Thursday, August 09, 2007

What a Character! - Milton

Throughout the history of Disney cartoons, cats have never enjoyed the stature and prominence bestowed upon their canine counterparts. Both Goofy and Pluto became Disney superstars, but no felines were ever able to break out in similar fashion. Figaro, who transitioned from Pinocchio supporting player to Minnie Mouse’s house pet, made a go of it in the early 1940s with three starring shorts, but then just as quickly faded into the archives. It would seem that within the Disney studio, dogs always did have their days.

Certainly less remembered than Figaro but a notable character nonetheless, Milton, a clever and at times feisty Siamese, made a similar run for glory a decade later. But he too failed to make an impact that would have allowed a longer and more noticeable film career.

Milton emerged as a foil for Pluto in the 1950 cartoon Puss-Café. He and his pal Richard see Pluto’s backyard as a veritable smorgasbord of bottled milk, goldfish and songbirds, much to the annoyance of our hammock-napping hero. Milton and Richard were clearly created from a Laurel and Hardy mold, so it was somewhat surprising that when Milton returned the following year in Cold Turkey, his partner in crime was nowhere to be seen.

Milton’s circumstances had changed as well. Instead of being the garbage can dwelling vagabond of Puss-Café, he was now a housemate to Pluto in a household that very much represented the emerging suburbia of the early 1950s. Less rivals and more co-conspirators in mischief and mayhem, the two work together to secure a turkey from the refrigerator, only to have their efforts fall short when baser instincts emerge. Post-war pop culture conventions such as large unit-small screen televisions and studio wrestling (used to great effect with actual black and white footage) humorously provide the means to the pratfalls and gags that effectively showcase the two characters.

Milton’s third and final appearance came in 1951’s Plutopia, where he takes a wacky left turn in a dream sequence that showcases Pluto’s vision of a Utopian life. Milton dons butler garb, and with newly acquired voice, sadistically encourages Pluto to torment and punish him while at the same time gorging the pup on cream, steaks, bones and other doggy delicacies. At one point, Milton levels a shotgun at his own head as yet another punishment, a scene which ultimately earned the short a Leonard Maltin disclaimer on a Disney Treasures Pluto DVD collection.

Sadly, like many other Disney cartoon stars who emerged during the 1950s twilight of animated short subjects, Milton too saw a potential longer career cut short by the advent of television and the ultimate shuttering of the studio’s shorts department.

Images © Walt Disney Company


Ken in Atlanta said...

You think that cats not reaching the heights at Disney, is because most of the cats that are known are the villans?

Si and Am

and I know I am missing a few, I haven't had my morning soda yet.

Anonymous said...

Can't have a cat if you want the Mouse to live!

Paul B.

Scotty said...

The most well known Disney cat? Peg-leg Pete. Sure he's as much cat as Goofy is dog, but he is a cat none the less. He's certainly been in more cartoons than any other Disney cat, but as ken said, still a villain. I guess cats are just evil, hehe.