Having just turned 91, Mickey Mouse has acquired perhaps one of the strongest resumes of any fictional character, one that would put many real life actors to shame if we’re being truly honest. He featured in the world’s first sound cartoon, he’s been an Oscar Nominee no less than 10 times and has won that award twice. He’s had his name on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, he’s had his cartoons and comics featured in nearly every language and even affected U.S. Copyright law.
But one thing he hasn’t achieved is to star in his own feature length movie.
The Long Movie-Less Career of one Mickey Mouse
Stop and consider how odd that actually is. Walt Disney invented the animated feature. One might assume Mickey Mouse, his most famous creation, would be the first in line. Instead we got a deceptively sassy princess flirting with seven miniature men.
But surely, at some point in the 80+ years that Walt Disney Studios has been making animated features you’d think that Mickey would headline at least one of them.
He’s one of the most recognizable icons of all time. He’s won awards and accolades across generations. Mickey Mania once gripped the entire world. Unofficial Mickey Mouse Club membership used to number in the hundreds of thousands with kids meeting in theaters nationwide to watch his cartoons
But all of that was only for the short features Mickey starred in; as were his awarded Oscars and Nominations. The closest he’s come to feature length would be The Prince And The Pauper, an extended short that played in front of The Rescuers Down Under. So pretty much nobody ever saw it. I mean… I did, but I’m one of those weirdos that liked The Rescuers Down Under, the forgotten film of the Disney Renaissance.
Speaking of the Disney Renaissance, one might have thought that would have been a perfect time to give Mickey his movie. But even then, when Disney found itself on the top of the world for the first time since Walt’s death, Mickey was more of an afterthought. Not only did a Mickey Movie never materialize, but he didn’t even manage an appearance in any of the tv cartoons from the famous “Disney Afternoon”; not even a cameo in Ducktales or Goof Troop.
Timon and Pumba got their own weekly tv show, but Mickey could only be found in merchandise, occasional cameos, commercials, and the Parks. This isn’t to say he was ever forgotten. He’s not Horace Horsecollar; it’s not like Mickey was shoved off to the wasteland and never spoken of again like other failed Disney productions…
In fact, throughout much of the later part of the 20th Century and the earliest part of the next, one could easily have made the argument that Mickey was going the way of the likes of Pecos Bill and Paul Bunyan- two characters that everyone recognizes but few truly care about.
So why now, would it be a good idea to make a Mickey Movie? Well I’m so very glad you asked.
Why now is the perfect time for a Mickey Animated Feature.
For starters, Mickey is hardly in the dismal space that he found himself in the last couple of decades. In fact, over the last few years, Disney has made an effort to reinvigorate the Mickey Mouse (and friends) franchise.
The Parks have developed several Mickey-centric stage shows like Mickey and the Magical Map and Mickey’s Royal Fantasy Faire, and are only months away from opening Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway, Mickey’s first ever theme park ride, in Walt Disney World and soon in Disneyland proper.
Mickey Mouse has also become a bonafide cartoon star again. After concluding a well received run of cartoons for the Pre-K crowd, Mickey Mouse Clubhouse, Disney turned right around and created a new cartoon, Mickey and the Roadster Racers, for the same group.
And if that weren’t enough, in perhaps the best example of Mickey’s resurgence, he’s currently in the midst of a highly acclaimed, Emmy Winning series of shorts that return him to his classic roots.
Mickey Mouse is a hot property again with kids and adults around the world meeting him, or reacquainting themselves with him, a movie would be just the thing to tip Mickey from having a quiet but successful revival, to kicking off another round of Mickey Mania!
But Wait, there’s More
Not only is Mickey positioned for a theatrical revival, but the world is similarly placed to receive a Mickey movie in ways it might not have been before.
Mickey was primarily conceived as a character for short feature animations. He’s designed for short 5 to 10 minute stories. In years past many would have thought that he was too thin of a character to actually manage a theatrical runtime.
But in recent years, there’s been a spectacular showing of Animated Features that vary wildly from having surprising humor and depth such as Spider-man: Into the Spiderverse and The Lego Movie to proving that a film can have the audacity of being about literally anything like The Angry Birds Movie and The Lego Movie
I mean… Spongebob is getting his third feature film this year. If that isn’t proof that you could also make a movie about Mickey Mouse I don’t know what is.
One Door Closes, Another Opens
Finally we get to the why for Disney. If Mickey is doing well now, why go that extra step to make a movie out of him?
Well, this would partially be to open up a new era of Diney Animation, a way to make a statement.
Once Frozen 2 has made its icy splash, Walt Disney Animation only has one other announced Animated project. The future is largely a blank slate and with some considering the Disney Revival Era to have already closed. What better way to communicate to the audience that that they’re not going to slip into another slump than to revitalize the flagship character in his first ever animated feature?
Furthermore, with Mickey entering the public domain soon, Disney may very well have competitors trying to use their famous mouse in competing media. Would they really want some other company making a Mickey Mouse movie before they did?
