Steamboat Willie, Walt Disney’s animated short film debuting in November 1928, was revolutionary. It was one of the first animated features to use synchronized sound, and it became a worldwide phenomenon, beloved by audiences and critics alike.
The animation, however, is mainly remembered for introducing the world to Mickey and Minnie Mouse. In particular, Mickey Mouse became one of Disney’s most recognizable icons. He now appears in almost every facet of Disney’s branding. At each of Disney’s theme parks, you may find a hidden Mickey—a design that shows the silhouette of Mickey Mouse’s head. Many Disney films and TV series have used Mickey Mouse as their inspiration, including The Mickey Mouse Club, which introduced the world to Christina Aguilera, Justin Timberlake, Britney Spears, and Ryan Gosling, among many others.
When Mickey Mouse became part of the public domain, opportunists lost little time making many variations of the classic Disney figure.
Steamboat Willie, starring Mickey, was released to the public domain on New Year’s Day. For the first time, anybody could do whatever they wanted with Disney’s iconic mouse. Disney can’t stop other artists or corporations from adopting the character’s image as he appeared in that short film.
Many wasted little time appropriating the iconic figure. Infestation 88 is a video game, while Mickey’s Mouse Trap is a horror movie. The movie depicts a gang of young adults being eliminated one by one inside a video arcade. It turns out that their pursuivant is a man-sized Mickey Mouse figure with a knife.
Some thought it was funny, while others thought it was too easy to turn the popular kids’ character into a psychopath murderer. Many feel it is heresy.
Various digital artists have manipulated the Steamboat Willie film to give the impression that Mickey uses foul language.
Disney would be spinning in his grave.