Hello and welcome to In Too Deep Into Disney, where I over-analyse a certain section of pop culture.
Fun and Fancy Free is a movie that features two shorts… Both of which are okay, just a bit too minuscule to stand on their own but don’t really gel all that well together… In a film that also has odd segments featuring Jimmy Cricket and Live-Action stuff…
Okay we all know that this is just an excuse for me to ‘badmouth’ Mickey Mouse in a blog that isn’t gonna win anyone over, since I can guarantee all of my readers are going to go into this close-minded. Still, if I can have just one of my points stand then I think I’ve made a pretty good case.
(Though honestly I’m surprised anyone is shocked by my apparent hatred of Mickey besides saying, and I quote: â€œThis is one of those shorts that really does highlight why people like Donald Duck so much more than Mickey Mouse. Whilst Mickey Mouse is a non-entity of a character (who I’ll talk about when we get to his last theatrical appearance) Donald Duck is always fun to watch since he represents that hair-breath trigger we all have inside of us.â€ from the Sauldos Amigos review and: â€œWhat’s really odd is that it’s Donald who takes centre stage, not Mickey. Even more odd is that Donald has had more presence in these animated movies than poor old Mickey Mouse. Don’t worry, at some point I will explain why Mickey is a complete bore of a character who has no modern day appeal, but it is still interesting to see that Donald is the one that has gotten so popular over the rest of the characters. Mostly because he’s the funniest to watch and we relate to him the best.â€ from the Three Caballeros review, which just goes to show how little people actually read of my blog).
Anyway, onto the short: It’s Jack and the Beanstalk starring Mickey, Donald and Goofy and, lets be honest, Donald is the character that steals the show here. And not just because he goes postal and tries to kill everyone. No he steals it by just having the funnier lines and the funnier moments and always getting the comeuppance for his various flaws. In fact to quote someone wiser than me:
“The Duck is the most versatile of all the Disney characters. He can carry off any role with honorsâ€”except dumb roles or gentleman parts….He is vain, cocky and boastful, loves to impose on other people and heckle them; but if the tables are turned, he flies into a rage….it is his cockiness that gets him into most of his scrapes, because it is seasoned with foolhardy recklessness….His most likable trait is determination….The Duck never compromises. Regardless of the odds against him, he comes back again and again into the fray. When attacking a problem, he may be either cocky, cautious or cunningâ€”or all three by turns. He seldom flies into a rage at his first rebuffs; usually those defeats serve to bring out his cleverness. He dosen’t stay angry for long peroids; even in his wildest rages, he can be completely and instantly mollified with a little gratification. He is easily amused and laughs especially heartily when he thinks he has caused some person or thing discomfort.”
Goofy also has plenty of good moments of being Goofy and having fun. And, since the guy never appears in another movie, I better quote this in full about the man dog Goof thing:
â€œIt is difficult to classify the characteristics of the Goof into columns of the physical and mental, because they interweave, reflect, and enhance one another. Therefore it will probably be best to mention everything all at once. Think of the Goof as a composite of an everlasting optimist, a gullible Good Samaritan, a half-wit and a shiftless, good-natured hick. He is loose-jointed and gangly, but not rubbery. He can move fast if he has to, but would rather avoid any overexertion, so he takes what seems the easiest way. He is a philosopher of the barber shop variety. No matter what happens, he accepts it finally at being for the best or at least amusing. He is willing to help anyone and offers his assistance even when it is not needed and just creates confusion. He very seldom, if ever, reaches his objective or completes what he has started. His brain being rather vapory, it is difficult for him to concentrate on any one subject. Any little distraction can throw him off his train of thought and it is extremely difficult for the Goof to keep to his purpose. Yet the Goof is not the type of half-wit that is to be pitied. He doesn’t dribble, drool or shriek. He has music in his heart even though it is the same tune forever and I see him humming to himself while working or thinking. he talks to himself because it is easier for him to know what he is thinking if he hears it first. His posture is nil. His back arches the wrong way and his little stomach protrudes. His head, stomach, and knees lead his body. His neck is quite long and scrawny. His knees sag and his feet are large and flat. He walks on his heels and his toes turn up. His shoulders are