Saturday, June 25, 2016

Images of Mickey

The ever changing appearance of Mickey Mouse over the decades makes for some fascinating study.
Some people might wonder why his look changed at all, wouldn't this confuse audiences?
The thing is that all great artists go through an evolution, they get better and their art improves. With some though, creative juices slow down with old age, and the polished quality from their earlier work might fade visibly. The energy, enthusiasm and sense for experimentation seen years ago is lacking.
To a certain degree Mickey was a victim of such a development.

There is plenty of enthusiasm as well as experimentation going on in the drawing above from the early Ub Iwerks era. Animator Les Clark was also working on Mickey and Minnie at that time.

You can see in the following sketch how young Fred Moore handled the character. He added his unique sense for appeal, complex draughtsmanship and elasticity in Mickey's movements.
The film is Pluto's Judgement Day from 1935.

I am not sure who animated this sequence from Magician Mickey from 1937, perhaps Ed Love. Drawing and motion are wonderful and quite gutsy.

By 1938 Frank Thomas infused Mickey with superior acting (broad and subtle) for The Brave Little Taylor. The whole section in which Mickey demonstrates to the King and Princess how he "got seven on one blow" ranks as some of the best character animation ever done.

Fred Moore animated this scene from the film, where Mickey notices the Giant approaching.

By 1939 the design for Mickey's eyes was altered, which allowed for more believable expressions. Frank Thomas animated this encounter with a bear in the forest for the film The Pointer. Here again, top acting.
Mickey tries to convince the bear to spare his life because he is a famous personality "You know...Mickey Mouse".

Fred's model sheet showing how Mickey's new eyes work. He chose to re-draw a few poses from his own animation from The Brave Little Taylor. (The last three on the sheet).

A couple of great cels from The Sorcerer's Apprentice, 1940. By now Mickey could do anything, even conduct the universe.
The second scene was animated by Les Clark.

A great sketch by Fred Moore. Mickey looks back apprehensively toward the Sorcerer leaving.
Those always round ears never follow the laws of perspective, yet for some reason this cheat seems acceptable.

Fred drew key scenes with Mickey and Minnie for The Nifty Nineties, 1941. By this time the character's torso became smaller while his nose, hands and feet were enlarged. Extremely fluid animation.

For The Mickey Mouse Club, starting in the mid 1950s, Mickey announced the show based on its theme. Ollie Johnston animated this intro for Monday, Fun with Music Day.

The cels had a thicker outline for the character, while interior lines were kept thin. It was thought that this look would read better on TV sets back then.

Some of the last classic short films featuring Mickey Mouse were Pluto's Christmas Tree and The Simple Things. (1952 and 1953). Fred Moore drew Mickey in a somewhat flattened graphic style, which still looked good, but completely lacked the spirit of earlier incarnations.

Disney artist Tom Oreb came up with this version of Mickey, which was meant to be used for advertisement commercials. Great modern graphic design, but -again- lacking the original's personality. This mouse is a used car's salesman.

January 1, 1966. Walt and Disneyland's Mickey head up Pasadena's New Year's Rose Parade.

Some Images Heritage Auctions.

I am not including recent CG and 2D Mickey updates. While I applaud the effort...but no, no, not the real thing.


  1. Ah, Mickey ... That's a sticky subject. I love him, but I personally feel like Mickey has become way too watered down. Much of the characteristics that made him interesting were taken away. I personally think it was to become 'family friendly'. Looking from the original sketch to the sketches from the 1940's, it's not just the change in appearance that altered him, but his adventures became very different. It was exciting to see him travel along the mighty Mississippi and battling a giant, but bringing candy to Minnie (similar to Donald and Daisy adventures) just isn't as interesting. And he doesn't have Donald's temperament to balance it. It's just too sweet. Or as my husband calls him, "Wuss Mickey". It's tragic today to see the icon the studio was basically built on getting shoved to the side for rotating princesses. Not that I don't enjoy princesses, but it's just too much.

  2. I totally agree. I don't think Walt would approve of the new Mickey as seen on tv today.

    1. 1960's more conservative Walt might not approve, but 1930's Walt might just like Mickey's plucky personality in these new shorts. Granted, they do not have the full animation we all like to see, but at least they focus on character and humour and are not CG! Also they are new, instead of butchered classic shorts.

  3. "While I applaud the effort...but no, no, not the real thing" ... I absolutely agree. One thing is modernization, but today we see the complete lack of quality.

  4. I definitely agree with that "not the real thing" sentiment. Admittedly, all cartoon characters go through a sort of design metamorphosis as time goes on (take Garfield as an example), but somehow the new designs tend to lack the same quality craftsmanship or personality of the original...

  5. You did a pretty great job with Mickey yourself! As did many of your contemporaries on Mickey's Christmas Carol.
    This youtube clip credits you as animating Mickey in the 'Disneytoon' logo
    Is that your work? It's a pretty great-looking iteration.
    I felt the recent Mickey shorts took the wrong lessons from the old theatrical shorts. There's no excuse for the animation being lower quality now than it was 80 years ago!

  6. I love Prince and the Pauper Mickey. One of my earliest memories was watching the two Mickeys with my dad. That short brings me so much joy. I also love the runaway trail or short.

  7. CG Mickey feels wrong on so many levels.

  8. The new 2D Mickey shorts may lack sophistication in design and animation, but seeing Mickey and Minnie being real, sometimes flawed, personalities again instead of bland corporate symbols more than makes up for that. Add to that the sense of humour and the many references to classic Disney in these shorts and you have a real succesful series. To be honest, I am pleasantly surprised that the current Disney management greenlighted this fresh and daring reincarnation of our favourite mouse!

  9. Tonight on TCM they're showing some classic Disney cartoons (The Band Concert, the Clock Cleaners), and I am always amazed that these shorts were produced in the years that they were, especially when you compare them to cartoons by other studios released those same years. The comparison really puts into perspective just what an innovator the Disney studio was.

    1. The program included Clock Cleaners, one of my favorite Disney shorts!

    2. Disney nights are some of my favorite nights on TCM. I was fascinated by the documentary "Waking Sleeping Beauty'. I had no idea things were so difficult for Disney animators at the time. And who didn't cry when Howard died? I had no idea he was so instrumental in two of my all time favorite Disney films 'The Little Mermaid' and 'Beauty and the Beast'. As a redhead bibliophile, I had never seen films where the ginger was beautiful and loving books and knowledge wasn't stereotyped as boring. Beast giving Belle a library was the most romantic thing I could ever think of as a book-loving teenager (I would still prefer it as an adult, too). And who knew there was so much drama surrounding 'The Lion King'? While I adored the shorts ('Silly Symphonies' are some of the most beautiful pieces of animation of all time), I was most struck by the documentary on the animators of the 1970's to the 1990's. So much beauty, innovation and creativity - yet so sad and tragic at the same time.

  10. Those later Fred Moore Mickeys are interesting. I actually like the graphic style on those. The interesting thing to me is that Pluto didn't seem to undergo any change, yet Mickey is much flatter. I wonder what the goal was in making those changes on the model sheet to Mickey.

    1. Ooops! You answered my question, Andreas:

      "The cels had a thicker outline for the character, while interior lines were kept thin. It was thought that this look would read better on TV sets back then."

  11. I've always found Fred Moore to be one of my favorite animators. I think now and then how Mickey would have looked if there was no Fred Moore. But I guess you could say the same about any of "the nine old men". I applaud Disney for always trying to re incarnate Mickey for each new generation, but he always seems to fall flat. He's become a stiff, boring, corporate logo. It's a shame, there always seems to something missing.