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11 Adorable Facts About Mickey Mouse

Image credit: Peter Lee via Flickr // CC: CC BY-NC 2.0

Today is a special day for Disneyphiles everywhere: It's Mickey Mouse's birthday. At least, it's the day Mickey was officially born, since it's the anniversary of the 1928 release of his very first cartoon, Plane Crazy. (Disney celebrates Mickey on November 18, the anniversary of Steamboat Willie—more on that below.) To honor the little rodent (we say that with love), here are a few facts you may not have known about Mr. Mouse.

1. Plane Crazy was Mickey's first flick, but Steamboat Willie is what made him famous.

Plane Crazy didn't really connect with audiences the way Steamboat did—it was also silent. Steamboat Willie was one of the first cartoons to feature synchronized sound. Disney was inspired to try out the new technology after seeing The Jazz Singer.

2. If things had gone a little differently, the mascot of the Disney company would have been Oswald the Lucky Rabbit.

 Image credit: HirotomoT via Flickr // CC: CC BY-SA 2.0

Oswald was created by Walt Disney and Ub Iwerks for Universal. He was a pretty popular character, so when Disney and Universal had a spat, Universal seized control of the rabbit. Disney left shortly thereafter and ended up creating Mickey Mouse. You can see the resemblance in the figurine on display in the above photo. Universal later had the rabbit redesigned. In February 2006, Disney finally reacquired Oswald's rights. Oddly enough, this transaction involved sportscaster Al Michaels. Michaels wanted out of his ABC contract to join John Madden in the broadcast booth for NBC's Sunday Night Football. Since NBC wanted Michaels, Universal—which owns NBC—offered to return Oswald to Disney in exchange for the sportscaster.

3. Despite what Disney might tell you, Minnie and Mickey are actually married.

 Image credit: Wikimedia Commons // CC: CC BY 2.0

OK, the cartoon characters aren't married, but their real-life counterparts were. The people who voiced Minnie and Mickey were spouses. Wayne Allwine was the third person to give Mickey a voice and held the role from 1977 until his death in 2009. Allwine married Russi Taylor, the current voice of Minnie Mouse, in 1991. Taylor has been Minnie's voice since 1986 (and was also the voice of Huey, Dewey, Louie, and Webby, for fellow DuckTales fans).

4. Mickey hasn't always been so politically correct.

Some earlier cartoons have been edited or completely shelved because of content that wouldn't exactly go over with the public these days. One is the previously mentioned Steamboat Willie—there's a scene that involves what would be considered animal cruelty today when Mickey swings a cat around by its tail and uses a goose as bagpipes. Then there's Mickey's Mellerdrammer, a 1933 short that has Mickey and Co. doing Uncle Tom's Cabin, with Mickey decked out in blackface. There's a reason you don't really see that one playing when they run classic cartoons these days.

5. He may not have been on the front lines, but Mickey played his own small part during World War II.

Intelligence officers used "Mickey Mouse" as a password among themselves.

6. Disney wanted to name him "Mortimer."

The Mortimer Mouse Club doesn't exactly have the same ring to it, does it? We have Walt's wife Lillian to thank for the mouse's moniker—when he named his new character Mortimer, she told him she thought it sounded pompous and suggested the more kid-friendly "Mickey."

7. The supposed reason Mickey and his cartoon cohorts wear white gloves is simple.

It's so viewers can distinguish their hands when they were against their bodies.

8. You may have heard that Mickey Mouse is merely copyrighted, which would allow the character to eventually go into the public domain.

The Disney lawyers are all over that, of course. Mickey has also been trademarked, which means even when the copyright runs out, he's a protected as long as the Disney company continues to use him. And I don't foresee them exterminating the Mouse any time soon, do you?

9. We know Mickey as a wholesome, lovable little guy with only the best intentions—but his video game counterpart is a little "naughty."

Disney's Epic Mickey is a Wii game in which Mickey is a little less nice and a lot more deceptive and "naughty," says the game's designer, Warren Spector. "Mickey is never going to be evil or go around killing people," he said, but, "I wanted him to be able to be naughty—when you're playing as Mickey you can misbehave and even be a little selfish." The game also features a twisted take on Disneyland called "The Wasteland," a dark world Oswald the Lucky Rabbit created for cartoons who are past their prime. 

10. It's not just here in the States that Mickey is often a popular write-in vote for various elections—he's a candidate for office around the world.

In Sweden, though, it's Donald Duck (a.k.a. Kalle Anka) who is more likely to get voted in. "The Donald Duck Party" is what people write in when they either don't care or don't care for any of the candidates. In fact, in 2006, "The Donald Duck Party" came in 21st place out of the 40 represented parties running for office.

