Mickey Mouse is now some 80 years old and seemingly the ravages of time have not left a mark on him. A couple of makeovers have left him a little rotund and to many a little misshapen. He has steadfastly refused to update his wardrobe and stuck with the clothes that have seen him through the triumphs and disasters visited on the world that he inhabits over the decades of his life. But do you know what – he doesn’t look at all bad on it!
His main film work seems to have dried up of late and he hasn’t had the offer a movie in over three years. He suffered the ignominy of having his last one go straight to video but he has managed to put a brave face on things and indeed that face remains one of the most iconic images in the world today even beating Santa to that particular record. His employers Disney threw a big a massive party for the Mickey’s 75th birthday a few years back so his has decided hold back on any further large extravaganzas for the time being.
Somewhat strangely Mickey’s story started with a rabbit – Oswald the Lucky Rabbit to be precise. Back in the mists of time Disney Brothers Studio was just part Universal Pictures’ animation. Walt Disney created Oswald in 1927 his round, white face, big button nose and floppy black ears made him an instant hit and Universal approved a series of shorts. Walt Disney met the Universal executives in 1928 with a view to negotiating a new contract. Oswald was still riding high in the charts and Disney assumed that a deal on his terms would be cut and dried. The studio had other ideas and informed him told him that it had hired away all of his employees whilst retaining the complete artistic rights to Oswald. The studio offered to keep Disney on but only if he took a salary cut which he of course refused.
He and Ub Iwerks the one animator who stayed loyal to Disney, started on a session of brainstorming sessions burning the midnight oil to come up with a replacement for Oswald. Oswald’s ears were shortened, some extra padding around the middle, and low and behold the rabbit tuned into a mouse originally as we all new named Mortimer. This name didn’t last and he became known as Mickey Mouse.
The first two Mickey shorts were not successful but then came Steamboat Willy a cutting edge animation – the first to feature synchronized music and sound effects to hit the big screen. The film fist premiered in New York on Nov. 18, 1928 and was immediately acclaimed a huge success. A series of Mickey Mouse shorts soon appeared including, Plane Crazy which actually predated Steamboat Willy. Mickey Mouse became a national icon by the end of the year and it was then that Walt Disney propelled the mouse to true superstar status by starting up a line of Mickey merchandise and not long after the Mickey Mouse Club was formed.
In 1935 Mickey his first makeover by an animator called Fred Moore, earlier Mickey had been drawn as a series of circles which was somewhat restrictive to his movement Moore, who later went on to animate Fantasia’s Sorcerer’s, innovatively gave him a pear-shaped body, pupils, white gloves and a shortened nose with express intention of making him cuter. Mickey also appeared in colour for the first time that year.
By the time that 1937 came around Disney Studios was producing Mickey Mouse shorts at the rate of one a month. Disney himself was providing the mouse’s distinctive high-pitched voice. Mickey went on to reflect the world in all it’s various guises, becoming at various stages a football hero, a hunter, a tailor, and even a symphony conductor. He rescued Pluto from the dog pound, crashed his car, fell behind on his rent, enlisted in the army and had his house repossessed. By this time his life companion Minnie had arrived on the scene and she was always being captured by dastardly villains always later being rescued by Mickey of course, the epitome of the all American hero.
In the 1950s Mickey had his own theme park and newspaper comic strip, and he had branched out on to the new up and coming medium television. Sadly for Mickey Mouse, block buster Disney feature films like Bambi and Sleeping Beauty began to take the accolades and poor old Mickey began to fade away. There was an enforced retirement of 30 years between 1953 with the cartoon short The Simple Things and the 1983 Christmas special Mickey’s Christmas Carol.
Yet despite all this Mickey’s ears are still one of the most famous cultural icons of the 20th and 21st centuries. He has posed for photographs with almost every U.S. President whilst the sale of Mickey Mouse merchandise have declined from their all time high in 1997 they still make up a staggering 40% of the company’s consumable revenue.
Mickey’s last appearance the big screen was a cameo performance in the 1988 film Who Framed Roger Rabbit along with Warner Brothers’ Bugs Bunny. Such was the ego of both these characters that equal on screen time was insisted upon for each. He was even printed on a t-shirt and stretched across Sarah Jessica Parker’s chest for an episode of Sex in the City and our Mickey has entered the fashionable boutique world. In 2002, he mad an appearance in the PlayStation2 video game Kingdom Hearts.
All in all Mickey Mouse still manages to pull in an audience even one used to all the kit and caboodle of our technocratic. Not bad for an 80 year old…
Do you want to know more about Mickey Mouse?
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