Disney Cartoons That Aren't Disney

by Wade Sampson, staff writer

Disney Cartoons That Aren't Disney

While I love spending my time sharing obscure Disney history, I actually spend just as much time trying to debunk Disney myths. There are certainly a lot of them out there either because the true story isn't known or because a false story sounds so reasonable and good that it gets passed along from Web site to cast member to book to whatever.

I keep remembering that classic line from the film, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance: "When the legend becomes fact, print the legend." Basically, a story can be told so often and over a span of so many years that it becomes fact.

Over the years, people have sincerely claimed that the Disney Company produced the following films. Like any urban myth, they didn't have first-hand information but had heard it was true from a friend of a cousin of a third aunt twice removed who knew someone who did something at the Disney Studios.

As you might guess from the title of this column, these films were not produced by Disney, but two of them are interesting oddities for the Disney fan and one of them is a true treasure that belongs in any Disney fan's collection.

In June 1972, the American Film Institute hosted a presentation in Washington D.C. devoted to "50 Years of American Animation." There were eight different programs including "Anatomy of Humor," "Sex and Violence and General Bad Taste" (the most popular show), "Persuasion and Politics" and one titled "Dots, Lines, Curves and Angles" examining the different styles of animation from rounded shapes to the more angular experiments of UPA.

Three Disney cartoons were shown in this presentation and after showing the short "Melody" and right before intermission, it was announced that a special cartoon entitled "Uncle Walt" would be shown.

Supposedly the film was done by Disney animators in 1954 and not meant for general release, but the Disney Studios was allowing it to be shown if it was not listed in the official program nor advertised.

As the film began, pictures of Walt Disney at various ages were followed by a pan across a graveyard showing the graves of hundreds of Perris (Disney produced in 1957 a live action fantasy about the life of squirrels titled "Perri"), then there are scenes with very early-style Mickey and Minnie Mouse with racial caricatures and outhouse gags, a Fantasia sequence including the female centaurettes working a red light district with Goofy as a pimp, a scene of frightened little rabbit children looking at scenes from Disney cartoons like the transformation of the queen into the old hag in Snow White, and a scene of the Seven Dwarfs gathering to worship Mickey Mouse in a "Mouse-ka-mausoleum" reminiscent of a similar scene in Snow White.

Sounds like one of the many infamous and legendary gag reels put together by tired or disgruntled Disney animators that people have claimed to see at private screenings?

However, the truth behind this mystery is that the film, "Uncle Walt," was not made at Disney but was an independent film made in 1964 (not 1954) by Bob Swarthe who started working on the film while he was in high school and was part of the UCLA Animation Workshop. Swarthe went on to greater success as a professional animator, even being nominated for an Academy Award for his work on Star Trek – The Motion Picture.

I haven't seen a mention of this film in recent years nor do I know anywhere where someone might be able to see a copy.

"Mickey Mouse in Vietnam" is a 16mm underground short political cartoon that lasts a little over a minute. The director was Lee Savage. It features Mickey Mouse being shipped to Vietnam during the war and shot dead moments after arriving. It was produced independently sometime between 1968 and 1970. Most people claim to have seen it for the first time around 1970.

Shot in black and white, the actual title is "Short Subject." A classic smiling black and white Mickey Mouse (without a tail) walks happily on from the left side of the screen. He stops to read a huge billboard that says: "Join the Army and See the World." He walks off the right of the screen and then walks back on wearing a helmet and carrying a rifle with a bayonet. He gets on a ship that is so small that he is the only passenger.

On the bow of the ship, it says "To Vietnam." The ship goes from the United States to Vietnam where there are signs that say "Vietnam. War Zone." A few moments after disembarking, while walking through the jungle foliage, Mickey is shot in the head. He falls to the ground. The smile from his face fades as blood oozes from the bullet hole above his left eye. The camera pulls back and that is the end of the film.

If this was supposed to be a political protest film against the war, it certainly isn't very clear. Is Mickey supposed to represent America or perhaps with his constant smiling, the loss of American innocence? After all, the sign said "Join the Army and See the World" and not "Join the Army and Kill the Enemy." Was Mickey duped into joining the army for free travel opportunities because there is no indication he is doing it out of patriotism. He certainly didn't do anything when he landed in Vietnam to cause anyone to shoot him.

