In an animation landscape ruled by the likes of “Despicable Me 2” and “Monsters University,” you might not have thought there would be room for a black-and-white cartoon flashing back to Mickey Mouse’s Steamboat Willie days. What a treat, then, to see screenings of Disney’s “Frozen” open with “Get a Horse!,” a retro Mickey short in which director Lauren MacMullan (“The Simpsons”) and crew inventively splice vintage-style animation (and Walt Disney’s own archival voice work) with full-color 3-D rendering. And what’s just as fun: seeing MacMullan re-create that classic tone so entertainingly, kids are immersed even before the thrillingly unexpected moment when Mickey first pops “out” of the screen into our midst, and the two worlds collide. The lone, clever hint we get about what’s to come is an old-fashioned Model T horn oogah-ing, “Make way for the future!”
“SpongeBob SquarePants” gave us a taste of this sort of fusion with the 2009 episode “Truth or Square,” in which SpongeBob makes his way to work with the bouncy, Dixieland quaintness of 1920s sound cartoons. But that was a snippet. To sustain a lengthier six-minute running time, Disney’s artists reel off a dizzying run of period-authentic silliness on top of all the splashy anachronistic antics. Hulking baddie Peg-Leg Pete leers at Minnie, and a dotted (sight)line amusingly underscores the point. Mickey gets even by putting Clarabelle Cow in Minnie’s place, giving Pete an eyeful of udder instead. Kids in the audience giggle. And then the showcase gags start, with displaced Mickey using a cell to spritz Pete’s old stick phone long-distance, or getting swept along by a grayscale pond punctured to create a torrent of 3-D blue. It’s a neat trick that “Get a Horse!” pulls off: making way for the future while affectionately reasserting the relevance of animation’s past.