Here we are again in October, so I’m giving this column over to horror-themed cartoons. As you might expect, horror cartoons, at least from the studio era, tend to undercut the horror with comedy and end up being pretty innocuous overall. Still, there are some that have a surprisingly high creep factor, and today’s short is one of those – and even more surprisingly, it’s from Walt Disney, known even back in the ’30s for being more cute and cuddly than many of the other animation houses. That said, when Walt wanted to scare, he certainly knew how to do it – check out the witch transformation scene in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. But that’s getting off-track.
The Mad Doctor (1933) finds Pluto being abducted by the titular Mad Doctor, who wants to experiment by placing Pluto’s head on a chicken’s body. Mickey runs after him to save him, but is blocked at every turn by skeletons, bats, and eventually his own life-threatening situation. Despite the inevitable happy resolution, the cartoon actually packs in a lot of genuinely creepy visuals, many of them NOT undercut by comedy. The film was actually deemed so scary in 1933 that some theatres refused to show it to their young patrons. It shares some gags with an earlier Mickey Mouse cartoon, 1929’s The Haunted House, but The Mad Doctor takes advantage of better sound technology to back up its visuals for an overall more satisfying experience. The Mad Doctor himself doesn’t appear in any other cartoons (except a brief cameo in a much, much later Roger Rabbit short), but has become a major villain in the Disney video games Mickey Mania, Epic Mickey, and Epic Mickey 2.