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Disney’s long-range plans for Mickey Mouse don’t include new shorts

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Disney’s long-range plans for Mickey Mouse don’t include new shorts

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First up, I just want to let JHM readers know that – if you’re thinking about attending next Saturday’s “55 Years of Music Magic” event at the Disneyland Hotel – the deadline for this Disneyland Alumni Club shindig is rapidly approaching.

You only have ‘til Sunday night to purchase tickets to this Disneyland 55th anniversary celebration. If you wait ‘til Monday morning … Well, you’re then going to miss out. For absolutely no seats are going sold at the door for this once-in-a-lifetime musical extravaganza. Which will feature performances by Disneyland favorites like Rod Miller, the Dapper Dans and Billy Hill and the Hillbillies.

So if you don’t want to miss out, order your tickets to “55 Years of Music Magic” today. Like right now, if you can.

The Disneyland Alumni Club will hold it's 55th reunion this year
Copyright 2010 Disney and the Disneyland Alumni Club. All Rights Reserved

And speaking of old favorites, Jason R. just sent me a Why For questions that asks about the Company’s future plans for a certain 81 year-old mouse.

Long time fan and reader.  Thank you for what you do and your wonderful insight.

Why for has Disney not make any new cartoons based on Mickey and his friends?  The last real cartoon I can think of was Goofy's How To Hook Up Your Home Theater, which shows Disney still has it in them.  I heard talks that even Warner Brothers is going to make new Bug's Bunny cartoons.  Is Mickey nothing more than a corporate icon, and because current generations have not seen their cartoons, will they only see him as such?

 Copyright 2007 Disney. All Rights Reserved

Jason R.

Dear Jason R.

Sorry to be the bearer of bad news here. But The Walt Disney Company’s current long-range plans for Mickey Mouse (at least the most recent version of this Mouse House manifesto, anyway) don’t include any new theatrical shorts for this much beloved character.

But that said … You have seen “Mickey Mouse Clubhouse,” right? That CG animated series that debuted on the Disney Channel back in May of 2006? There have been 73 episodes produced to date of this Playhouse Disney show. All of which have featured the Fab 5 (i.e. Mickey, Donald, Goofy, Minnie and Pluto) as well as characters from the classic Disney shorts like Pete, Daisy Duck, Clarabelle Cow & Chip ‘n Dale. Not to mention fan favorites from the Disney films & TV shows like Willie the Giant, Ludwig Von Drake and Figaro the Cat.

So it’s not like Disney has been deliberately keeping these characters out of the spotlight. If anything, thanks to “Mickey Mouse Playhouse,” the Mickster is now more popular with the 2 – 5 year-old set than he’s been since the mid-1950s. And with the hope that they then might able to extend this audience’s enthusiasm for Mickey Mouse … Well, that’s why Disney launched its “Have-A-Laugh!” program late last year.

Copyright Disney Enterprises LLC

Mind you, a key component of “Have-A-Laugh” program is to take those classic Mickey Mouse shorts that the Studio produced back in the 1930s & 1940s and then contemporize them. Which (in this case, anyway) means tightening up these 7-minute-long cartoons by cutting them down to 4 to 5-minute-long segments. They then re-recorded the audio portions & musical soundtracks of these re-edited shorts so that the “Have-A-Laugh!” segments would then have a style & sound that was consistent with all of the other Mickey Mouse material that The Walt Disney Company is producing nowadays.

Which – I know – will sound somewhat sacrilegious to all you Disney purists out there. But you have to understand that – by doing this -- the Company is trying to do just what you asked for, Jason. Which was to make Mickey seem far more palatable for today’s audiences. Change this bland corporate symbol into something that consumers could once again associate with fun and adventure.

And there are other components of this plan. That Dance Star Mickey toy which hit store shelves this holiday season, for example. Not to mention that Mickey Mouse Group Wall thing that Create on Disney.com just launched. When allows kids to use art and stickers to create their very own portrait of Mickey. Which can then be added to each month’s Mickey mosaic.

Donny Osmond and Mattel's Dance Star Mickey
 Photo by Nancy Stadler

And then – of course – there’s “Epic Mickey.” Which really amps up the fun & adventure factor by turning Mickey loose in the Wasteland. Which hardcore Disneyana fans should love, given that this gaming environment is filled with obscure characters from Disney’s past (take – for example – Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, Walt’s first real cartoon star. Who serves as the ruler of this alternate dimension Disney World). Not to mention lots of sly nods to the Company’s theme park attractions, animated features and TV shows.

But the best part of “Epic Mickey” is that this title’s lead developer – renowned game designer Warren Spector – is a big time Disney history buff. Which is why the Mouse who appears in this new game is the Mickey Mouse from the early 1930s. Spector opted to resurrect this version of the character for “Epic Mickey.” Arguing that that pie-eyed scrapper (who was a lot more energetic & adventurous than the bland corporate symbol that we know today) was a far better fit for the gaming world.

