The History of Mickey Mouse

A tribute to the world's most beloved cartoon character.
August 21, 2012

He is one of the most well-known animated characters in the world. If you've been in any store here in the states (or in the world for that matter), you've seen his face in many products. If you've been to any Disney park, you've probably gotten a big bear hug from him. He's Mickey Mouse! ...And he will be the focus of my second article here on Retro Junk. I will (hopefully not going into TOO much detail, thus that could make this an extremely boring post) talk about the highlights of Mickey's past career, what the lovable cartoon rodent is up to nowadays, and what plans Disney holds for him in the future.

Before I get started, let's review what I talked about on "R..I.P. Disney Channel 1983-2006" (which unfortunately got criticized by some RJ users as one of those infamous "this channel sucks now" posts that invaded this site over the past decade). In that article, I talked about how in 2006, the Disney Channel became the black sheep of The Walt Disney Company as a whole, meaning that it transformed itself (not exactly for the better, and to the dismay of "traditionalist" Disney fans like myself) from what could have been Disney's version of what the Hallmark Channel is today, to an MTV for little girls that spews out teenybopper starlets who may eventually become future versions of Lindsay Lohan in a few years (with the exceptions of Selena Gomez, Demi Lovato, and Bridgit Mendler, they turned out pretty decent despite Demi's brief meltdown in 2010). However, that won't stop Mickey from remaining the face of Disney for years to come. Plus, in this day and age (especially the tough times we're in right now), the world needs Mickey more than ever.

And now, we invite you to relax. Let us put up a chair, as Retro Junk proudly presents, The History of Mickey Mouse!

The year was 1928, and during a trip to New York City, 27-year-old Walter Elias Disney found out by Charles Mintz that he had lost the right to produce anymore cartoons starring the character that served as his first success, Oswald the Lucky Rabbit. To make matters worse, all of Walt's artists had been hired away by Universal Studios (who owned the Oswald character the whole time). Devastated, Walt now had to start from scratch and create a new character, one that he would own the rights to. He asked his friend Ub Iwerks to draw up some ideas for new original characters. Walt got the idea for a character inspired by a pet mouse he owned back when he was a child living in a farm in rural Missouri. Walt insisted on naming this new mouse "Mortimer", but his wife Lillian insisted on renaming him into something cuter than "Mortimer", and thus... Mickey Mouse was born.

Later that year, the cartoon "Steamboat Willie" premiered to rave reviews. The cartoon achieved it share of innovations as well. It was one the first sound-cartoons ever made, and the first cartoon to introduce Mickey and his girlfriend Minnie to the public. However, it's not the first Mickey Mouse cartoon ever made. Mickey's first on-screen appearance was actually Plane Crazy, which wouldn't be released to the public until the success of "Steamboat Willie".

Due to the success of "Willie"in '28, and the huge success of Walt's first color cartoon "Flowers and Trees" (a Silly Symphony), the Disney Studio asked themselves, "What will the next step be?", and then they had a brainstorm. They decided to let Mickey hop on the color bandwagon as well, and in 1935, "The Band Concert was born.

Yes, "The Band Concert", the first ever Mickey Mouse cartoon presented in Technicolor. In the cartoon, Mickey has an orchestra he formed perform a concert at a local park. This is also the first Mickey cartoon Donald Duck (who first appeared in the Silly Symphony, The Wise Little Hen) made an appearance in. This cartoon was just a test for what was to come for the Disney studio. "The Band Concert", along with another groundbreaking cartoon short (A Silly Symphony titled "The Old Mill") gave way to a feature film that many thought could never be done, but ended up being a surprise success, 1937's "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs".

In 1940, three years after Snow White came out. Mickey was declining in popularity. He and Donald were overshadowed by cartoon series created by rival studios such as Warner Bros.' "Looney Tunes", and Paramount's "Popeye" series. Walt was desperate to have his favorite character back in the spotlight again. His solution, a Silly Symphony with Mickey called "The Sorcerer's Apprentice". That idea evolved into a feature film called "Fantasia", and "The Sorcerer's Apprentice became the third segment of that film, making it Mickey's first feature film role. Unfortunately, Fantasia didn't do so well at the box office when it first premiered, but it did somewhat succeed in making Mickey popular again (although not quite surpassing his friend Donald at the time).

In 1941, Disney released a Mickey Mouse and Pluto cartoon called "Lend a Paw", a remake of the 1933 black-and-white Mickey cartoon, "Mickey's Pal Pluto". In the cartoon, Pluto rescues a kitten from cold weather, and later feels jealous of him after Mickey takes him in and decides to keep him as a pet. The short became the first Mickey Mouse cartoon to win an Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film in 1942.

Well, those are all the big Theatrical achievements, now we move to the 1950s, where television started to rule. Mickey and Donald were starting to be overshadowed by TV cartoons created by Hanna-Barbera such as Yogi Bear and Huckleberry Hound. However, Walt Disney had bigger plans for the medium. Along with a new anthology series called "Disneyland" (which would later be called "Walt Disney Presents, and after that, "Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Color"), he had another plan for Mickey Mouse. Not exactly a cartoon show per say, but a show that makes him the leader of the club that's made for you and me. That's right, in 1955, "The Mickey Mouse Club" was born. The group of kids who presented this show were called "Mouseketeers", and they were let by a man named Jimmie Dodd. Perhaps the two most-well known Mouseketeers on the show are Annette Funicello and Frankie Avalon (both pictured above), with Annette being the only Mouseketeer personally picked by Walt himself. Unfortunately, Mickey was only seen very rarely in the show itself (except for the opening sequences), but even bigger things were in store for the big cheese... the opening of Disneyland, also in 1955.

