Hereâs an interesting quote from Walt Disney:
âThe robot angle is popular now. There have been several robots made that really do perform things, and the public is aware of the possibility of the thing.â
The cartoon was an odd and decidedly offbeat entry in the still clearly evolving Mickey Mouse series. As Walt noted, a fascination with robots and mechanical men was gradually emerging in Depression-era popular culture and it would reach a crescendo of sorts with Westinghouseâs introduction of Elektro the Robot at the 1939 New York Worldâs Fair. But while Mickeyâs automaton marvel is certainly inspired by representations of robots in the science fiction pulp magazines of the era, the cartoonâs story and setting are much more pedestrian and decidedly non-âfantasticâ in nature.For Sam, as Mickey named his mechanical wonder, is not destined for the amazing adventures experienced by his magazine and Hollywood counterparts, but was created in fact for a slightly less inspired function: boxing.
Samâs adversary in the ring took its cue from another popular archetype of the period, a savage and menacing gorilla. Likely the shortâs creative talent were aware of the impending April 1933 release of Merian C. Cooperâs King Kong, as the storyâs boxing simian just happened to be named The Kongo Killer.
In the end what I enjoy the most about this particular short is the simple tin can-style design of Sam and how it epitomized those early steam-powered, gear-filled representations of mechanical men. Cartoons are very often snapshots of popular culture, and Mickeyâs Mechanical Man presented us with an early rendition of what would become a major icon of science fiction-themed entertainment.
Special thanks to Hans Perk who made available Waltâs original notes for Mickeyâs Mechanical Man on his website A. Film L.A.