Blog Directory CineVerse: Still mousing around

Still mousing around

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

If you haven't gotten the recent memo from cartoonland, cute and cuddly Disney is buying the testosterone-tinged superhero factory known as Marvel Entertainment for a cool $4 billion. Meaning move over Donald, Goofy, Pluto and your ilk, and make room for the likes of Spider-Man, Hulk, Iron Man, Fantastic Four and countless other muscle-flexing larger-than-life action heroes who will be promoted ad nauseum by the Disney marketing machine in countless movies, commercials and merchandise.

Speaking of the House of Mouse and cartoon characters, the granddaddy of them all is still alive and kicking. He isn't exactly hobbling around with a cane and a bottle of Geritol in his pocket, but Mickey Mouse, the timeless 'toon face of the Disney empire, is now in his eighties, believe it or not.

The world’s most famous mouse was born in 1928 out of the fertile mind of the then 27-year old animator Walt Disney. The year before, Disney’s young studio had created a successful cartoon series featuring Oswald the Lucky Rabbit (whom Mickey would end up resembling), but Disney lost the rights to the character.

Legend has it that Disney and wife Lillian hatched the idea of a cartoon mouse following a business trip from New York back to California that conjured up memories of the field mice Disney remembers roaming in his old Kansas City studio. Walt christened the character “Mortimer,” but Lillian changed it to “Mickey,” and soon Disney and his business partner/animator Ub Iwerks were breathing life into their mouse via primitive sketches.

Originally, Mickey was constructed from two large circles and two smaller circles (circles were found to be easier to animate effectively) and possessed huge black eyes, an oblong snout, two-button shorts and gloveless hands. Over the course of 1928, Mickey’s appearance evolved as he and Minnie Mouse began appearing in animated slapstick comedy shorts like “Plane Crazy” and “Gallopin’ Gaucho,” in which Mickey’s mischievous exploits helped established his personality as Disney’s alter ego and as quite the opposite of the goody-two-shoes Mickey we know and love today.

It wasn’t until the fall of 1928, however, that Mickey truly captured the world’s attention with his appearance in “Steamboat Willie,” the first cartoon to feature a fully synchronized sound track and the mouse’s squeaky falsetto voice–provided by Walt Disney himself for the next 20 years.

By the mid-1930s, Disney’s studio was booming, Donald Duck and Goofy were introduced, and Mickey became a major movie star. The mouse’s image matured with the introduction of gloves, more weight, a shorter, more rounded snout, and larger feet. Mickey abandoned Charlie Chaplin-esque comedy for good by 1940, when he made a cameo with his new human-like eyes as a music conductor and as the sorcerer’s apprentice in the landmark musical film “Fantasia.” His character development was now complete.

Over the course of eight decades, Mickey has appeared in dozens of animated shorts and films, inspired the creation of the Mickey Mouse Club TV show and group chapters across the country, became the mascot for several Disney theme parks worldwide, and went on to sell more merchandise than any other cartoon character in history–prompting the widely-held belief that this is really Mickey’s world. We just live in it.

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