It’s a cliché at this point to describe your noble parental intentions not to allow your child to watch television and succeed where the millions of parents before you failed, only to succumb to the relentless unhappiness and subsequent shrill shrieking of a teething/sick/overtired child and plop them in front of the idiot box and please just shhhhhh for a couple of goddamn minutes. That ground is well covered, and thus, let’s accept it as the base premise from which we’ll operate. We’re good people but child-rearing is hard, ergo, the kids watch television.
And when you have two degrees in media studies and a day job that involves a great deal of critical analysis, you can’t NOT analyze the shit out of what’s in front of you. Hence, we arrive at what will surely be too deep a dive into a world constructed almost entirely out of template and cheap, simple animation.
That said, of the choices available, there are far less tolerable programs than Mickey Mouse Clubhouse. True, subjecting yourself to too much Mickey will liquefy your brain into hot sludge thanks to the insane earworminess of these fucking songs (Hot dog, hot dog, hot diggity dog, we got ears it’s time for cheers…), at least it’s a song written by They Might Be Giants, and not some craven, for-hire marketing company retainer-jockey.
Every episode of the Mickey Mouse Clubhouse follows the same basic format – as mentioned, this show is not noteworthy for its deviation from form nor its radical changes in structure from episode to episode. In fact, the whole thing feels like it’s produced for roughly $300 on Windows XP.
So, each episode begins with Mickey walking onscreen and welcoming you to the show. Then the intro plays, there’s three minutes or less of plot that sets up the rest of the episode, the Mouseketools are revealed, and we go about solving the episode’s central problem, set up during the short intro (Pluto ran through some mud and now needs a bubble bath, the gang has to travel to the desert to get sand for their sandbox, etc). Mouseketools will be utilized. A problem will be solved. And then it’s time for The Hot Dog Dance.
Honestly, I’d recommend this show solely on the strength of the Hot Dog Dance alone. My daughter recently turned one year old, and the Hot Dog Dance is probably her favorite thing on earth next to Greek yogurt or closing the door to the dryer. She’s loses her little mind when the Hot Dog Dance comes on and starts flailing her tiny arms with the beat as best she can. It’s amazing.
The rest of the show is surprisingly tolerable. It’s satisfyingly structured in that we’re always pointed toward a goal. Donald and Goofy built a snowman that’s too big and now they can’t get down from the mountain, so Mickey and Pluto have to rescue them. Minnie is trying to figure out who ate some of her muffins. This structure allows for creative problem solving, basic math skills, learning the names of 3-D shapes (cone, cylinder, etc.), and other basic knowledge young children will need to master at some point. And it’s not without moments of honest to God humor.
That said, some episodes play better than others, and that’s largely dependent upon which characters are featured. Think of a Monica-heavy Friends rerun and how that might influence whether you stick around to watch it. What about an episode that features too much Janice. Or anything from the ghastly Dermot Mulroney mini-arc. Those factors will play a large part in determining your enjoyment of a given episode. With that in mind, here are the Mickey Mouse Clubhouse characters, ranked.
- Donald Duck
Donald Duck is the best character in the Clubhouse – and, it warrants mention, one of the greatest characters in any universe – because he’s an agent of chaos. This would be reason enough to enjoy his work on its own, but what makes it doubly satisfying is that Donald views himself as the voice of sanity in a world gone mad.
Constantly exasperated, always indignant, and totally unable to recognize his own culpability in the creation and exacerbation of his own problems, Donald is like if you took the worst qualities of the entire Republican Presidential Candidate field and distilled them into one cartoon duck wearing a sailor suit.
He talks funny. He’s incredibly sensitive, the most likely to get butthurt and make everyone build him a new clubhouse (which actually happened!), least likely to succeed in clubhouse competitions, and most apt to send the entire universe into bedlam. He also serves the vaudevillian role of schlimazel – that which an out-of-control Goofy crashes into, he whose golf game gets interrupted by Minnie’s escaped cat, his hammock which gets disheveled by a wandering bear cub – Donald is the poor sap things happen to. And the world is more entertaining for it. And who is usually doing this to him?
A good-natured simpleton constituted entirely of emotional Teflon and a Mick Foley-like capacity for physical punishment. Nothing fazes Goofy, which is remarkable considering how frequently Donald gets pissed at him for his totally unhinged physicality and his frequent screw-ups. Goofy’s almost always the one at fault when the gang has to search for some animal that escaped, yet he never succumbs to pessimistic fatalism or self-flagellation. It’s a nice counterpoint to my own personal and perpetual neuroses.
