Poster

The Chain Gang

A Mickey Mouse Cartoon

Release Date : September 5, 1930

Running Time : 7:57

Synopsis

Mickey's a prisoner on jailer Pegleg Pete's rock pile. In a riot, he escapes, but when he's pursued by the jail guards' hounds, he jumps on a pair of motley horses who finally return him to jail the hard way.

Characters

Mickey Mouse
Pete
Pluto

Credits

Director
Bert Gillett
Animation
Johnny Cannon
Les Clark
Ben Sharpsteen
Jack Cutting
Jack King
Dick Lundy
Tom Palmer
Wilfred Jackson
Dave Hand
Charlie Byrne
Norm Ferguson

Milestones

The first appearance of Pluto, surprisingly enough as one of the hounds who chases Mickey after his escape.

Cut Scenes

Some scenes of jailers shooting at escaping prisoners. This scene may have since been reinstated.

Laserdiscs

United States
Mickey Mouse in Black and White: Volume 1
Japan
Mickey Mouse : The Black and White Years

DVD

United States
Disney Treasures : The Complete Pluto Volume 1
Mickey Mouse in Black and White
Germany
Disney Treasures : The Complete Pluto Volume 1
Mickey Mouse in Black and White

Television

The Ink and Paint Club: Episode 4: Disney Firsts

Original Animator's Drafts


Page 1

Page 2

Page 3

Page 4

Page 5

Technical Specification

Color Type: Black & White
Animation Type: Standard animation
Sound Mix: Mono : Cinephone
Aspect Ratio: 1.37 : 1
Negative Format: 35mm
Print Format: 35mm
Cinematographic Process: Spherical
Original Language: English

Released by Columbia Pictures, Inc.

Comments

  • Copyright Date : September 24, 1930; New York Opening : September 26, 1930

From Ryan Kilpatrick at The Disney Film Project : The latest Mickey short, The Chain Gang, is really a remake of one of the Alice shorts – Alice the Jailbird. But just like the earlier short, it features such great laugh a minute gags that you don’t mind.

The basics of the short are that Mickey and his usual cast of characters are trapped in jail, led by Pete. Mickey is there, as is Clarabelle, Priscilla Pig and several other animal characters. They are forced to break rocks, but soon break into a rhythmic song based on the pounding on the rocks and aided by Mickey on the harmonica.

It’s there where things get really interesting. A riot is sparked, which features some hilarious scenes of prisoners speaking into the camera, the guards (all resembling Pete) shooting at each other, and Mickey finding a way to escape. It’s actually the same way that Julius escaped in the Alice short, by throwing the prison ball on one end of a seesaw that catapults him over the wall. The same gag even follows, as the ball then drops on Mickey’s head after he lands on the other side.

This short is notable, though, for what happens next. One of the guards pursues Mickey over the wall, accompanied by two bloodhounds. One of the hounds would go on to be famous not as Mickey’s pursuer, but as his pet.

Yes, Pluto makes his debut in The Chain Gang, albeit a brief one. As such, he’s the third of the “Fab Five” introduced. We’ll keep eyes peeled for Donald and Goofy coming up soon. The short ends with Mickey finding a pair of horses that take him on a wild ride, ending up with throwing him off a cliff that lands him right back in the jail.

Otherwise, this short is very fun, but unremarkable. The main thing you notice is the rapid pace and the gags, which are tied together. The pace is kept lively with repeated fun gags, and the short does not rely on a song to move things along. The musical sequence in the middle of the film is short and plays off of the story of the prisoners breaking rocks.

Just like yesterday’s subject, Midnight in a Toy Shop, it might be that the Mickey shorts are beginning now to take a turn towards more story based subjects instead of music based shorts. It makes sense, as after Iwerks and Stalling left the company in early 1930, it would take a while for Walt and his team to catch up. As such, they would have had to get anything and everything they could manage into production.

This “accelerated schedule” theory would explain things like the reuse of animation in multiple shorts, especially The Shindig, or the use of repeat characters like the Mickey bear in Arctic Antics. Then, as the year wore on and the production schedule eased up, Walt and his crew would have been able to focus more on crafting stories for the shorts, which would have been reflected in the latest Mickey and Silly Symphonies. Just a theory, but hopefully an informed one.


From Mac : I think that if it wasn't for Norm Ferguson, this cartoon would have just featured two blood hounds rather than the dog that would become Pluto. I believe that once again, Walt singled out an excellent piece of Ferguson's animation – in this case the scene of the blood hounds sniffing around and barking at the camera. This scene perfectly caricatures canine behavior with a real essence of personality. Therefore, it's no wonder the character was developed further. We'll get to see what happens next with the upcoming Mickey shorts.

Mickey's quite cool here. Really cheeky with an awareness of the audience in the theatre (winking at us and so forth). He thinks nothing of trying to escape or being cocky to the guards and quite happily accepts his lot in life when he winds up back in a cell. I think the scene of Mickey on the harmonica may have some reused animation from The Shindig (with an added ball and chain) I'd have to re-watch both scenes to check for sure though.


From Jesus Daprice : This short kind of has a twist to it. In it Mickey Mouse is a prisoner and Pegleg Pete is actually a prison guard working on the side of the law. I just can't help but wondering what Mickey could have done to end up in prison. He's much too nice to kill anyone and I don't think he would steal anything, or would he be reduced to it. It could be that he was framed for a crime he didn't commit. This cartoon was made during the Depression when thousands of families across America were out of work. Maybe Mickey had a hungry family to support and would do anything to put food on the table.
From Jerry Edwards : Mickey is a convict who escapes and is tracked by guards using bloodhounds. After a wild horse ride, Mickey hits a post, is thrown off a cliff, crashes through the prison roof, and falls back into a cell. Interesting short, with lots of action. But it is so strange seeing Mickey as a convict. I have always disagreed with the Disney Company's claim that this is the first appearance of Pluto. The dogs are just bloodhounds with only a superficial similarity to the later Pluto. Plus there's two identical bloodhounds - so which one is Pluto? My compromise information was included in the Updated Official Encyclopedia Disney A-Z in which my description of the cartoon is changed to "the first appearance of the character who would become Pluto." Under the Pluto listing in the book, my suggestion was also used - "the dog who would eventually evolve into Pluto made his debut as a bloodhound..." I have always gotten tickled by the prison being "co-ed" since Clarabelle Cow is among the prisoners.
From Ryan : I do not have any idea why Mickey Mouse is in prison, but that's where he appears to be in this short. After the guards go to sleep (all being Pete look-alikes), Mickey takes out his harmonica and all the prisoners start dancing and playing music. Soon, a guard wakes up and they start shooting at the prisoners. Mickey escapes by catapulting himself over the prison wall. The guards send out the hounds (who happen to be Pluto in his first appearance) to hunt down Mickey. There was one scene that looked pretty painful (especially if you're a guy) where Mickey was being pulled by two horses trying to get away. Mickey slides on a fence in the you know where. OUCH! Fun cartoon, especially considering that it's the first appearance of Pluto.
From Bill : I find this kind of strange. Just to see Mickey in jail makes me wonder what he could have done. It does not fit into Mickey's character even in the early shorts like this one. But with that said, I think the gags in this short were not up to par as in most of the shorts, but still, since I am a raging Mickey fan, enjoyable. I was kind of hoping Mickey would escape but the ending was not that bad.

Referenced Comments