|Analysis of an American Icon:
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< analysis >
Walt Disney's most
famous character, Mickey Mouse, made his screen debut on November 18,
star of the first sound cartoon, Steamboat Willie, and has, since then,
an international personality. He has become not only the
everything Disney, but also one of the most universal symbols of the
Mickey Mouse was created early in 1928 on a train ride from New York to Los Angeles as Walt was returning with his wife from a business meeting at which he lost the copyright of his cartoon, Oswald the Rabbit. Walt spent the train ride thinking up a little mouse in red velvet pants and named him “Mortimer,” but by the time the ride was over, had changed his name to “Mickey.”
After returning to his studio, Walt and his head animator, Ub Iwerks, began working on the first Mickey Mouse cartoon, Plane Crazy, but unfortunately, no distributor wanted to buy the film. Walt started production on another silent cartoon, Gallopin’ Gaucho, but late in 1927, Warner Brothers started producing talkies, signaling the end of silent films. Walt began Steamboat Willie, a third Mickey Mouse cartoon in sound. To record the soundtrack, Walt had to take his film to New York, since no one on the West Coast was equipped to do it. When finally completed, Walt screened it for the New York exhibitors and the manager at the Colony Theatre decided to take a chance on the film. Steamboat Willie was a success, and Walt soon became the talk of the nation. He supplied the voice and added sound to the first two cartoons and was then able to offer exhibitors a package of three shorts
In the thirties,
Walt Disney produced 87 cartoon shorts starring Mickey Mouse. The
included an entire family of animated characters: Minnie Mouse,
Horace Horsecollar, Goofy, Pluto, Donald Duck, Peg-Leg Pete, and many
In 1932, an Oscar was presented to Walt Disney for his creation. Mickey Mouse's popularity spawned a Mickey
Club in 1929, which met every Saturday for an afternoon of cartoons and
in local theaters.
The peak of Mickey Mouse’s career was in 1940 for his starring role as the Sorcerer’s Apprentice in the feature Fantasia. It interpreted music in colors, shapes, movement, and story. Fantasia also introduced stereophonic sound to theaters, an element not used by other studios until more than ten years later. With the start of World War II, the Disney Studio stopped nearly all commercial activity and concentrated on aiding the war effort. Mickey Mouse appeared on badges and posters urging national security and the purchase of war bonds. After the war, Mickey Mouse returned to making cartoons and appeared in his second feature, Fun and Fancy Free.
Through the forties and early fifties, Mickey Mouse made fewer cartoons, giving way to Donald Duck, Goofy, and Pluto, who were more flexible as characters since Mickey Mouse’s evolution into a Disney symbol made it increasingly more difficult to create story situations for him. After the success of the Disneyland television show in 1954, Disney created an afternoon program for ABC, The Mickey Mouse Club, which became the most successful children's show ever. In 1971, Mickey Mouse helped open the Walt Disney World Resort; in 1983, Tokyo Disneyland; and in 1992, Disneyland Paris.
Mickey Mouse has been saluted at three of the Disney theme parks by having “lands” created in his honor: Mickey’s Starland opened on November 18, 1988 in Walt Disney World to honor him on his 60th birthday, and Mickey’s Toontown opened in 1993 in Disneyland, then in 1996 at Tokyo Disneyland, and now serves as home to Mickey Mouse and all of his cartoon friends. After all these years, it is beginning to be understand why the Mickey Mouse of the thirties was so popular: “he was a little guy born out of the depression who satirized people’s foibles and taught them to laugh.” Most importantly, though, he was a character who dreamed big, and his dreams were universal.
"Disney has a powerful effect on the hearts and minds of
American kids from a very young age, an effect that stays with us as we
grow older. For many it turns into nostalgia."
"I only hope that we never lose sight of one thing - that it was all
started by a mouse."