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Mickey Mouse: 90 and still going strong!

On November 18th 1928 Mickey Mouse was born. Let’s celebrate together his 90th anniversary!

Dear Mickey Mouse, you turn 90 years old today and there's not a gray hair on you. Then, you’ve been wearing the same clothes for decades and still looking good. Am I missing something here? Please, tell me your secret!

It is said that Mickey Mouse as we know it today was born in 1928 on board of a train during the journey from New York to Los Angeles from the pen of Walt Disney, a young fledgling director.

It was the loss of Disney’s first character, Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, that inspired the birth of the Mouse. Oswald’s ears were longer than Mickey’s (as befitting a rabbit), as was his nose, and his feet were black and shoeless, but his face bore an unmistakable resemblance to what would become the Walt Disney Company’s most iconic image. While Oswald was Disney's creation, Universal legally owned him. But in a dispute with his business partner at Universal (after disappointing contract negotiations), Disney lost the rights to Oswald.

"Oswald the Lucky Rabbit" first Disney Studio character for which Walt Disney lost his rights.

Oswald the Lucky Rabbit in "Hungry Hobos" (1928)

During his journey back to California, Walt Disney thought about the mice that used to run all over his desk some time ago and that’s how the idea of creating a cartoon featuring a mouse came to him. Primarily, he called the new character Mortimer, but he decided eventually to rethink about this name, considered too macabre for a character addressed to children audience. Finally, the name Mickey Mouse was picked as the right one to represent his tiny creation.

Together with his friend and business partner Ub Iwerks, the only one who Walt Disney could trust, he worked day and night in secret at the realization of this new project, mainly for the survival of the Disney Studio. They managed to draw up to 700 animations a day, until Mickey Mouse made his debut in a private screening on May 15, 1928.

The movie was called "Plane Crazy".

Mickey Mouse "Plane Crazy", 1928

Unfortunately this short, together with “galoppin’ Gaucho” did not get much attention.

Then, on November 18 1928, Mickey’s star was born, when the first animation synchronized to music and sound effects, “Steamboat Willie” premiered at the Universal’s Colony Theater in New York. Named after Buster Keaton’s Steamboat Bill, Jr. and inspired by the very first “talkie” The Jazz Singer, the movie became an instant hit.

1928 cartoon Steamboat Willie has the distinction of being the first cartoon with synchronized sound.

With Disney rode the way of success by implementing those marketing strategies that made the Mouse become the new American culture’s fad. He did merchandising and he did it a lot. His cartoons became so popular that moviegoers would often sit through a movie twice to see him again, or would check before buying their tickets to make sure that “a Mickey” was going to play at the beginning.

Mickey slipped on his iconic gloves for the first time in "The Opry House" (1929)

If music and sound effects contributed to add a scenic presence to this funny character, think of what could have been for Mickey’s fans to hear his own voice for the first time. And this finally happened in 1929’s in his ninth film “The Karnival Kid” with Mickey Mouse exclaiming “Hot dogs! Hot dogs!”

Mickey Mouse was silent for 8 films and then exclaimed 'Hot dogs!'

A Mickey Mouse Club was created in 1930 as a result of this new fad. Within a few years subscriptions rose sharply with over a million members gathering in theatres across the US sharing songs, talking fun facts about their Mickey and even a sort of code of conduct for subscribers was enacted, because being a fan of the Mouse was a way of life for them.

A meeting of the Mickey Mouse Club, early 1930s

At the peak of his popularity, in 1935, Mickey Mouse got a total makeover: his nose had shortened, his body reshaped, he got pupils to his eyes and, least but not last, he slipped on his iconic gloves that helped distinguish his hands from the rest of his body.

The Band Concert (1935) was the first short in which Mickey appeared in color.

However, it’s in 1940 with animation movie “Fantasia” that these changes were all prominent with a now tail-less Mickey starring the Sorcerer’s Apprentice. A masterpiece of animation genius featuring both animation and sound techniques that are still considered artistically unmatched.

This is definitely Mickey Mouse’s look we are familiar with today. More lovable than ever before, he propelled himself even further into the hearts of children everywhere.

"Mickey Mouse is to me a symbol of independence. He was a means to an end. He popped out of Manhattan to Hollywood at a time when business fortunes of my brother Roy and myself were at lowest ebb and disaster seemed right around the corner. Born of necesity, the little fellow literally freed us of immediate worry. He provided the means for extending our organization to its present dimensions and for extending the medium of cartoon animation to new entertainment levels. He spelled production liberation for us."
- Walt Disney

Walt Disney drawing Mickey Mouse, 1930s.

Adorable as ever, his new look not only consolidated his success but catapulted him directly into the hearts of its millions of fans!



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