowboy is a Walt Disney Mickey Mouse silent. Mickey is a farmer in this one. There are two major aspects to the film: Mickey’s innocent joy in his labor as he plows the earth and whistles while he works; the obscene gestures and physical cruelty that invade and take over Mickey’s world, including Mickey’s own behavior, once this joy is tampered with. The latter involves the distraction and disruption that Minnie Mouse intrudes upon the harmonious scene.
     Animals fall in line behind Mickey as he plows at the beginning of the cartoon; our eyes become used to the backward motion of the background, the landscape, as an indication of the forward motion of Horace, the plow horse, Mickey and the animals following Mickey. Enter Minnie, introducing a different tune (“Comin’ Through the Rye”) and carrying an empty bucket as she moves in the same direction as the others; but at some point she stops, bringing the visual field to an abrupt halt. Clarabelle the Cow turns around and proceeds in the opposite direction to be milked, but the landscape, set back in motion, keeps moving in a backward direction—a “goof,” the IMDb assures us, but I think not, for this disruption of our perceptual assumption perfectly extends Minnie’s disruption—the tease that parts Mickey from his plow. Mickey, to curry favor that Minnie already imperiously expects (she has kicked the bucket to the appropriate place so that Mickey can start right in), heads back.
     Mickey wants to kiss Minnie, but Clarabelle sweetly licks Mickey’s face, enraging him; in an u[dd]erly cruel retaliatory move, Mickey turns Clarabelle’s milk hose against her before tying shut her snout with her tongue. Mickey’s anger, of course, is meant for Minnie, who makes him work for the kiss he wants—work (unlike the plowing) that he was freely doing. The kiss comes; but exhausted by his anger, he plants a kiss that’s long on suction and short on sweetness. Minnie makes her displeasure known by turning away, brandishing her bare ass at him in contumelious disgust and abandoning him to the audible derision of, first, Clarabelle and then Horace. More cruelty follows; Mickey “corrects” the breakage of his plow by substituting a pig. Minnie’s sexual invasion has dislocated Mickey’s world.
     Only six minutes long, but Wagnerian.

B(U)Y THE BOOK

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