“The Prince and the Pauper” (1990) SHORT FILM REVIEW
Written by Jambareeqi
In this adaptation of Mark Twain’s novel of the same name, “The Prince and the Pauper” features Mickey as a peasant who switches places with an English Prince – who looks just like him. With the King on his deathbed, the evil Captain Pete is screwing over peasants in the name of his majesty. While living as a poor mouse on the streets, the Prince discovers what Pete has been up to, and he vows to save his Kingdom from the corrupt Captain of the guards.
Even though this film is only 25 minutes long, it has all the weight and effort of one of Disney’s animated features. I kept forgetting that this was a half an hour special, because it’s so easy to get invested in the story being told, and that’s down to the work put into everything.
While many scenes are very slapstick driven, these physical antics are always played into character development; whether that means establishing Goofy’s clumsy nature or Donald’s short temper. Heck, slapstick can also bring some creative dynamic to the action scenes, because character’s butterfingers or slippy feet will make a fight or conflict more intense.
When the short gets a bit sombre or emotional, the slapstick is immediately sidelined, and the film will successfully achieve a level of dramatic nuance that may take you by surprise. The death of the king is such example, a sad moment that’s directed with a sense of respectful melancholy, but intrinsically tied to the story’s themes of leadership and hope.
I also LOVE how director George Scribner paints Tudor England under the thumb of Pete. The wooden-framed crooked houses are lightly-covered in cold snow, the sky is a murky grey, and poverty-stricken citizens look worse-for-wear. You really get a strong atmosphere of sorrow and hardship from it all.
At the heart of this film though is the story of two drastically different people trading worlds, and how it affects them as characters. Mickey learns that a position of royalty may give him privilege, but the obligations attached make such freedoms redundant. While the Prince gets a first-hand experience of Pete’s tyranny, after years of being blind to the corruption happening behind his back.
I’ve not read Mark Twain’s novel, so I’m no expert on the book’s intentions, but this short really conveys a message of a royal leader’s responsibility towards their people. The Prince is first introduced as a cheeky scamp who doesn’t take things too seriously, but he’s someone who truly believes in justice and compassion; important traits that his father preaches.
Once out in the wide world, the Prince embraces the fun and games of being a free mouse, but he also finds himself in the shoes of a peasant. He realises that his rose-tinted glasses have over-romaticised the merits of living with his people. He’s not a bad person at any stretch, but being born with a silver spoon has clearly distracted him from the bigger picture.
There’s also something really relatable about Mickey and Goofy’s dreams of better lives. Their failing self-made businesses are getting them nowhere, while they work in an eye’s view of the palace, where everyone is lucky enough to afford anything they want. This is a position that many people can resonate with, especially those who are less-than-privileged, because sometimes day-dreaming is all some people have.
Pete makes for a brilliant antagonist as always. His imposingly large pot-bellied size, the burning light of his cigar, crooked smile, and villainous laugh, all help make this one baddie that’s easy to hate with a passion. We’ve already developed pity for the peasants, but Pete’s sick joy from his cruelty makes us wish for his downfall even more.
To Conclude, this is one of the best Mickey Mouse shorts ever made. It’s blend of comedy and drama is neatly-handled with good taste, we empathise with the hardships of our down trodden heroes, and the film whole-heartedly believes in it’s message of justice and compassion for the poor. If you need your spirits lifted right now then I can’t recommend this short enough.