Tuesday, November 18, 2008

M-I-C-K-E-Y Mouse

I couldn't let today pass without mentioning my favorite corporate spokesmouse. As the good people at Disney measure these things, Mickey Mouse turns 80 years-old today. That's because Steamboat Willie, the first publicly released cartoon featuring the Mouse opened on this date in 1928. It was actually the third Mickey Mouse animated short . What were the first two? I'm glad you asked...

Plane Crazy -The first cartoon featuring Mickey Mouse was this silent short created in early 1928. Mickey, inspired by All-American hero and aviator Charles Lindbergh decides to build his own airplane and take Minnie for a ride. Charles Lindbergh Fun Fact: During his famous 1927 solo Trans-Atlantic flight, Lucky Lindy took along a stuffed Felix the Cat doll for company. Felix the Cat Fun Fact: The Feisty Cat actually has a cameo appearance in Mickey's debut film: he's driving a car that is hit by Mickey's plane (just goes to show you shouldn't give a pilot's license to a Mouse).

The Gallopin' Gaucho - Poor Walt couldn't find a distributor for Plane Crazy but that didn't stop him and partner Ube Iwerks from creating this second Mickey short in the summer of 1928. Like it's predecessor, it was a silent film. As the title suggests, it features Mickey and company in a South of the Border adventure.

Steamboat Willie -The third time was the charm for Disney (or perhaps it was the introduction of synchronized sound that helped make this one a success). Mickey's early nemesis, the anthropomorphic cat Pete, makes his second appearance (following Gaucho). The film's title is a parody of Steamboat Bill Jr., a 1928 silent comedy starring Buster Keaton as a steamboat captain.

Following the success of Steamboat Willie, sound was added to the first two Mickey cartoons and they were released to much fanfare. Disney's genius for marketing and distribution combined with innovative animation techniques made Mickey Mouse and friends a 20th Century phenomenon and helped create a multi-media empire. I'll leave it to others to argue the pros and cons of the Walt Disney Company, today is a celebration of the mouse who started it all (to paraphrase Walt).

Mickey has evolved since these early appearances and his modern, slick corporate shill persona is unrecognizable from his primitive beginnings. Still, one thing has remained consistent; his appeal to children. I've seen it in my own son; as a toddler, Connor's favorite toy was a stuffed Mickey Mouse. It was his constant companion in good times and bad and I know he will never part with it (he's now 10). As for this writer, the early spunky, iconoclastic version will always be my favorite.

Happy Birthday, you little bastard!

No comments:

Post a Comment