MICKEY: THE STORY OF A MOUSE – Review
So there have been some great documentary feature biographies of show biz superstars. This year alone we’ve been given in-depth profiles of Sidney Poitier, Tanya Tucker, and Louis Armstrong. Oh but this one, well he just may be the biggest star in the whole wide world, and for the longest time. So, did I mention that he’s an animated character? Oh, but he’s THE cartoon icon, who’s been entertaining the globe for 95 years. It’s been said that the test of a cartoon design is whether the figure can be identified by its silhouette. He’s got that beat as the shape of his head is immediately recognized, perhaps it’s because of its simplicity. After all, it’s really three connected circles that outline the face of MICKEY: THE STORY OF A MOUSE.
This overview/history/appreciation begins with the mouse meeting his many fans at different venues on the planet. Many of the older ones tell us of their personal connections to him. The film shifts into his creation and his creator Walt Disney and how he came up with the star when he lost his other toon series, We’ve taken to Marceline, MO for a spin around his old family farm and the “Dreaming Tree” that captivated young Walt. Then it’s back to today for the feature’s real “framing device”, ironically the making of a brand-new Mickey short to commemorate his big birthday. It’s spearheaded by animation artist supreme, Eric Goldberg, who actually handles (with white gloves and supervision) the original animation drawings and guides from the 1930s, Mickey’s golden years as the number cartoon short star (until a certain spinach-lovin’ sailor arrived). Naturally, the merchandising would follow (the watch) and we see how the mouse changed over the years from his black dot eyes to full pupils to his personality as he had to be a “nice” role model for the kiddos. Soon he was the studio mascot who became the greeter at the theme parks. We also meet his many voices and witness his entries into different media (his TV club dominated) and new tech (he’s got several streaming CGI programs). There’s even a glimpse of his controversies, from an unauthorized short “Mickey Goes to Vietnam”, to his name as a derogatory adjective (a clip from the GODFATHER films has Pacino barking about a “Mickey Mouse outfit”). And yet the mouse endures and becomes the first cartoon pal for each new generation with no end in sight.
Director Jeff Maimberg has crafted an affectionate look at everybody’s favorite movie mouse without steering clear of his often controversial history. Aside from the aforementioned anti-war short, we get several scenes of Mickey being way too aggressive with Minnie (a bit past Pepe le Pew’s lust) and taking several jabs at minorities. But as many have said (in the video collection disclaimers) it was a different time. It’s amazing to see how theatres devoted so much of their entrances and marquees to the mouse, reminding us of a popular filmgoer’s complaint, “What, no Mickey Mouse”? But much time is spent showing the “taming of the rodent” which helped the career of his cohort, Donald Duck (who could be nasty and mean-spirited). Eventually Mick became a “straight man” in the Pluto shorts until TV revived his “rep”. Aside from the wealth of archival footage, the best moments come from the artists who crafted the magical moments. Goldberg is quite eloquent as he draws a classic pose. Plus, in addition to his collaborators, we’re treated to a visit from the great Floyd Norman (star of his own superb doc feature) who worked with Walt back in the day. But really, how can you not melt a bit as the kids dash to the big mouse for a warm hug (one older fan calls him “pure joy”). Is there a better way to celebrate a superstar who’s quickly approaching the century mark than MICKEY: THE STORY OF A MOUSE? I mean other than a big hunk o’ cheese? And this is far from “cheesy”!
3.5 Out of 4
MICKEY: THE STORY OF A MOUSE is now streaming on Disney+