Captivating. Entrancing. Hypnotic. Whatever you want to call it, there was something magical in the air at Destination D as Bret Iwan and Bill Farmer took to the mics to spellbind attendees with something no one in the audience will forget anytime soon: a live table read of a script, in character as Mickey Mouse and Goofy.
Destination D was a weekend-long event put on by D23: The Official Disney Fan Club in commemoration of Mickey’s 90th birthday. One of the panels included a reading of an unmade Mickey short in which Mickey and Goofy get trapped in a candy mine. It was absolutely fascinating to observe. Voice performance is something so few are exposed to in person that much of its intricacies are shrouded in mystery. How much energy of a voice performance comes from the actor’s body? What kinds of facial expressions do they make when performing? Do they easily weave in and out of character? These were questions whose answered were demonstrated firsthand before my very eyes. Considering my Disney fandom and the fact that writing scripts and conducting table reads are part of my everyday job responsibilities, this moment at D23 is easily one of my new favorite Disney memories.
The day prior, Iwan and Farmer sat down with Star Wars voice actress and Her Universe founder Ashley Eckstein for a more formal interview-style panel, during which they each shared how they got their jobs, what makes their characters special, and provided a fascinating glimpse behind the scenes of two of animation’s most iconic characters, Mickey Mouse and Goofy.
By now, both Iwan and Farmer are pros at their characters. Iwan has been performing Mickey since 2009, while Farmer has been Goofy since 1987. Farmer described his audition process as relatively traditional, having submitted a tape he put together across a weekend going through several scenarios as Goofy. Iwan becoming Mickey is a more extraneous tale, seemingly straight out of a Disney storybook. He was an illustrator for Hallmark, coincidentally working just a few block away from where Walt Disney worked at Laugh-O-Gram Studio in Kansas City in the 1920s. Iwan received an email from an animator friend who worked at Pixar, passing along information about a virtual audition to be an understudy for Mickey’s voice for when Wayne Allwine wasn’t available. Despite the audition intending to be internal to The Walt Disney Company, Iwan submitted an audition voicemail to the provided hotline, and several months later received a callback. In the wake of Allwine’s unexpected passing, and with no experience in radio or vocal performance, Bret became the official voice of Mickey Mouse.
His first project was a Disney On Ice production called “Celebrations!,” a show I remember distinctly anticipating coming to my town because I would finally get to hear Mickey’s new voice that I had read others talking so anxiously about online. Bret’s Mickey brings a youthful energy to the character, something that he found from Mickey’s original voice, Walt Disney himself. Iwan attests that Walt brought personality to the character, along with a sense of optimism and a desire for adventure. The opportunity to follow in such hallowed footsteps is something that Iwan doesn’t take lightly, especially when he gets to hear his voice as Mickey in the Disney theme parks. Growing up, Fantasmic! was an important show to Bret’s Disney fandom, so much so that he and his brother would act it out in their childhood backyard by spraying around the water hose. Voicing Mickey in the recent update of the show for Disneyland was a full-circle moment.
Iwan cites “Backstage Magic with Mickey Mouse” (sometimes also called “Magic Words with Mickey”) as one of his favorite projects. The experience was an interactive meet & greet at Walt Disney World where guests got to carry on a real-time verbal conversation with Mickey Mouse for the first time ever. While eventually it became a standard offering available to all guests regularly, for several years the technology was in on-and-off testing mode, seemingly happening randomly every so often and going viral every time it did. Unfortunately, the experience was stripped of its talking component last spring, but it will forever be remembered as a special moment in Disney history, and perhaps a glimpse of what character interactions could look like in the future. Of the closure, Iwan remarked that most of the time when meeting guests, Mickey has to save his voice for the show, “I was his vocal coach on how to talk to people and how to sometimes save his voice. He didn’t listen.”
That line is a perfect example of the way both Iwan and Farmer spoke that made it clear they have a true relationship with these characters. Farmer said he’s worked as Goofy on nearly 3500 projects across 31 years. With being part of so many different things and for such different types of media, whether television or video games or theme parks, it can sometimes be overwhelming to keep track of everything. Farmer said that just the day before the panel, he saw for the first time Mickey’s Royal Friendship Faire, a show at Magic Kingdom that debuted over two years ago. “You see things like that and you go, ‘Oh, yeah, I remember doing that.'” Other times, the voice actors are completely lost. “Ask us what Kingdom Hearts 3 is about,” Farmer challenged, to which both he and Iwan exclaimed in unison, “We don’t know!!” While they record television scripts in linear order parallel to the story, video games are more all over the place, jumping to different parts of the script so drastically that it’s difficult to get a sense of the narrative (especially when mainly making battle sounds and erroneous noises rather than complete dialogue).
Still, some projects, shall we say, stand out. A Goofy Movie is one that Farmer is extremely appreciative of. He even said there’s “talk of some projects” to celebrate the film’s 25th anniversary in 2020. He said he couldn’t elaborate any more than that… intriguing!! He also stated that Goof Troop was “scary,” with Goofy being the first of the fab five to receive his own full TV series.
In being the same character so often, inevitably the character becomes part of who you are, Farmer said. One moment in particular when Farmer accidentally knocked over a can of Coca-Cola all over a $100,000 soundboard is proof of Goofy sometimes taking the wheel in his actions. “He’s always in there,” Farmer remarked, before Iwan added in Mickey’s voice, “Yeah, and sometimes waaaaaay out there.” Pure magic.