As part of the lavish, seemingly endless presentation today on Walt Disney Animation at D23, we were treated to two brand new short film screenings: the North American premiere of the rediscovered, almost lost Mickey Mouse classic "Get A Horse!" (which had its lavish world premiere recently at Annecy) and what ended up being the world premiere of a "Monsters University" spin-off short called "Party Central." They were both very special short films that reiterated that Pixar and Walt Disney Feature Animation are two very different studios with two very different approaches that still fall comfortably under the larger umbrella of Disney animation.
"Get a Horse!" was prefaced by an introduction by Disney/Pixar bigwig John Lasseter, where he introduced the crowd to the Animation Research Library, formerly known as The Morgue, a place where untold amounts of original artwork and other archival material is stored, so that animators can go and reference the great work of the past. She introduced Lauren, a technician in the ARL that stumbled across something very curious: an original piece of artwork from a long lost Mickey Mouse short called "Get A Horse!" Lauren showed an original frame from the film, which had the two-peg system instead of the modern three-peg.
"18 months ago some drawings were found in the hands of private collector," Lauren said, like she was reciting a ghost story. "But to me, of everything on this paper, the most intriguing thing is this little note: MM4." She said that the note meant that the movie was the fourth Mickey Mouse cartoon ever, putting its production in 1928, between "Steamboat Willie" and "The Barn Dance." After the frame was found, a film print appeared. The team at Disney Animation restored it with the help of the Animation Research Library. "85 years later, please enjoy the debut of Mickey Mouse in 'Get a Horse!,'" Lauren said. And the film began.
And immediately it is understood why the Annecy crowd reacted like they did: "Get A Horse!" is a marvel. The plot is beyond simple: Mickey and Minnie, both of them rubbery black-and-white figures against a scratchy square frame, are menaced by the dastardly Peg-Leg Pete, who tries to derail their wagon ride (he ultimately imprisons Minnie). It was such a thrill to see the classic characters move and act that way again. Even more of a thrill was to hear them like that: Walt Disney was, at the time of "Get a Horse!'s" production, was still the voice of Mickey and Bill Bletcher, who died more than a decade after Walt, was the voice of Peg Leg Pete.
The fact that this short came to life, and was so lovingly, cleverly restored is a testament to the hard work and commitment to historical preservation that Disney Animation is capable of. When the short debuts this winter, in front of the 3D theatrical presentation of "Frozen," modern audiences will still be completely blown away. (They even managed to squeeze a little bit of stereoscopic fun in there, and the 3D looks gorgeous.) For many, this will be a Mickey Mouse that they've never seen before, or if they have seen him before, it has been a very long time. "Get a Horse!" is a timeless little triumph.
On the complete opposite end of the spectrum was a new short film featuring the characters from "Monsters University," entitled "Party Central." Written and directed by Kelsey Mann, who worked as a story supervisor on "Monsters University," it has a simple conceit that's executed beautifully: the loser fraternity of Oozma Kappa (the one that Billy Crystal's Mike and John Goodman's Sulley belong to) is throwing a frat party and nobody has shown up. Our lovable monsters feel rejected and unpopular, until Mike and Sulley propose that they use the door technology, which allows monsters to enter the human world to scare young children, to steal the party from Roar Omega Roar, the popular frat. And they do just that.
Conceptually there's not a lot going on in "Party Central:" they send stuff from one party into the other party. But it's hilarious how they do this—first by setting up a breadcrumb-like trail of pizza slices and then by turning the door jumping into an elaborate party game (including a great moment that turns the door into an inter-dimensional limbo stick). Most delightful of all is when Mann cuts back to the human world and we watch an adult couple as they sort of start to understand what is going on with their closet door, which is paid off brilliantly.
"Party Central" is a short full of color, sound and movement, evocative of that very specific type of "Monsters Inc" effervescence that was present in both movies. It tweaks the "party scene" of countless high school and college movies and makes it come alive in monstrous new ways—something both familiar and excitingly new. Also, it introduces new dimensions to the 'Monsters' mythology, particularly at the end, when a new phrase is introduced into the franchise ("door jamming") that you won't be able to stop talking about afterwards. It's a doozy.
You'll have to wait a little longer to see "Party Central," since it will be premiering in front of "The Good Dinosaur" next summer, and it will be interesting to see how it plays in front of an audience (especially in front of that movie, which seems to be very tonally different than the madcap short). Its inception seems to be designed to canonize the 'Monsters' characters to the level of the 'Toy Story' troupe, although that seems to have been achieved already with the success of "Monsters University." These are classic characters, pliable to a number of situations and circumstances, and hopefully they will be showcased in shorts like this for years to come.