As he celebrates his 85th birthday, does Mickey Mouse still matter?
As I mentioned in my review of Disney's newest animated feature film, "Frozen," there is also a short that's going to be playing in front of the movie, and as much as I would recommend the feature, I would also urge anyone who's an animation fan in a broad general sense to check it out for the short, "Get A Horse."
Directed by Lauren MacMullan, the short connects the present to the past in a fascinating way, and it is absolutely essential to see it in 3D if you want to see what the filmmakers had in mind. As I watched the short, I found myself laughing a fair amount, which wasn't wildly surprising at the time. It was only afterwards that it struck me: that might be the first time in my entire life that I have laughed out loud because of something that Mickey Mouse did.
Animation is one of my favorite things about the existence of movies. I cannot overstress how much I love the entire idea of animation, and from childhood on, I have watched anything and everything I could. I spent many of my childhood years in Florida, close enough to Walt Disney World that we went as often as eight or nine times a year. It's easy to see how large a shadow Disney animation has cast over the entire art form, and there is no denying that Mickey Mouse is an icon, instantly recognizable around the world.
The simple truth when I was younger, though, was that Warner Bros. cartoons were simply funnier than Disney's cartoons. Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Wile E. Coyote, Porky Pig… I'm not even sure I could count all the times those characters have made me howl. With Disney's short cartoons, I can enjoy watching them because the artistry is so gorgeous, but aside from Goofy, there are very few of those cartoons that I re-watch simply to enjoy them.
Mickey starred in over 130 films, and many of his shorts were nominated for Academy Awards, including 1942's winner, "Lend A Paw." He was seen in comic books, comic strips, on TV, and as recently as "Epic Mickey 2," starring in major video game titles. He has been the face of the studio, alongside Walt Disney himself, as long as he's been in existence. But why? What made Mickey such a stand-out?
He was originally designed to replace Oswald The Lucky Rabbit, Disney's earlier creation, and it was a pretty direct response to Disney's fury over losing the legal rights to Oswald. Ub Iwerks and Walt Disney tossed character designs back and forth, trying dogs and birds and cats and cows before they finally landed on the idea of a mouse. In his earliest designs, Mickey is the very model of simplicity, a series of interlocked circles. His body was, in the style of many of the cartoons of the day, all "rubber hose." From the moment "Steamboat Willie" was released, Mickey was in pretty much constant redesign, evolving slowly but surely into the version of the character that is imprinted on roughly 10 zillion products at all times these days.
What I find fascinating about his continued presence on all things Disney is that Mickey isn't particularly active as a character, which makes me wonder what kids think of him in general. I can't use my own kids as an example because they're exposed to more media than most people thanks to the ridiculous library of films we have in the house. They've seen old black-and-white Mickey cartoons and they've seen the color cartoons, and they've played the "Epic Mickey" games and they're actually big fans of "Fantasia." They are very aware of him as a character.
And given a choice? They put on Bugs Bunny cartoons, too.