This Disney Short Had Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck vs. Harpo … – Collider

Mickey Mouse vs. Charlie Chaplin is a battle we didn’t know we needed.
In the 1936 Disney short "Mickey's Polo Team," Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, Goofy, and the Big Bad Wolf go head-to-head on the polo field with a foursome of '30s comedy legends: Charlie Chaplin, Harpo Marx, and Laurel & Hardy. Kind of. It's a cartoon, obviously, and the real-life movie stars didn't really officially contribute to the short (the animated counterparts never utter a word, so there’s no need for any voice-acting) but the basic essence of the comedians is captured through the eccentric, caricature-like depictions.
In a comic parade of lavish Technicolor animation, everything predictably descends into chaos and horseplay, which is to be expected from Disney shorts of the era. Harpo and Donald get into a fight, Laurel and Hardy struggle to get Hardy’s hefty horse moving, and Donald gets a polo ball knocked down his goddamn throat. If you’ve seen a Merry Melodies short, or anything Mickey Mouse related during that era, you more or less know what to expect. With the inclusion of the movie stars, though, and an entire crowd of spectators made up of blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cameos, “Mickey’s Polo Team” places itself among the most surprising cartoon crossovers of all-time.
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Born out of Walt Disney’s passion for polo as explained in Dave Smith's book Disney A to Z: The Official Encyclopedia, “Mickey’s Polo Team” is an absurdist short that essentially throws a bunch of things into a blender and hopes it works. With Charlie Chaplin, Harpo Marx, and Laurel & Hardy taking to the polo field against Mickey and his boys, the little Disney short already set out with the ambitious goal of being an iconic cultural crossover of everything 1930s. The comedians, dubbed “The Movie Stars” on the game’s scoreboard, come out onto the field on horses with peculiar likenesses to themselves. Chaplin’s even got the mustache and hat, and it stomps around with The Tramp’s trademark shuffling walk. Harpo, the weirdo amongst oddballs, comes out on a scrawny ostrich with a poofy head of golden hair.
Meanwhile, in the audience, a troupe of famous ‘30s faces watches on excitedly. Harold Lloyd applauds the game. Greta Garbo, looking characteristically elegant, aloofly waves a pompom. W.C. Fields wiggles his cigar before nearly getting his hat blown off by Eddie Cantor blowing a vuvuzela. A young Shirley Temple sits in the bleachers among the Three Little Pigs. Clark Gable wiggles his ears at a swooning Clarabelle Cow. It doesn’t really make any goddamn sense, and it doesn’t want to. They’re all there just for the sake of being there. If nothing else, the short provides you ample opportunities to catch famous faces and point them out like in that Leo DiCaprio/Rick Dalton meme.
To some degree, the four central choices of the comedic film stars to play against old Mick makes sense. Chaplin, whose likeness is underutilized here, is a proven master of silent slapstick. Laurel & Hardy are among the most iconic comedy duos of all time, and the short knows to play the two off of each other. Harpo seems like the most obvious choice of all the Marx brothers due to the character’s iconic muteness. Groucho, though more instantly recognizable with all of his brow flutters and eye-rolls, is too much of a verbal comedian to be used in this nearly-wordless short. The 1930s had no shortage of iconic movies, and many of their stars show up here in a wonderful animated fashion. Try to jot them all down, and they'll flicker by before you get the chance.
Other than the Merry Melodies short “Mother Goose Goes to Hollywood,” which features caricatures of about a dozen Hollywood figures (many of the same ones as this short, including Harpo and his brothers and W.C. Fields reprising his role in the 1933 Alice in Wonderland as Humpty Dumpty) “Mickey’s Polo Team” is arguably the company’s most indulgent short in terms of adding non-Disney characters to the plot. It’s an atypical Disney short due to its dedication to showing as many celebrities as it can in under ten minutes.
A cynic might see the short as an omen of things to come, a premonition of a future in which Disney, collecting intellectual properties like spots on a Monopoly board, owns enough pre-established franchises to crossover virtually any beloved fictional character with any other. Yes, a cynic might see it as an archaic version of the cultural overload that was Space Jam: A New Legacy, in which Warner Bros. threw countless characters at the audience all at once as if only to flaunt the fact that the company owns them all. It might be seen as a foretelling of how Disney would someday put Homer Simpson and Goofy in the same room or have Loki travel to Springfield, simply because they can.
Or, just maybe, it’s just a bit of fun. If you have an affinity for Golden Age Hollywood stars, you’ll find plenty of faces to recognize. If you enjoy classical hand-drawn animation, you’ll have plenty to be delighted by. The animation here is pretty damn good, as to be expected from something produced out of the early days of Disney’s Golden Age. The expressive, lavish Technicolor is vibrant and rich in a way that modern cartoons can’t quite replicate. The designs for Mickey, Donald, and Goofy are classical, too, consisting of clean and simplistic sketches of the iconic characters.
The short might not exactly be the single craziest cartoon crossover of all time, because that distinction goes to Cartoon All-Stars To the Rescue, in which practically every cartoon character you'd ever want team-ups to prevent a young man from succumbing to the apparent evils of marijuana. But "Mickey's Polo Team" has some pretty undeniable charm that few others share. At the end of the day, this Disney short is a cute little time capsule back to the 1930s when films and animation were, for better or worse, undeniably different. Here in the 21st Century, it’s becoming an increasingly unavoidable fact that huge companies like Disney and Warner Bros. can buy essentially any piece of IP they want for the right price, and shorts like “Mickey’s Polo Team,” in which famous figures, vaudeville acts, and various iconic characters collide can justifiably be created en masse simply for the sheer spectacle of it all. "Mickey's Polo Team" makes a spectacle of itself, but it feels comparatively innocent. Here, worlds are colliding not as a nostalgia-bating crash grab. It's all just for some innocent fun.
Adam Grinwald is a Feature Writer at Collider. He is passionate about films of any and every genre, especially foreign flicks. With a degree in English Literature, he spends much of his time reading and writing. As an undergraduate he published a work of fiction in Furrow literary magazine.


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