Get a Horse!

2013, Buena Vista
(voice talents) Walt Disney, Billy Bletcher, Marcellite Garner
Lauren MacMullan
MPAA Rating:
7 minutes


Contributed by Michael J. Lee, Executive Editor for
September 27, 2013

The short films that precede Disney and Pixar animated features during their theatrical runs are often experimental playgrounds for the talented artists who bring them to life. Get a Horse!, the 7-minute toon that will be attached to Frozen, raises the bar for inventiveness by blending the two distinct disciplines of hand-drawn animation and computer-generated animation. The result is a unique, visually engaging hybrid reminiscent of the pioneering spirit Who Framed Roger Rabbit embodied for live-action/animated mashups back in 1988.

Get a Horse! was conceived and directed by animator Lauren MacMullan, who was encouraged by Wreck-It Ralph director Rich Moore to participate in a studio initiative to think tank ideas for Mickey Mouse. For MacMullan, the starting point was sparked by her love of early Disney. "Initially, I'm thinking, 'What can you possibly do with Mickey Mouse that hasn't already been done before?'" she recalled at a press event that previewed both Frozen and Get a Horse! "And so I basically was thinking of this one particular era that I truly loved, and it's the style of animation that I taught myself how to animate in because it was simple and easy to do. And it's this era, 1928/1929."

Get a Horse! begins traditionally enough: Mickey and friends are enjoying a ride through the great outdoors when they are waylaid by antagonist Peg-Leg Pete. Till this point, the picture mimics the look and feel of vintage, Steamboat Willie-era Disney: black and white, simple shapes, and a rubbery consistency to the limbs and movements of the characters. This portion of the short features hand-drawn animation supervised by veteran Eric Goldberg, who designed the Genie in 1992's Aladdin, and the picture is intentionally degraded with artifacts and filters to give it a vibe of authentically aged film stock. Completing the illusion is Walt Disney himself as the voice of Mickey Mouse, a feat accomplished by piecing together audio recordings from studio archives.

Shortly after Pete arrives on the scene, the fourth wall is broken, and things really get interesting. As Mickey and his cohorts jump off the screen, out of their black-and-white world, they dive into a widescreen universe of color where they become fully realized as CG-animated characters. A series of chase scenes finds them quickly alternating between the two realities, with the hand-drawn and CG elements deftly mixing in a surprisingly seamless way.

As MacMullan points out, CG excels at creating perfect shapes, a quality that is not necessarily conducive in capturing the charming imperfection of hand-drawn animation. Part of the challenge in recreating Mickey with such technology, then, was to downplay some of the bells and whistles computer-generated animation could bring to the table. "One of the things we decided to do was to add no real world textures--Mickey doesn't have burlap pants or brass buttons. It's all this texture that's called fondant. And it makes them still feel like they're made out of that same 'animation goo' that they were when they were in black and white."

Bringing Mickey out of a grey scale environment also presented the obvious--but easily overlooked and underestimated--task of guessing what colors Walt Disney might have been envisioning when he first created the iconic character. To come up with the proper palette, MacMullan and her team went old school and referenced company Christmas cards from the period.

Get a Horse! may, strangely enough, be a victim of its own proficiency. Casual viewers could see it as merely an endearing throwback to a bygone time. Given that computer-generated animation has evolved in leaps and bounds in the last two decades, and that modern audiences have been treated to bigger, more dazzling spectacles, it may be easy to take this short film's more subtle accomplishments for granted. Regardless, animation buffs will no doubt appreciate the little ingenious nuances that give this work a notable place in the history of the craft. And if nothing else, it certainly has the potential to accomplish the directive that got it rolling: introduce a new generation to Mickey Mouse.

Get a Horse! will be playing before Disney's Frozen, which comes to theaters on November 27, 2013.

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