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Runaway Brain (1995)

Mickey Mouse plays a video game while Pluto barks.
Runaway Brain © Disney

For my first post, I decided to write a review about a cartoon featuring at least one mouse due to the name of this blog being Animation Mouse. I believe a great way to start out my series of animation-related posts is to review a cartoon starring one of the most famous animated mice, Mickey Mouse. Also, Halloween is near therefore it would be appropriate to write about a cartoon with a dark theme and taking influence from the horror genre.

From 1928 to 1953, Disney released animated short films featuring Mickey Mouse in theaters. New animated material featuring Mickey Mouse was scarce until the character appeared in a new animated featurette Mickey’s Christmas Carol (1983), released theatrically with a 1983 re-issue of The Rescuers (1977). Mickey appeared in another featurette, The Prince and the Pauper (1990), released with The Rescuers Down Under (1990), several years later. Both Mickey Mouse cartoons were adaptations of classic, public domain novels.

Mickey Mouse shows Minnie Mouse a newspaper.
Runaway Brain © Disney

Runaway Brain (1995) is the first Mickey Mouse cartoon of the typical animated short film length, six to ten minutes, in over forty years. (The last Mickey Mouse cartoon to be released during Hollywood’s golden age of film is The Simple Things (1953)). In North America, the short was released theatrically with the live-action Disney film A Kid in King Arthur’s Court (1995). Internationally, the short was released with A Goofy Movie (1995). This cartoon was animated at the satellite studio of Walt Disney Feature Animation located in Paris, France. (The other satellite studio was located at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida. It produced three Disney animated features: Mulan (1998), Lilo & Stitch (2002), and Brother Bear (2003).)

The cartoon begins on a dark and stormy night (I seem to be borrowing my writing style from Snoopy…) with Mickey Mouse inside playing a video game. Minnie walks in to remind Mickey that today is the anniversary of their first date. She gets frustrated for Mickey ignoring her and forgetting about their special day. Mickey leaves his game to show Minnie a newspaper ad of a miniature golf course, which is a date he has in mind. However, Minnie notices an ad of a Hawaiian getaway printed on the same page and she thinks that is where Mickey will take her on a date.

Dr. Frankenollie confronts Mickey Mouse strapped into a chair.
Runaway Brain © Disney

The Hawaiian vacation is expensive, and Mickey does not have the money to pay for it. Pluto picks up a nearby newspaper and Mickey finds a job opening for a “mindless day’s work.” In response to the ad, Mickey shows up at a strange, eerie house. Unexpectedly, he falls in a trap door and ends up trapped in the lab of a mad scientist by the name of Dr. Frankenollie, voiced by Kelsey Grammer. After a weird science experiment, Mickey switches bodies with a monster named Julius, who resembles Mickey’s old nemesis, Pete. Julius, now in Mickey’s body, finds a picture of Minnie in Mickey’s wallet. Minnie fascinates Julius, so he goes out into the city to look for her. Mickey follows along hoping to find a way to switch their bodies back.

The animation in this cartoon is fluid and expressive, and it fits the quick pace of the cartoon. There are exaggerated facial expressions and movements, but those do not go overboard in order to break the trademark Disney style. The cartoon’s look, including the character designs and backgrounds, resemble the classic Disney style but with more of a complementary twist. The look reminds me of the Mickey Mouse comic books. Backgrounds, while colorful are mostly static which mirrors the classic Disney cartoons. The color scheme fits the dark mood of the cartoon.

Julius, in Mickey Mouse's body, frighteningly enters the front doors of a store.
Runaway Brain © Disney

Even though this cartoon is seven minutes long, this cartoon has a lot of adventure packed into it. There are a lot of exciting, humorous moments towards the end of the cartoon with Mickey and Minnie versus Julius the monster. Dr. Frankenollie is a fun, well-animated character. The voice acting is top-notch with Wayne Allwine, Russi Taylor, Bill Farmer, Jim Cummings, and celebrity voice actor Kelsey Grammer of “Cheers,” “Frasier,” and “The Simpsons” voicing new character Dr. Frankenollie.

There are some fun references and inside jokes related to Disney, and a few are hard to find. At the beginning of the cartoon, Mickey Mouse plays a fighting game (similar to Mortal Combat or Street Fighter, and complete with 16-bit graphics) with the Seven Dwarfs fighting off the Evil Queen disguised as a witch. (You can even hear the Wilhelm Scream as the game shuts off.) The theme from Steamboat Willie (1928) and the tune of Whistle While You Work can also be briefly heard. A screenshot from the mentioned Mickey Mouse cartoon can be seen as a photo in Mickey’s wallet.

There are more difficult in-jokes to find. There are two “blink and you’ll miss it” cameos of Zazu the hornbill from The Lion King (1994). When Mickey falls in the trap door, you can briefly see a pink slip with the initials “J.K.” This is a reference to the departure of Disney executive Jeffrey Katzenberg who later co-founded DreamWorks SKG. The name of the mad scientist, Dr. Frankenollie is based on the names of Disney animators Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston, two of Disney’s “Nine Old Men.”

Julius, holding Mickey and Minnie Mouse, pops out of a Hawaiian Romantic Cruises billboard with two hula dancing girls.
Runaway Brain © Disney

There are some fun little aspects of the cartoon that may not be considered inside jokes, but I thought were worth mentioning.

  • There is a poster on Mickey’s wall with a mousetrap and cheese with the phrase “Just Say No.” Also, Mickey’s house seems a bit unorganized and cluttered with trash, pizza boxes, milk cartons, dirty laundry, and video game cartridges spread everywhere. It shows that such a sweet and innocent character can take the effect of video game addiction.
  • Julius the monster was based a lot on Pete. He even shares Pete’s voice and character design. Unlike most modern incarnations, this character has a peg leg like the early Pete in the black-and-white cartoons.
  • The store Minnie shops for a bathing suit is called The Wet Rat, a possible reference to the idiom “wet as a drowned rat.”
  • The address for Dr. Frankenollie’s lab is 1313 Lobotomy Lane. The number 13 is considered a superstitious number. Lobotomy is a surgical procedure to attempt the treatment of mental disorders. Speaking of numbers, the price for the Hawaiian vacation and the salary advertised for Dr. Frankenollie’s job opening is $999. Flipping the number over reveals the number of the beast as referenced in the Book of Revelations of the Bible.

This cartoon follows an often used story device of two characters switching bodies. (You can find a list of other stories with two characters swapping bodies on Wikipedia and TV Tropes.) In this cartoon, the polished Mickey and the rough Julius switch bodies via Dr. Frankenollie’s brain swapping invention. After the swap, Julius’ body is neat and polished while Mickey’s body is rough, messy, and frightening. It’s unique to have appearances match the character, even if they are in the other’s body.

Mickey Mouse and Minnie Mouse look at each other in awe while on an inner tube.
Runaway Brain © Disney

Runaway Brain has few official home media releases. It was released on the Walt Disney Treasures: Mickey Mouse in Living Color Volume 2 limited edition DVD set. This isn’t a typical type of cartoon that would feature Mickey Mouse due to its horror-driven tone. I recommend watching this because it is one of the most fun Mickey Mouse cartoons I’ve seen. The animation and art style is worth looking at, and there are many good jokes and fast-paced action throughout the cartoon. It’s a shame Disney did not make more of these cartoons starring Mickey and the other main characters of his universe (Goofy, Donald, et al.) at the time of the production of Runaway Brain.

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