NOW ON DISNEY+! I’ve been a fan of Disney for as long as I can remember. The first movie I saw was Mary Poppins. I’ve been to Disneyland way too many times. Jeff Malmberg’s tribute, Mickey: The Story of a Mouse, reminds us that it all started with a Mouse, and by “it,” I mean everything.
Malmberg’s documentary is the story and history of Mickey Mouse since his inception in 1928 before he became a corporate icon. Walt Disney created him when Universal stole his prior creation, Oswald the Lucky Rabbit. With Mickey firmly in his pocket, Disney built an entire animation studio around Mickey Mouse and revolutionized film, starting with the first sound-synched film Steamboat Willy.
If you’re planning to do a term paper or report on the most famous rodent in the world, Mickey: The Story of a Mouse is about as comprehensive a narrative as you can get. As Mickey evolved, he became too good and virtuous in the eyes of the public. So much so that Goofy and Donald Duck were created to pull off mischievous stunts to help tell a more compelling Mickey Mouse story.
This history lesson runs parallel with veteran Disney animator Eric Goldberg pulling out the old pencil to create a brand-new Mickey Mouse cartoon. Dozens of animators would feverishly pull together a Mickey Mouse short or feature in the old days. Nowadays, it’s a small crew reviving the medium of hand-drawn animation, which is sadly on life-support.
“…the story and history of Mickey Mouse since his inception in 1928 and before he became a corporate icon.”
Mickey: The Story of a Mouse then explores the global impact of Mickey Mouse. He’s loved everywhere and by everyone, even by Hitler and Mussolini… before Mickey’s appearance supporting the war effort during WWII through a collection of U.S. War Propaganda shorts. Yes, they were war propaganda. Mickey even served as an image of hope during the Holocaust.
As you’d imagine, Malmberg highlights the corporatization of Mickey Mouse as an icon in merchandising, art, and shilling for the mega-corporation, The Walt Disney Company. While basking in a heavy haze of nostalgia, I couldn’t help but wonder what the Walt Disney Company did to Walt, the man. Did they put him back under ice? Some might question the current direction of the Walt Disney Company and its recently acquired intellectual property.
The most often asked question at Film Threat seems to be, “Is it woke?” There’s undoubtedly an element of such here, but it is handled better than most other Disney projects. For example, early in the pre-Snow White days, Mickey Mouse engaged in questionable behavior toward Minnie. Some, shall we say, #MeToo moments. I believe you can see some of this behavior at the Main Street Theater at Disneyland. However, it’s handled in a way that doesn’t hide or justify his actions as a product of its time. At the same time, the film and filmmaker refuse to cancel Mickey for his youthful indiscretions outright.
Walt’s DNA is indelibly ingrained in optimistic Mickey Mouse, and you see it in that small group of animators trying to hold Walt’s memory and legacy tightly through their short film. If you are a fan of Mickey Mouse at any level, you will fall in love with him again in Mickey: The Story of a Mouse. It’s a fitting tribute to Walt Disney and Mickey Mouse and makes you long for a time when storytelling was someone just telling a story.
Mickey: The Story of a Mouse screened at the 2022 SXSW Film Festival and the 2022 Mendocino Film Festival.
"…a fitting tribute to Walt Disney and Mickey Mouse..."
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