Instead, Disney Animation could let Mickey be The Little Mermaid or the Tangled to the next great era of Walt Disney Animated Features. The Walt Disney Company loves its theme park synergy. If they started now, they could get the Mickey Movie to theaters just in time for Mickey’s ride to open up in Disneyland.
And if all of that fails, if they really wanted to take their time, they could always work to get the movie made in the next ten years in concert with Mickey’s 100th birthday.
So we have the why pinned down. We’re in a place where a Mickey movie makes sense and could really connect with audiences in a way that he might never have before in his 91 year career.
But what would a Mickey Movie be about?
Well first of all, I can tell you what it shouldn’t be.
The Mickey Movie shouldn’t be this.
Specifically what the world does not need is a film where Mickey Mouse is thrown out of the cartoon world and into human one or uses any gimmick to remove focus from Mickey to center on some sad sack human character who needs to learn how to get a girl; all the while Mickey’s standing on sidelines being rendered by questionable special effects. For further examples of this not working see Smurfs, Smurfs 2, Masters of the Universe, The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle, Fat Albert, as well as Scooby Doo, Dumbo (2019), Yogi Bear, Grumpy Cat’s Worst Christmas Ever, Transformers, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, Transformers: Dark of the Moon, Transformers: Age of Extinction, Transformers: The Last Knight, Garfield, Garfield 2, and every Chipmunk movie that isn’t 1987’s The Chipmunk Adventure.
Also this is unnecessary because Mickey already did this on his 60th birthday.
What would the Mickey Movie be about?
But the question remains, could Mickey, a character designed for five to ten minute shorts even carry a full length film? He’s already done twenty minutes in the past and The Paul Rudish shorts have already attempted to give Mickey slightly longer narratives with two holiday specials that lasted about a half hour.
As for what he could do with a feature length runtime?
Who knows? I’m not going to sit here and type out an entire treatment for a feature length Mickey Adventure (I have one but I’m not going to subject you to it. I’m an arrogant writer guy but I’m not that arrogant.)
However, Mickey is an incredibly versatile character. He can just as easily do comedy as he can adventure. An ideal Mickey Movie would be chock full of both those things. In fact in the Mickey Comic books, which have been running since almost as long as the character has existed, his primary role is that of an adventurer.
But what about drama? That might even be the biggest question. Walt actually grappled with that one back when he was releasing Snow White. He was worried that people couldn’t connect with an animated protagonist. Clark Gable famously wept at the sight of the Dwarfs at Snow White’s casket, proving that they could. Because, as it turns out, human beings can connect with anything.
We don’t even need things to express emotion to connect to them. We relate to sharks, dinosaurs, emotionless robots discovering humanity, and Keanu Reeves. So if we can feel sympathy for sharp toothed rage monsters and John Wick we can probably connect to Mickey Mouse as well.
Disney animators realized this a long time ago. He may be a “Funny Animal” character but he has an expressive face and an underdog persona that people can really connect with. All he needs is the right pathos and he can communicate exactly the emotion he needs to the audience.
Mickey can bring the humor, the action, and the tears; all that’s really needed after that is proper writing team and director. Get people that love and understand the character and the sky is the limit. In a perfect world, this movie would also herald a new resurgence in hand drawn animation but Mickey can look great in cgi as well so it isn’t necessary.
As for plotlines… it could be anything really. Marvel Studios have made big bucks and captured the cultural zeitgeist by drawing upon plotlines from their sixty year history. Mickey has that plus thirty more years worth of stories that could be adapted in one way or another.
And while other cartoon characters such as Felix the Cat and Tom and Jerry had less than favorable big screen debuts, Mickey is unique amongst his peers. Even when stacked up against his frequent co-stars Donald and Goofy.
Donald and Goofy are perhaps the funniest characters in the entire Disney line up but in some ways are limited. Donald, with his irascible attitude is great for a belly laughs but doesn’t work as well as a dramatic or action hero. Goofy is every bit as funny and has been proven to be able to pull off drama (Looking at you, A Goofy Movie), but doesn’t lend himself to big, adventurous storytelling.
Mickey on the other hand can do stories that range from the tragic (see Mickey crying above. To the much more comedic…
or even skew toward the Epic…
Would a Mickey Mouse movie work? Some might think that’s a bit of a gamble. But all the best moments in Disney History were gambles. Walt bet everything on Steam Boat Willy, and with that he built his company. Later, he bet it all again on Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, and was able to build the Disney Animation Studios still serving as corporate headquarters in Burbank. After World War II, when the studio stood on the brink of financial ruin, he gambled on Cinderella. With the success of that movie he not only revitalized his studios but went on to build Disneyland. Had any of them failed then Mickey likely never would have seen his 90th birthday.
Yet here we are with Mickey inching toward 100; all those gambles having paid off. If there ever was a time to celebrate Mickey on the Big Screen it’s now. With Mickey surging again on the television and the internet, and merchandise, all that’s left to conquer is the Animated Feature.
Is there any guarantee of success? No. But consider this: for as big a company as Disney is…
…And history has proven that’s a great place to start!