So it’s not like The Walt Disney Company has completely abandoned Mickey, Jason. It’s just that … Well, rather than going with the old tried-and-true ways (i.e. producing and then releasing new theatrical shorts), they’re now going to where the audience really is these days. Which is online, or at home playing with their Wii or watching the Disney Channel or in the theme parks.

A screen shot from Disney's new video game "Epic Mickey"
Copyright Disney. All Rights Reserved

I mean, you don’t seriously think that it was a coincidence that when Walt Disney Imagineering rolled out its first next generation walk-around character for the Parks (which not only winks & blinks but can also address the Guests that it’s interacting with by name) that they used Mickey as their test subject? Disney’s always looking for new ways to make Mickey more relevant to today’s consumers / audiences.

Besides, it’s not like Walt Disney Animation Studios has totally out of the shorts business. Look for their latest effort, “Tick Tock Tale” (which is this cute little short about an old, marked-down alarm clock who winds up foiling a robbery attempt at a watch shop), to turn up in front of “Tangled” sometime later this year.

But as for Mickey Mouse … Well, the Company clearly hasn't stopped producing new hand-drawn projects that feature older characters in their corporate catalog. Just look at “Winnie the Pooh,” that new feature-length film which will be hitting theaters in July of 2011.

Winnie the Pooh, Eeyore and Owl from the latest Winnie the Pooh animated feature from Disney
Copyright 2010 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved

But when it comes to Mickey … Well, this revitalization effort was supposedly one of Lasseter’s pet projects when he came through the door at Disney in 2006. I remember hearing about this big retreat that the Company held that year, where all sorts of key creatives came together & then talked about what could be done to get people excited about Mickey Mouse once more. Turn this cartoon character into the sort of white-hot star that he used to be back in the 1930s.

As I understand it, the Dance Star Mickey toy as well as the “Epic Mickey” game can be traced directly back to that meeting. As well as a number of the Company’s recent online initiatives to help Mickey Mouse connect with today’s more web-savvy younger generation.

So the downside is … You probably won’t see any new Mickey Mouse shorts like “Runaway Brain” coming out of this revitalization effort (Now I know that animation fans just loved “Runaway Brain.” But – to be honest – that Chris Bailey film just scared the crap out of the suits. Which is why the Studio gave this short such short shrift back in 1995 before they then shoved “Brain” towards the back of the vaunted Disney vault). But the upside is … You should expect to see lots of Mickey Mouse-related stuff popping up as part of Disney’s new business ventures. More importantly, across all of the new distribution platforms that the Company is using / will soon be using.

Copyright 1995 Disney Enterprises, Inc.

Which is probably not the ending to this tail ... er ... tale that you were hoping for, Jason. But Mickey's always been a pretty innovative guy. He did appear in the first cartoon with synchronized sound after all. So it only makes sense that the Mouse should be part of Disney's exploration of new technologies. Rather than just repeating himself by churning out yet another theatrical short.

Anyway … That’s it for this week, folks. Please remember that you only have ‘til Sunday night to purchase your tickets to next Saturday night’s “55 Years of Music Magic” event at the Disneyland Hotel. And since this is one anniversary party that you really don’t want to miss, don’t forget to make that call today, okay?

Have a great weekend!

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  • It's a shame that Disney execs don't trust their audience with these animated classic shorts.  Occasionally the Disney Channel will play one following a feature and they're nice to see as originally conceived.  Kids today still enjoy them just as they are -- that's why they're considered classics.

    That said, the "Have a Laugh" shorts are at least a somewhat palatable repackaging of these classic cartoons -- but when Miley Cyrus and the Jonas Brothers are no longer marketable, they'll have no staying power.  Disney's other attempt, "Blam Time", is just plain awful. If you're unfamiliar with "Blam Time", its usually a greatly edited Mickey/Donald/Goofy short with no story left to it but all the pratfalls.  Each one is replayed in slo-mo with an obnoxious announcer going on and on about "oooh, that's some serious BLAM!" everytime one of the three gets smacked around.  It's just sad.

    Epic Mickey, on the other hand, should be a winner.  It has lots of good buzz among casual gamers, especially in the market Disney should be hoping to crack - tween boys.

  • Runaway Brain is easily one of the best - if not THE best - short Disney ever made. It's full of visual invention, manic energy, great animation and drawing, and gives Mickey a personality and a life-force he hasn't possessed since the short "The Brave Little Tailor". If the "suits" were scared of "Brain", then it's a  measure of how the "suits" are ruining everything Walt ever created with their dunderheaded pennypinching.

    Epic Mickey is a ray of hope, however. But how far will that Mickey be taken, if the game is successful? Will he ever appear on the big screen again?

  • I wanted to thank you for your original post regarding the 55 Years of Music Magic otherwise I doubt I would have known.  I have my ticket in hand and talked a friend into going along too.  Looking so forward to seeing Rod Miller whom I miss at the Park very much.

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