26 Nov It All Started With A Mouse
“I only hope that we don’t lose sight of one thing – that it all started with a mouse.” – Walt Disney
On Sunday 18th November 2018, the most famous animated character in history turned 90. ABC televised the Mickey’s 90th Spectacular, which was the start of several months of celebrations and of course, a huge cross-Disney marketing campaign. Merchandise from birthday stickers to Gucci Mickey handbags are available to cash in on this celebration. Mickey Mouse will be everywhere in 2019!
Mickey Mouse is the embodiment of Disney’s brand – the character represents the entertainment, childhood nostalgia, happiness, humour and joy, and opportunity. Mickey Mouse remains as the central icon of the Disney universe and from being their highest selling character (generating annual sales of around $3.2 billion) to the official greeter at Disney’s theme parks.
Although other characters, movies, tv shows, games, and themes may become a trend then disappear, Mickey Mouse is timeless. The company faces the challenges of changing technology, consumer habits, and even how we purchase in recent years, and the Disney team are utilising the 90th birthday celebrations to return to the core of their mission with Disney’s original character which sparked success.
This strategy has inspired “Mickey: The True Original Exhibition”, a Disney-created exhibit, which is running in a 16,000-square-foot space in Manhattan, features Mickey-inspired creations by contemporary artists like Amanda Ross-Ho, Kenny Scharf, Shinique Smith and Daniel Arsham.
“With the scale of Disney and who Mickey Mouse has become, a lot of people forget that Walt Disney was a real artist.” – Daniel Arsham
It really did all start with a mouse – actually, it started with a rabbit – Oswald the Lucky Rabbit. After being declared bankrupt at 21 years old, Walt Disney had started another studio with his brother Roy. In 1928, Walt travelled to New York for increased investment for the Walt Disney Studios, however, his backer, Charlie Mintz, had secretly planned to create his own studio, convincing virtually the entire Disney crew of animators to join him in his new venture, taking Walt on as an employee.
Although Walt had created the characters, according to the fine print in the contract, it was Mintz and the distributing studio, not Disney, that owned the successful character Oswald the Lucky Rabbit.
This betrayal of Mintz and his disloyal employees, spurred on Walt Disney to work only for himself, take full legal control of his images, and manage his own distribution. On the return train from New York to California, Mortimer Mouse was created – an adaptation from a very similar character with big ears and red shorts – Oswald the Rabbit.
The Disney brothers started again – with one character and one animator, but also arguably their most talented, Ub Iwerks. Walt was forced to continue to work for Mintz to honour his contract with three more Oswald films, working in secret at night with Iwerks on Mickey Mouse animations progressing from silent film to sound.
This resulted in the premiere release of Steamboat Willie at the Colony Theatre in New York on 18th November 1928. Disney proved to be the trailblazer and innovator by showing the first animated feature with synchronised sound which changed animation forever.
“You may not realise it when it happens, but a kick in the teeth may be the best thing in the world for you.”
Walt Disney used the betrayal from Mintz to pursue his dreams with more determination, passion, motivation, knowledge and integrity to the artists. He was inspired to not just meet contracts but to change his own future and the animation and film industry.
Mickey’s 90th birthday portrait titled “Spreading Happiness Around the World,” painted by legendary Walt Disney Animation Studios animator Mark Henn encapsulates the timeless impact of Mickey Mouse and why this character is the core of the whole of the Walt Disney Company……”it all started with a mouse.”
Images of Mickey Mouse are copyright to Disney