Mickey Mouse to get a makeover

Long before Pixar, before Tom and Jerry, Bugs Bunny, Popeye, Spider-Man, Superman, The Beano or The Dandy, there was a mouse called Mickey. He is possibly the best-known character ever to have come out of Hollywood. There is hardly a child or an adult in the developed who would not recognise Mickey Mouse from just a silhouette of two round ears protruding from the top of a round, hairless head.



He has been preserved, unchanged for decades, as the ultimate American symbol of wholesome children’s entertainment, rated by Forbes as the world’s most valuable character, generating £3bn a year in merchandise sales, a formula the Disney Corporation has not dared to tamper with.

That is about to change. Mickey is to move with the times, with the arrival next year of a video game, Epic Mickey. And, according to The New York Times, Disney is worried that, although most children know who Mickey Mouse is, they do not identify with his adventures as they do with more contemporary animated heroes such as Russell, from the latest Pixar film Up, or Nemo the fatherless fish, or even Bart Simpson – all children in need of adult supervision, whereas sensible Mickey, who is more miniature adult than child.

Mickey was a bit of a wild child himself when he first appeared, in 1928, in the changeover period when silent movies were being superseded by the “talkies”. He played practical jokes, he pursued his girlfriend Minnie aggressively, and in Steamboat Willie, he vented his anger on an undeserving parrot.

Steamboat Willie was actually not the first Mickey Mouse cartoon, but it was the first with synchronised sound, and its success made Walt Disney the most famous animator in cinema history, and led to countless more short cartoons, Mickey Mouse comics, spin-offs of every description, including cuddly toys and T-shirts, and hundreds of Mickey Mouse clubs across America.

But in the 1930s, when America was threatened by recession and political radicalism, the conservative, communist-hating Walt Disney toned down Mickey’s behaviour and created the bland, all-American mouse kid that he has been ever since.

Animators once made a cartoon for a private viewing to amuse their boss, in which Mickey went all the way with Minnie. Disney congratulated them on the craftsmanship, asked for the names of all those involved and then sacked them. No one could tamper with Mickey’s family-friendly image, even as a private joke.

His name also went into the language, “Mickey Mouse” being used, or misused, as an adjective, to mean ridiculous or insignificant. It caused a ghastly misunderstanding in a British court in 1990, when a judge named Michael Davies, who was angry about a run of absurdly large libel awards, admonished a jury in a case involving the distribution of a few libellous pamphlets not to make a “Mickey Mouse” award. By “Mickey Mouse”, he meant “ridiculously large”, but the jury thought he meant “ridiculously small” and awarded the plaintiff £1.5m, the highest ever in British legal history.

In his new video game incarnation, Mickey will go back to being the mischief-maker that he was before the Wall Street crash. Epic Mickey, designed for Nintendo’s Wii console, is set in a “cartoon wasteland”, where forgotten and retired Disney characters live, including Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, who last appeared in a cartoon in 1951. He is not so lucky in the video game. Indeed, he reappears as an embittered character, envious of Mickey’s fame. “What we are trying to do is make Mickey more youthful, more funny and more mischievous,” a spokeswoman said. “He has been completely successful in other areas of our business, and it’s only in the video game that we changing him.”

But Disney has before its eyes the cautionary tale of “New Coke” – Coca Cola’s attempt to update a cultural icon by altering the formula and advertising the “new taste” of what they officially called Coca Cola II. It was a failure, and after a few years, they were back marketing “Classic Coca Cola”. Perhaps, after a few years of the new Mickey, the Disney Corporation may suddenly have to go back to Classic Mickey, the bland and family-friendly mouse.

Arts and Entertainment
Just folk: The Unthanks

music
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne with his Screen Actors Guild award for Best Actor

film
Arts and Entertainment
Rowan Atkinson is bringing out Mr Bean for Comic Relief

TV
Arts and Entertainment

Theatre

Arts and Entertainment
V&A museum in London

Art Piece taken off website amid 'severe security alert'

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Reese Witherspoon starring in 'Wild'

It's hard not to warm to Reese Witherspoon's heroismfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Word up: Robbie Coltrane as dictionary guru Doctor Johnson in the classic sitcom Blackadder the Third
books

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Hacked off: Maisie Williams in ‘Cyberbully’

Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challenge

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything and Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game are both nominated at the Bafta Film Awards
Arts and Entertainment

Academy criticised after no non-white actors nominated

Arts and Entertainment
Damian Lewis shooting a scene as Henry VIII in Wolf Hall
TV

Arts and Entertainment
A history of violence: ‘Angry, White and Proud’ looked at the rise of far-right groups

tv

An expose of hooliganism masquerading as an ideological battle

Arts and Entertainment

art

Lee Hadwin can't draw when he's awake, but by night he's an artist

Arts and Entertainment

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Michael Keaton in the 1998 Beetlejuice original

film

Arts and Entertainment

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman and David Tennant star in 'Broadchurch'

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Michael Kitchen plays Christopher Foyle in ITV's 'Foyle's War'

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Downton Abbey star Joanne Froggatt will be starring in Dominic Savage's new BBC drama The Secrets

Arts and Entertainment
Vividly drawn: Timothy Spall in Mike Leigh’s ‘Mr Turner’
film
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

    Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

    One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
    The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

    The enemy within

    People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
    Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

    Autumn/winter menswear 2015

    The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
    'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

    'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

    Army general planning to come out
    Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

    What the six wise men told Tony Blair

    Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
    25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

    25 years of The Independent on Sunday

    The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
    Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

    Smash hit go under the hammer

    It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
    Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

    The geeks who rocked the world

    A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
    Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

    Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

    Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
    America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

    America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

    These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
    A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

    A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

    A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
    Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

    Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

    A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
    Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

    Growing mussels

    Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project