Toy Box Series Episode 3: Picture Book 1936 (1934)

Author: Miles Imhoff
August 3, 2014
Note: review may contain spoilers

See Evil Mickey in an anti-Western propaganda film today!

Now I'm a proponent of the free culture movement; as such, I don't think the unofficial use of Mickey Mouse's image in non-Disney media is the slightest bit impertinent. You might therefore be wondering why this short film has received such an unprecedentedly low score. That's because it's very, very bad on a technical level. The plot, the characterisation, and the production values... they all add up to zero.

On an island of happy and fantastical creatures, the playful denizens enjoy a pleasurable life of fun and frolic. Suddenly, a bat-riding mouse appears and sends word that the island's fate is sealed. Invasion is nigh, and when the islanders ignore his warning, the mouse brings in reinforcements. A young girl is kidnapped and chaos ensues. Will the hapless citizens of this island paradise be able to find some way to protect their homeland and their way of life from impudent mousy imperialism?

Well, yes... yes they do. The lovable creatures quickly turn the tides of war as they enlist the help of some rather legendary friends from a Japanese picture book. With a host of miscellaneous reinforcements on their side, the deadly newcomers vanquish their verminly foe and lift his fell siege.

Fight violence with violence... that's not exactly a message one would want to be sending to children under normal circumstances, but let's remember that this was smack dab in the middle of a jingoistic, military-centric zeitgeist. As a propaganda film, this one is clearly designed to appeal to the very, very young. Folks with zero knowledge of Japanese will be able to follow along quite easily, and those with rudimentary skills will likely be able to piece together much of the rest.

Despite the advantage of very little region lockout (at least linguistically speaking), the film fails just about everywhere else. Characterisation is virtually nonexistent; all we really know are that the evil-looking invaders are the "bad guys" and the kinder-looking folks are the "good guys". When we see the Western representative invading and the Eastern representatives defending... well my friends, you have all the makings of perhaps one of the simplest forms of exposition in cinematic history. Admittedly, there would be a certain cultural advantage to knowing the backstories of some of the storybook characters, but imagine if this were an American cartoon and Paul Bunyan et al. were summoned sans characterisation to defeat a Japanese cultural symbol. The reliance on previous works for exposition might similarly be deemed a detriment to the potency of the narrative.

Technically, this picture is rather inferior by early '30s standards. The audio and animation are noticeably repetitive and look at least a few years dated; think Steamboat Willie Invades! and you'll get an idea of what you're up against here. The jaunty music is perhaps the most redeeming aspect, but since it lacks in the way of anything particularly memorable, the score can't save this cartoon from ye ol' goose egg.

Two more things worth mentioning: skeletonisation and brief nudity. Yeah... I don't think this film has a completely firm grasp on who its core audience is...

Yes, I do realise this is an uncharacteristically brief review for me, but it's a short critique of a short film with very little in the way of redeeming value. If you have a secret desire to see Mickey Mouse get his tail handed to him by the Land of the Rising Sun, maybe it is worth a look. Though I personally love Disney films, even I got a kick out of that. Omocha-Bako Series, Dai-3-Wa: Ehon 1936-nen... recommended only as a novel curiosity.