For generations, the story has been passed along about the origin of Mickey Mouse.
Following a tragic mishap in 1928 during which most of his animators and his star character, Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, were taken from him, Walt Disney rode a train from New York to Hollywood. As the legend goes, during that train ride Walt sketched a simple drawing of a plucky mouse who the world would eventually come to know and love as Mickey.
But is that really how it happened? As D23 celebrated Mickey’s 90th birthday this past weekend during its Destination D event, panelists shared some alternate versions of the story that are decidedly different.
According to the first-ever published Disney book, entitled The Mickey Mouse Book, Mickey actually used to live in the clouds, literally. He was Mouse #13 as part of a mouse colony in Mouse Fairy Land, a kingdom in the skies ruled by an unforgiving monarch. One day when Mickey acted up, the king was so furious with him that he threw Mickey out of Mouse Fairy Land and down to earth below, where Mickey unglamorously careened against the roof shingles of someone’s house. As fate would have it, that house belonged to none other than Walt Disney. As Walt came outside to see who crashed into his home, he met Mickey for the first time, and the rest is history.
While you’re still reeling from this seemingly vital piece of Mickey Mouse knowledge that you’ve never been told until this very moment, consider this, yet another differing account of Mickey’s beginnings. This version originated from a live-action/animation hybrid short film developed in 1989 in promotion for the opening of Disney-MGM Studios (now Disney’s Hollywood Studios) at Walt Disney World. It was filmed on location there, with the park’s architecture doubling for the real Hollywood. The short, called Mickey’s Audition, was directed by Rob Minkoff, who would later go on to direct The Lion King and Stuart Little. Mickey is the only animated figure in the piece, with everything else live-action.
The story of Mickey’s Audition involves Mickey stepping off the trolley in a bustling Hollywood of the 1920s (much as he does today during the street show with news boys at Disney California Adventure). Mickey attends an audition on a soundstage, where the director immediately casts him in a seafaring epic. Hopping aboard Steamboat Willie, Mickey’s ship thrashes against special-effects waves in an action sequence that eventually goes all wrong. In the aftermath of the set literally falling apart, Walt Disney (played by his nephew, Roy E. Disney) approaches the scene to see if Mickey is ok and compliment his performance, claiming that he has a big future ahead of him.
It’s interesting to hear that Disney has given thought to Mickey’s origins, but despite the fact that he is the studio’s signature character, these stories are not widely known and only exist in such obscure productions. It was certainly a treat hearing light being shed on them during Destination D.