Mickey Mouse is a beloved character worldwide, iconic to the Disney brand. But before I get into how it came to be all about the mouse, did you know he wasn’t their first successful animated character Walt created?
First there was a rabbit
You may have heard of Oswald the Lucky Rabbit and thought he belonged to Universal Studio, but in fact, he was once created by Walt Disney and is said to have been ‘stolen’ by them*. In 1927, Walt Disney and Ub Iwerks created Oswald, who had 26 shorts contracted under Universal. He was an extraordinary character for the time because Walt was interested in giving him personality rather than playing him up with gags. Oswald went beyond other animated characters because of his ability to use his body to the fullest and attain a greater emphasis on style and characterisation. His success came on very quickly and merchandise such as candy bars and pins were sold across the country. He was becoming the most popular cartoon character of the 1920s.
Although, not everything was great. Deals began to circulate given the success of Oswald, and soon Disney was subtracted out of the equation. Mitz had made a three year contract with Universal that did not involve Walt, and when he travelled up to New York with his wife to negotiate a deal to save his cartoon, he was declined. So, Walt left New York and caught his train back to Los Angeles with the devastating realisation of having to start all over again.
*Oswald the Lucky Rabbit returned back to the Disney Studios in February 2006
Along came the Mouse
When everything seemed lost, Walt knew he had to come up with a new character fast if he wanted to continue making shorts. On the train ride he thought of a mouse. While there are many speculation about how his idea was influenced, it cannot be argued that whatever inspired Walt to create the famous Mickey Mouse was definitely a success. (Fun Fact: Mickey Mouse was once going to be called Mortimer)
With refinements to the character, done by Ub Iwerks, Mickey was ready for his first animated short. His first two, Plane Crazy (1928) and The Gallopin’ Gaucho (1928), were not the start to his success and failed distribution. It wasn’t until Steamboat Willie (1928) that his stardom flourished and led to Walt receiving a large sum of money that saved the Walt Disney Studio. The animated short achieved the first cartoon to incorporate synchronised sound and became an iconic moment is Mickey history.
Mickey Lives On
While the story started with a rabbit, Mickey Mouse is what launched the Walt Disney Company to new heights. Numerous cartoons were created for the character and along the way gained himself a pretty good group of friends. Mickey’s cartoons ended in 1958 and although the studio started to eventually focus on other material, such as animated and live-action features, he became a character that stood for more than just his shorts, but represented the studio as a whole. He was created with Walt’s passion to put life and personality into his characters, and he did not fail at it. Mickey has become a well known character around the world that we are attached too as if he were real because of his bubbly personality and ‘life-like’ appeal — so real, we even celebrate his birthday!
Mickey has attracted the attention of high end clothing brands, food promotions, products and even small businesses creating ‘Mickey inspired’ merchandise. What started out as the creation of a character for animated shorts back in the 1920’s, has now exploded far beyond that into a pop culture sensation.
He also has his very own place at the Walt Disney Parks hosting Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party and Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party. If you’re planning your next trip to Walt Disney World, be sure to check it out!
Mickey Continues to Evolve
It is amazing to see the evolution of this character and the creativity behind his existence that has kept him alive for almost 91 years, and I don’t see him fading anytime soon. He has undergone numerous styles and ‘looks’ throughout the decades but never loses touch of his essential qualities – kind, cheerful, and full of positive life. Disney even brought back new Mickey Mouse shorts in 2013 you can check out on Disney Plus. (personally, I love watching them in the morning on a weekend to start the day off with a bit of lighthearted fun. Still a kid at heart) What ever is next for Mickey I am sure we are to follow and continue to be inspired by the magic he gives to all of us.
Disney is one of those things that is very close to my heart (if you know me, you know how true that love is). From growing up going to the parks, watching endless Disney Channel and taking a Disney Studies course at university I can honestly say the story of Walt Disney and Mickey Mouse has inspired me in more ways than one. Creativity, imagination, believing and working hard for your dreams is something I aspire to everyday. I hope that you find what inspires you in your creative journey and never give up, because if it can lead Walt to a mouse who know’s where your creativity could lead you.
I only hope that we don’t lose sight of one thing – that it was all started by a mouse.Walt Disney
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Sources: “The Birth Of A Mouse | The Walt Disney Family Museum”. Waltdisney.Org, 2020, https://www.waltdisney.org/blog/birth-mouse.
Disney, Oh. “The Unbelievable History Of Oswald The Lucky Rabbit”. Oh My Disney, 2020, https://ohmy.disney.com/insider/2016/09/05/oswald-the-lucky-rabbit/.