Mickey Mouse is indubitably one of the most distinct caricatures of American culture, spirit, and goodwill. He has graced the screens of our televisions for years and tickled our children with laughter. His tale of origin, however, is hardly as auspicious.
In the late 1920s, Walt Disney worked for Universal Studios. At the time, the Mickey Mouse character served as a replacement for Oswald the Lucky Rabbit: a cartoon rabbit with big ears, and a large, expressive face. Seeing that the series was going strong, Disney inquired about a pay raise. In response, he received a pay cut. Universal had also signed most of the employees working in the Disney studio.
After this, Disney grew bitter. Universal had used him as a pawn, and he was determined to have the last laugh.
Ub Iwerks worked with Walt to direct and produce the first episode of Steamboat Willie. The show debuted on November 18th, 1928. The character grew in popularity, and the rest is history.
For most, that's where the story ended. That's what Disney will claim, and that's what the majority of society believes. This is not true.
Disney and Iwerks knew that if they wanted to make a name for themselves, they could not cut any corners. That's why they recruited a group of scientists.
For legal reasons, I must expunge the men's names from this report. They were hired by Iwerk, and even Disney himself was initially unsure of his colleague's intentions.
The group of men had allegedly made cutting-edge advances in the field of mice genealogy. They were taxingly familiar with the internal structure of mice, and the patterns of mice behavior. Iwerks' outré fixation on mice had brought the men into the project, and drove him to ensure the success of the character. Disney was just as enthusiastic about the project's success, but was faintly disturbed by the drastic measures taken by Iwerks.
A mouse had been brought in by one of the experts. The black mouse was bred in captivity under normal conditions, and its predecessors showed no history of abnormal illness. In testing, it was shown to run mazes with a typical amount of speed. Its mind and body functions were classified as normal.
Electrical cables were methodically hooked up to a motion picture projector. At the other end of the cables, the mouse was to be attached and have its genes electrically transmitted to the projector in hopes of making it the first organically conceived cartoon character.
When the electrical pulses were first administered, the mouse convulsed with each shock. As the pulses grew longer and eventually grew into a continuous surge of electricity, the creature stopped convulsing and laid limp. The experts, convinced the mouse was dead, checked its vital signs to find that its heart was still beating. The group of men were prepared to rule the attempt as inconclusive until Iwerks maddeningly ordered that the experiment go on. An excerpt of the recorded conversation is shown here:
Dr. [NAME EXPUNGED]: Its heart is still beating, but there isn't that much more to prove. The genetic pattern of a mouse cannot be electronically transferred onto film.
Iwerks: No! You can't stop. The thing is still alive, therefore we can continue!
Disney: Ub, please calm down. We'll find another way, it just might take a little while.
Dr. [NAME EXPUNGED]: I'm afraid my colleague is correct. There is no scientific purpose to continue-
Iwerks: I want my mouse! I want it!
Dr. [NAME EXPUNGED]: Fine! Okay! Gentlemen, looks like we'll be here for a while.
As the rodent underwent the shock treatment, it didn't convulse at all. It lie in a fetal position, almost as if it were going to sleep. The only noticeable change was a steady drain of color from its body; by the time of its death, the creature was completely monochrome.
The scientists were baffled by the results. Never before had the physics of color been defied - much less by the likes of a measly rodent.
Disney walked up to the projector and crank the reel. The exact nature of what was shown is unknown, but it was described as follows:
A mouse was seen scurrying about on the screen. It had the outward appearance of a pencil sketch, but it had the fluid movement of an animated feature. In response to the outcome, the group of scientists agreed to continue working with Disney and Iwerks on their creation.
Over the next few hours, the experts experimented with different variations of electrical signals that would alter the mouse's appearance and behavior. At first, the changes were painfully temporary; the animal would regress to its original state. With careful tweaks, this problem was easily overcome.
Streaks of life-like fur gave way to roundish, artificial features. Beady eyes were replaced with two blinking black ovals. During these changes the mouse would open its mouth in pain, trying to scream but making no sound. The only sound audible from the speakers was the popping and shifting of bones.
Before long, it was done. The character perfectly resembled Walt Disney’s brainchild: a round mouse clad in overalls.
Among all of the developments made, one problem remained: the character still behaved like a mouse. It hampered around on all fours, ostensibly unaware of the outside world. It was then that Disney began to take over the project.
Disney: Hey, can you hear me in there?
Disney: Hey! Over here!
Sounds of mechanical buzzing and screeching reverberated off of the room’s walls. They lasted close to ten minutes in length, and were so maddening that the scientists dropped almost all of their gear and left.
The only thing that they left behind was the electrical shock machine. Before too much time, the mouse was able to speak.
Disney: Speak to me.
Mechanical Voice: Why *static* put me here?
Iwerks: Because you’re going to listen to everything Mr. Disney here tells you to do. You understand?
Mechanical Voice: I *static* can’t.
Disney: You can and you will!
sounds of surging electricity*
Mechanical Voice: Leave *static* me.
Exposure to the conversations everyone in the room had augmented the character’s intelligence. It was capable of emulating human speech and learning new things. Seizing the opportunity, Disney had the character repeat the script in Disney’s own “mouse” voice.
Lines of dialogue brought the mouse’s speech to a consistent and high-pitched level. Deciding to name the mouse “Mickey,” Disney made him swear his allegiance to the studios.
Disney: Now that we’re done, repeat after me. I am Mickey Mouse.
The mouse replied in sullen submission. His words dripped in fear and melancholy.
Mickey: I am Mickey Mouse.
Disney: And you are forever mine.
Mickey: I am forever yours.
Samples of the original reel were scattered among the Mickey Mouse films to come. They were only shown for a millisecond, but they were placed to ensure the character’s survival. As Mickey Mouse gained popularity, his image became widespread. The iconic ears and head appear frequently in Disney’s shows, merchandise, and theme parks.
They are an eternal sign of Mickey’s oppression, and of Disney’s dominance.
Credited to Dubiousdugong
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