Hello and welcome to In Too Deep Into Mickey Mouse, where I take a look at some of the more famous Mickey Mouse shorts.
So I’ve said before that I don’t think Mickey Mouse is that good of a character, that anything interesting about him has been grounded away to nothing. But is this true? Do I have a case? Well I decided that the only fair thing to do would to track the evolution of the character over 85 odd years to see where he came from and where he’s going. So join me over four weeks as I explore the question of â€œWho Is Mickey Mouse?â€
The Simple Things (1953)
We start this blog with an end. This is the final regular entry in the Mickey Mouse theatrical cartoon series. So what do I have to say about it at this point?
Oh if you’ve been reading my blogs I have nothing new to say about this. Mickey has been reduced to the Everyman, a character so bland and boring that I really struggle to find him any sort of fun to watch. He just exists to get into funny situations, rather than a guy that gets himself into (and out of) trouble.
It’s really amazing to see how much of a once great character has been grounded away into something bland and marketable. Mickey being your best friend is great and all, as is him being a symbol of childish innocence… but there’s only so many times you can see the same thing before getting bored by it. Disney seemed to agree, since it would be a good 30 years before he’d appear in a short again.
Mickey’s Christmas Carol (1983)
At 26 minutes it’s pushing the idea of a short, but as a retelling of A Christmas Carol it’s pretty good. It manages to keep a lot of the themes and ideas found within the original. It keeps the ghosts true to the source material while putting a Disney spin on it. And of course having Mickey lose his son is a great little touching moment… or is it?
And this is where I draw a lot of controversy, because it’s where I argue that we’re not watching Mickey Mouse. We’re watching Bob Cratchit as played by Mickey Mouse. Now Mickey Mouse is a good actor, don’t get me wrong… but he’s not a character. He’s not being himself. He’s playing someone else.
To put it another way, we can admire Michael Caine’s take on Scrooge in a Muppet Christmas Carol, but we wouldn’t say that we felt sorry for Michael Caine in the story. We feel sorry for Scrooge, the character in it. Likewise in this re-telling we don’t think Goofy is a ghost, we think Goofy is playing a ghost.
So Mickey puts on a good acting performance… but at the same time it’s just that: A performance. It’s not something that makes it unique to the character. It doesn’t scream ‘Mickey Mouse’. It’s just a rather good acting performance. And sadly this trend continues into his next theatrical short.
The Prince and the Pauper (1990)
At the very least this short stars not only one, but two Mickey Mouses (Mickey Mice, perhaps?). And it’s a good short. Hell it’s a fantastic short. Just the right mix of comedy, action and drama. So what can we learn about Mickey from this short?
Well I suppose I have to work out which character I’m gonna class as Mickey Mouse. Is the Prince Mickey, or is he a completely different character? I’m leaning towards the latter, since the Prince is referred to as ‘The Prince’, while the Pauper is deliberately referred to as ‘Mickey Mouse’. So what’s the Pauper like in this?
Well the Prince is a hella lot more interesting in this than the Pauper. He’s a much nicer, more noble character. Really what Mickey use to be like back in the 30s. The Pauper, on the other hand? Yeah he’s very much the Mickey Mouse of the 40s and 50s. It’s actually interesting to compare the two characters. The Prince is what Mickey use to be like, but the Pauper is what Mickey is now like. The Pauper is okay, but by no means as great. Sure the scene where Mickey comforts the dying King is quite touching, but the Prince is the one that steals the show. But it does raise the interesting problem: Is Mickey Mouse being himself at this point, or is he just playing the role?
I mentioned back in the Brave Little Tailor that, despite it being an adaptation, Mickey was still very much in the title role. Is the same true here? Well yes and no. As mentioned above, the Pauper is very much modern Mickey. He has all the traits we now associate with the character. But at the same time it really does seem like Mickey is playing a character in this. It’s Mickey as the Pauper. So while he is playing a character, the traits showing through aren’t as interesting as when they show through in the Prince.
Still a good short though. Definitely worth checking it out. Can’t say the same for the next one though…
Runaway Brain (1995)
So Disney knew they needed to do SOMETHING with Mickey in the hopes of making him a more interesting character. They had to reinvent him for the 90s, give him back that edge he use to have in the 30s. So how does this experiment turn out?
It’s almost as if they made this entire thing as a terrible bet. Could you totally reinvent the character of Mickey Mouse and still make it work? And the answer is… Sometimes trying too hard to reinvent a character just makes it fall apart even faster. They’re going too far the other way to try and make Mickey ‘darker and edgier’, not quite understanding what made the character work in those earlier shorts. It’s almost as if someone made a subversive parody of Mickey Mouse, rather than actually making a Mickey Mouse short.
Ultimately, while I enjoy this short (a lot), a part of me can’t bemoan the fact that it only exists as a way of trying to do something new with the character. After 50 years of having him being the same bland, boring character as before, seeing him do an almost 180 shift at times is too jarring. It needed to be built up too, the change to gradually happen over time, not just suddenly going ‘and now we’re doing it like this’.
But, at the end of the day, it does address the complaints I had with Mickey. It does make him a bit more of a flawed and well-rounded character. There’s just no ignoring the fact that they go way too far in the other direction to really make it work. The plot is about replacing Mickey’s brain with that of a monster, just so they can morph the image of Mickey. That is the start of the whole thing, and ultimately why the short isn’t the greatest. So could Mickey ever get back to that classic character ever again?
Get a Horse! (2013)
It is of course greatly ironic that the latest Mickey Mouse short is so much like his first appearances. I mean the first minute and a half is a faithful retelling of the Mickey Mouse 30s short, seeing like it had been pulled directly from that time period (if it wasn’t for the better than average animation, that was). And then suddenly the rules change and Mickey goes 3D and… Yeah it still works. It’s still great to see, even if at first it seems so incredibly unusual.
Now when I first saw it I didn’t like how vindictive Mickey was towards Pete (I mean he went almost overboard in the punishment) but after seeing what he use to be like, I have to admit that works pretty well for the character. He only attacks because he himself was being attacked by Pete. So it fits in well for the character.
Honestly, this is who Mickey Mouse should be. He’s great in this short and represents what the character should be. He’s adventurous, brave, funny, all sorts of things really. He’s not the bland cookie-cutter character that Disney seemed to enjoyed parading out in front of us. If we could get a Mickey Mouse that’s more like this, I’ll be a happy man indeed.
So there you have it. My four week look at Mickey Mouse, just in time for his birthday in a few days. If you disagree with anything, or have anything to add, feel free to leave a comment. Till next time.