"Plane Crazy"
Directed By Walt Disney


Synopsis

.....In a barnyard, all of the animals are helping to build an airplane. Supervising the affair is an intrepid little mouse named Mickey, who is inspired by a book, titled How to Fly.

Mickey sets the book down and flips through the pages, settling on an image of none other than Charles Lindbergh. Emulating the image of the great aviator, Mickey musses up his hair and salutes the image of "Lindy" before boarding his homemade craft.
.....The dog that served as Mickey's steps climbs inside the craft, and it clamps onto the propeller as a pig twists it vigorously.

The pig lets go, and the plane twists and turns around, but never takes off. Instead, the plane crashes, crushing Mickey's hopes.

Frustrated, Mickey paces until he faces his car, and then an idea hits him!

.....Newly emboldened, Mickey wheels out the car and makes alterations to the vehicle. He pulls out both sides of the engine cover, raises the front wheels, extends the crank (on which he places the propeller from his wrecked plane), kicks out the rear wheels, and pulls out the back end of the car, creating his new plane.

All that he lacks is a tail fin. Almost on cue, a turkey walks by, and Mickey yanks off its tail feathers, embarrassing the turkey and giving Mickey his tail fin.
.....As Mickey tries out his makeshift tail fin, a female mouse prances by with a lucky horseshoe in her hands. The mouse, Minnie, catches Mickey's eye as she gives him the horeshoe. Mickey kisses the object, and invites Minnie to join him in the sky.

Minnie happily accepts, and Mickey pulls her into the rear seat of his plane. Mickey's canine friend wraps himself around the new plane's propeller, and starts the vehicle's engine, allowing the plane to take off.

.....The plane begins to go airborne, but it hits a rock, ejecting Mickey as a result. The pilotless plane weaves around the ground, and Mickey soon finds himself in its path. He desperately tries to pry open an outhouse door, but the plane catches up to Mickey he can make any headway. Instead, Mickey dives into a well as the outhouse's occupant, a rotund young cat, ducks his head out of the outhouse and ends up getting chased by the plane until he wisely retreats back to the outhouse.

.....After the plane passes by, Mickey follows it in an attempt to get back on and regain control. Before Mickey can do anything, the plane gets in the path of a cow, which ends up hanging onto the tail end of the plane. Mickey makes two attempts to grab onto the cow, but only gets sprayed with the cow's milk both times when he grabs hold of its rudders. Then, Mickey yanks on the cow's tail, dislodging the farm animal from the plane. The cow continues running, and Mickey tries to reach for the plane. Unsuccessful, Mickey pushes in the cow's tail, which extends the cow's neck, allowing Mickey to re-board his makeshift plane.
.....Mickey re-takes the wheel as Minnie falls into complete hysterics.

She grabs onto Mickey's head, causing Mickey to dislodge his steering wheel. Once Mickey regains his composure, he jumps in surprise as he sees a car headed right for them. Mickey dodges it, careening along the road until he almost crashes into another car.
.....After avoiding the second car, Mickey and Minnie find themselves in the air, flying around wildly as Mickey tries to gain control of the plane. While Minnie hangs on by the thread of Mickey's pants, the plane heads for a church tower, which contracts just in time for the plane to safely fly by. Now in complete control, Mickey takes the opportunity to begin wooing Minnie. At first, she accepts his affection, but Minnie gets upset as soon as Mickey puts his arm around her.

Minnie gently scolds him, but Mickey continues to press his luck as he asks Minnie to kiss him.

Minnie refuses, and, out of spite, Mickey speeds up the plane and throws Minnie from the plane with his aerial acrobatics, catching her before she can fall far.
.....Now scared out of her wits, Minnie again refuses to kiss Mickey. Mickey forces himself on Minnie, who slaps him and walks right off the plane, using her panties as a parachute.

Mickey, who has followed Minnie off the plane (but hasn't yet begun to fall), realizes his gravity-defying position and barely manages to get back to the plane before plummeting to the ground. Instead, he and the plane take a nose dive right into a tree, and Mickey ends up on the ground again after banging his head and crotch multiple times on the branches of the tree.
.....The horseshoe bounces off Mickey's head as it hits the ground, and Minnie safely floats to the ground. Mickey laughs at Minnie, whose panties are now huge, and Minnie snaps her fingers at him as she leaves in a huff. Mickey glares at the horseshoe with disgust and throws it away, only to have it boomerang around the farmyard, knocking him down as it connects with his neck.

