In the early nineties, I bought this rough animation drawing of Mickey Mouse from a now-defunct animation art gallery called Gallery Lainzberg.


The accompanying certificate stated that the drawing was from the film "Mickey's Surprise Party", a 1939 short that Disney produced for Nabisco for the World's Fair. (The film is available on the DVD set Mickey Mouse in Living Color.)

I see why they might think it was from "Mickey's Surprise Party"; Mickey appears in that film wearing his familiar two-button shorts, with a hat and cane, just like in my drawing. Trouble is, he never assumes anything like this pose in the entire cartoon.

Was this drawing from a sequence that ended up being cut from "Mickey's Surprise Party"? And if not, where did this drawing originate? And who drew it?

As it happens, some animation historians have been working on this problem from the other end. In the 1942 film "Mickey's Birthday Party" (this gets confusing, doesn't it?), Mickey performs a dance for the amusement of his friends, to Minnie's accompaniment on the organ. ("Mickey's Birthday Party" is available on the DVD set Mickey Mouse in Living Color, Volume Two.) Here's a frame from that dance:

Looks sort of familiar, doesn't it? So, Gallery Lainzberg must have made a mistake, right? (A mistake which, by the terms of the certificate, would entitle me to a theoretical refund...but I digress.) They simply wrote "Mickey's Surprise Party", but meant "Mickey's Birthday Party". Well...maybe yes, maybe no. Take a look at Mickey's duds here: a natty shirt and pants, not the shorts/no shirt combo in my drawing.

Okay, so maybe after the dance was animated, the decision was made to spruce up Mickey's wardrobe for the film. That makes sense. But interestingly, there's not a frame in "Mickey's Birthday Party" where Mickey's pose perfectly matches my drawing. I took the nine frames from "Birthday" that were close matches, and overlaid the drawing on top of them. The results are below:

So maybe this discrepancy could be attributed to the cleanup animator. He not only changed Mickey's wardrobe, he "improved" the pose a bit too. But the number "176" on my drawing suggests that this dance was animated elsewhere. Mickey first strikes the pose in frame 1 above at about 23 seconds into the scene. Whether you're counting on "ones" (a drawing for every film frame at 24 frames per second) or "twos" (a drawing for every other film frame), the number 176 doesn't fall anywhere near the 23-second point.

What's more (and here's where those animation historians come in), there's existing evidence that this animation originated elsewhere. On his blog A. Film L.A., Hans Perk posts animation "drafts" created during the production of Disney animation. These drafts specify which animators were assigned to which scenes. Here's a bit of the draft for "Mickey's Birthday Party", specifying who animated scenes 18 and 18.2, the two scenes in which Mickey dances.

"Muse" is Ken Muse; "Thomson" is Riley Thomson, the film's director. Mickey strikes the pose above in scene 18, so that means Ken Muse drew my drawing, right? Well...maybe not. The arcane designation "Music Room" was used on the drafts when there was no new animation needed for a scene. A close look at the screen footage reveals that for both scenes 18 and 18.2, the majority of the animation wasn't new. So, this is yet another sign that Mickey's dance predated "Mickey's Birthday Party".

On his blog Mayerson on Animation, Mark Mayerson creates fantastic mosaics based on the Disney animation drafts, giving a visual representation of "who animated what". And much stimulating conversation occurs in the comments section of his blog. I posted links to my animation drawing there, and it stirred up a good deal of speculation as to the origins of Mickey's dance, which is regarded as a classic bit of animation. The general consensus among several historians is that Ward Kimball, one of Disney's "Nine Old Men", animated the dance. The wild, wacky, and eccentric nature of the dance does seem right up Kimball's alley. But Kimball didn't animate on "Mickey's Birthday Party". So the whole thing is a bit of a mystery.

However...I do have a theory. And here it is: Mickey's dance was animated by Ward Kimball for the 1941 film "The Little Whirlwind" (also available on Mickey Mouse in Living Color, Volume Two). And at some point in production, the dance was cut. For starters, here's Mickey entering his first scene:

That's a match on the wardrobe! Those wispy tendrils caressing Mickey are the aroma from a cake that Minnie just baked and set in her window. Now, it must be said that Mickey is just about to rid himself of his cane, which would seem to blow my theory that the dance was cut from later in this film. However, the cane exits so suddenly and unobtrusively that to the naked eye it seems to just vanish. Here are the fifth and sixth frames after the above one:

To me, the cane's exit seems an afterthought, an attempt to get it offscreen as quickly as possible, disturbing the existing animation as little as possible. Why give him a cane at all if he's only going to lose it six seconds into the scene? It's as if the animator, Les Clark, was told to "get rid of the cane by the time Mickey gets to Minnie's window", but he wanted to avoid reanimating Mickey's jaunty entrance with the cane.

Okay, so Mickey floats along, led by the cake aroma, up to Minnie's window. He taps on the window to get her attention, and signifies that he wants a piece of cake. He wiggles his eyebrows and ears in amusing fashion:

And here's the crux of my theory: Somewhere in this sequence, with his cane still in tow, to get Minnie's attention and thereby a piece of cake, he performed a little dance for her outside her window. This might have fallen between shots 11 and 12. Scene 12, like several shots in this sequence, was animated by Ward Kimball. And a cut sequence might help explain the jarring continuity problem between the last frame of shot 11 and the first frame of shot 12. Here are those two consecutive frames:

And one final bit of evidence: Mickey finally proposes to clean up Minnie's yard in order to earn a piece of cake. Minnie agrees to this bargain, stating "All right, but no more clowning!" The only thing he's done thus far that could really be considered "clowning" is the eyebrow and ear wiggling. But if he had performed the comical dance, Minnie's line would make more sense!

Granted, there are some problems with my theory. Perhaps foremost among them is the fact that there's no indication of a cut scene from this sequence on the draft, although several cut scenes are indicated later in the picture. But still, my theory gets Mickey doing the dance, animated by Ward Kimball, predating "Mickey's Birthday Party", and in the costuming of my animation drawing. I wonder if there isn't some truth to it.

Many thanks to Mark Mayerson, Hans Perk, and everyone who chimed in on their blogs concerning this mystery. Does anyone out there know anything more? I want to find out who drew my drawing!