Mickey Mouse is my favorite animated character. Part of the reason is historic — he starred in the first movie to feature a synchronized soundtrack, “Steamboat Willie.” And he was the first character and later the emblem for what would become Walt Disney Studios. Walt Disney lost the rights to his successful Oswald Rabbit character and decided to start his own studio with a new idea. As Disney said,
We thought of a tiny bit of a mouse that would have something of the wistfulness of Chaplin — a little fellow trying to do the best he could. When people laugh at Mickey Mouse, it’s because he’s so human; and that is the secret of his popularity. I only hope that we don’t lose sight of one thing — that it was all started by a mouse.
My favorite Mickey appearance is in “Fantasia,” where he plays the sorcerer’s apprentice who gets into trouble when he tries to perform a little magic.
But Mickey has not been much more than a logo for quite a while. What I like best about him, his perpetually cheery outlook, is a challenge for film-makers. It is easier for them to write stories for characters who are frustrated (Donald Duck), clumsy (Goofy), or mischievous (Chip and Dale). As he gets ready to turn 81 on November 18, Mickey is getting more attention — and a bit of a personality change. The New York Times reports that Mickey will star in a new video game and is getting a new look to go with a more aggressive persona. The game is “Epic Mickey, in which the formerly squeaky clean character can be cantankerous and cunning, as well as heroic, as he traverses a forbidding wasteland” battling none other than Oswald Rabbit. Players will be able to decide whether their Mickey character will be helpful or “selfish and destructive.”
I understand that Disney wants to make Mickey Mouse relevant to a new generation. But I hope Disney remembers what makes Mickey so appealing. And I hope Disney pays attention to the lessons of “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” about how much trouble you can get into messing with magic.