Goofy’s also the group’s resident daredevil. He’ll put on the rocket skates, ski down the hill backwards, and fall out of the sky – sometimes all in the same episode. Goofy gets his ass kicked on nearly every episode, yet always gets right back up and climbs back on the goddamn horse. He’s indomitable. He gets extra points for his unabashed love of baloney sandwiches and remorseless ownership of having incredibly foul-smelling feet.
- Daisy Duck
By far and away the smartest and most even-keeled member of the Clubhouse gang. Daisy’s got a no-bullshit sensibility that never skews into bitchiness, bossiness or domineering. You get the sense Daisy probably always knows the right answer to any question, but doesn’t need to intellectually posture.
And although this universe is largely asexual, she’s the gang’s most affectionate member once filling an envelope with 10 kisses for Donald when he was feeling down. It also warrants mention that if somehow these characters were to be transformed into humans, Daisy would be the best looking. I’m not saying I’ve got a thing for Daisy, I’m just saying it’s obvious she’s got the most traditional markers for attractiveness of any character. I am not a pervert.
Loyal, talented, playful and undemanding. But what did you expect? Pluto’s a dog – which, technically so is Goofy – but Pluto is a dog in a much more traditional sense. And it’s easy to be drawn to an animated dog for the same reason people like real dogs. He smiles when you pet him. He chases rubber balls. And whenever the gang needs to track someone or something, Pluto puts his nose to the ground and gets to work. He’s like a better version of your dog because not only could you scratch his head and gain some measure of personal enjoyment out of that just like with your real dog; unlike your real dog, he has capabilities beyond eating fake food out of a ceramic bowl in your laundry room.
- Mickey Mouse
Technically Mickey should be first on this list. I know that. I’m a rational human. The entire Clubhouse functions largely at the whims of Mickey Mouse. He’s this universe’s emperor, but seems to subscribe to the theory of enlightened despotism. But it’s fun to put him fifth for three reasons.
First, I think being fifth would annoy the everliving piss out of him, especially considering he ranks behind his own fucking dog.
Second, Mickey can be kind of a jerk. In the episode when the gang builds a whole new clubhouse for Donald, everyone expresses lament that Donald must want to be away from them… except Mickey. He’s got confidence bordering on sociopathy. Let’s knock that down a few pegs.
Third, leading men are never the best characters. Where would Ted Mosby rank for you in the How I Met Your Mother universe? If you said higher than 5th, you’re a liar.
Mickey gets this ranking and likes it.
If ever there were a spinoff or a “Behind the Music” type of show for the Mickey Mouse Clubhouse (yes, it’s an animated show rendering this idea ludicrous from the jump – just indulge me), the only logical choice for such a show would be to follow Toodles wherever he goes between calls for Mouseketools on each episode.
Why? Because when the “Oh, Toodles!” call beckons him, Toodles always emerges on a hang glider or water skis or wearing off-road tires or from beneath the earth Bugs Bunny-style. You watch enough of this show and when Toodles shows up wearing a snorkel and goggles to help the gang clean up Willie the Giant’s bedroom or some shit, you start wondering if maybe you’ve been watching the wrong show this whole time.
Sidenote: In earlier seasons Toodles was mute, but they’ve since given him a face and a voice. I much preferred him as a cipher and wish, much like Rob Zombie’s terrible choice to give Michael Myers an origin story, the showrunners hadn’t attempted to humanize him. Now I can’t help but think of him as a magical slave, sort of like Genie from Aladdin.
A giant cat who began as the show’s chief antagonist, now serving largely as the Clubhouse world’s only blue collar employee. He’s been a toll booth operator, a postal carrier, and oddly enough, a genie, among other trades. Pete refers to Mickey as “Mickey da Mouse,” which is a much more fun way of referring to Mickey. He refers to Donald as “Quackers” or “Old Quackers,” as in, “Tell Old Quackers I say hello!”
Frequently Pete exists as plot contrivance, which is fine considering without him this show would be nothing more than the Smile Time Fun Hour. Pete is friction. Pete is counterpoint. Pete is obstacle. Pete annoys my wife. Pete is valuable to have around.
Things start to go downhill from here…
- Minnie Mouse
Minnie is a poorly disguised 85 year-old woman. When she says something like “Oh no, who’s been eating my muffins?” you can’t help but get a little defensive even though she’s a cartoon mouse, and you’re just a tired parent of a toddler. Her line readings are equal parts accusatory and passive-aggressive. Uses the phrase “Oh dear…” so much, every time she says it you constantly think about that episode of Seinfeld where, at the urging of Kramer, Jerry cashes his nana’s birthday checks and she ends up on a wild goose chase throughout the city, culminating in Elaine inadvertently telling her to Drop dead!
