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Mickey: The Story of a Mouse
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Mickey: The Story of a Mouse Explores a Century of Disney’s Greatest Icon 

SXSW: Mickey: The Story of a Mouse Review

Since Disney+ launched in late 2019, it has given us instant access to the vast majority of the Disney animated canon, as well as most or all of the Star Wars, Marvel, and Pixar libraries. And that’s to say nothing of the service’s large library of original shows. 

But there’s another thing that Disney+ has a ton of: Making-of documentaries about Disney movies, TV shows, characters, and even theme-park rides. Few companies enjoy self-mythologizing as much as Disney does, and that tendency has been brought to new heights in the Disney+ era. 

Sure, these documentaries are often entertaining and illuminating, in some cases bringing to light decades of footage. But it’s clear why Disney is doing it.

Now, we have a documentary about the most famous Disney icon of all: Mickey Mouse. Mickey: The Story of a Mouse, which had its world premiere at the South by Southwest revival and is set to land at Disney+ later in the year, is firmly in that tradition. But it’s also a fascinating examination of Disney history and a must-watch for anyone who’s a big Mickey fan.  

Directed by Jeff Malmberg, who made the great 2010 documentary Marwencol, and produced by prolific documentarian Morgan Neville, Mickey begins with a long montage of children running to hug Mickey at Disney theme parks. I know the feeling, having taken my own kids to meet Mickey in both Disneyland and Walt Disney World. Though ironically, last time I went to Walt Disney World there was more emphasis on other characters, most notably all of the Star Wars ones, than on Mickey. 

I was sort of hoping the film would reference Robin Williams’ old standup routine about taking his kid to see Mickey at Disneyland, and the boy screaming he saw the mouse as a “six-foot fucking rat.” 

After that, the doc gets into the history, which begins in the 1920s, when Walt Disney was looking for a mascot for his company. The first attempt was Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, a Walt-created character who the company lost control of in 1928. Almost 75 years later, Disney finally got the character back… as part of a trade when sportscaster Al Michaels was let out of his contract to work for NBC. Oswald would figure in the 2010 video game Epic Mickey. 

So Walt turned to Mickey, and it was on from there, from the Steamboat Willie era to Fantasia to Mickey’s important role in the rise of the Disney theme park juggernaut. 

Thankfully, the project has access to all of the necessary footage, as well as all of the necessary animators. Sure, most of the core animators from the most important Mickey cartoons are long-dead, but we do hear from some of the folks working on more recent Mickey films. 

It’s not the best documentary ever made about Disney history — that would be Waking Sleeping Beauty — although like that film it does feature lots of interviews with animators. 

Is Mickey: The Story of a Mouse more self-mythology on Disney’s part? Sure. Is it one long commercial for the Walt Disney theme parks? You bet it is. Is it meant to keep audiences glued to Disney+ to watch some other examples of the nearly 100 years of Mickey content? Absolutely. But it’s still a great watch, especially if Mickey Mouse has ever meant anything to you. 

South by Southwest celebrates the convergence of the interactive, film, and music industries. Follow our coverage all month!

Written By

Stephen Silver is a journalist and film critic based in the Philadelphia area. He is the co-founder of the Philadelphia Film Critics Circle and a Rotten Tomatoes-listed critic since 2008, and his work has appeared in New York Press, Philly Voice, The Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Tablet, The Times of Israel, and In 2009, he became the first American journalist to interview both a sitting FCC chairman and a sitting host of "Jeopardy" on the same day.

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