Heh, heh. This is “Splat!”, by Jason Freeny. I’d wear this on a t-shirt to the Parks and by God I would have your scorn, because in my mind Mickey Mouse ceased to be interesting shortly after Walt Disney stopped voicing him. Cute? Sure. Friendly? You bet. Human? No. These days, I regard the Mouse as I do a Coke bottle—a masterwork of American design, whose contents are now too saccharine for my tastes.
It’s time for Mickey Mouse to go fishing or something (seems I once saw a cartoon in which he did just that), and allow Wall-E or Ariel or even that heart-faced nonstarter Duffy to be the face of the company for a while. I know Disney’s trying to make the Mouse more contemporary by stamping him into Kid Robot-like collectibles and mussing up his hair in video games, but they’re only strengthing the character as a commodity; they’re not making him any more human. (Confession: I own a few dozen Vinylmation figures. That’s less due to my affection for Mickey Mouse and more to my appreciation of these street art-like subversions of a popular form. I might have been tempted by miniature Coke bottles, similarly painted.) But when a Jason Freeny slams Mickey into a wall and rorschachs him, at least we’re made to recognize that the Mouse isn’t invincible—and we wonder how he’s going to get out of that nasty fix, just as audiences did when Walt was still speaking for him.
Modern-day Mickey Mouse shouldn’t be trapped in his own mythology, fighting the same, safe malevolence he’s been vanquishing these past fifty years or so; he should be fighting to keep Peg Leg Pete from foreclosing on his home, sluicing buckets of water out of his waterfront shack, pounding the pavement looking for work. That’s the kind of scrapper we need right now—a Mouse with real problems and the wit and savvy to beat them back.
I like to think that Disney will eventually get it. “Epic Mickey” underperformed badly not because the game was poorly-conceived (and I know that Broke Hoedown disagrees with me in this), but because we weren’t ready to take Mickey back as a living thing. Removed from the context of the original shorts—which Mickey has been for years—we don’t know who he is or what he wants. We know only that he’s good-looking and that he seems a nice enough guy, like Keanu Reeves. We’re going to need more than that if we’re going to accept him as an everyman. He has to face discrimination, stare down bullies, and have his 80-year childless courtship of Minnie Mouse savagely questioned by the punditocracy. He needs to overcome. I like to think that John Lasseter and Bob Iger know this, and are trying to think of the best way to pull it off.
If you ask me, the best way to get Mickey Mouse out of his lethargy is to smack him into a wall. Do horrible things to him, and let him figure out how to fix them. That’s Storytelling 101, right there … and it’s where the Mouse came from, so he’ll know his way around. Remember that Mickey Mouse’s first seafaring job wasn’t captaining a floating theme park; it was piloting a broken-down steamship, and only for a hot second before being sent to the galley to peel potatoes.
We’re only captains for moments in time, Mickey. Mostly we’re peeling ourselves off of brick walls, saying okay, so that happened. Now what?