MICKEY MOUSEOriginal Medium: Theatrical Animation
Released by: Disney
First appeared: 1928
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According to the official legend, Mickey Mouse was the result of a brilliant burst of inspiration, which struck Walt Disney during a train ride from New York to Los Angeles. In New York, he'd just
seen his popular character, Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, hijacked by his distributor and farmed out to another animation outfit. By the time he arrived in Hollywood, he was ready to roll with Oswald's replacement.
A more realistic story might be that he and key staff members, particularly Ub Iwerks, labored long hours to craft a gag vehicle incorporating various characteristics they'd seen work in popular cartoons — particularly Felix the Cat, who functioned as a template for many characters of the time whose design varied mainly in their ears.
Whether Mickey was more a result of inspiration or perspiration, he first appeared in Plane Crazy (1928), and very soon eclipsed Oswald. (The latter was the subject of a series of second-rate cartoons by animation director/producer Walter Lantz, who is more famous for his work on Woody Woodpecker, and is virtually forgotten today.)
When movies started talking, Disney couldn't wait to bring the new technology to cartoons. Steamboat Willie (1928) was the first synchronized sound cartoon, and from then on, there was no stopping The Mouse. (Tho it wasn't, as commonly thought, the first sound cartoon altogether — that honor went to a 1924 Max Fleischer "Song Cartune".) Mickey acquired supporting characters, including a girlfriend, Minnie; an arch-enemy, Pegleg Pete; a bunch of pals such as Horace Horsecollar and Goofy; and a dog, Pluto. He switched to color with The Band Concert (1935), and never looked back.
Amazingly enough, Mickey's only Academy Award is for a film he was scarcely even in — Lend a Paw (1941), where the real star is Pluto. But Mickey wasn't slighted by the Oscars — in 1931, Walt Disney was awarded a special one for having created him. Mickey cartoons nominated for Oscars include Building a Building (1933), The Brave Little Tailor (1938), The Pointer (1939) and Mickey & the Seal (1948). But possibly his most famous role was as The sorcerer's Apprentice in Fantasia.
Mickey was launched as a comic strip star by King Features Syndicate, in 1930. Within a few weeks, Floyd Gottfredson, the plotter and artist who would make Mickey his life's work, took it over. There followed a long series of well-remembered stories, including "Blaggard Castle" (1933) (scripted by Webb Smith), "The Bat Bandit of Inferno Gulch" (1934) (scripted by Ted Osborne), "The Seven Ghosts" (1936) (scripted by Osborne) and "The Phantom Blot" (1939) (scripted by Merrill de Maris). This era ended in the 1950s, as the strip switched to a gag-a-day format. Gottfredson retired in 1975 and died in 1986.
Mickey also starred in books, sheet music, and every other type of printed document, throughout the 1930s. He even headlined a monthly magazine of his own — Mickey Mouse Magazine, which, among other things, reprinted Gottfredson's newspaper strips in serialized form. These serializations continued when, in 1940, the magazine was replaced with Walt Disney's Comics and Stories. When the Gottfredson material ran out, new stories, written and drawn by such talents as Carl Fallberg, Paul Murry and Dick Moores (best known for his work on Gasoline Alley), replaced it. Today, comic book stories about Mickey are written and drawn by dozens of people, and are published all over the world.
Mickey's original cartoon series ended with The Simple Things (1953), but he is the subject of an occasional oneshot revival, including Mickey's Christmas Carol (1983) and The Runaway Brain (1995). And of course, like so many other Disney old-timers, he turned up in Roger Rabbit's movie in 1988.
In 1999, he was revived as a series character. Disney's One Saturday Morning, which aired weekly on ABC TV, added "Mickey Mouse Works" to its schedule, featuring new made-for-TV cartoons about Mickey, Donald Duck, and Goofy. In 2001, it was replaced with House of Mouse, a stand-along half-hour in which any Disney character, including lesser ones like Super Goof and Li'l Bad Wolf, could star in a segment or two. It was last produced in 2002, but still seen in reruns. Which proves that while the form and venue might change, some things don't go out of style.