Bloodthirsty Mickey Mouse Attacks Innocent Children

Friday A/V Club: Japanese propagandists do Disney.



Mickey Mouse was a bloodthirsty imperialist rat. Or at least that's the impression I get from Toy Box Series, Episode 3: Picture Book 1936, a cartoon that, in Mickey's defense, probably shouldn't be taken as canonical, since it wasn't made by Disney. Instead it was produced by propagandists in Japan.

Let me back up. In 1922, the governments of the United States, Japan, Britain, France, and Italy finished negotiating the Five-Power Treaty, which limited naval construction. It was set to expire at the end of 1936. That is probably why this film—released in 1934—picks 1936 for the year that Mickey, already a symbol of America, launches a military assault. A group of innocent children and animals (including, if my eyes don't deceive me, Felix the Cat) are living an idyllic life before Mickey swoops in on the back of a bat, followed by a fleet of other bats, all of whom, confusingly, have Mickey Mouse heads. Aided by snake and alligator armies, Mickey and the bats attack, and they seem to be winning until some traditional Japanese characters emerge from a storybook to lead the defense.

I don't know enough about Japanese folklore to identify these defenders myself, but Open Culture's Ted Mills says they range "from Momotaro ('Peach Boy') and Kintaro ('Golden Boy') to Issun-boshi ('One Inch Boy') and Benkei, a warrior monk," adding, "The not-so-subtle message: Mickey Mouse may be your hero, America, but our characters are older, more numerous, and way more beloved. Our pop culture is older than yours!" And also apparently better at combat, because they beat the invaders and magically transform Mickey into a decrepit old man:

And that, children, is how Japan won World War II.

Bonus link #1: I interviewed Mickey Mouse back in 2003. You can tell it was a softball interview because I didn't bring up this shameful episode.

Bonus link #2: I'm told Donald Duck was an imperialist too.

Bonus links #3 and 4: Hey, did you know they've started making genuinely good Mickey Mouse cartoons again? Check out this one and this one.

Bonus link #5: For past editions of the Friday A/V Club, go here.