Disneyland is not only a place where the young and old alike can have fun together, it's a place where Mickey and all his friends can meet all their fans 365 days a year. Parks similar to Disneyland later invaded the globe as well (Walt Disney World in 1971, Tokyo Disneyland in 1983, Disneyland Paris in 1992, Hong Kong Disneyland in 2006, and coming soon... Shanghai Disney Resort). Although Walt Disney was never able to see any of them open to the public due to his death in 1966, there's no question that Mickey will still be there to see us all around the world, and his magic will still live on in all of them.

Now we fast forward to 1983, where Disney began having its "dark" period. Although they began to lose their innovation in their then-stagnating animation department (When Pixar's John Lasseter joined Disney in the early 80's, he noticed they were trying to cheapen the budget of their animated movies instead of being innovative, which bothered him, and he would later be terminated for pitching an idea using computer technology). However, there were a few good things ahead for Mickey during these times. The Disney Channel launched (which at the time hoped to give him a permanent television home), Tokyo Disneyland opened (marking what I like to call Mickey's first ever business trip to Japan), and he returned to the big screen just in time for his 55th birthday in "Mickey's Christmas Carol". However, despite the title, Mickey only had a supporting role as Bob Cratchitt (he wouldn't have an actual starring role until 1990's The Prince and the Pauper and 1995's Runaway Brain), and Donald Duck only had a supporting role as Fred Scrooge. The starring role actually was given to Scrooge McDuck (who would later star in DuckTales), in the role he was born to play, Ebenezer Scrooge. It also marked a big comeback for Mickey, despite features like The Black Cauldron and The Great Mouse Detective not doing so well at the time (when Michael Eisner joined Disney in 1984, he wanted to shut down the animation division after the failure of "Cauldron", but changed his mind once "Mouse Detective" did better).

Now we fast forward even further to the 90's and today. The 90's was when Mickey would have it big. Disney was having its renaissance, "The Prince and the Pauper" and "Runaway Brain" let him have starring roles in animation again, and two even bigger things were in store... his 70th birthday. His presents? A direct-to-video compilation film featuring his best cartoon shorts, The Spirit of Mickey, and the first TV show to solely focus on him "Mickey Mouse Works" (which would eventually be retooled as House of Mouse in 2001). In 2002, he became the focus of an ongoing video game series co-produced by Disney and the Japanese RPG developer SquareSoft (now Square Enix) called "Kingdom Hearts".

2003 was Mickey's 75th birthday, and he once again got two special presents, 2004's direct-to-DVD adaptation of The Three Musketeers (also starring his friends Donald and Goofy), and "Mickey Mouse Clubhouse" (the second TV show to focus solely on Mickey and Friends), which premiered in 2006. This time, "Clubhouse" was a CG animated preschool show on Playhouse Disney (now Disney Junior) in the vein of "Dora the Explorer" and "Blue's Clues". If you ask me, It wasn't the best idea for Disney to do a show like this. A CG preschool show in the vein of Dora is not a very good fit for Mickey (I don't think it would be a very good fit for any character that was originally animated in 2D, let alone originally meant for young and old alike), but it does its job for reintroducing a new generation of kids to the character.

In 2010, Mickey starred in his first non-"Mickey Mouse Clubhouse" and non-"Kingdom Hearts" property in 4 years, the video game "Epic Mickey". The game also reintroduces Oswald the Lucky Rabbit to the Disney Universe. Mickey has also been announced to be the focus of an idea for a full-length theatrical feature being pitched by Walt Disney Animation Studios veteran Burny Mattinson. If it gets the greenlight, it could be one of Disney Animation's major releases, and the first film in the Disney Animated Classics canon starring Mickey and his friends. I personally think Dan Povenmire and Jeff "Swampy" Marsh (the creators of Phineas and Ferb) should direct the film with Burny and write the script, with John Lasseter overseeing the film as both executive producer and creative consultant. I also think this could be more akin to "The Muppets" and "Winnie the Pooh" (both released last year), in other words, brining back the character and what made him popular, rather than drastically and soullessly re-inventing the characters into live-action/CGI abominations that spew out pop-culture references and fart jokes, not to mention making them "hip" (I'm looking directly at YOU "Alvin and the Chipmunks"!!!). More importantly, I see this potential film also being 2D animated, as it should be because 2D characters in 3D animation just don't work in my honest opinion (Mickey Mouse Clubhouse is an example).

In the years to come, there is no doubt in the world that no matter what talentless teenyboppers are being spewed out by greedy TV execs, no matter what uncertainties we have to face, we will see more and more of this cute and lovable cartoon rodent in the future. Whether he's in movies or TV, books or theme parks, Mickey Mouse will always be there to cheer us up, and will always be the face of, not just Disney, but the world.
More Articles From MattNor91
An unhandled error has occurred. Reload Dismiss