Mickey: The Story of a Mouse (Review) – A Nice Film About Mice

DIRECTOR: Jeff Malmberg

CAST: Walt Disney, Andy Warhol, Bret Iwan, Robert A. Iger, Eric Goldberg, Veda Cienfuegos, Mark Henn, Innocent Ekakitie, Floyd Norman, Lyla Emersen Booker, Calum Dench, Warren Spector, Randy Haycock, Ayah Weitz, Meara Malmberg, Carmenita Higginbotham, Milton Glaser, Becky Cline, Kevin Kern

RUNNING TIME: 89 mins

CERTIFICATE: PG

BASICALLY…: The life and legacy of Disney’s most iconic mascot, Mickey Mouse…

NOW FOR THE REVIEW…

Disney making a warts-and-all biographical documentary about Mickey Mouse is a tricky concept, because despite the good intentions, corporate bias will undoubtedly get in the way of dragging the character too much through the dirt. Beyond that, though, Mickey Mouse is more than a cartoon character: he’s an icon, recognisable the world over, and a symbol of popular culture unlike anything before or since – so, how would one condense his entire 90+ year history into a mere hour and a half film?

In that regard, you probably won’t find everything you need to know in Mickey: The Story of a Mouse, but while it might not exactly be the definitive project about the world’s most famous rodent, it still manages to be an interesting enough documentary that examines his place in popular culture throughout the 20th century, and exactly why he has remained so endearing all this time.

The film is told in a typical documentary format, including on-camera interviews with several animators, historians, and casual fans ranging from children to married couples; plenty of archive footage such as old Mickey cartoons, historical news footage, and snippets of Walt Disney himself; and newer fly-on-the-wall footage, in this case covering a small number of animators who are putting together a new commemorative short featuring Mickey. The viewer is taken on a whirlwind journey through Mickey’s existence, from his origins and initial breakthrough with the ground-breaking short Steamboat Willie, to his role in raising people’s spirits during the Great Depression and the Second World War, to the period following Walt Disney’s death where nobody knew exactly what to do with the character, all the way up to the modern day where the rulebook for Mickey Mouse was effectively thrown out of the window, bringing in new possibilities for the character that brought him back to how Walt originally envisioned him.

It’s far from a challenging sit, because all it’s doing is simply charting the life and times of a harmless fictional character, but director Jeff Malmberg still manages to find interesting new angles at every turn that hold your attention, and focus on things that you never would have expected to see in a Disney-made film about Mickey Mouse. For one, this movie touches upon the wartime propaganda that Mickey and other characters were actively involved in, as well as his presence in material covered from the Holocaust; most surprising, though, is a brief section where it discusses the harmful pushing of racial stereotypes in some of the old Disney cartoons – and yes, that does mean there is footage of Mickey Mouse in blackface, which is just as horrifying as it sounds. Of course, a movie like this would never have been allowed to get too deep into the darker corners of either Mickey or Walt Disney’s past (Disney’s alleged anti-Semitism is never mentioned, and his controversial role in exposing communist animators is brought up but then very quickly pushed back down), but the places it does go make it a far less bland or cynical viewing experience than one might imagine, and Malmberg deserves credit for not being too afraid to get into some areas that even the biggest die-hard Mickey fanatic might not have thought to bring up.

The documentary is a nice little treat for lovers of animation, and not necessarily just Disney; throughout, there are shots of old hand-drawn sketches of Mickey that had been done by animators past, all being recreated here by modern-day artists who painstakingly trace over them line by line. It’s a neat testament to the power of hand-drawn animation, as it really does remind one of how much hard work is put into creating these types of cartoons, even when they feature one of the most famous characters in the world (who as it turns out can be difficult to draw for some, since he’s mostly made up of circles which are very hard to emulate or trace). For those just wanting to see Mickey, they’ll get plenty of that here too, as it’ll show snippets of his older cartoon appearances, his newer shorts (particularly from the last few years, many of which are some of the funniest that Mickey Mouse has ever been), as well as his countless appearances throughout pop culture, even as a central source of inspiration for artist Andy Warhol, who names both Mickey and Walt Disney his favourite piece of art and artist respectively.

It more or less is exactly what is says on the tin, but Mickey: The Story of a Mouse is an interesting film that has enough cute and loving qualities to hold your attention, especially if you love the artform of animation, as well as arguably its most recognisable star.

SO, TO SUM UP…

Mickey: The Story of a Mouse is an interesting documentary about the character’s legacy throughout the years, which certainly plays it safe when it comes to his overall place in history (save for some intriguing details you wouldn’t have imagined seeing in a film like this), but contains enough love for the craft of animation, as well as its central character, to hold most viewers’ attention.

Mickey: The Story of a Mouse is now available to stream on Disney+

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