On March 4, Disney’s Hollywood Studios theme park at the Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Florida saw the opening of a brand-new ride: Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway. It's a trackless dark ride featuring Mickey, Minnie and their group of beloved and iconic friends, and it's Mickey's first dedicated ride at a Disney park. It is also the latest addition in a series of upgrades and massive transformations that have taken place at the Walt Disney World resort over the past decade or so and will continue on into the future.
Those changes have not always been well received. The alterations and new additions to Walt Disney World’s various parks have increasingly, and much to the chagrin of purists (guilty as charged), seen the company incorporating (or shoehorning, if you prefer) IP whenever and wherever possible.
But Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway is somewhat of an anomaly in this regard. While based on the Mickey Mouse cartoon shorts, Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway is not based on or a direct tie-in to a theatrical movie. A good reason for that is because well, Mickey Mouse doesn’t have his own movie. But he should.
It Strangely Hasn’t Happened Yet
You might be thinking, ‘What are you talking about? Of course Mickey Mouse has his own movie!’ It just doesn’t sound right. How could a character like Mickey Mouse, who debuted publicly almost a century ago in 1928, and whose face has become literally one of the most recognizable images in the world, not have his own movie? It defies logic and common sense, and yet, it is true.
Since his debut in Steamboat Willie, Mickey Mouse has primarily appeared in shorts of varying lengths made for both the big and small screens. He also starred in various television series over the years. Walt’s mouse has appeared in direct-to-video movies like Mickey’s Magical Christmas and Mickey, Donald, Goofy: The Three Musketeers, but never has Mickey Mouse starred in a feature-length theatrical movie where he was the main attraction.
From Snow White and the Seven Dwarves all the way to Frozen II, Mickey has never gotten the theatrical feature film treatment from Walt Disney Animation Studios. The closest he got was probably Fantasia and Fun and Fancy Free. Mickey’s most famous role is in The Sorcerer’s Apprentice segment in Fantasia, and while that’s great, it’s only one segment out of seven.
Fun and Fancy Free is a package film consisting of two short stories, the second of which, Mickey and the Beanstalk, stars the mouse in a retelling of Jack and the Beanstalk. But Mickey only stars in half the film, so that doesn’t really count as a full theatrical feature film for the icon.
It gets even weirder when you consider that despite Mickey’s station, his friend Goofy does have his own movie. Goofy got a theatrically released feature film with 1995’s A Goofy Movie. But just because Mickey hasn’t gotten a movie yet doesn’t mean he shouldn’t.
Mickey Deserves It
The argument for Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway (RIP to The Great Movie Ride) was that it was time to give Mickey his own dedicated ride. So why can’t that line of thinking apply to the feature film realm as well? It’s not just about filling the void that currently exists and answering the 'what if' question, it’s also about the fact that Mickey deserves it.
It’s not like we’re talking about why something more obscure like Disney’s Adventures of the Gummi Bears or something unsuccessful like Treasure Planet should get new movies (they should). We’re talking about Mickey freaking Mouse!
Mickey Mouse is an icon, and rightfully so. Although his look has changed over time, the core design is timeless and should be seen on the big screen. Moreover, Mickey’s personality could make him a compelling character in a feature film. In the Disney parks, he often appears as a pretty generic character. He’s a friendly and honest good guy and a likable hero, but his history across media shows he can have more of an edge to him.
Mickey Mouse is playful and inquisitive, somewhat mischievous and occasionally stubborn. He’s a lovable rogue, and it’s that element of his character that a feature film could really embrace to tell an interesting story. And it’s not like he hasn’t carried his own stories before in small screen stories and shorts. Mickey has even starred in video games like Kingdom Hearts and Epic Mickey.
So when it comes to a matter of what the character deserves, I don’t think you’d find too many arguments saying that on the surface Mickey Mouse doesn’t deserve his own movie. Shouldn’t Disney’s most iconic character have his own iconic tale? Mickey Mouse deserves the opportunity to show on a grand scale that he’s more than a corporate logo.
That said, I acknowledge that such a proposal is not without some inherent risks.
