Born inside the mind of the most famous dreamer of the world, Walt Disney, and grown up surrounded by the sketches of the renowned cartoonists Ub Iwerks and Floyd Gottfredson, Mickey Mouse appears publicly for the first time on the 18th of November, 1928 with the short film “Steamboat Willie” that was projected at the New York Colony Theatre.
This historical event places itself at the beginning of the ‘30s, when images start merging with music, giving birth to the movies as we know them. In this new cinematographic way, which never moves away from the noble art of silent cinema but improves it giving the story an emotional touch and giving the scenes a new sense of rhythm, the first short animated movie obtained a huge success. In such a cultural atmosphere begins the story of a tiny little mouse that will accompany the lives of several generations and become the symbol of the world of animation, and so much more.
For celebrating his 89th birthday, let’s have a look together at some curiosities about the life of the amazing Mickey Mouse:
Mickey Mouse’s Birth
Mickey Mouse doesn’t come from Disney’s fantasy, but from his real life. We’re talking about a domestic mouse that Disney keeps on his desk at his first animation studio, the Laugh-O-Gram Studio, founded in 1922. Disney declared to have become very attached to the idea of inventing for his pet mouse a new life and identity in a cartoon. The first name chosen was Mortimer Mouse but, after his wife’s suggestion, Disney changed it in Mickey Mouse: the first name, in fact, seemed too much “macabre” for being associated with a kids’ cartoon.
A Difficult Debut
Disney’s brilliant intentions weren’t captured by the Hollywood distributors, who were more interested in distributing Major’s movies instead of trusting in a fictional character. Because of these reasons, the first years of Mickey Mouse were very hard: he appeared for the first time in the short movie “Plane Crazy”, realized on the 15th of May, 1928. Here appeared also his female partner, Minnie. Despite the lukewarm success, the project didn’t persuade the distributors and Disney is forced to work on another short called “The Gallopin’ Gaucho”.
This project presented two news: Mickey Mouse’s figure became more human thanks to the addition of shoes and a new antagonist character: the cat Ped Leg Pete was created. Not founding much enthusiasm even for this project, Disney tried one last effort making the short movie “Steamboat Willie“, taking inspiration from Buster Keaton’s famous gag and adding music. The sounds associated with the humorous-grotesque style of the “slapstick comedy” determined, in the end, the success of Disney’s fantasy character.
Between Fantasy and Reality
Even if fantasy and imagination are the main elements for the development for the Mickey Mouse’s stories, Disney never forgets the historical moment that he’s living in. In fact, if the first stories were located in the countryside and with the presence of nature, as the years go by the settings change, throwing the character into the fast rhythms of a growing industrial society.
Disney wants to compare the evolution of his character with an “average American man”, showing the novelties and the difficulties of industrialization. This idea will be further expanded when, with the birth of Nazism and the up-coming of the WWII, the stories will have a strong military background.
Mickey Mouse’s first comic book was published on the 13th of January, 1930 with the story “Lost on a Desert Island”, created by Disney and his right-hand man Iwerks. The second story “Mickey Mouse in Death Valley” (1930) was animated by the illustrator Gottfredson, who will keep on creating the most memorable stories of Mickey Mouse until 1975. Thanks to his vision, Mickey Mouse evolves: the character became wiser and more perceptive, proving his self with more adventurous situations, but never forgetting the comic side of his stories.
Gottfredson appoints also some minor changes to the face and in the clothing of the protagonist. In the ‘40s the first pocket comic, called “Walt Disney’s Comics and Stories”, was published. It gave space to the artistic view of new illustrators, as the case of Paul Murry, who will become the main cartoonist of the Mickey Mouse comics, working elbow to elbow with Gottfredson.
The Mickey Mouse Mania – The Fashion Fever
The birth and the success of Mickey Mouse have influenced greatly not only the world of cinema and books, but also the cultural atmosphere, celebrating him as a pop star icon. Just think about the first gadgets and accessories inspired to him and his partner Minnie (the first watch dedicated to Mickey Mouse was made in 1933), or about the entire collections that famous designers dedicated to him through the years.
Among the most renowned cases, we may mention the futuristic Comme de Garçon collection, the romantic one designed by Dolce & Gabbana (inspired to the Disney’s princesses), or even the pop one, realized by the collaboration between the famous designer Marc Jacobs and the eccentric artist Damien Hirst. Beautiful, also, are the elegant stilettos designed by Louboutin, which are inspired by Mickey Mouse’s ears, and the delicate sandals designed by Anya Hindmarch.
The Mickey Mouse Mania – The Beauty Fever
This fantasy atmosphere inspired the world of beauty and make up, too. Extremely fresh are, in fact, the collections signed by the Korean beauty brand Face Shop and by the American-based brand Kiehl’s, that have realized a limited cosmetic line inspired by Mickey Mouse and his friends.
Mickey Mouse Mania – The Art
However, the myth of Mickey Mouse doesn’t stop here. The world of the arts and the design, also, have paid tribute to the father of animated cartoons realizing several original artworks. From the pop art tribute signed by Andy Warhol to the brighter minimal installations of Ingo Maurer, from the giant sculptures by Claes Oldenburg to the sarcastic and humorous artworks of Damien Hirst.
Who expected that a fantasy character could become such a cultural phenomenon?
As Disney said in 1954 “ I only hope that we never lose sight of one thing. That it was all started by a mouse”. A never-ending cultural reference which, in its each and every single manifestation, brings us back to our childhood with a touch of nostalgia and that has the power to make us feel like children, all over again.