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Saturday, 14 July 2012

Suicide Mouse

Mickey Mouse drifts aimlessly through murky city streets on this cartoon episode.
Suicide Mouse is a rather obscure Mickey Mouse cartoon footage dating back to 1930. It consists of a looped animation sequence showing Mickey ambling along empty city streets with unadorned buildings in the background. The buildings are simple in design and there are only about 5 or 6 of them before they re-spawn. As far as I could tell, the walking animation consists of very few frames and is actually scarcely animated at all: Mickey only moves his feet in the same fashion and bobs his head in a slight, albeit swift tilt. His head is not nodding but kind of drooping as though the Disney's beloved scion was stricken by some kind of foreboding omen. There's something else to it: his face is as blank as it gets, an overly sober expression that commits himself to nothing, still with an inner motivation that doesn't veer on being deadpan. It's the materialisation of sheer glum. As though Mickey was depressed! And that's when we get to the meat of the issue. Depression was the main catalyst to a number of plot devices back in the twenties and thirties. So much so that famous movie makers were cashing in on this trend and shooting movies that revolved around the gloomy atmosphere that set in during the era of the Great Depression. The Great Depression wasn't the main backcloth that opened out onto this trend; it had been around earlier than that. Back in 1920, Walt Disney himself watched a Harold Lloyd comedy that really caught his eye: Haunted Spooks. Not only did the comedic piece entertain Walt to some extant. It's rumoured that Walt was so enthralled by it he felt compelled to use some of the gags of the film in his own work! The basic premise of this movie is a man down on his luck who had become so despondent with life's misfortunes befalling him he wants nothing more than kicking the bucket and so he attempts suicide. Since it was a comedy, the suicide attempts result in hilarious situations, with the main character being thwarted in unexpected ways. In one instance, he picked up a gun and presently pulled the trigger, only to find out that was a water pistol. Heart of the matter is, the whole idea of comedy relief for the movie rested on foiled suicide attempts. Since it was a movie aimed at a wide-reaching audience, the attempt panned out and the film was conceived as a reasonable success. But what if it was a cartoon feature? How would it have to work in order to wring from its target audience a positive reaction? How would editing have helped it and what changes should have been made to appeal to children? These questions aren't easily addressed and they were left at that: unanswered. In fact, the whole concept was apparently shelved in a vault, never to be touched again, let alone watched within Disney's innermost secret confines.A burning question at this point is why would Mr Walt want to take such an idea and tinker with it? He thought the movie was funny and he had a rather singular habit: to use gags he had watched in movies in his own creations. He actually got so far as to give the get-go to a daily comic strip of Mickey Mouse that featured his most famous character engaging in ruthless attempts to off himself! The artist commissioned to bring this horrific concept to bear was Floyd Gottfredson and according to sources he did a swell job of refining Mickey's storyboards. His work added a new depth to the mouse's universe, apparently starting to become lackluster at that point. I won't go into detail about this as we are already getting sidetracked here, so back to the main article. Suffice to say that Floyd Gottfredson was tasked with crafting a story about Mickey trying to kill himself.

Walt Disney dryly ordered him to do just this and after a lot of objections on the part of the well-meaning artist, he had to be reminded that he had been paid for that and he had no choice but go with the punches.

The story is as simple as daily comic strips go, but with a cruel twist: the main plot involved Mickey's being afraid of losing Minnie to a city slick with a striking resemblance to Mortimer. The town's newcomer seems to be stricken by the feminine appearance (how often has this happened in classic animation? Someone just pops by and becomes smitten right away by some purty lass. As though there were no other female of their species nowhere else...) and, unable to draw the reins in his sexual urges, proceeds to woo her. The readers might have expected that, being a disney storyboard, Minnie would have promptly sided with her gallant companion and tell mr City Slicker to sod off. She might have even told Mickey on the goon so the stage would have been all set for a typical battle between good and evil, only this time good vanquishing evil wouldn't involve the main character killing the bad one: only a Sesame Street message being thrown in and the two main characters ending all in a huge, reassuring embrace. Considering Disney's reputation in creating utopias in such a forlorn world, this is a truth beyond any doubt. However, none of it happens. Minnie actually had the hots for mr Slicker and is mighty impressed by his streetwise deportment!

Fading further and further into the background by his sly antagonist, the main rodent is on the verge of a mental breakdown until a sight that was supposed to incur all of his wrath has an odd effect in the poor creature's soul: Mickey witnesses first hand Minnie and his enemy kissing! Although the reader doesn't get to see it (the reader doesn't have the same point of view as Mickey's), it's highly implied that they actually doing because of the shape of their silhouette when Mickey takes a peek through the window. Right. Minnie invited him over and while they were snugly sitting in the couch Minnie was showing him the family photo album, their muzzles were daringly close to each other. Mickey was saved the best for last and rather than tearing inside and grinding the rascal into mush, he takes to brooding.

Most people have grown up accustomed to the idea that Disney is a benign powerhouse that purports itself to promote goodwill and inspiring ethics through its many creations. Setting aside its behemoth status as a monopolised of a good share of the capital world and its hunger to capitalise on people's weak will to give in to the commercialisation of art, it has, through a leaned interpretation, produced a myriad series all about the idealised good and it always prevails over evil in the long run. Mickey Mouse is stock proof of this concept, as are many other famous character of the same origin.