narrow and slope rapidly, giving the upper part of his body a thinness and making his arms seem long and heavy, though actually not drawn that way. His hands are very sensitive and expressive, and though his gestures are broad, they should reflect the gentleman. Never think of the Goof as a sausage with rubber hose attachments. Though he is very flexible and floppy, his body still has a solidity and weight. The looseness in his arms and legs should be achieved through a succession of breaks in the joints rather than what seems like the waving of so much rope. He is not muscular, yet has the strength and stamina of a very wiry person. His clothes are misfits: his trousers are baggy at the knees and the pants legs strive vainly to touch his shoe tops but never do. His pants droop at the seat and stretch tightly across some distance below the crotch. His sweater fits him snugly except for the neck and his vest is much too small. His hat is of a soft material and animates a little bit. The Goof’s head can be thought of in terms of a caricature of a person with a pointed dome – large, dreamy eyes, buck teeth and a weak chin, a large mouth, a thick lower lip, a fat tongue and a bulbous nose that grows larger on its way out and turns up. His eyes should remain partly closed to help give him a stupid, sleepy appearance, as though he were constantly straining to remain awake, but of course, they can open wide for expressions or accents. He blinks quite a bit. He is very bashful, yet when something very stupid has befallen him, he mugs the camera like an amateur actor with relatives in the audience, trying to cover up his embarrassment by making faces and signalling to them. He is in close contact with sprites, goblins, fairies and other such fantasia. Each object or piece of mechanism which to us is lifeless, has a soul and personality in the mind of the Goof. The improbable becomes real where the Goof is concerned. He has marvelous muscular control of his fanny. he can do numerous little flourishes with it and his fanny should be used whenever there is an opportunity to emphasize a funny position. This little analysis has covered the Goof from top to toes, and having come to his end, I end.â€
(Okay pretty long, but better then anything I can write and was written by the man that made Goofy the character he is today, Art Babbitt).
Okay so back on topic. So Donald is loud and obnoxious and gets punished for it. That’s funny, that has a lot you can do with it. Goofy is well-meaning but often gets himself hurt in comedic ways, but we forever sympathise with him. Another good character to do a lot with. And Mickey? Well to quote John Kricfalusi of Ren and Stimpy fame:
“Mickey is the ultimate bland character. His appeal completely depends on how cute the individual artists can draw such simple shapes. He’s made of circles and ovals and has no personality. He dosen’t even have a distinct voice. It’s just Walt in falsetto-which sounds exactly like anyone else doing a falsetto. He’s very cute though and is a good character to train your youngest kids to understand cartoons with. He makes a good logo.”
So does this criticism hold merit? I argue yes, that coupled with other observations Mickey is not nearly as brilliant a character as other people tend to make him out to be. So what is my case for it?
Accusation #1: Mickey lacks any edge, but giving him edge is always doomed to fail.
So what do I mean about this? What is the classic image of Mickey Mouse? A go-getting young mouse willing to do what he can to help his friends and save the day. Which is nice. â€¦ But ultimately uninspiring. Mickey lacks all the salt and vinegar that made Donald the stand out star at the Disney studio. And as time went on Mickey was forced to become less flawed and more perfect in order to appease a younger audience. Back in the original shorts Mickey would get into scraps and cause all sorts of mischief. But as time went on that side of him slowly eroded away into there was nothing but a bland character left.
â€œBut wait!â€ I can hear you inevitably cry. â€œWhilst that may be true for 50s â€“ 80s Mickey, you completely forgot to mention Runaway Brain and Epic Mickey, thus making everything about your argument invalidâ€.
But this is where the second part of my accusation comes in. Runaway Brain is almost loathed by Disney and barely gets referenced at all. They see it as an embarrassing mistake. And to be fair it is quite an uncomfortable short to watch. After years of painting Mickey as a saint having him become this selfish, short-sighted buffoon who forgets about things is a bit jarring. Especially when they bring in Franken-Mickey in the second half of the short. It was a short designed to revitalised Mickey Mouse but ended up proving that you can’t go too far without destroying the character. Seeing Mickey act like that really seems Out Of Character to how Disney normally portrays him. But what about Epic Mickey?
