November 22, 2008

Frankenstein Meets Mickey Mouse

The Mouse, created by Walt Disney and Ub Iwerks, first graced the screen in 1928. The Monster, assembled by James Whale, Jack Pierce and Boris Karloff, followed in 1931. Twentieth Century icons, their parallel paths would intersect twice in the first sixty years of their ongoing careers.

The phenomenally successful Frankenstein made its Monster an instant cultural reference, signaled by appearances in three animated shorts in 1933. Betty Boop’s Penthouse features a laboratory-made, wraith-like Frankenstein menace, and Bosco’s Mechanical Man is a frenzied robot called Frankensteen. It fell to Mickey’s Gala Premiere to present the first recognizable representation of the Karloff Monster.

The story — Mickey’s new picture premieres in Hollywood — serves as an excuse to caricature a parade of then current movie idols, from the Marx Brothers, Greta Garbo and Mae West, to now largely forgotten stars like George Arliss, Chester Morris and Mark Swain. The Frankenstein Monster appears in the company of Bela Lugosi’s Dracula and a missing link-like Fredric March as Mr. Hyde. The monstrous trio, enjoying the show, laugh in perfect unison. According to studio archives, the sequence was animated by Art Babbitt.

What’s interesting here is that the animator’s reference was obviously a photo of an unused, early test makeup that had curious fleshy folds, or ‘horns’, on the forehead. Babbitt replaced the circular clamps with safety pins and added electric wires to the neck bolts.

In 1995, Mickey Mouse became the Frankenstein Monster in Runaway Brain, an energetic short where Mickey’s brainwaves are switched with that of a giant creature with a peg leg and a flat Frankenstein skull. The film, nominated for an Academy Award, was directed by Chris Bailey.

In the age of YouTube, Mickey’s Gala Premiere, unseen for many years, is now freely available on the Net (see how many Golden Age movie stars you can ID!), as is the entertaining Runaway Brain.


October Effigies said...

I want to get that first one tattooed. Thanks for the link!

Pierre Fournier said...

If you get a tattoo, you'll have to send pictures!

rob! said...

wow, i've never heard of this! how cool!

Pierre, you've got one really goog blog going here...