11. He's more controversial than you think.

The lovable character has been banned in Germany and Iran, from the Seoul Olympics, and Seattle liquor stores. In 1935, the Romanian government decided it would be best to not show Mickey on the large movie theater screens that were then new to the country because officials were worried that children would be terrified by the sight of a 10-foot-tall rodent. 

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Why Mickey Mouse Could Soon Be in the Public Domain
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Mickey Mouse debuted to the world in the 1928 animated short Steamboat Willie, and has since transformed into an icon recognized around the world. But the mouse’s status as Disney's exclusive property is under threat. As Ars Technica reports, Steamboat Willie is set to enter the public domain in 2024, and unlike in previous years, there have been no moves from Congress to stop that from happening. Once it does, in theory, anyone could use Mickey's image for free.

This is the third time the cartoon has been on the verge of losing its copyright protection. The first came in the 1970s, back when copyright terms only lasted 56 years. That meant every book, song, and movie made in 1923 was scheduled to lose its protected status in 1979, and Steamboat Willie would follow on its 56th anniversary in 1984. But in 1976, under pressure from companies like Disney, Congress extended the statute to 75 years, keeping all works made after 1923 from becoming public domain until 1998 or later. Mickey remained safely out of the public domain for another two decades. Then, when copyright terms were again scheduled to expire in 1998, Congress extended them a second time, this time to 95 years.

Now, the clock is ticking down for these older works once again as the 2018 expiration date of that copyright extension nears. Only this time, it looks like Congress may let them become public property without a fight.

Today’s constituents tend to care more about copyright law now than they did in 1976 or even in 1998. The rise of online streaming and easily accessible pirated content has made the issue more relevant to the life of the average person than ever before. The defeat of the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) in 2012 made this clear to legislators. That bill, which would have empowered law enforcement to punish or block sites sharing pirated content, was so controversial that it sparked protests across the web. Because of the sheer scale of that public response, lawmakers are now hesitant to change any existing copyright protections, including those set to expire on January 1, 2019.

But even if those protections expire, Disney could still find a way to prevent rival studios from using Mickey’s image when 2024 rolls around. While copyrights are designed to be temporary, trademarks have the potential for serious lasting power. That’s because copyrights only protect a single work of artistic expression (in this case, the film Steamboat Willie), while trademarks are attached to images and logos that represent a brand (so Mickey Mouse, the character). As long as Disney can prove that Mickey has evolved beyond his first screen appearance into a symbol that’s synonymous with its corporation, he’ll remain a protected property. And if you take a look at their theme parks, cruise ships, media, and the dozens of Hidden Mickeys they've hidden in their movies, you’ll see that they can easily make that case.

But few works of art made in the 1920s have taken the same path to corporate dominance as Mickey Mouse, even other works made famous by Disney (like Winnie the Pooh, first introduced in A.A. Milne's stories in 1926). Even if Disney manages to protect Mickey, the public should have a big new batch of copyright-free content to access in the next few years.

[h/t Ars Technica]

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The One Phrase Disney Theme Park Characters Aren't Allowed to Say
Matt Stroshane, Disney/Getty Images
Matt Stroshane, Disney/Getty Images

The 14 Disney theme parks located around the world attract so many attendees each year that the company recently decided to increase admission for peak times by 20 percent to help decrease crowd congestion. Anaheim’s Disneyland is such a popular tourist attraction that some days the park is actually at capacity.

What keeps visitors packed in like sardines? The promise of a suspended reality—one that treats the various Disney characters as though they had just stepped out of a movie. There’s a laundry list of employee policies to help sustain that illusion, and Travel + Leisure recently uncovered one of the most interesting ones: Actors dressed as Disney characters are never allowed to say “I don’t know” to guests.

The motivation is understandable: Disney never wants people to feel as though they need to wander around looking for information. If they pose a question to, say, a Disney Princess, the actor is expected to communicate with other employees or areas of the park in order to find the answer. If Elsa doesn't know where the nearest restroom is, she's tasked with finding out before your kid's bladder gives up.

If a guest is looking for general directions, there’s also protocol for how to point. Performers are not allowed to use their index finger by itself. Instead, they use it in conjunction with their middle finger. In addition to index finger-pointing being considered rude in some cultures, legend has it that the gesture was partly inspired by Walt Disney himself, who once roamed the park grounds pointing at structures with two fingers that pinched a cigarette.

[h/t Travel + Leisure]

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