Seeing a vivid portrait of promiscuousness laid in thick as this was, at the very least, shocking. Knowing that this takes place in disney's universe exacerbates the feeling. Seeing this shattered beyond repair any frame of thought that placed main disney characters in the goody two shoes category. Or maybe his little peach was just having an affair, in which case it would have been just unusual. Not repugnance-inducing, only verging on the unusual realm of things unexpected from characters fresh out of childhood's memories.

The next frames are nothing more than Mickey's real attempts to terminate his own life in rather unfunny ways. First he rigs a shotgun over a chair and stands facing the wall, string tied to the trigger so he could pull it and be done with it. He makes a count of 3 but at the last second the cuckoo clock on the wall goes off, reminding the suicidal entity that he had been acting like a cuckoo. It didn't work though. Next he jumps off a bridge into the river below: "it's the river for me". He lands face-first flat onto Pete's ship's deck, is picked up by his old nemesis and threatened to be thrown with little ceremony into a vast, watery grave. "A stowaway, huh? Y'll getting no publicity from this ship. It's into the water for you". Mickey presently pleads for mercy, claiming he can't swim and that he might drown. It's presumed that Pete let him go unharmed.

Pete had a golden chance to get rid of his main antagonist for good, but let the opportunity slip by. I'm not a great Disney connoisseur, but I think he wouldn't ever have another chance like this again. A further two attempts turned out fruitless as Mickey couldn't bring himself to drift into endless sleep after turning the gas on. A kangaroo-esque kid sneaks in to fill his balloon with the dismal gas. The balloon burst, rising Mickey from his supposed eternal slumber. He springs into the air afraid he had been shot. Nor could he take a last leap into the water with an anvil tied around his neck. The water's temperature was disagreeable to him. As long as the water was much too cold for a dip, the lifeless wreck of a main character wouldn't swim with the fishes. At long last, he assembles a contraption that can't go wrong: a gallows. The hangman's noose is put  about his neck and nothing can keep him from carrying out his darkest desire ever. That is, nothing apart from seemingly innocent squirrels that look on in utter pity. The suicidal man gives up on this course of action and remarks he had been "a nut for trying to end it all this way". Since then, he has no longer tried to kill himself. At least not in publicly-released media. That's how this video comes into play. This freaky footage was the product of Walt Disney's intentions to release a feature of Mickey trying to kill himself. Maybe he realised it wouldn't have been this successful, and gave up.

And is this ever eerie. Even without the whole background story to set off unnerving feelings in a normal human being, the actual thing is quite disturbing. Since a rough sketch of a cartoon, the video consists of a simple animated sequence. As it had been said, it's a looped sequence with a street-like background with Mickey pacing forth, his head drooping as though his head was heavy with thoughts. Only his feet and his head move, the rest of his body remains unaffected by his movements. There is also a grisly piece of music set to go with it. A direful piano composition reminiscent of the denizens of one's innermost fears. This goes on for about a minute or two, then the sound turns to static before the screen blackens out.The video returns about the 6th minute, but this time it is different. Piecemeal Mickey's mouth starts curving into a smirk before his eyeballs drop off, dangling around his chin. The mouth-curving effect is sublime and takes time to come to full completion, but the eye dropping bit is viciously abrupt. At around the same time he starts walking backwards, as though a typhoon from another dimension is sucking him in.Creepiness is also added to the sound. At first all that we hear is a garbled human voice, without any clear feature. That goes on for a while before a long, ongoing shriek dominates the sound properties of the animation. It's a unique scream, crisp in acuteness, obscure in as to how it would fit with the rest of the cartoon. All of this happens too fast to keep track. It's hard to pay any attention to any of these particular details. The background starts degenerating into waving patterns and mickey's blank face becomes more noticeable in this turn of events. It's yet curious why this becomes so noticeable. A Russian text is flashed on the screen for a few seconds and the video is over. I don't speak Russian myself, but online sources have it that it translates to something like "the vision of Hell brings you back in". Sadly, this is all obvious the doing of someone who was after attention. No way Walt Disney would have come up with this sort of output.

There is a common explanation to cover this that has made the round all across the internet. It's interesting because it comes complete with a background story detailing curious tidbits about this short, including an account about an employee killing himself with a security guard's weapon after watching the remaining 2 minutes and how employees' contracts are terminated on the spot upon any attempt to fiddle with this. According to this source, the doomed employee uttered 7 times that "real suffering is not known". What abysmal demon of hell might this mortal soul have seen? What apparition made itself visible within range of the scope of eyes too mortal to witness such an appalling light reflection? As with a number of urban legends, all we working citizens are left with is a bunch of unanswered questions. But what if the answer to these queries could tie in to some of bigger issues that still plague us to this day and age? Unless it actually happens, there can only be speculations about this.

Viewers might not be too fazed by the piercing shriek. Were it a deep hollowed voice, the creepiness might have been more graphic in its purport.

Watch the infamous Suicide Mouse video

On a personal note, I remember being told about this some years ago and the whole picture my imagination worked out for me was quite disturbing and included a 3-d version of the whole scene with Mickey scampering out of a city building, and after a short sprint he made to into another building in which he climbed some flights of stairs (offscreen), got on the rooftop and, running nonstop, he just fell down off the edge. The animation of him dropping down was weird as it didn't show his descent in typical cartoon form, he just went down keeping the same set of movements as if still dashing on hard ground. The camera was stuck at the angle he took the lethal plunge from,not showing him past the point at which he left the scene.A succession of far away screams followed, intertwined with what appeared to be suppressed laughter. After a while, the camera would start scrolling sideways, but would fade before revealing what had been in front of the building all along. Then the picture was gone.

By the way, here's a modern version of S.M. which actually aired once on Cartoon Network.