Thursday, November 18, 2010

Happy Mickey Mouse Day!

It's the official Mickey Mouse Day! On this day in 1928, Steamboat Willie premiered, and in 1955, the Mickey Mouse Club aired. You can read about other Disney history that happened on November 18 on the This Day in Disney History page.

Mickey started out looking a bit different that he does today (his name was also originally Mortimer) due to limitations in animation. The animators first went with what was easiest to draw, since they had to create 700 feet of film every two weeks. Mickey gradually changed to his present image to give him more character.

Mickey was also different in personality at first-he was meaner and more controversial-"he was quick and cocky and cruel-at best a fresh and bratty kid, at worst a diminutive and sadistic monster...after a delightfully bratty beginning he matured into a terrible square, simply incapable of the kind of irreverent comic turns that a great comedian must master". Disney changed him to make him nicer, but he lost some of his personality that way, so Donald and Pluto were added- as less sacred, they could get away with losing their tempers while Mickey continued to be the hero.

The distributors of the films believed Mickey was the star and the selling point-Disney realized that the technique was key, and realized sound was a huge way to make movies successful. Steamboat Willie was the first movie to have synchronized sound and visuals. Disney drew a slash of ink on every 12th frame, so the screen would flash white every half second, and the conductor's job was to keep the music in time with the flashes. The soundtrack was originally created with lots of sound effects by musically illiterate animators. Eventually, the costs of recording the music for the soundtrack grew more than expected, and Roy Disney had to sell Walt's favorite car to fund it.

Disney also introduced the idea of using great classical music to accompany cartoons in "The Skeleton Dance". This was considered gruesome at the time (the cartoon, not the classical music)-the subject matter didn't go well with the animal characters, so they were absent. This is supposed to be set to Saint-Saens' "Dance Macabre," of which I hear...maybe 5 seconds' worth, altered. Am I crazy?..

Information from the 1968 American Heritage article "Bringing Forth the Mouse" by Richard Shickel. Shickel also includes some choice words about Walt Disney himself:
"Walt Disney was a grouchy, inarticulate, withdrawn man."
"Everything that came out of his workshops was stamped with his name and, indeed, with his taste and personality, a practice which eventually drove most of his genuinely talented elves from his employ."
"He remained suspicious of outsiders, stragely small-minded on questions of aesthetics and narrow-minded on morals, and deeply wedded to the propagation of the happy myth of small-town, turn-of-the-century virtue."

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