Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Vintage Headlines: Mickey's 1951 Comeback

Did you know that Mickey Mouse made a big comeback in 1951?  This Associated Press newspaper article from March 4, 1951 provides the details.
Mickey Mouse, all-time international movie favorite, is hitting the comeback trail. He's getting his tail back, too. After ten lean years, the fabulous rodent, who in some 125 films has played scholar, great lover, cowboy, explorer or medieval knight with equal aplomb, is set for a new series of starring roles.
"We never really dropped Mickey," says Walt Disney, who created the tiny dynamo 22 years ago and made a fortune off him. "We just kind of drifted away from him."
The toast of the world 15 years ago, Mickey began taking a back seat to other members of the Disney cartoon family in 1938. That was the year Walt made his first feature-length fantasy, Snow White. That year also marked the emergence of Donald Duck as a rival.  Disney's crew, which once turned out 15 Mickey Mouse starrers a year, cut back to three or four. Donald, Pluto and Goofy who broke in with Mickey, became famous in their own films.  Dumbo, Bambl and the Three Caballeros stepped into the limelight in elaborate feature pictures.
Disney says Mickey was de-emphasized, not because his popularity waned but because he's tricky to handle.  "Only my top men are good enough to work with Mickey." Disney says, (he's always done Mickey's voice himself). "Because he's a nice, sympathetic character, not a natural comedian like Donald. It takes a lot of ingenuity to write Mickey." During the war the little fellow became a complete casualty; Disney was  devoting 85 per cent of his production to special armed forces projects. Mickey has made only four or five films since.
With his comeback in four cartoons this year, many of the younger generation will be meeting Mickey for the first time, and they'll be seeing him with a tail. Maybe you've forgotten that Mickey has been tailless for more than a decade. When Walt first drew him he was a skinny little tyke. His only clothes were a pair of shorts and shoes and he had a tail. But for one reason or another, Walt can't remember exactly why, they lopped his tail off. Why tack it on again? "We came to realize." Walt says, "that he's not as cute without it. It's an expressive thing. I remember he used to twirl it when he was nervous or angry. It carries him through action smoothly, gives him balance and grace."
There have been other changes through the years. As he aged, Mickey graduated to long pants. They gave him a shirt. Once spidery, his limbs thickened and his body assumed a pear shape. His eyes, formerly dots, were given lids. In the new series he'll have eyebrows.
Mickey wasn't Disney's first love. The first was a cat. The second was a rabbit named Oswald. But Walt wasn't quite satisfied. He wanted to make improvements and when the company he worked for said no, he launched his own business. The first two mouse cartoons didn't make much of a splash.  The industry was being turned topsy-turvy by a new element--sound. Walt took his third Mickey to New York and had it synchronized for sound. They premiered Steamboat Willie at the old Colony Theater in New York in 1928 and the mouse was famous.
There never was a more versatile fellow than Mickey. He's been a tailor, a steam shovel operator, fire chief, cop, musician, magician, inventor, football hero, polo player, farmer, whaler, tourist, hula dancer, scientist and gas station attendant. He's been around the world—to Argentina. Alaska, Africa, the Alps. Arabia. Brazil, even to Gulliver's mythical Lilliput. Once he got going there was no stopping him.  His piping voice was translated into ten foreign languages. He had fan clubs in 50 countries. His likeness was given a choice spot in Mme. Tussuad's waxworks in London.  He got into the Encyclopedia Britannica and got Disney into Who's Who. He won Disney an Academy Award and countless other accolades. And his face appeared on armed forces insignia and on hundreds of commercial products.
The entire article is sadly ironic.  Only two Mickey Mouse cartoons were released in 1951--R'coon Dawg and Plutopia.  And Plutopia was essentially a Pluto cartoon that for some reason was instead branded to Mickey. The image presented with the article features a scene from Pluto's Party, which was released in 1952, along with Pluto's Christmas Tree.  Some comeback--Mickey is essentially playing second string to his own dog in all these cartoons.  The Simple Things, released in 1953, would prove to be the last traditional Mickey Mouse cartoon of animation's golden age.  Mickey's illustrious comeback of 1951 lasted a mere five cartoons.

But Mickey's comeback would be sustained in other ways.  Theme parks and television were just around the corner . . .


Connie Moreno said...

He had a comeback of sorts in 1974. I remember because that was the year I started high school. At orientation, I noticed that many of the seniors were wearing some very cool Mickey Mouse T-shirts. I couldn't contain myself. I asked where everyone was getting the shirts and was informed that a local shop was selling them. As the months passed, Mickey T-shirts were being sold EVERYWHERE.