- Written by Randal C. Hill Randal C. Hill
In 1928, when he was involved in a legal tussle with Universal Pictures, Walt Disney lost the rights to his cartoon creation Oswald the Lucky Rabbit.
Disney then created a replacement cartoon figure: Mortimer Mouse. But Walt’s wife, Lillian, thought her husband would do better with the name Mickey Mouse instead. (Thank you, Lillian.)
The world’s favorite rodent, whose simple head is composed of one large and two smaller circles, became an animation superstar with 1928’s Steamboat Willie, the first such release with synchronized sound. (Disney himself provided Mickey’s voice.)
Mickey Mouse would in time be featured in over 130 of Walt’s films, including the starring role in 1940’s now-legendary Fantasia. In 1978, Mickey became the first animated character to earn a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
This and much more are covered in the superlative Disney+ November streaming of Mickey: The Story of a Mouse. While some viewers may dismiss it as a 93-minute commercial for the corporation’s iconic animal, others will appreciate the little-known, behind-the-scenes tales of the Mickey saga.
Here longtime company animators discuss and display their work and explain various stages of the often-complex processes required to bring Mickey Mouse to his millions of fans.
One veteran artist in particular confesses, “It wasn’t just one continual success after success; it was stumble after stumble.” Another animator claims that Mickey became so big that he became a reflection of who we are.
The Disney documentary explores the longtime global impact of Mickey Mouse over the course of nearly a century, how the blithe little guy accompanied us through the Depression and served as a propaganda device during World War II, even becoming an image of hope during the Holocaust.
Under the guidance of director Jeff Malmberg (Marwencol), we see that the passage of time brought different versions of Mickey, as well as the sometimes-surprising societal shifts that he came to represent.
While the Disney Company has always concerned itself with protecting the images of its founder and his mega-organization, the documentary does admit — briefly — to making errors in judgment along the years, including Mickey being shown in blackface and offering negative depictions of Native Americans.
In Mickey: The Story of a Mouse, we also get a one-minute short feature (Mickey in a Minute) of our hero strolling down a hallway, reflecting on posters of his past films until he is suddenly consumed by a vortex and becomes the many images we’ve seen over the decades.
The examination of a true icon — fictional though he is — streams on Nov. 18.
Randal C. Hill enjoys getting sneak peeks of forthcoming movies from his home on the Oregon coast. He can be reached at email@example.com.