Commentary

.....While not as recognizable to the general public as "Steamboat Willie", "Plane Crazy" still receives recognition for its status in animation history as the first produced Mickey Mouse short. However, the Mickey of "Plane Crazy" is significantly different from the character he has become. Besides the obvious lack of the clod-hopper shoes and his trademark gloves, Mickey is a bit of a cad, especially to Minnie, who he basically terrorizes when the two get airborne near the end of the short.
.....Another major difference is the sound design. The sound for this cartoon (as well as that for "The Gallopin' Gaucho") was recorded after the success of "Steamboat Willie", well over six months after "Plane Crazy" had been completed. The only known performance of "Plane Crazy" as it was originally intended occurred on May 15, 1928-a test screening, which was held in a failed attempt to get buyers for the short.
.....While there is an air of being tacked-on, the music and effects show off a surprising level of sophistication. Carl Stalling's score, much like the ones he would become famous for at Warner Bros., borrows heavily from the music of various recognizable sources and weaves them with original elements into a coherent whole. The first moments of the short incorporates the start of "Reuben and Rachel", and after Mickey flips the pages of his book, "Yankee Doodle" plays, which finally segues into "Hail to the Chief".
.....Charles Lindbergh's image, contrary to the popular cartoon convention, is in no way a caricature or a jab at him.

Dubbed as "Ace Of Aces" and identified simply as "Lindy" (although likely for reasons of brevity and legibility), Lindbergh is made out to be the hero of the scrappy and exceedingly youthful Mickey. So much so, in fact, that the first true gag of the short is of Mickey mussing his hair to match the look of his idol.

.....This bit is actually pretty appropriate, seeing as how Mickey's final personality isn't that far different from Lindbergh's, as they are both a bit shy, and no one ever accuse either the man or the mouse of lacking in determination or likability. Additionally, Lindy's companion on The Spirit of St. Louis was a stuffed animal version of Otto Messmer's Felix the Cat, who was, without a doubt, the greatest animated star of the silent era (and it could have been longer if not for Pat Sullivan's bungling). It's also a major sign of how young Mickey is, since hero worship is generally a trait attributed to children.
.....The sound effect of Mickey walking on the dachshund to board his plane is, for all intents and purposes, the first use of one of Carl Stalling's most famous musical clichés-having a cartoon character's footsteps sounded out by an instrument. Disney, of course, keys in on one of the great comedic truths: dachshunds are really funny dogs. Mickey's "flight" (if you can really call it that) is a spectacle of "rubber hose" animation, as the plane twists and turns all over the place is ways that are physically impossible.

As if the images weren't silly enough, the sound effect used to simulate the flight is pure gold (and the device used to create said sound effect would come to great use at many a cartoon studio over the next 75+ years).
.....There's a great display of emotion after the crash, as Mickey goes from being dazed, to shocked, to sad, and then angry in a matter of seconds.

The sympathy card is played excellently here, as Mickey's reaction is both realistic and touching. For a brief moment, Mickey even channels the mighty Felix as he begins to pace around-one of the trademarks of the classic Felix.

However, the expressions used as Mickey gets the idea to use his car as a plane are distinctly his.
.....The construction of the plane is more of the cartoonish rubber hose style of animation, wherein anything can be warped or changed if it fits the story (and provides some laughs). The tail fin is humourously provided by a turkey, who walks by just when Mickey needs it to.

The turkey's embarrassed reaction is really funny, especially since it's a bending of the fourth wall as it looks right into the camera as its face flashes in embarrassment.

.....Minnie's entrance also heralds the use of what would be Carl Stalling's theme for Minnie in the early days-a jaunty little tune that would appear in a number of the '28 and '29 shorts. Minnie also utters the only line of dialogue here, but it's not Marcellite Garner (the original, and perhaps still most recognized voice of Minnie Mouse). Instead, it's Walt Disney himself, in the falsetto voice that he would eventually use for Mickey. There's no doubt, though, that Minnie is meant to be Mickey's love interest, a thread that would only grow stronger as Mickey became more polished over the years.
.....The plane take-off sequence is great fun, as the plane careens everywhere, frightening Minnie and terrorizing Mickey as it eventually chases him. The series' early penchant for "outhouse" humor also gets a start here, as Mickey tries to duck into an outhouse to avoid his plane.

While it's certainly not a sign of high (or sophisticated, if you will) comedy, it's still funny. The cat that emerges is quite the silly sight, as it runs about with its britches open.

Perhaps the selling point is the cat yelling out as he's chased by Mickey's plane, which is wonderfully silly.
.....The next sequence might just be "Plane Crazy"'s most famous, as the plane chases down the cow. Perhaps most notable is the head-on view of the cow's rear, a shot which would be emulated years later in "The Nifty Nineties".

It's also important in a historical sense, as it marks the first camera move in animation history. For the moments when objects and/or scenery zoomed in, books were placed under the artwork, so as to move it closer to the camera.

This development is rarely mentioned, a surprising omission when one considers the importance, as well as how good the technique looks in its use here.
.....Mickey getting sprayed with the cow's milk is a definite bit of barnyard humor, and one repeated in "Steamboat Willie" when it came time to produce that short.

The superior moment comedically, though, is Mickey's successful attempt to board the plane. A big aspect of the earliest Mickey shorts was the complete suspension of disbelief, a moment really displays that idea perfectly.

