Thursday, January 19, 2006

Donald & Pluto (1936)

Donald and Pluto (A Walt Disney Mickey Mouse short, 1936)
Dir: Ben Sharpsteen
Cel Bloc Rating: 7/9

An old friend of mine gave me a magnet for Christmas once. 

OK, it wasn't actually a magnet in the way that most people think of a magnet: mostly red with grey or black tips, bent into a semi-horseshoe shape. Some thin, some huge, largely fascinating to both adults and kids (though not fascinating enough to keep you from playing with your G.I Joes for more than fifteen minutes).

No, what this very wise dude gave me for the holiday season is what is known as a degausser: a bulk audio and videotape eraser, which works on magnetic principles to completely wipe out whatever flotsam and jetsam you had recorded on a tape, and wipes it out for good. GOOD. GOOOOOOOOOOOD. I mean forever. Gone. Nothing left. Zero. 

I'm still not sure whether this was a gag gift or not. I only had videotapes piled up in every room of the house (including the bathroom, so much was space a premium at the ol' Ink 'N Paint Club, the name of my longtime apartment in Anchorage, Alaska), and recorded new movies and shows constantly. Thus, he probably thought this was a terrific idea as I was constantly purchasing new blank tapes, and since he worked for a video production company, he also probably got it at a premium. This would be a wise thing to do, and points up the reason why I truly discard the gag gift theory, for he gave several of these degaussers out to people. There could have been some other message hidden behind his Christmas gift. Either he felt that the movie collections of all of his friends were completely worthless — especially mine, since it was the largest collection by nearly any means of accounting. Or else he was just being the grand, generous, wise dude that he generally happened to be.

Someone gives Donald Duck a real magnet in Donald and Pluto, a Walt Disney short from 1936, and if all magnets reacted so strongly to metal objects the way this one does, the governments of the world would have to outlaw their use immediately. The credits say this is a Mickey Mouse cartoon, but the title says Donald and Pluto. And though the title says Donald and Pluto, it should really read Pluto (with just a smidgen of Donald), as the irascible duck only appears in about 2-1/2 of its 8+ minutes of running time. The bulk (and not bulk eraser) of the time is spent with our old pal Pluto, whom I assume still belongs to Mickey Mouse (though he is nowhere to be seen at all), as Donald is working underneath the house in the picture as a hired plumber. (His bag reads "Donald Duck, Plumber," so it must be the truth.)

Donald uses an enormous, two-axe handle (my buddy Duke's term for "extremely wide") version of a magnet to pick up his wayward tools as he needs them to plumb. It so happens that he requires a hammer to fit a plug in a pipe, and uses the magnet to gain said hammer without needing to get down from where he is. He places the magnet on one of the pipes and carries on with his work. Unfortunately, the hammer is not enough, the broken pipe rebels by spitting out the plug, and Donald gets doused heavily with water. He throws one of his trademark hissy fits, but just gets doused with water again. Believing he needs something larger to do the job of keeping the plug in place, Donald seeks out his sledgehammer instead.

This search draws our attention to poor Pluto, who is not only trying to enjoy a bone in his metal dinner dish (see it coming?), but is also standing over the top of Donald’s sledgehammer. Using his super-magnet, Donald draws the sledgehammer out rudely from underneath Pluto's bottom, and gets on with his work, placing the magnet back on the pipe just above Pluto's head. But his constant hammering causes the magnet to gradually hop down the length of the pipe and off of it, attach itself to Pluto’s metal dog dish, and then chaos ensues…

What follows is a variety of gags involving:

a) Pluto swallowing the enormous magnet; 
b) Pluto getting the metal dinner dish stuck to his butt because he has swallowed an enormous magnet; and…
c) every metal object in the house (pots, pans, clocks, tools, knives, forks, nails, what have you...) becoming an object of terror for the magnet-laden pup.

Eventually, he runs afoul of Donald, ruining his pipework and putting Donald through the wringer (literally, when he ends up trapped in a old-style washing machine), and causes the enraged fowl to chase him through the house, wrench in hand. With Pluto hiding on the roof, the magnet eventually attracts Donald's wrench, and the furious duck gets stuck to the ceiling. You'd think that everything that follows would be avoided if Donald would just let go of the wrench and drop to the floor below, but there is a very humorous gag where Donald is so determined to get his wrench back, that when he lets go it momentarily, he steps back to get a good tug at it, never realizing that he is standing upside-down on the ceiling.

I don't need to say anything specific about the ending; you know where it is going to end up, mostly likely with a happy slobbering dog and a frustrated, mumbling duck. Donald is allowed to be exasperated for eternity, while characters like Pluto are usually left to be happy, unless they have been purposefully causing problems for another creature. Hopefully, Donald can chalk this up to a lesson learned in the dos and don'ts of proper magnet use. 

It's a pleasant mid-'30s Disney romp, full of the already expected excellence in animation, while not really pushing any ground, and merely content to be a solid entry in the series. I especially enjoy the section where Pluto is tortured by an alarm clock, drawn without mercy by the magnet and animated to seem strangely alive due to is its internal ticking, that jangles and jingles with every step towards poor Pluto's rear, thereby filling the dog with fear. Pluto's expressions as he slowly figures out his predicament and the stalking of the clock make it a very enjoyable segment of the film. Also fun is the kitchen drawer's worth of sharpened implements that follow Pluto for a short while, and change direction every time that he does.

As for the degausser, did I ever use it? No, I was afraid to even keep it in my apartment, relegating the thing to the nether reaches of my storage area, surrounding the thing with a wall of paperback book-filled milk cartons. Much like Lex Luthor lead-shielding kryptonite from the prying eyes of that pesky Superman, I was determined to keep the degausser as far from my video collection as possible. But I couldn't part with the thing of evil because it was a Christmas present; until I left Alaska, that is, and then all bets were off. The degausser was disappeared (I honestly don’t remember who got it or if I tossed it), and my video collection escaped unharmed.

Now, what would have happened if I had swallowed that thing? Hmmm...



And in case you haven't seen it...

[This article was revised and updated with new photos on 1/6/2015. And I still don't remember to whom I passed on the degausser. It seems something erased that portion of my memory.]

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