I am probably about to massively jump the shark. But I want to say it, be done with it and reason it through this hopeless sleepless night – Mickey Mouse. Disney, really, I think it’s about time you really let the poor chap go. The world is different. Don’t change him – let him retire with dignity…
You may have seen Epic Mickey 2: The Power of Two getting some pretty ‘meh’ reviews.
I want to point out like many, I grew up with Disney. It was the go-to brand for children, and you couldn’t be exposed to Disney without subsequently being exposed to Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse and a host of other wonderful characters. This is how things were in the Eighties; the simpler times for children, when adult life expectancy dropped substantially as work-life balance tipped precariously to the work-work balance, and when the violence on TV was still childishly kitsch enough that we didn’t need to see gory details, or blood or any realistic violence. Watching the likes of Roadrunner thwart Wile-E Coyote on a weekly basis thrilled me in ways I can still barely describe. I still think some characters can change or be modernised; Roadrunner definitely I think could work in a modern telling, the slapstick comedy violence never needing words, just actions.
But some, sadly, will not survive. And I fear for Disney, the time has come to ask if Mickey Mouse has an actual future with us.
For his screen presence has dwindled since the 50’s – sure, he has appeared in a few shorts in that time. Fantasia – for all the re-releases skewing our sense of time – was originally made in 1941. Mickey’s later episodes were more attempting to copy the successes of Looney Tunes and their ilk; the slapstick innocence of laughing at someone elses misfortune. They were superbly done; this is Disney we’re talking about here and this is their territory. But they lacked the simple charm of Mickey Mouse; they lacked the slight mischievous bent. They just didn’t work with Mickey Mouse.
In more recent times, Mickey Mouse has seen himself the subject of many videogames and some of them are, undeniably, classics that we must revere. Castle of Illusion is still a charming platformer from the 16-bit era, alongside Mickey Mania later for the SNES and Mega Drive. They were a golden time for Disney; the late 80’s and early to mid 90’s saw many Disney characters find their way into our hears, such as Donald Duck in Quackshot and the timeless Game Boy classic, Duck Tales. I swear if you are not moved by The Moon theme, you are a little bit dead inside. But that was then, and even in this era the horrors of ultra-violence were being pinned to the wall and snarled at. Disney took much advantage in this era of catering to the more family-orientated model; the nice, safe sort of Christmas present for kids of all ages. That the games were actually good is perhaps not a surprise; the 2D plane and the traditional Disney attention to detail really worked in this era.
This is not that era.
Look at what our kids watch nowadays – Bleach, Naruto, Dragonball Z. They demand the same games as adults get too, so they want Call of Duty and Battlefield, they demand Assassin’s Creed and BioShock. Children of this era are mature beyond their years and yes, there’s a small window in their development when Disney is really still the go-to method. But even here, Disney – along with Pixar – have given children new idols, new heroes. Wall-E one of the most genius creations I have seen in years, as even most gore-hungry adults I know coo about how adorable this little robot is. Wall-E will be timeless because he’s a sort of clever juxtaposition of a traditional silent movie caught in a fantastical futuristic science fiction plot. He is not a hero by choice; he is a hero because he thinks he is in love. Poor little mite has a few wires crossed. Or maybe he is confusing it for the company Eva provided. Either way, it’s a beautiful piece of modern artistry, more than Mickey Mouse – who is a figure of a bygone era.
If that were proved anywhere, it is in the two Epic Mickey games. Not only have they been actually pretty poor as games (which is technically quite bad news for Disney anyway), but the general public genuinely isn’t interested in Mickey himself anymore. Epic Mickey has tried to be darker, gritter, somehow more mature but this doesn’t work either; you can’t make an innocent character like Mickey deeper and more realistic. This isn’t feasible. We don’t want to connect with Mickey – we just want to be entertained and this is perhaps the problem that they face in this new world; Mickey just doesn’t entertain.
However, I don’t want to see Mickey somehow try to modernise. I remember when they tried to make him all hip and cool in the late 90’s, with a baseball cap and khaki shorts and ridiculously over-large shades. It wasn’t cool, it didn’t come across as a parody and no-one really bought it either. It’s just not Mickey. And yet, we don’t want to buy traditional Mickey either because the world has changed so significantly socially, and the media we consume is a lot less filtered, a lot less fluffy clouds and pink borders. When you can’t modernise, and you can’t go back, that’s probably a good time to bow out with some grace and dignity left intact.
Not as if Mickey would be gone forever. We still like his cameo spots in Kingdom Hearts. We always will love Mickey, but this era, the one we’re in, he doesn’t fit in. Not only that, it would be terribly wrong to actually force him to change for this era as that could do even more damage to him. Some people have to leave in order for the heart to grow fonder still; some cartoons lay dormant for years before they are resurrected for a new audience. Maybe in the future, our youth will find themselves as irresistibly drawn to Mickey Mouse as some of us were. Maybe the children of tomorrow will eschew the violence we have come accustomed to because it’s simply no longer dangerous, they won’t get into trouble for being caught playing them or because the world is so angsty against them. To a youth culture more broad-minded, looking for classic inspiration to deviate from the norm, no doubt Mickey will be there once more to cheerily entertain them, coming out of his imposed retirement ready to wow the crowds once more. And the media and adults will wonder why kids are into such an old-fashioned and boring character like Mickey Mouse, treating it with the contempt we often threw at Doom, and Resident Evil and such forth. He will reflect a desire of the time for something more structured – still cheeky, still funny, but not drowned in a fight every few minutes, or buckets of blood. They will have bored of it, and find solace in a tale told well. Not a tale told behind enough red liquid to put the Heinz ketchup factory out of business.
It is cruel to force Mickey Mouse to adapt to an era of entertainment he simply has no hope of competing with. Retire him for now Disney. No more games, cartoons or shorts. Let him rest, recuperate, charge those batteries for a time when he can make a triumphant and glorious return for us all. Epic Mickey 2, for what its worth, feels like you are wheeling the poor chap out now only to make money, only to service some misguided belief that he can dance for you. He’s been dancing for you now for a good eighty years or so. The routine is tired. The act is clearly barely able to stand up. It looks like torture, not entertainment.
Mickey deserves a well-earned rest now. Let him grab his old-fashioned pipe and slippers and settle down to watch some TV in the interim period. A good R&R break for arguably one of the worlds most iconic figures, a break that has been long overdue for some years now.
We do love Mickey. We just think he has earned that retirement. The world has changed. There’s no point getting on stage and belting out the same tired old tunes when the world is a different place, when the music isn’t daring any more, when the jokes are no longer getting laughs. It’s not fair on him. And it’s not going to go well with the audience who are conflicted between the need for new content and fresh ideas beside the need for familiarity and safe options. If the general public can barely make up their minds – what hope does poor Mickey have?
He’s earned that chalet in the mountains, sat beside Minnie, looking out over the spectacular view. He’s earned it a hundred times over. Please, just don’t force him into any more substandard games.
He deserves better. And frankly, shame on you Disney for even letting that happen!