As Walt Disney was fond of saying, “It all started with a Mouse”. Well that start came exactly 80 years ago today, in one small theater in New York, when Mickey Mouse burst onto the screen in Disney’s first cartoon with synchronized sound, Steamboat Willie. Although Mickey had debuted in May of 1928, his first two films had been silent: Willie, as drawn by Ub Iwerks, was the first to find a distributor and is the phenomenal success that launched Walt and his new star on the path to creating the Walt Disney Studios and the many wonderful animated and live-action films since.
Mickey switched to color in the 1935 short The Band Concert, won an Academy Award alongside Pluto for Lend A Paw (1941) and jumped to feature films, first as The Sorcerer’s Apprentice in Fantasia (1940) and then in a re-telling of the Jack And The Beanstalk story in the 1947 Package Feature Fun And Fancy Free. In 1953, The Simple Things saw Mickey’s semi-retirement from cartoons, whereupon he became the iconic figurehead of the Disney corporation, welcoming visitors to the Disneyland park and heading up The Mickey Mouse Club on television in the 1950s.
In honor of his 50th Anniversary in 1978, Mickey became the first cartoon character awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, returning to theaters soon after in a string of featurettes: Mickey Mouse Disco (1980) featured the dance craze of the time, Mickey’s Christmas Carol (1983) and The Prince And The Pauper (1990) featured memorable Disney casts in these classic tales. In the 1980s and 90s, Mickey worked professionally onscreen with the likes of Bugs Bunny and Kermit The Frog, and starred in the Oscar-nominated Runaway Brain (1995) before seeing his entire filmography of short films released chronologically to DVD in the Walt Disney Treasures series.
In 2004, Mickey made a grand return to feature films in the direct-to-video adventure The Three Musketeers, and gamely sat for digitizing sessions to become a CG character in a string of traditionally and computer animated specials and programs. 2007 saw the publication of the unique career retrospective The Mickey Mouse Treasures, featuring replicas of Mouse memorabilia from over the decades. He continues to star in films and television, most recently the Mickey Mouse Works and Mickey Mouse Clubhouse series, proving that in any medium, he remains the quintessential mascot of optimism, fun and Walt Disney’s personal spirit. Happy birthday, Mickey!