Director: Burt Gillett
Release Date: August 18, 1930
Stars: Mickey Mouse, Peg Leg Pete, (Pluto)
In ‘Gallopin’ Gaucho‘ Mickey had been depicted as a bandit, but it still comes as a surprise to see him being a prisoner in ‘The Chain Gang’. We’re sure some injustice has been done, and that Mickey is in fact innocent…
Mickey is imprisoned in a mixed prison (one of the inmates is a cow), where Peg Leg Pete is one of the guards. When Pete goes to sleep Mickey brings out his harmonica, like he did in ‘The Shindig‘ one month earlier, and starts playing Vernon Dalhart’s 1924 hit ‘The Prisoner’s Song’.
This leads to an unremarkable sing-and-dance-routine, which abruptly ends in a massive jailbreak. Mickey escapes, but is followed by two bloodhounds, possibly the most elaborately designed dogs hitherto. Animated by Norm Ferguson, these bloodhounds would become the prototype of Pluto later on. Indeed, the animation of the blood hound approaching and sniffing into the camera was reused for Pluto as late as 1939 for ‘The Pointer’. The real Pluto would appear on the screen two months later in ‘The Picnic‘, and even then he still was called ‘Rover’.
The ‘birth’ of Pluto is the single most important feature of this cartoon, although it’s also noteworthy for the presence of gags involving recurring characters (something pretty new at the time), and for the chase scenes, which contain some nice perspective effects.
Watch ‘The Chain Gang’ yourself and tell me what you think:
‘The Chain Gang’ is available on the DVD ‘Walt Disney Treasures: ‘Mickey Mouse in black and white’