It’s Admittedly Risky
Here’s the thing about Disney making a Mickey Mouse movie: it has to be great. No seriously, it has to be amazing. Anything with the Disney seal reflects on the corporation for good or ill, but Mickey Mouse is different. Mickey Mouse isn’t just a Disney character; Mickey Mouse is Disney. He’s as representative of the brand as Walt himself. Therefore a Mickey Mouse movie has to deliver on every level. Anything that’s mediocre or unoriginal, or not a complete and total home run simply won’t do.
It might not be fair, but just based on the importance of the character, a Mickey Mouse movie would automatically be saddled with these ridiculous expectations and judged by an impossibly high standard that other Disney movies don’t have to contend with. And just because Mickey is a fun character who might deserve his own movie doesn’t mean that making a film that lives up to that is some easy task.
Mickey is a tricky character. He has personality, of course, but he doesn’t really have a specific story that is the obvious route a film could go. It’s not dissimilar from the puzzle of how to make a Super Mario Bros. movie. Mario is great, but you need more than one great character to make a great movie. A lot of the times we’ve seen Mickey, he’s also playing a role himself, like the sorcerer’s apprentice in Fantasia or Bob Cratchit in Mickey’s Christmas Carol.
Furthermore, perhaps there’s a good reason why we haven’t seen a Mickey Mouse feature film yet. Maybe Mickey Mouse just works better in short films. That’s the format he was created for and has excelled in, and forcing him into a feature film would be asking him to play a position he’s not suited for, like having the first baseman play shortstop.
So with all of those potential pitfalls, why bother? Mickey Mouse certainly doesn’t need a movie and the risks of having one may outweigh the rewards. That may be true, but I don’t think that safe choices are what should govern Hollywood overall or a company like Disney that has the clout and resources to be truly daring.
It Would Be A Great Opportunity For Disney To Show Off
It might seem counterintuitive for something like a Mickey Mouse movie, which would have to be great, to be bold and take risks. The chances of failure rise the more adventurous you get, and failure is not an option here. But the thing is, a Mickey Mouse movie would also be the perfect platform for Disney to remind everyone who it is. Disney is the house that animation built.
That said, when I think of the most impressive animated movies in recent years, the two that immediately come to mind don’t hail from the Mouse House. Instead, what really wowed me, felt fresh and showed me something I’d never seen before were Netflix’s Klaus and Sony’s Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.
It’s not that Moana and Toy Story 4 aren’t great or that Frozen II and Onward aren’t stunning, because of course they are. Disney keeps pumping out fantastic theatrical animation via Pixar and Walt Disney Animation Studios, but I do think there is a bit of sameness and safeness to it. Making animated hair, water, light and shadow look photo-realistic is cool and all, but I’m not sure that’s pushing the medium of animation forward and in exciting new directions in the same way Spider-Verse or Klaus did with their animation styles and techniques. It’s a difference of degree versus kind.
A Mickey Mouse movie provides Disney with a perfect opportunity to really flex and show what it’s capable of. I know it’s probably the height of wishful thinking to imagine such a film would see Disney return to its hand-drawn 2D roots, but that doesn’t mean it couldn’t play with different styles of animation like it did in the 2013 Mickey Mouse short Get a Horse! that played before Frozen and featured black and white hand-drawn animation and CGI color animation.
Something like that on a grander scale could be really cool. Imagine a mixed media film that featured all of Mickey’s various looks through the years and employed every trick in the book while doing some new things that we haven’t seen in a Disney animated movie before. I’m sure there are brilliant artists at Disney who have fresh ideas and bold things they’d like to try. If any character deserves to really push the boundaries of what’s possible and have some fun, it’s Mickey Mouse.
Even if Mickey simply isn’t suited to a 90-minute story, I’d be open to a film like The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh with multiple shorts strung together, just so long as they all center on Mickey. And this movie could really be anything because Mickey is the kind of character with plenty of tonal latitude. He can be comedic as he is in many of his shorts, but he can also be the star of something highly dramatic like The Sorcerer’s Apprentice. Mickey has no limits and neither would a Mickey movie.
So does Mickey Mouse truly need his own theatrical feature film? No, of course not. Is a Mickey Mouse movie a risk? Absolutely. But Mickey Mouse has short films and tons of cartoons to his name. He’s starred in direct-to-video movies, television series and video games. He is featured in theme parks around the world and his face adorns every type of merchandise imaginable.
Now he finally has his own ride. It’s time for him to have his own movie too.
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Top Image Courtesy of Walt Disney World.