Minnie-heavy episodes are the ones I look forward to least, and that’s due in equal parts to my inability to give a shit about anything she does, and my worry that at any point she might utter something subtly racist that was okay 50 years ago, but not today – like she’s going to order Chinese food and talk about how nice that “Oriental delivery boy” was or something.
Two things in Minnie’s favor: 1) I find her version of the Hot Dog Dance most charming. 2) The woman who voices Minnie ended up marrying the dude who voiced Mickey, which is so impossibly romantic and cutesy poo, I want to throw up. That dude died 6 years ago (giving us a different and slightly inferior Mickey Mouse voice), and when I think about the voice of Minnie living on earth without her voice of Mickey husband, it just makes me so sad. I have no life.
- Willie the Giant
Willie is like 15x the size of the Clubhouse gang and has the same haircut as Oakland Raiders’ owner Mark Davis. He is probably this universe’s best shot at portraying mental developmental disability (which is to say, if true, this portrayal is grotesque). Willie starts a lot of sentences with “Dehhhhhh….” and often finds himself in the way, attributable both to his unwieldy size and limited intellectual capacity.
- Chip & Dale
Two homosexual life-partner chipmunks (presumably) that don’t often feature in the plot. They’re much more interesting in other properties and fill scenes where needed here. Move along.
Goofy’s cow girlfriend who speaks almost entirely in horribly tortured cow puns. “This party is MOOOO-arvelous!” I’m not sure if we’re supposed to read Clarabelle as a rural character, or if I just automatically think that because she’s a cow, and cows come from fucking farms. My inherent dipshit urbanness might be hindering my analysis of Clarabelle, but whatever my biases, she’s undeniably annoying.
It’s mostly the endless bovine wordplay that drives me up a wall, but I can’t help but wonder if I’m subconsciously repulsed by the idea of her and Goofy getting intimate. Mickey and Minnie – fine. Donald and Daisy – whatever. Goofy and Clarabelle – BARF. He’s a dopey bipedal dog and she’s a talking cow who wears ugly prairie dresses and talks in contrived puns.
There was one episode where they were on a Venice-style gondola serenading each other that made me super uncomfortable. It was like that story arc on Parks and Recreation where Rashida Jones and Aziz Ansari had absolutely no chemistry. Watching them together made you uncomfortable, and you actively fretted whether or not you’d have to watch them kiss. It’d be like watching a brother and sister make out.
- Professor Von Drake
I had absolutely no memory of Professor Von Drake from the Disney universe before seeing him on this series. After a quick Wikipedia search, Ludwig Von Drake is apparently the uncle of Donald Duck and first appeared in the Disney universe in 1961 alongside Walt Disney himself on “The Wonderful World of Color.” You know why I don’t remember him? LIkely because he’s been hiding in Argentina wanted for war crimes for the last half century.
Professor Von Drake is probably best understood as some unholy combination of The Absent-Minded Professor, Doc Brown, Professor Philo T. Pharnsworth, and Dr. Joseph Mengele. He’s constantly tinkering in the Clubhouse and causing the gang to shrink, or locking the Silly Switch in place permanently, or forcing the gang to find him without providing directions in order to look through his telescope to see Mickey’s Comet.
He’s another force of chaos, but unlike Donald, Goofy, or even Pete, his shtick isn’t charming. Whereas Donald is a victim of his own overinflated confidence, Goofy is a simpleton, and Pete is possibly sowing the seeds of coming class warfare, the Professor is a madman. He’s experimenting on the good citizens of the Clubhouse for what I’m sure he believes is “science,” but what we can plainly see is megalomania.
And look, the guy is clearly a Nazi. How do I know this? My favorite Donald Duck cartoon is this one where Donald has a nightmare about being forced to work for Hitler, which is funny, terrifying, sad, intense and amazing. It’s like a Tarantino film.
But why would Donald’s nightmares manifest in this way? Probably because his lunatic uncle was working for Hitler the whole time and it was tearing Donald’s family apart. And now we’re just supposed to forgive and forget and accept this maniac back into our happy utopia? Nuh-uh, buddy! Not on my watch!
So, considering there’s not much I can do about it besides crack idle jokes at my television to make myself feel better, Von Drake earns the sting of my riffs every single episode he’s in. Earlier this week I was watching and he came in on a zeppelin – a fucking zeppelin! Are you kidding me?! – and so I went, “You know, Mickey, back in my day, zis vas paht of ze Luftwaffe!”
I’ll ask where I can get a good marzen in Buenos Aires, or if it’s hard to goosestep with duck feet. It’s fun! Next time your kids are sucked into this show and Professor Von Drake shows up, ask what smells like sauerkraut (or Freedom Cabbage). It’ll make you chuckle, and distract you from the fact that the only song stuck in your head for the last three months was the Hot Dog Dance.