Anyway, for me, the message is confusing but I suspect it was created just for the shock value of Mickey Mouse going to Vietnam.

One of my favorite Mickey Mouse cartoons that still stirs deep emotions in me every time I see it was not even an American cartoon.

In 1988, Mickey Mouse's 60th birthday, the icon of the Disney Company made his first official visit to the Soviet Union as part of a Soviet-sponsored Disney animation festival. Two weeks worth of film coverage of the event was edited and aired on the Disney Channel January 24, 1989 in a special titled "Mickey Goes to Moscow."

"This festival came about originally because the Soviets came to us and asked if we would be interested in bringing some of our films here. It's the beginning of a new era. It's much bigger than just Disney and Mickey Mouse coming to the Soviet Union. It's two countries coming closer together and it's very exciting. Everyone loves Mickey here and this trip gave me a sense of history was happening right before my eyes," said Roy E. Disney, a strong champion for Disney animation who visited the Soviet Union as part of the festival.

The Disney animation festival was sponsored by a Soviet commission on cinematography and was kicked off with a gala premiere in Moscow. It was the first time Disney films, except for Snow White, had officially and legally been viewed in the USSR. Tickets were sold out weeks in advance but Disney insisted that children from local orphanages be invited for free to the screenings in Moscow, Leningrad and Tallinn.

Besides some of the classic shorts with Mickey and Donald Duck, audiences had a chance to see Snow White, Bambi, 101 Dalmatians and Fantasia. Soviet audiences were familiar with the Disney characters but dialog in English was still a challenge. So, Soviet actors were hired to simultaneously read translated scripts during the screening after being coached on the characters and the voice inflections.

A costumed Mickey Mouse joined a costumed Misha the Bear, the mascot for the 1980 Moscow Olympics, for a tour of Red Square. Interesting, the Russian children kept a discreet distance from Mickey and just politely waved. However, they swarmed around Misha with much laughter.

Roy E. Disney and other Disney executives visited the famed animation studio, Soyuzmultfilm Studios.

"Though some of their technology is primitive, their creativity makes up for it and their work is really good," said Roy E. Disney.

A special cartoon was presented to Roy titled "The Marathon."

"It was an absolutely beautiful tribute to Mickey. We were all choked up. My wife was in tears," said Roy E. Disney.

A little over two minutes in length, the cartoon shows a young boy in black silhouette going to a line that divides the screen image in half. It is like a mirror with the young boy on one side and the classic black and white Mickey Mouse in black silhouette on the other side.

At the top of the screen is the number 1928, the year Mickey debuted. The number clicks to a zero and starts clicking upwards to the number 60. During this time, the young boy ages into a young man and finally an old, overweight man.

During the short, Mickey and the other character have fun dancing and playing until the ravages of age slows down the old man. Mickey whistles to call over a chair for the man to sit on. Another young boy runs up to the man and is directed back to the line where the number clicks back to zero and the assumption is that the same adventure will be repeated again with this new boy and an ageless Mickey.

The director Misha Tumelya and animators Sasha Dorogov and Alexandr Petrov presented this short to Roy as a tribute for the 60th anniversary of Mickey.

"Really, quite literally, we all wound up hugging each other with tears coming down our faces ... it was one of the more emotional moments that I can remember in my life," remembered Roy E. Disney.

Having seen this short several times, I can confirm that Roy is not exaggerating in the least.

Is the aging man in silhouette Walt himself? Actually, it is supposedly the director.

Later Petrov did an animated film titled "The Old Man and the Sea" and Sasha Dorogov worked at Disney Feature Animation in Florida.

The short was co-directed by Mikhail Tumelya and Alexander Petrov and was written by Tumelya, who animated on the short, as well. The very catching music was by A. Varlahov Lilivokalany.; D. Murkis, B. Bresler, Sasha Zuzkevich and Polene Tumelya were used as dancer reference.

It was produced by I. Boyarsky and A. Zalessky at The School for Advanced Studies for Screen Writers and Directors Beyelorusfilm, with Soyuzmultfilm Studios in Moscow.

You can view a copy of the short on YouTube.