The oldest animated Disney character is none other than a big meanie named Pete. Well, who the heck is Pete?
Pete is a big, anthropomorphic cat who first appeared in Walt Disney’s Alice comedies, which merged live action and animation in the 1920s. Pete first showed up as “Bootleg Pete” – a reference to then-current Prohibition – in Alice Solves the Puzzle, a 1925 film capitalizing on America’s crossword puzzle craze. He hadn’t quite attained his catlike appearance yet, instead appearing as a menacing bear.
After starring in several other Alice films, Pete made his appearance against Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, in a short called “The Ocean Hop.” This short is famous for inventing the cartoon cliché of a character running out into space and not falling until he notices he’s not standing on anything. Even here, Pete is involved in history-making!
Speaking of history, Pete later made a big splash in 1928, starring opposite Mickey Mouse in “Steamboat Willie,” the first cartoon ever to feature synchronized sound. It was also Mickey’s third appearance ever (after “The Galloping Gaucho” - also featuring Pete – and “Plane Crazy”). Pete went on to appear as both a mascot of the Merchant Marines and as Donald Duck’s C.O. during World War Two (at the same time appearing as a Nazi spy in the comic books – there’s a case of mixed loyalties!)
Pete laid low for quite awhile before making a return in 1987, appearing in several episodes of the seminal masterpiece DuckTales. Because of the often-confusing world of cartoons, here Pete didn’t play Pete, per se, but several different characters, including Genghis Khan.
In 1992, Pete had what might have been his highest-profile role to date, starring as Goofy’s used-car salesman neighbor in the TV show Goof Troop. Pete’s not entirely evil here, but he’s petty and obnoxious, holding a grudge against Goofy for ruining his sports career in high school. Funnily enough, Pete and his family (all officially anthropomorphic cats) own a non-anthropomorphized dog named Chainsaw, while Goofy and his son (officially dogs) own a cat named Waffles. It’s a little puzzling! Pete also showed up on House of Mouse on the Disney Channel, as the irritable landlord. Quite a reversal from “Steamboat Willie”!
Since Goof Troop, Pete has again stayed out of the spotlight. He has shown up in the Kingdom Hearts video games, and he also owns a garage called Pete’s Paint and Body Shop in absenstia at Mickey’s Toontown Fair in Walt Disney World, though he never appears. Tucking the oldest – if maybe not the most beloved – character back in a tiny section of the Magic Kingdom might not be the most dignified way to treat Pete, but at least he still has some presence in the parks.
For nearly eighty-five years, Pete has served as a constant foil for our most beloved Disney characters, from Alice and Oswald to Mickey, Donald, and Goofy. Maybe he’s not the best-loved of Disney’s cavalcade of characters, but he’s certainly been the most consistent. Let’s give some praise to Pete!