The mascot of Disney, Mickey Mouse, will star in a new line of retro-looking cartoons. But, why does Mickey still feel like a C-list cartoon character?
Kids love Disney. Families, for better or for worse, often rely on Disney. And yet, for generations, you’d be hard-pressed to find an adult or a child who would cite Mickey Mouse as their favorite talking mouse. Toddlers might like Mickey Mouse, but if you start making a list of great talking mice off the top of your head, does Mickey even make the top five? No. Arguably, there are cooler talking mice within the pantheon of Disney beyond Mickey Mouse. (I mean, the mice in Cinderella alone, are more interesting and compelling than Mickey.) Mickey Mouse is the strangest kids’ icon of all time because he really is more than a symbol than a character. He’s an off-brand cartoon character, who is somehow representative of a top-shelf kids’ empire.
And yet. Mickey Mouse is back. Starting on November 18, new Mickey Mouse animated shorts will start airing on Disney+. The Wonderful World of Mickey Mouse will air subsequent new shorts every Wednesday after November 18, which is also Mickey’s official birthday, a fact which I’m sure kids in 2020 barely care about. Disney describes this series as “nothing but fun and excitement for Mickey and his best pals – Minnie, Donald, Daisy, Goofy, and Pluto — as they embark on their greatest adventures yet, navigating the curveballs of a wild and zany world where the magic of Disney makes the impossible possible.” In other words, the description (and possible the show) was created by a self-aware A.I. that looks like Mickey Mouse and contains his same generic, and somewhat basic “humor.” You know something is decidedly not zany when it has to be described as “zany.”
Animation historians or hardcore Disney fans will bristle at this next statement, but the truth is, if every cartoon featuring Mickey Mouse was destroyed, I don’t think kids would be missing out. For proof, think about this thought experiment but substitute “Mickey Mouse” for “Bugs Bunny.” If someone, through some kind of massive media error, every single Bugs Bunny cartoon ever, was suddenly unwatchable, that would be a tragedy. If the same thing happened with Mickey Mouse, most people would shrug their shoulders. Yes, it would make front-page news. Yes, it would be bad for archival and historical reasons. But nobody really cares. Specifically, children.
Try to describe Mickey Mouse as a character. Go ahead. Really try. What comes to mind? Don’t say he has a squeaky voice. That doesn’t describe his character. He’s friendly? Is that it? Kind of foolish? Basically well-meaning. Okay. I think we’re done. Mickey Mouse is a squeaky-voiced pseudo-mouse (who does not scan as a mouse) with a personality you can describe as fine. The reason why kids (and adults) overwhelmingly don’t give a shit about Mickey Mouse is that as a character, he’s not interesting. This is why there are memes of Donald Duck freaking out. This is why A Goofy Movie made more sense than a movie about Mickey. The mascot of the “House of Mouse” is barely welcome in his own home, because he’s boring as hell.
Aesthetically speaking, Mickey Mouse is, of course, a triumph of cutesy design. The reason why the character “matters” is because you can instantly recognize him when you see him. When I was a child, my memories of seeing Mickey Mouse stuff (i.e. watches, sweatshirts, and of course, the hats) outnumber my memories of actually seeing Mickey. He’s a kids’ character designed to become a simulacrum of himself. And that’s because, we kind of know he’s fake. I know people would argue he was just a character before he was a symbol of an animation empire, but that hardly matters now. The predominance of the visage of Mickey Mouse would be like if we lived in an alternate universe where everyone loved that toad from “The WB.” As a kid’s character, Mickey Mouse is about as interesting as Captain Crunch. He’s there to sell you something, but that thing is oddly not stories about himself.
This isn’t to say The Wonderful World of Mickey Mouse will be bad. Disney describes the style of the new series as “marked by a contemporary art style that harkens back to Mickey’s 1928 beginnings,” which hardly sounds like a selling point to my 3-year-old. Of all the most popular kids’ things, Mickey Mouse feels the at once mandatory for childhood, and forgettable. A new Mickey Mouse show could make him interesting, I guess. But I suppose I’d much rather just buy my daughter a nice, cuddly Mickey Mouse plushie, and let her name it whatever she wants.
The Wonderful World of Mickey Mouse will hit Disney+ on November 18,
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