Tuesday, November 15, 2022

Mickey: The Story of a Mouse, on Disney+

When the depression hit, Mickey Mouse licensing deals saved several companies from bankruptcy. That’s mouse power. He is still a constant pop culture presence. Just look at your wrist—you might see him there. Those big ears appeared in some of the most popular animated films ever, including Fantasia, but his significance as a corporate icon nearly overwhelmed his vitality as a character. Jeff Malmberg chronicles the Mouse’s history and his evolving role within the Disney Empire in Mickey: The Story of a Mouse, which starts streaming Friday on Disney+.

It all goes back to when Disney was a very different company, but it was in dire straits. Walt Disney had lost control of his first creation, Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, to his distributor. According to one corporate mouthpiece, this is why the company has always been so notoriously rigid protecting its copyrights. Regardless, Walt Disney did indeed pivot to his next creation, Mickey Mouse. His original name was Mortimer Mouse, but Walt’s wife fortuitously suggested Mickey instead.

Obviously, Mickey was a hit, but the level of his popularity in the 1930s was even greater than
The Simpsons in the early 1990s and SpongeBob SquarePants in the early 2000s, combined. He became the iconic face of Disney, but even from the start, such a role demanded good manners, so Donald Duck was created to behave badly and serve as the butt of more jokes. Yet, there were periodic attempts to present Mickey in fresh new contexts, like his appearance as the Sorcerer’s Apprentice.

Malmberg and his talking heads do a fairly good job of Mickey’s early development and his recent re-emergence, right up to the latest, short-short, “Mickey in a Minute,” whose production is documented throughout the film. However, they skip over a lot in-between. The most conspicuous omission might be that of the 1995 short “Runaway Brain,” which has been largely out of circulation, despite its Oscar-nomination, because of its enthusiastic horror imagery (including an
Exorcist reference). Also, the classic “Lonesome Ghosts” never gets its due depicting Mickey, Donald, and Goofy as the Ajax Ghost Exterminators, fortysome years before Ghostbusters.

Of course, the film also spends sometime wallowing in guilt over some of the dated cultural representations of the earlier shorts, but from what Malmberg shows us, Minnie looks like a much greater offender than Mickey. Rather awkwardly, former CEO Bob Iger appears as a talking-head in
Story of a Mouse, rather than current CEO Bob Chapek, but since the company’s stock just hit a nearly ten-year low under his stewardship, stockholders certainly won’t be in the mood to listen to him talk about Mickey Mouse.

Although it was produced by documentarian Morgan Neville,
Story of a Mouse often feels like a corporate PR film. The thing is, fans and culture critics would be happy to see more of Walt Disney’s classic characters, because they represent the values the company was built on. However, we could use a lot less of the other stuff.

There is definitely nostalgic entertainment watching Mickey evolve over the course of the lively classic clips incorporated. However, the real value of
Story of a Mouse is how it reminds us of what Disney was and could be again, if it stopped trying to tell how to think and who to vote for. Recommended as a mostly benign streaming distraction for fans of Walt’s enduring characters, Mickey: The Story of a Mouse premieres Friday (11/18) on Disney+.