Suspended Animation #289
One of my favorite Disney theatrical shorts especially around this time of the year is Lonesome Ghosts (1937) that seemed to appear in every Halloween compilation that Disney ever put together for its television show.
In the 1930s and 1940s, American cinema was full of ghost chasers, ghost breakers, spook busters and more in comedy films starring Bob Hope, Abbott and Costello, the East Side Kids, the Three Stooges and more. So it was not that unusual for Disney to delve into the topic for a cartoon.
Lonesome Ghosts, which debuted on December 24th, 1937 just three days after the premiere of Walt Disney’s first full-length animated feature film, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was a co-starring vehicle for Mickey, Donald Duck and Goofy who were near the peak of their popularity.
That same year saw several other short cartoons that teamed the trio including Moose Hunters, Mickey’s Amateurs, Hawaiian Holiday and Clock Cleaners. The following year would include Boat Builders, Mickey’s Trailer, and The Whalers.
The seven minute short was directed by Burt Gillett and featured animation by Bob Wickersham, Clyde Geronimi, Dick Huemer, Milt Kahl, Art Babbitt and others. Gillett had joined the Disney Studio in 1929 and became one of its top directors helming both Flowers and Trees and Three Little Pigs.
As animation authority Steve Stanchfield has pointed out, “Burt Gillett must have had a hand in designing the ghosts in some capacity; they seem to have a kinship to some of the characters designed for Bold King Cole (that he had directed) over at Van Beuren a year before.”
Mickey, Donald and Goofy own the Ajax Ghost Exterminators business and are hired over the phone by a female voice to drive ghosts out of the McShiver mansion that is “full of ghosts”. Although the outside of their office has a sign saying “Busy”, the three are fast asleep when the phone rings. A sign behind Mickey states that “We chase ghosts by the day, week or month. Phone.”Unknown to the heroes, they are being hired by four ghosts with bowler hats and bulbous noses who have gotten bored because no one comes around the abandoned house anymore and they wish to play their pranks. They are lonesome because no one visits.
They have seen the ad in the newspaper stating “Notice! We Exterminte All Kinds of Ghosts — Day and Night Service. Phone Gooseflesh 9000” and decide
to scare the pants off of the “wise guys” who placed the advertisement in the classified section.
When the trio arrives carrying a double barreled shotgun, net, axe, rope, chain, mousetrap and more, the front door falls down when Mickey knocks on it. As they step on the door, it unexpectedly flies up and throws them in to the house and they hear ghostly sounds. Mickey decides they will separate and surround the ghosts.
Mickey is knocked on the head. A ghost puts its finger in Mickey’s gun so it backfires and explodes. The ghost races upstairs and closes a door. Mickey tries to open the door and it falls down and ghosts playing a drum and fifes come marching out of it and go behind a set of double doors.
Mickey opens those doors and a wave of water floods out with ghosts surfing across it on surf boards. The last one comes out on a motorboat and circles Mickey until it and the water disappears completely.
Donald is scared by a pile of dishes crashing behind him and then by a pile of chains thrown to the floor. He is whacked on his rear by a large board twice and then is mocked by a ghost imitating Donald’s fighting stance.
The ghost leaps into a pool of water on the floor and squirts Donald. The ghost then disappears along with the water and when Donald puts back on his hat, he finds it is filled with water that also disappears.
Holding an axe, Goofy is stalking a ghost but is frightened by a ghost banging a pan behind him and then playing a trombone behind him as Goofy tries to claw his way through a wall. Goofy chases the ghost into a set of dresser drawers and in the mirror on top of the dresser he and the ghost do a variation of the Marx Brothers’ famous mirror scene from Duck Soup (1933).
Goofy becomes entangled in the dresser and thinking he sees the ghost sticks a pin in his own rear end to the amusement of all four ghosts. They push the dresser with Goofy in it down the stairs. At the bottom of the stairs, the runaway dresser pushes Mickey, Donald and Goofy into barrels of molasses and flour.
As they struggle to free themselves from the goop, it makes them look like actual ghosts. That image frightens the four ghosts who rush through the house, breaking a window in the process and leaving their footprints in the snow outside as they run away. Donald laughs and calls them sissies.
One of the ghosts appears in the episode “When the Spirit Moves You” on the Bonkers television series where Bonkers and Miranda try to catch him. On House of Mouse, they appear in the episode “House Ghosts” where they scare Pete by pulling his underwear. They also appear in Mickey’s House of Villains during the hostile takeover.
They appear in several videogames including Mickey Mania: The Timeless Adventures of Mickey Mouse, Mickey’s Wild Adventure, The Great Circus Mystery starring Mickey and Minnie, Disney Tsum Tsum, Search for the Secret Keys, Disney’s Magical Quest 2 Starring Mickey and Minnie and the Epic Mickey series (which features additional ghosts).
In 2009 the cartoon was shortened by approximately half its length for the Disney Have-a-Laugh series run on the Disney Channel.
Although unnamed in the original cartoon, the four ghosts have been given the names Jasper, Grubb, Boo and Moss. Jasper is considered the leader of the group and the smartest. Grubb is the smallest ghost and Billy Bletcher provides his voice. Boo is the one who scared Donald and Moss is the one who tormented Goofy.
It has always been assumed that the cartoon helped inspire the live action movie Ghostbusters (1984) since it has a group of ghost hunters and at one point Goofy proclaims “I ain’t a scared of no ghosts” which sounds like the phrase from the Ghostbusters theme song “I ain’t afraid of no ghosts”.
In the episode of the syndicated television series The Mouse Factory entitled “Spooks and Magic” that aired January 1972, at the end of the cartoon Lonesome Ghosts (1937) that week’s host comedienne Phyllis Diller frightens live-action Mickey, Donald and Goofy costumed as their characters from the short who are in her house.