The Gallopin' Gaucho is the second short film featuring Mickey Mouse to be produced, following Plane Crazy and preceding Steamboat Willie. The Disney studios completed the silent version in August 1928, but did not release it in order to work on Steamboat Willie. It was released, with sound, after Steamboat Willie.
Both Mickey and Minnie Mouse had already made their debuts with the release of Plane Crazy on May 15, 1928. However that film had also failed to catch the attention of distributors when first produced as a silent film. The Gallopin' Gaucho was a second attempt at success by co-directors Walt Disney and Ub Iwerks. The latter also served as the sole animator for it. This is the last time that Disney performed the voice of Minnie.
As the title implies, the short was intended as a parody of Douglas Fairbanks's The Gaucho, a film first released on November 21, 1927. Following the original film, the events of the short take place in the Pampas of Argentina with Mickey cast as the gaucho of the title.
Mickey is introduced riding on a rhea instead of a horse as would be expected (or an ostrich as often reported). He soon reaches local bar and restaurant Cantina Argentina. He enters the establishment with the apparent intent to relax with some drinking and smoking.( On the wall a wanted sign for Mickey saying El gaucho, meaning Mickey Mouse is a bandit or a crook.)
Already present are resident barmaid and dancer Minnie Mouse and a fellow customer. The latter is Black Pete and is soon introduced as a wanted outlaw. Pete had already been established as an antagonist in both the Alice Comedies and the Oswald the Lucky Rabbit series. However this short marks his first encounter with either Mickey or Minnie. The latter pair also appear unfamiliar to each other. The short apparently depicts their initial encounter.
Minnie performs the tango and salsa and both customers start flirting with her. Pete then attempts to put an early ending to their emerging rivalry by proceeding in taking her away. He escapes on his horse while Mickey gives chase on his rhea and soon catches up to his rival. Pete and Mickey then proceed in challenging each other to a sword duel. The latter emerges the victor (by covering Pete's head with a chamber pot he pulls out from under a bed) and finally gets hold of Minnie. The finale has Mickey and Minnie riding the rhea stage left until they are obscured entirely by trees in the foreground.
In later interviews, Iwerks would comment that Mickey as featured in The Gallopin' Gaucho was intended to be a swashbuckler, an adventurer modeled after Fairbanks himself. Later audiences would comment on all three early versions of Mickey Mouse characters as seeming to come out of rough, lower class backgrounds that little resemble the later versions of Mickey Mouse.
The feature characters of The Gallopin' Gaucho were obscure. Mickey was at first thought to be much too similar to Oswald the Rabbit, which may have helped to explain the audience's apparent lack of interest in him. The mostly adult audience had become bored with what came to be called "rubber hose" animation. Disney would soon start to contemplate ways to distinguish the Mickey Mouse series from his previous work and that of his rivals. Minnie's role as performer and damsel in distress is solidified in this. It is also the first time she wears her distinctive oversized high-heeled pumps, although they fall off when she is kidnapped and she spends the rest of the cartoon shoeless. Mickey is also seen wearing shoes for the first time, and as the years went by animators would change Mickey Mouse. In the first three Mickey Mouse shorts, he is a character meant to appeal to adult sensibilities; he smokes, drinks, and cavorts. Soon after Walt and his animators revised their star (for the first, but not for the last time), after which Mickey Mouse became the "wholesome" character designed to appeal to children and to please parents.