Bringing Forth The Mouse


Altogether this diversification of characters—the creation of new stars, one might call it—required most of a decade and was not therefore the immediate answer to Disney’s problems. Nor did his stylistic innovations bring money rolling in. He clung steadfastly to the Silly Symphony series. About half of these were original material, and the other half were based on traditional folk tales, with a heavy reliance on Aesop. But until The Three Little Pigs became his biggest short-subject success in 1933–34, the series did not make a large, direct contribution to his financial progress. If anything, it was a drain.

A temporary solution to the problem of keeping Mickey fresh and amusing was to move him out of the sticks and into cosmopolitan environments and roles. The locales of his adventures throughout the nineteen thirties ranged from the South Seas to the Alps to the deserts of Africa. He was at various times a gaucho, teamster, explorer, swimmer, cowboy, fireman, convict, pioneer, taxi driver, castaway, fisherman, cyclist, Arab, football player, inventor, jockey, storekeeper, camper, sailor, Gulliver, boxer, exterminator, skater, polo player, circus performer, plumber, chemist, magician, hunter, detective, clock cleaner, Hawaiian, carpenter, driver, trapper, whaler, tailor, and Sorcerer’s Apprentice. In short, he was Everyman and the Renaissance Man combined. As Forster said, “Mickey’s great moments are moments of heroism, and when he carries Minnie out of the harem as a pot-plant or rescues her as she falls in foam … he reaches heights impossible for the entrepreneur.”

Unfortunately, it was as an entrepreneur that the mouse finally found his most viable identity. By the mid-thirties he appeared more and more frequently as the manager and organizer of various events—and his “gang” more and more frequently carried the whole comic load. One cannot help but suspect that this was a reflection of Disney’s strong identification with the mouse. By then Disney himself was occupied principally as the manager, organizer, and co-ordinator of an organization that had grown from a handful of people to a complex of some 750 employees by 1937, when Snow White was in full production. The mouse was by this time rounder, sleeker, and far more human in appearance. And, like his creator, he was also more sober, sensible, and suburban in outlook—a better organized mouse. In fact, Mickey had grown up.

WALT DISNEY: Myth and Reality