In 1990 Disney released their 29th full-length animated feature: the sequel The Rescuers Down Under. On its theatrical release, the film was accompanied by the 25-minute featurette The Prince and the Pauper, directed by George Scribner. It is an odd little piece of Walt Disney animation history, and probably deserves to be acknowledged and appreciated more than it currently is.
The film adapts the Mark Twain 1881 novel, and uses Disney’s most famous mascot characters in lieu of the original characters. Mickey Mouse stands in as both titular prince and pauper, one of whom has Donald Duck as a friend, and the other Goofy and Pluto. Historical antagonist Pete (aka Pistol Pete, Pegleg Pete, etc) plays the villainous captain of the city guard. More obscure legacy characters including Horace Horsecollar and Clarabelle Cow also make small appearances. They are a wonderful range of characters with a rich, memorable history, and it is good to see that even as the company’s original animated films went from strength to strength they were not forgotten. It was Disney’s first Mickey Mouse film since Mickey’s Christmas Carol in 1983 – which accompanied a re-release of the original Rescuers.
The Prince and the Pauper‘s other great ‘claim to fame’ is that it was the last traditionally animated film that Disney ever made. The Little Mermaid had included a test sequence at its climax of a new computer-aided animation system known as CAPS, and from The Rescuers Down Under all of Disney’s subsequent cel-animated films made use of it. The difference is palpable: there is a genuine hand-crafted sense to The Prince and the Pauper, and a loose roughness to the details that all-but vanishes from later films. It creates an immediate warmth: a human touch that you only really gets from films that have been drawn and coloured by hand. It is all well directed by George Scribner, and certainly far superior to his earlier feature Oliver & Company.
It is also helped by its length. At 25 minutes, there is no need for padding or extended musical numbers. It is much longer than a traditional Disney short, which enables the story to have more depth and a proper three-act structure. It is an odd length all told, and it is a shame that there are not more avenues for works at this length. Hopefully with the versatility of online streaming, we might get more half-hour animations via Disney+.
Sadly The Prince and the Pauper itself is not yet available from Disney+; although the 1962 live-action version is. Most recently it was released on DVD as part of the Walt Disney Animation Collection and Walt Disney Fables ranges. It is a wonderful and well-crafted gem.