I can graft a chicken's gizzard on the wishbone of a pup.
And here's the great experiment I'm just about to tackle,
To find out if the end result will bark or crow or cackle!
The plot of the short is centered on Mickey, as Pluto is kidnapped by the titular mad doctor (named Dr. XXX) to be used in a chimera-esque experiment involving cutting off Pluto's head and splicing it onto the body of a chicken. Naturally, Mickey treks off to save him, all while trying to make his way through the doctor's elaborate castle.
As with the earlier Disney shorts The Skeleton Dance and The Haunted House, this short's macabre tone was its own undoing; many theaters refused to show it (and was even completely banned in England), even though Mickey was at the height of his popularity at that point. However, the short has managed to become much more popular in recent years for the same reasons it was initially shunned.
This short was the inspiration for the later Mickey Mouse short Runaway Brain, and was remade as an entire level in the video game Mickey Mania. Epic Mickey also features the Mad Doctor prominently as a key villain (called "The Mad Doctor"), a side-scrolling Nostalgia Level themed to the short, and even the original short itself as an unlockable bonus. It also loosely inspired the storyline "Blaggard Castle" in the 1930s Mickey Mouse newspaper comic strip by Floyd Gottfredson.
Tropes Used by This Short:
- Affectionate Parody: Of the Universal horror films of the 1930s, which were rising in popularity.
- All Just a Dream: Of the "nightmare" variety, no less.
- Animation Bump: The part where Mickey is walking through a three-dimensional hallway, as well as falling down two flights of stairs. Scenes like that were notoriously difficult to animate on account of perspective. The scene originally came from one of the Silly Symphonies, called Egyptian Melodies, with Mickey being animated over a spider.
- Artistic License – Biology:
- Dr. XXX wants to combine "a chicken's gizzard with the wishbone of a pup". Wishbones (more accurately called furculas) are a trait exclusive to birds and some non-avian dinosaurs, so a dog would not have one. A chicken would, though. Possibly justified partly due to the doctor's insanity and partly due to it all being a dream.
- Also, the doctor wanting to know what hatches from the dog-headed chickens egg. If the animal really would survive the surgery, its genitals would still be from the chicken, therefore it could only lay normal chicken eggs.
- Bad People Abuse Animals: Dr. XXX wants to attach Pluto's head to a chicken's body.
- Bald of Evil/Beard of Evil: Dr. XXX
- Big Shadow, Little Creature: Right after the long shot of Mickey in the corridors, he winds up between the shadows of two towering wolf-like creatures staring down on him. He turns around, only to see two metal figures not even his height in front of a fire. Even Mickey himself laughs at this, at least until a coal ember burns him.
- Darker and Edgier: The Skeleton Dance aside, which was more silly than scary, this cartoon was the first notable Disney cartoon to delve into a dark storyline which played more for Black Comedy if anything
- Dem Bones: Dr. XXX's castle is loaded with living skeletons.
- Door Judo: Mickey falling victim to this is what sets up the climax.
- Evil Eyebrows: The doctor has thick, large eyebrows.
- Evil Genius: Dr. XXX. He is a mad scientist who wants to attach Pluto's head to a chicken's body.
- Evil Laugh: The Doc does one of these.
- Evil Sounds Deep: Again, The Doc.
- For Science!: XXX wants to graft Pluto's head to a chicken just to see what comes out of the eggs afterward.
- Four-Fingered Hands: Aside from Mickey, Dr. XXX also has these despite being human.
- Have a Gay Old Time: The cartoon predates the first use of the X classification rating for pornographic films by about 35 years. As a result, Dr. XXX's name tends to get changed to The Mad Doctor in modern appearances like Epic Mickey.
- Knight of Cerebus: Dr. XXX for the cartoon and the Disney franchise in general, as a darker villain wouldn't show up until Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.
- Large Ham: Dr. XXX when he explains his Evil Plan.
- Lean and Mean: The doctor is very tall and thin.
- Living Shadow: While Pluto is being hung by a hook, the Mad Doctor takes a pair of scissors and cuts Pluto's shadow in half. Disturbingly, the shadow then just hangs there lifelessly as Pluto continues to squirm and howl for help...
- Mad Doctor: Subverted. Despite the title, XXX uses no medical technology at all. While he does have the title of "doctor", he fits the Mad Scientist trope much better.
- Mad Scientist: Dr. XXX. He is an Evil Genius who performs horrible experiments on animals For Science!.
- Matryoshka Object: When Mickey hears Pluto howling near the end, he encounters a door version of this; he opens five doors that are all on the same hinges before reaching the locked sixth, which he resolves to ramming. It doesn't go how he expected.
- Morally Ambiguous Doctorate: XXX doesn't seem to practice any medicine, as he acts more like a Mad Scientist than a Mad Doctor.
- Obviously Evil: XXX is a skeleton thin man with Evil Eyebrows, a Beard of Evil, and a villain mustache.
- Public Domain Animation: This is one of the very few Disney works that have slipped into the Public Domain.
- Ramming Always Works: Except when the door can make use of Door Judo all by itself.
- Sadist: XXX clearly takes joy in his horrible experiments.
- Saw Blades of Death: A saw blade instrument is present above the operating table, for purposes of cutting up anyone under it.
- Say My Name: "PLUTO!!!"
- Stealth Pun:
- Part of one drawing on the board is the sequence of a dog, then a division sign, then a saw. Get it? A dog divided by a saw?
- Two more that also double as Visual Puns occur during Dr. XXX's monologue to Pluto, who is strapped under an X-Ray allowing view of his heart and ribcage. Halfway through, Pluto's heart begins to race and jumps up into his throat (so he has his heart in his throat). Then at the conclusion of the monologue, his heart falls all the way down to his pelvis (or his heart sank).
- Stock Scream: Mickey's yells in this short are easily mistakable for the famous Goofy Holler. (They are slightly different, but seem to be early versions of it).
- Strapped to an Operating Table: Mickey himself at the climax, as a giant buzzsaw lowers to slice him in half.
- Villain Song: Sort of. Doctor XXX's monologue.
- What Happened to the Mouse?: Dr. XXX cutting Pluto's shadow in half is the last shot we see of the poor dog inside the castle. Justified due to the whole thing being a dream. But one can only imagine Mickey assuming the worst.
- Writers Cannot Do Math: One of the drawings on the mad doctor's chalkboard, refers to the 32nd root of minus divided by zero. Of course, the character who wrote it was completely insane.
- Xylophones for Walking Bones: Xylophone music is used in some of the skeleton scenes. It's mainly used to play quick notes indicating the skeletons' movements.