Granted, I'm waxing a bit too nostalgic here, but when you consider that such reasonably restrained moments as Mickey pushing in a cow's tail in order to extend its neck led to the type of insanity that Warner Bros. (among others) specialized in, you can't help showing your appreciation every once in a while.
.....The iris effect on the plane as Mickey assumes control is a bit bizarre, although it's apparently done for dramatic effect. The technique would never been seen again, and seems to be done not only to emphasize the on-screen drama, but to sell the characters in what was essentially the series pilot. The actions within this iris are mightily exaggerated, with what can easily be called the wildest double take in the entire Mickey series.

.....Next, we see another use of the revolutionary camera moving technique, as the plane nearly collides with not one, but two cars.

The bit is much more impressive than the infamous cow chase, as the camera spins about wildly, and the use of books under the artwork to simulate the zoom effect (as zoom lenses didn't exist in 1928) is much more pronounced. It's actually a very innovative moment, as POV shots are still rare in cartoons. This stands as the most insane part of the short, as the plane continues careening through the sky. The best moment after the POV shot is when the church's tower contracts-another moment of what Walt Disney would later call, "The Plausible Impossible".

.....Despite all of these hijinks, "Plane Crazy" is remembered-and not fondly, either-for Mickey's attempt to force himself on Minnie. While it certainly isn't the shining moment of the short, it's not entirely surprising to anyone who's aware of what it meant in 1928 to be an everyman (which is something that Mickey is famous for being) knows that his ruthless behavior here is well within that classic definition, which is based directly on Charlie Chaplin's famed character, The Little Tramp.

And while The Little Tramp was a hero (especially to the working class), he had an attitude that belied his rough-hewn roots. So when Mickey acts crassly around Minnie, it's a reflection of that character, and Mickey's status as Chaplin's equal.
.....However, Mickey pays for his arrogance when Minnie slaps him and willingly leaps out of the plane.

I think this is proof that Walt Disney and Ub Iwerks didn't particularly condone Mickey's behavior; they simply thought that it would be funny (which it is, but it's not within Mickey's character, even at this early point in the series). Mickey treating his love interest poorly is really not that offensive when one considers the consequences of such treatment. Not only is he ditched by a justifiably offended Minnie, but Mickey's plane crashes.
.....As Minnie floats to the ground with her panty parachute (to the tune of "Rock-A-Bye", no less), Mickey makes the classic cartoon error: he walks on air and looks down while doing so.

Watching and analyzing this short reveals one thing above all: a lot of the great cartoon devices (gravity-defying antics, musical footsteps, and rubbery characters, to name a few) were started here, or already in use. It's not only a testament to the longevity of these devices, but of the ingenuity of the Disney staff, and of their contemporaries from the silent era (the Fleischer brothers, Paul Terry of Terrytoons fame, Walter Lantz, and Otto Messmer being chief among them).
.....The background of the tree Mickey crashes into is simplistic by modern standards, but very effective stylistically. The crash itself screams, "This was originally a silent cartoon," as it's illustrated with words as much as the sound effects.

Mickey's trip down the tree is typically brutal of the early shorts, as he receives multiple hits to the groin-something that was ended not only by the Hays Code, but by the departure of Ub Iwerks, who was a master of physical humor (even if it hovered towards unsophisticated levels at times).
.....The truly surprising result of Mickey's ungentlemanly behavior is his ultimate loss in this short, something that would actually recur frequently in the first two years of the series. While the great cartoons of the Golden Age were not adverse to having established stars end up on the losing side of a short (and even hinged on it in certain circumstances), it's not within Mickey's character to lose in this manner, as the character directly responsible for his own loss. But with Mickey, there was no template-the cartoon characters preceding him (even successful ones like Felix and Koko) never achieved the level of depth Mickey reached from the get-go. Part of this is, naturally, because of the synchronized soundstracks. But another part of this is because Walt Disney and Ub Iwerks put their all into creating Mickey Mouse-a character created out of desperation, and animated in secret as the staff that Charles Mintz had stolen away from Walt (along with the entire Oswald series) finished the final shorts that Disney had been contracted to produce. So refining Mickey was a rougher process than any cartoon character before or since-and "Plane Crazy" is a stark reminder of this.

Final Verdict

.....The status of "Plane Crazy" as a classic and milestone of animation is solid and undeniable. Does Mickey do things he'd never do now? Absolutely. But there's no doubt that Disney and Iwerks had something special here. Disney once stated that his main goal for the Mickey series was to make every short better than the last. And while "Plane Crazy" is entertaining on its own, this goal would best be seen in how Mickey evolved into the character we know now. So, "Plane Crazy" has an almost academic appeal as one of the signposts of Mickey's career, increasing its value as a cartoon. So, while some may express shock at the more "unseemly" elements of this short, they're missing the point. Mickey's first produced cartoon shouldn't be refined. What it should be, though, is entertaining, and "Plane Crazy" succeeds at this.

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