Well before you bring it up, I must counter with â€œThe only reason Mickey was like that was in reaction to Mickey becoming bland.â€ Warren Specter himself said that was why he was bringing Mickey back to his grass-roots of being more of a mischievous scamp. But if the argument of ‘Mickey wasn’t always perfect’ was false, then Epic Mickey wouldn’t exist. Obviously there had to be some weight for the argument for Warren to feel this way and thus react to it. But as for the game, I have not played it, so I can’t accurate judge Mickey.
But bringing it back to section two of accusation one: Trying to bring flaws into Mickey at this point feels incredibly jarring and out of place. It’s like trying to make a darker and gritter version of Superman. It only works if you accept it as some out of continuity experiment, not the real character. Or if it is about the real character it is only a temporary thing before the status quo reasserts itself. Mickey Mouse has become stuck in the limited threshold Disney has given him. He can’t venture too far away from it before he starts destroying our preconceived image of who Mickey Mouse is. However he can’t stick in it without appearing bland and boring. Mickey Mouse sucks as a character because he’s ultimately trapped in a situation where development is nigh on impossible at times, since it goes contrary to what the public wants.
Accusation #2: Mickey’s flaw isn’t his perfection, it’s because he’s generic.
Let me elaborate on this. Moviefan12 brought up his theory that I hate Mickey Mouse because he’s too ‘perfect’, a theory based on a somewhat dodgy presumption (you can read his theory here: https://www.manic-expression.com/apps/blog/show/24185098-a-look-at-disney-why-mickey-mouse-does-not-suck-as-a-character). He presumed that I hated Mickey solely because he was a Mary Sue. Truth be told Mickey does have plenty of flaws to him, but that doesn’t immediately make him a strong character. After all Bella from Twilight has flaws (she’s an idiot first and foremost, an idiot second and second-most, and an idiot last and last-most, with many other flaws in-between), but does that automatically make her a strong character? No, just because a character has flaws doesn’t make them good.
On a side note: The best example of why Mickey is ‘too perfect’ is the Kingdom Hearts series. Now taking out BBS (the only one I haven’t played cos I’m not rich enough to afford 5 gaming systems), the rest of them do tend to portray him as a Mary Sue. In KH1 he appears as a literal Dues Ex Machina and saves the day without any real build-up. In COM he once again saves the day and, whilst there was some build up to it, he doesn’t really develop much. KH2 (his largest role to date) has him once again by an almost all-perfect character since he’s very rarely portrayed in the wrong, nor do any of the characters ever question him. And I know the comeback: â€œOh he got mad when Goofy appeared to be dead, thus he’s flawed, thus everything you say must be wrongâ€. One moment does not make a strong character. And he’s never portrayed as being wrong for wanting revenge. Nobody ever calls him out on anything. In his last big role, KH 3D, he does show to have flaws in the world based on Fantasia but, since that was based on an original poem, it’s hardly fair to say that Mickey himself is the flawed character since he’s just acting out a part. And while he does lose the fight at the end, he still isn’t judged as anything but right. Then again I could be misremembering it, so feel free to flame me.
But back on topic. It’s not Mickey’s perfection (or lack of as the case was so well made by Moviefan12) that annoys me, it’s the fact that he is so generic. Mickey can be placed at any time and in any place. Now whilst on the surface this seems like a great thing, examine that more closely. Mickey is so nondescript that he can be put anywhere and fit in. Meaning he can’t have too many defining characteristics or he’d otherwise be unable to be used. You couldn’t put characters like Dumbo or Rapunzel into other time settings and make it work. It would feel fundamentally wrong since the characters exist so perfectly in their universe. Even Spongebob Squarepants, the Mickey Mouse of our time, can’t be put into any situation. He’s grounded by the world around him. But getting back on topic.
