Call me mainstream, but Mickey Mouse is my favorite Disney character.
As the first prominent entity of the Walt Disney Company and a leadership figure for the studio’s family of characters, Mickey is one of animation’s rare characters whose personality extends beyond the confines of his established films. The impact of Mickey Mouse on popular culture goes further than a few laughs in a cartoon; it continues in the symbol of hope and optimism he was during the Great Depression, in the icon of the kiddie craze Mickey Mouse Club became to the 1950s, in the warm face he invites for a hug at the arrival of a Disney vacation after months or even years of saving money and dreaming of a fantastic time with family.
It is only fitting, then, that after a storied career reflective of a century-long history of America itself, Disney would look to its roots in seeking a new medium for its star to thrive in: the short cartoon. Developed from Disney Television Animation, Mickey Mouse is a series of 3.5-minute adventures starring the Toontown gang. First debuted in 2013, the show has won two consecutive Emmys for Outstanding Short-format Animated Program and is currently airing its second season on Disney Channel, with a third already in the works. Its first season just arrived to DVD as a Walmart exclusive. Everywhere else will have to wait for its wide release December 2.
The Shorts ✮✮✮✮
As its flagship character, Disney creates new content for Mickey on an ongoing basis. As of late, his biggest hits have been in the realm of theme parks (such as with the astounding Talking Mickey walk-around) and video games (namely Epic Mickey). Concerning film, though, anyone outside of Mickey Mouse Clubhouse‘s preschool demographic has been sans Mickey for a decade. These shorts prove the wait was worth it.
Each segment of Mickey Mouse (19 of which are on this disc) is delightful: a careful, conscious blend of the beauty of the vintage 1930s Mickey shorts with just the right dash of adjustment for a 2014 audience. Many of them take place in exotic, international locales, with some not even having English dialogue but instead matching the spotlighted nation’s language. The quick length (even by the standards of a short) compresses the action into a fun, frantic tone that complements the frazzled nature of the characters’ situations well. Each story also includes Disney references galore, some obvious and others subtle.
The best of these shorts are the ones that either a) infuse music at their center (like Yodelberg or The Adorable Couple), or b) test the boundaries of the characters’ friendships (like Potatoland). It’s fun to see these personalities played around with, and in this series animators get things particularly right for the dynamic between Mickey and Donald. Anytime the two share screentime, their contrast is wonderful. Poor Donald can’t catch a break, and poor Mickey can’t understand Donald’s ongoing frustration.
The entire collection has a distinctive look. Everything is stylized in a way Rotoscopers founder Morgan Stradling once described as “Paper Mario-like,” which nails it pretty well. Mickey is pie-eyed and loose; the background art is sketch-like and rustic. The environment has a Mary Blair-esque touch to it, with the look being cartoony without tracing obnoxious. Whereas Disney Television Animation’s other projects with Mickey and company (like my jam House of Mouse) took a louder, wackier approach to these characters, here the toil is in preservation of their initial intrinsic qualities. There is not so much effort to keep them relevant as there is an intentionality to keep them true to who they were originally intended to be.
In some cases, this means quite drastic changes. The years-of-experience, patriarchal Mickey is swapped in favor of a mouse who seems to be just getting his start: plucky and mischievous but still embodying the kindhearted qualities that will propel him toward a legendary career. Here, Mickey is helpful and loyal but also a bit on the wild side. More often than not, this works well, such as when he tries to no avail to get a decent photo of a panda. Other times, the stretch might be taken too far, such as when he stuffs ice cream down his pants to stay cool. The mind of a purist should definitely be left at the door. However, just because some artistic liberties are taken does not mean that the artists have disregarded the franchise’s core. As aforementioned, most of what comes across as strange are things that actually take the characters back to their roots, not something completely new thrown upon them.
Bonus Feature ✮
The sole extra is “The Making of Mickey Mouse,” which isn’t really a making-of as much as it is a brief overview. Director Paul Rudish and Disney Television Animation’s Creative Vice President Mike Moon sit down to summarize their goals in developing the series, though their five-minute interview keeps things on a very surface level. Particularly with a character as versatile and iconic as Mickey Mouse, there is a lot of potential wasted by not taking the discussion deeper. However, for a quick DVD release of TV shorts, the simpleness is somewhat understandable.
The biggest disappointment comes in a lack of interviews with voice talent, especially considering this series takes a very bold step in casting Chris Diamantopoulos as Mickey. Bret Iwan is still considered to be Mickey’s “official” voice as he has been since 2009, but for this particular project, a different route was taken. I would have been very curious to hear the reasoning behind the choice, especially with Mickey’s voice usually being a revered torch-passing with decades of a gap between each performer.
The cartoons presented in Mickey Mouse successfully carry out two primary functions. The first, with the series airing during commercial breaks between the likes of Phineas and Ferb and Girl Meets World, increases the longevity of Mickey’s appeal to go beyond something kids graduate from when they enter kindergarten. They give Mickey and the gang a healthy, expanded audience. Secondly, the shorts give older fans an outlet to experience Mickey again. The attention to artistic style and Disney tributes really give adults reasons to love the world of Mickey in a way that something like Mickey Mouse Clubhouse obviously could never do.
The purchase of this DVD is a harder sell than the cartoons themselves. Unfortunately, as with most Disney Channel home videos, Mickey Mouse: Season 1 is not available on Blu-ray. Turns out not even the big cheese has any leeway in that ruling. With 19 cartoons totaling 74 minutes, though, there’s quite a wealth of material, even if bonuses aren’t up to part with what we’d hope for Disney short film collection (Walt Disney Treasures has spoiled us, it seems). However, the argument can be made that all of the shorts are available for viewing online and on a Mickey Mouse app. That is entirely 100% true, and will suffice for most who are simply curious to check out what this Emmy-winning buzz is all about. Despite that gracious availability, though, those who consider Mickey’s early classic adventures among their favorite Disney titles will want this DVD for ease of seeing all at once everything great about those vintage beginnings revamped for the present day. And with a $10 Walmart price, there’s some real great content for the value here.
These are characters we’ve known for years, and Mickey Mouse gives us reasons we didn’t even know to love them for. They bring freshness to what could arguably have been labeled as stale. This collection is a start-to-finish gag fest, a welcome return to a side of Mickey that could easily have been lost forever.
Mickey Mouse: Season 1 is currently an in-store, Walmart exclusive. Online purchases qualify for a pre-order the official, wide December 2 release of the DVD.
View shorts, including season two.