Mickey – The Story of a Mouse – The Reel Bits
It’s the story of a cartoon mouse that became the symbol and logo of a global empire. This documentary examines how MICKEY (Why? Because we love him) became who he is today.
Who is the leader of the club that is made for you and me? For 94 years, the answer to this question has remained the same for Disney. After all, they’re not known as the House of Mouse for nothing. Yet over the course of nearly a century, the mouse has come to represent everything from the American dream to its devaluation. Filmmaker Jeff Malmberg attempts to trace its entire history in this charming documentary.
Disney has always toed Walt’s line that “it all started with a mouse.” That’s not quite true, of course, with early Walt Disney works half a decade earlier. Malmberg’s documentary readily acknowledges that these stories have made Disney’s modern mythos. Whether it’s Walt’s apocryphal story of creating Mickey on a train journey – or the more likely one of scrambling to find something after losing the rights to Oswald the Lucky Rabbit – the storytelling has been part of Mickey’s longevity.
MICKEY: THE STORY OF A MOUSE is both a dissection and a continuation of this official history. Being a Disney production, it has every interest in perpetuating the myth. As such, the film’s loose setting is the creation of a new animated short called mickey in a minute, one that aims to include different versions of Mickey throughout history. Using the last three traditional hand-drawn animators still working on the mouse, including the highly enthusiastic Eric Goldberg, the short provides an excuse to return to Disney’s vast archive.
In a way, the story of Mickey Mouse is also the story of animation. As a fellow librarian, these trips to the archives and the animation research library are the reason one turns to these documentaries. We see the first sketches and cels. We follow the evolution of Mickey’s style over time, from being a beacon in the dark days of the Depression to his evolution in style and tone. Donald and Goofy are introduced as parental pressures smooth out Mickey’s rough edges. Fancy (1940) gave him more expressive facial features. The 1950s turned it into a suburban mouse, complete with a television fan club. This was followed by decades of stagnation, as Disney tried to keep Walt’s values frozen in time. “It was almost like they wanted to put the lid on Mickey,” comments animation legend Floyd Norman.
Even with the official corporate spin, one of the most progressive things about this piece is that it also dwells on questioning some of Mouse’s less glamorous years. In a black face-to-face montage, particularly from Mickey’s debut, several commentators acknowledge that it’s “hard to see Mickey being part of this conversation”, concluding that “he’s talking about racism in our society”. From its use in the 1960s counterculture, to Disco Mickey and Disney’s hugely contentious copyright protection, the film also accepts that Mickey is now just as much a corporate symbol as a historical figure. .
While it’s interesting to see a third party dissect the story of the mouse, it’s unlikely anyone other than Disney would have the access (or the intellectual property rights) to provide us with such a comprehensive overview. . As the The story of imagination series, we’re treated to incredible archival footage, plenty of interviews, and some legitimate feel-good commentary from fans and creators alike. “At this point, Mickey is us,” the film concludes. “So wherever we go, he comes with us.”
2022 | United States | DIRECTOR: Jeff Malberg | CINEMATOGRAPHER: Antonio Cisneros | EDITOR: Jake Hostetter and Aaron Wickenden | ACTORS: Eric Goldberg, Mark Henn, Randy Haycock, Floyd Norman, Carmenita Higginbotham, Rebecca Cline, Kevin Kern, Bob Iger | DISTRIBUTOR: Disney/Disney+, SXSW 2022 | DURATION: 93 minutes | RELEASE DATE: March 11-20, 2022 (SXSW)