Cuphead is a game that draws a great deal of inspiration from the colorful cartoons of yesteryear, specifically those created by Max Fleischer and an up-and-coming Walt Disney. Naturally, an animated series on Netflix would have to take the same route in order to properly create that same ink-and-paint motif.
While the Fleischer influences are more at the forefront, the magic of Disney definitely holds a heavy sway over many of the show’s visual choices. It wouldn’t be untrue to say that few episodes are more than a little familiar to those well-versed in the studio’s extensive animated catalog. A few winks and nods might only be caught by a certain few, it’s clear to see that MDHR took more than a little from the house of mouse.
Title Card Openings (Various)
While this was a common visual seen across many animated short films, regardless of studio, the vibrant and colorful title cards that introduce each episode of the series look incredibly similar to the ones seen in Mickey, Donald, and Goofy’s collection of brilliant cartoons in the ’40s and ’50s.
It’s the amount of detail in these title cards that separate something from a Disney production from something from Tom and Jerry gold has looney tunes cartoon. While Disney was certainly no stranger to the simple, painted titles, the depth and textures some of them had are carefully recreated in many of Cuphead’s episodes.
The Musical Instruments (Music Land)
One of the more blatant character choices was the design of the many musical instrument beings seen across the series. From the show’s intro to just random residents of the Inkwell Isles, they all look incredibly familiar, especially the saxophones and stringed instruments.
Giving objects personification is nothing new, especially in the world of cartoons, but the instrument characters seen in the show are almost dead ringers for the ones in the Silly Symphony, Music Land. Although the orchestra instruments don’t seem to have any sort of conflict with the jazz ones, the visual similarities just can’t be denied.
Cuphead’s Shorts and Gloves Combo (Mickey Mouse)
If this wasn’t obvious from the onset, it should be made transparently clear once Cuphead’s outfit is seen hanging in his closet. With little exaggeration, Cuphead’s attire is practically two buttons away from being a half-finished Mickey Mouse cosplay. The gloves could be given a pass, but it’s the combo and color scheme that solidifies the fact.
Considering how Mickey is an immortal cartoon icon, it’s hard to fault MDHR for looking to him as inspiration. That being said, it’s probably something they had to truly toe the line with to make sure his design wasn’t too similar.
The Talking Telephone (Thru The Mirror)
Although it lacks the garbled voice seen in the original Mickey Mouse cartoon, the telephone character in some of the crowd shots, most notably in the “Roll the Dice” episode, is eerily similar to the same character in Mickey’s dream. In fact, the biggest difference is the color scheme.
The original Disney cartoon features Mickey taking a trip through the looking glass into a world full of personified objects, including a jump-roping telephone. While the resident from Inkwell Isle isn’t as engaging as his Disney inspiration, the resemblance is uncanny.
King Dice’s Band (Thru The Mirror)
King Dice already had a troupe of playing card minions in the video game, but their design was changed to be better suited to perform in a Boston-Pops-inspired jazz band. It’s easy and understandable that casual animation fans might see this as no to Alice In Wonderland, but die-hard Mickey fans will note more similarities between them and a different deck of cards.
Yet another design choice from Through The Mirror, the cards have a design inspired by the king, queen, and joker that Mickey meets in his fantasy. It’s not a to-the-letter recreation, but it has enough to get a Disney fan’s attention.
The Graveyard Ghouls (Lonesome Ghosts)
To be fair, the amount of personality that the animators give their ghosts in the episode, “Ghosts Ain’t Real,” is truly remarkable. Every ghoul in the graveyard is distinct and unique, and MDHR has gone to great lengths to make them their own. That being said, there are more than a few elements with one common denominator.
The facial expressions, large noses, bowler hats, and fiendish cackling all serve as callbacks to the Lonesome Ghosts seen in the Mickey Mouse cartoon of the same name. While there’s not one individual instance, there are various odds and ends that cartoon fans will find familiar.
Mugman’s Panic Attack (Snow White and Sleepy Hollow)
In the same episode, Mugman becomes a victim of the cartoon cliche of an over-active imagination in a creepy place. A common trope this might be, but the visuals selected for his freakout are almost instantaneously recognizable from not one but two different Disney projects.
As Mugman waits for Cuphead to come back from the spooky forest with firewood, he starts seeing trees and roots in the shape of monsters, all while whistling a tune to try and keep his cool. The monstrous trees and the alligator root are all inspired by Snow White’s escape through the forest, while Mugman’s reactions are near identical to Ichabod Crane’s in the third act of Disney’s sleepy hollow. They even have an interaction with a pair of deceptive fireflies.
A Remade Skeleton Dance (The Skeleton Dance)
One of the most recreated scenes from a classic Disney cartoon has to be the titular Skeleton Dance. This skeletal song sequence has been referenced and redone in everything from cartoons like The Grim Adventures of Billy and Mandy to commercials and even other Disney projects.
Imitation is supposedly the sincerest form of flattery, and that could be said for Cuphead. Although their rendition of the classic cartoon trope is more of a mambo than a line dance, the skeletons seen in the “Ghosts Ain’t Real” episode seem to have the same sense of rhythm and comedic timing.
The Devil’s Painting Spell (Sorcerer’s Apprentice)
It might go under some viewers’ radars, but those deep into Disney animation and lore will see this instance as one of the most blatant Disney references in the series. It starts subtle, but it slowly builds into a massive a-ha moment that anyone who’s seen Fantasia will recognize.
Although the chore is different and the music has been changed, the Devil gets quickly conned into painting a fence in the style of “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice.” From the way he conducts his magical energies to the way the brushes dance and plunge into buckets of paint is a direct imitation of Mickey and the broomsticks. The music and motif might be different, but the comparison is unavoidable.