Tuesday, November 18, 2008

What Do You Get for an 80-Year-Old Rodent?

80 years is a long time for a human to be around, never mind a mouse. But one very famous mouse has found the key to longevity, sustaining himself on box office cheese and fronting a corporate empire that pulls in more cash than some small countries. Today is Mickey Mouse's birthday.

Love him or hate him (and his afore-mentioned fiscal fiefdom), you can't deny The Mouse has had a huge impact on Western entertainment and business culture during his time. For many of us, one of the first movies we got to see as children was probably a Disney film ("Pete's Dragon" for me), whether it starred Mickey or not. And we certainly would have encountered him and his cohort on TV on "The Wonderful World of Disney" (for my generation) or "The Mickey Mouse Club" (for an older generation), or in school in the form of books or read-along books & LP's that they used to have, or toys, or comics, or family vacations, or clothes, or... Everywhere you turned, The Mouse was there.

There are many who have criticised Disney, and rightly so, for watering-down/sterilizing/making boring fairy tales, or making the occasional potentially hurtful politically incorrect blunder like "Song of the South", or for churning out formulaic fare, or for mingling story-telling and marketing so closely that it's hard to know what the original intent was. I've also been saddened by the tendency, in its mad dash to crank out new product for the next generation, for Disney to forget its past successes, literally painting them over (as in "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea" - you won't find any trace of that ride at Disneyland anymore - it's been conveniently rebranded as "Finding Nemo") or chucking them in a back room and forgetting about them ("Tron" - unheard of in the arcade in Tomorrowland now, just a few years after its 25th anniversary, even though Disney actually had an arcade game developed and widely distributed back when the movie was released).

But the legacy of The Mouse isn't all bad - not by a long shot. As a wee little guy, I got a kick out of "Pete's Dragon", and as a kid I thoroughly enjoyed "The Sword and the Stone" and "Robin Hood" and "The Jungle Book" or some of the studio's shorter fare like "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" or "Lonesome Ghosts" (a very, very old short where Mickey, Donald and Goofy try a career as ghostbusters). As an adult, I can re-watch older stuff that I enjoyed as a kid, like "Tron" or even "The Black Hole" (I'm only half ashamed to admit to liking that one) and still get a big kick out of it, and newer productions (nowadays usually with Pixar) like WALL-E can certainly be entertaining. And yeah, the theme parks are fun. Mostly.

Sure, Mickey isn't my favourite character in the Disney stable, but I have enjoyed some of his features like the afore-mentioned "Lonesome Ghosts" or "The Brave Little Tailor" or his bit in "Fantasia". And because of that, and because he was the catalyst for the creation of an entertainment empire that has created some of my favourites as an SF fan, I'll add my voice (off-key though it may be) to the chorus singing "Happy Birthday" to Mickey today.

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