The best moment comes when Mickey dances with the queen of hearts, drawn
to look like Garbo. Coming to her defense is the king, Charles Laughton,
who played Henry the VIII and won an Oscar.
In many ways, this hearkens back to the early days of Mickey and the Silly Symphonies, in that there is a brief set up but the majority of the short is dedicated to Mickey entertaining the audience with a series of dancing and gags. It’s a throwback in that way, but very much a more modern cartoon in others.
As Mickey goes through the looking glass, he is immediately presented with a whole different world. Chairs have eyes, stools act like dogs and everything is alive. In that way, it diverges from the old cartoons. In the early 30’s, there would be no explanation for why inanimate objects were coming to life to join Mickey’s reverie. Now, more consistency and story logic are on display. It’s an important distinction.
That said, the short is really about the gags and how Mickey interacts with the crazed characters of the mirror world. After clearing the chair, he takes some gruff from a telephone, in a fun way, and then leads into the most fun part of the short.
There are two elaborate dance sequences that happen next – one with a pair of gloves and the second with a deck of cards. Each is magnificently animated, with fluid motion and spectacular shots. The shot of Mickey with the gloves is one that sticks in your mind, but the way the camera moves around, shooting Mickey from above or the side, is what makes the card sequence so memorable to me.
There’s also the new things that are done with the cards. First with the shuffling of Mickey in the cards, his “peacock” show, and then when the cards turn against him. Watching Mickey dance with the queen and then swordfight the king is a delight to behold.
My favorite gag comes after that, when the cards are chasing Mickey out of the looking glass world, and begin throwing their suits at him. No, not their pinstriped Armanis, but the hearts, clubs, spades and diamonds get pulled off the cards and thrown at Mickey. It works in reverse as well, when Mickey turns on a fan and starts blowing the suits off the cards.
It’s innovative gags like this that make Thru the Mirror so fun. True, there’s not a story here, but it’s explained – this is a dream sequence, and it’s Mickey’s dream self in this world. That adds a needed layer of subtext to make it more believable and easy to swallow. That itself is a new thing for Disney, and makes this short so much better.
BTW, that is indeed King Neptune who pops out the globe!