There is perhaps no character more recognizable on the planet than Mickey Mouse. Since Walt Disney first sketched him back in 1928, Mickey has gone on to become not only the face of one of the largest corporations in the world but also a cultural icon known and beloved by billions of people.
To celebrate Mickey’s November 18th birthday, Disney has produced a new documentary for Disney+ called, Mickey: The Story of a Mouse. Directed by Jeff Malmberg (Won’t You Be My Neighbor?), the film examines the cultural significance of the nearly 100-year-old cartoon mouse.
While the film is formatted to look back at the chronological history of Mickey, it utilizes a narrative on which the film rests, which is the production of a brand-new, hand-drawn Mickey Mouse cartoon. The short, titled Mickey in a Minute, was produced by the Disney Animation studio’s only three remaining hand-drawn animators, Randy Haycock Eric Goldberg, Randy Haycock, and Mark Henn. Malmberg felt it was important to feature something tangible viewers could relate to. “As much as I love the historical aspect of Mickey, it was so nice to have something in the present day to watch being made,” says Malmberg. “I think it reverberates back to the past when you see Eric and Mark and Randy with that pencil.”
“It kind of came out of a conversation with Eric,” continues Malmberg. “He said, ‘As long as we’re doing this film, why don’t we do some new Mickey animation?’ One of my favorite things, about making the film was just hanging out with Eric any day, where I got to just sit there and ask him Mickey questions. I feel like with documentaries, you’re sort of getting a master’s degree in each subject that you do if you do it right. It’s also such a great example of hand-drawn animation, and it became a sort of a line through the making of the film, just because I got to hang out with somebody who’s so fun and knowledgeable. I always felt like the tip of Eric’s pencil was this kind of close as I would get to Mickey.”
While the film is a promotional tool at its core, it does not shy away from hightailing the less-than-stellar moments over Mickey’s life span, such as Mickey being stripped of his personality, and the company’s mishandling of copyright lawsuits. “Obviously, there are rules of engagement here,” says Malmberg. “It’s Mickey. It’s for Disney. This is not an independent documentary. But within that, I think Morgan Neville, who produced it, and myself always thought, ‘Hey, we love this, but we can still be honest. I always found it interesting that as a character, there were things that just sort of weren’t talked about. Mickey was always this wonderful, joyful thing. But it also had this weird area that was not only really gray, but no one talked about it. So, for us, it was an opportunity to talk about it. For me, making the documentary, it’s much more interesting that a joyful portrait. That was always our directive. That was kind of our first pitch to them. I think they knew that we were fans of Mickey, but that it was more complicated than they had previously let people talk about.”
Malmberg is hoping that viewers take away a better understanding of this character that has been with them all of their lives. “I know that it’s made me appreciate the symbol and the character of Mickey a lot more, and I hope it does for other people,” says Malmberg. “I hope it makes people realize that while the symbol is something that we all share, inside that symbol is a lot of our history that’s really interesting. So yeah, I think it was really a chance to kind of go beyond that like Park visit you always get with a kid and be like, why is this guy so popular?”
You can watch our full interview with Jeff Malmberg below.
Mickey: The Story of a Mouse streams on Disney+ on November 18.