Welcome to those of you joining me from A Glass Slipper Vacation and those of you just hopping aboard.
I am the Final stop on our Magical Blogorail.
It’s a bit of an anomaly, really. There is no more iconic character in the Disney parks or company. In silhouette, in image, in character, Mickey Mouse is everywhere. Children recognize him, adults queue to have their pictures taken with him; he is, without question, the icon of all things Disney. And yet, unlike most of the characters gathered around him in the Disney parks, Mickey doesn’t have a well known movie story; there is no merchandise from his latest film to attract sales. Mickey is neither a modern film character or a cartoon hero of a recent series.
So why is he the icon of all things Disney?
Part of that story lies in the fact that Mickey has always been the avatar, the spiritual representative of Walter Elias Disney, one of America’s “Great Men,” the inspiration behind the Disney ideal. In 1928 when Walt lost his signature character (Oswald), most of the employees he had viewed as friends, and his hopes for future profit, he was forced to create a new character for his cartoons. The story goes that he originally planned to call his silly, simple cartoon rodent Mortimer and his wife, Lilly, dissuaded him, offering Mickey as an alternative name. Regardless, Mickey became Walt’s main cartoon hero, charming and amusing audiences in a series of cartoons, and revolutionizing the animation world with the first combination of sound and animation in Steamboat Willie.
Over the years, Mickey changed, paralleling his creator. In his article on the early Mickey, Disney historian Jim Korkis points out that “Walt Disney was a hardworking country boy with a love for rural humor. The early Mickey, being a reflection of his creator, was just as much a good-natured hayseed as Walt and had the same inclination toward barnyard jokes. More importantly, Mickey also shared the same drive and curiosity that had made Walt so successful. (Later, as Walt tried to fit in with the sophisticated Hollywood crowd, he brought Mickey along with him, eventually transforming the scrappy rodent into a well-dressed 4-foot human with tail neatly hidden in adult trousers.)”
That surrogacy, with Mickey, in a way, representing Walt and all of Walt’s dreams for the parks and the Disney brand, remains today, sometimes subtle, but deeply embedded. There is a sense that Mickey is a good bit more than a mouse – scrappy or suave. Mickey represents the unflinching optimism, the determination, the innocence, and the attention to detail that we associate with…well…Disney. That association has made him iconic and has encouraged the park designers to integrate his image into everything they do, almost as if to remind guests that Walt’s often-quoted assertion that “it all began with a mouse” remains true.
Among the most beloved of Mickey’s appearances in the parks are “hidden Mickeys” – silhouettes of the familiar mouse tucked into unlikely places throughout the parks and resorts. Guests love finding these reminders of Mickey’s presence and all it represents. They share them online, and entire guide books are dedicated to the property-wide scavenger hunt for the image of Disney’s signature character. Some of the hidden Mickeys are obvious, some may, debatably, exist only in the imagination of viewers. And some, like one of the largest created by the actual layout of Disney’s Hollywood Studios and visible only from far overhead, are put there just for fun and as a reminder to the theme park’s creators, that Mickey and the man he represents remain vital to keeping the company’s focus on track.
Personally, I’ve never been obsessed with the hidden Mickey hunt. I’ll see one of the images tucked away somewhere and smile because it makes me think of Walt and the dream that started the company, but I don’t usually seek them out. But, among the thousands of hidden Mickeys that dot Walt Disney World property, I do have a favorite.
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