To put it another way by quoting John Canemaker: “As an “actor”, the early Mickey’s expressive range was as limited as his black and white coloring: There was a “happy” Mickey and a “not-so-happy” Mickey. He had a personality because he could think and solve problems, but he was a character whose emotive reactions were of the broadest, most rudimentary sort and quite unconvincing.” If Mickey Mouse was an actor, he’d be terribly typecast as playing the same role over and over again. The generic good guy hero. No edge, no real defining features not found on other characters. Just the most basic, simplistic concept of the hero in its most basic form. There’s nothing all that unique about Mickey Mouse that hasn’t been done by other, better characters. Mickey is just a rather basic character with nothing that makes him really stand out.
Accusation #3: Whilst Mickey is timeless his stories aren’t, thus leading him to get stale.
As mentioned above about Mickey’s generic nature, as well as the lack of ability to give him edge, Mickey’s stories have become rather repetitive. When you have a character that predictable, there’s only so much you can do. Like Superman, you’re bound to having the same outcomes time and again. There’s no moral dilemma because you know he’s going to do the right thing. When I said ‘you’ve seen one Mickey short you’ve seen them all’ I meant that once you know the basic pattern of the character and the shorts, all that really changes are the gags and backgrounds. With nothing new to do with Mickey and nothing new to be done to him, the timeless character often shows that he’s repeating himself over the last 85 years (just like I have over the last 3000 words). But whilst talking about timelessness…
As mentioned previously, the Mickey Mouse and gang of our time is easily Spongebob Squarepants. Patrick is Goofy, Squidward is Donald Duck, they repeat much the same tropes that Mickey and Co laid out. But they relate better to a modern audience because they’re more interesting. Spongebob has more flaws than Mickey Mouse, can be experimented with more than Mickey Mouse and is ultimately the more well-defined character than Mickey Mouse. When Spongebob goes to medieval times he still acts like Spongebob, flaws and all. Spongebob could never be inserted over the top of another story because his essential nature would over-ride the character he’s being inserted over. Meanwhile Mickey Mouse just easily slips into place since he doesn’t have anything about him that the character he’s replacing wouldn’t already have.
Accusation #4: Bongo
And my last accusation brings us back to the first short of the film, Bongo. Why do I bring this up? Because Bongo shares many, many similarities with Mickey Mouse. But I like Bongo more. Why? Well perhaps its because he has a relateable motive (trying to win the girl), perhaps its because he’s the under-dog, perhaps because he’ll be a badass summon to have in Kingdom Hearts (seriously he kicks arse with his unicycle). But ultimately it’s because whilst sharing many qualities with Mickey Mouse, he ultimately fits into the world better then Mickey does in his short. I can’t see Bongo go to any other time period or setting. He is tied into his world. Mickey meanwhile is just a facsimile thrown over the top of an existing story without the need to adapt the character all that much.
Defence: Am I being too hard on Mickey Mouse?
So now for the defence to speak. Am I being too hard on Mickey Mouse? Ultimately yes. I am expecting way too much of a simplistic character designed to make money. I’m asking for depth and complexity of a character not designed to have either of those things. To quote Walt Disney himself: “The best reason for Mickey’s popularity any of us have been able to come up with is the fact that Mickey is so simple and uncomplicated, so easy to understand, that you can’t help liking him.” Mickey is designed to be simple. It’s like getting angry at a car for not being able to do 88 mph when it’s not suppose to be able to do it in the first place.
Counter-Defence: But am I wrong?
But is it a crime to want depth and substance to a character? Is it a crime to expect a character 85 years old to change and develop, to try new things rather than play it safe. Can a jury of my peers convict me for asking that such an iconic character break out of the mould its set for itself and move away.
Ultimately this blog isn’t so much a go at Mickey Mouse but at the Disney company. Disney is the ones that caused Mickey to stagnate and become nothing more than a marketing tool. Disney is the one that resists any dramatic change. Disney is the one that is more concerned with selling merchandise than improve character. As such whilst Mickey is a somewhat good character, he’s ultimately mishandled. And that’s what makes him suck.
So why didn’t I just call this blog â€œWhy Mickey Mouse is misused by Disneyâ€? Because you wouldn’t have read it all otherwise. Can you blame a man for stirring the pot to get people to listen?
Anyway so there you have it. One long look at the character of Mickey Mouse and the various problems I, a humble blogger, have with him. If you disagree with anything (which you will, I can put money on it) feel free to leave a comment. Till next time.