Wednesday, August 12, 2015

How Tall is Mickey?

When I first saw Fantasia, I was fascinated by the moment when Mickey Mouse shook hands with conductor Leopold Stokowski.

The scene is in silhouette—a wise choice that made the rendering both simpler and more dramatic. 

I also liked the scene because it made clear how big Mickey was in relation to a human.

I was intrigued by the intersection between the cartoon world and our own. In his cartoon world, Mickey was a stand-in for a human, living in a house and doing all the things that humans do. 

But he's also a mouse, and we know how big mice are. This relationship of sizes seems to compromise between the two frames of reference.

Walt was shown in various marketing images holding or shaking Mickey's hand, and they kept to the same scale relationship. There's even a bronze statue of the two together that keeps Mickey a little less than half a human's height. The old animators, such as Ward Kimball, referred to him as the "three foot mouse."

Other cartoon characters have been shown in this size relationship, such as Gene Kelly and Jerry Mouse in their dance sequence in "Anchors Aweigh" (link to YouTube). The movie Roger Rabbit also kept more or less to this idea.

But Mickey hasn't always been two-and-a-half feet tall.

Costumed Mickey in Disneyland parking lot, 1961, courtesy Yesterland
The costumed characters in the theme parks have to be a lot bigger, even if they're designed around petite people. The size of those Mickeys always bothered me when I was a kid. Mickey or Minnie are a little scary when they're the size of a person.

I would also be troubled by a Mickey coming into our world who was only a foot tall, or six inches tall, or three inches tall. He'd end up in a mousetrap or a cat's jaws.

One real-world Mickey that the Disney organization would probably rather forget, appeared in Laurel and Hardy's film "March of the Wooden Soldiers." The idea was to make all the charming childhood characters appear in a live action movie. There's a scene where a person in a cat costume sits next to Mickey, who is really a monkey in a full-body costume.

Watch the clip (Skip ahead to 25:45) (link to YouTube)

In the clip, the monkey seems to have trouble seeing. Maybe they drugged him a bit to get him to be willing to wear the mask. He claps weakly, then keels over like a drunken sailor. Finally he hurls a brick that hits the cat on the head, and runs off, with the cat in hot pursuit.

A bit creepy — once seen, never unseen.
Mickey is a trademark of the Walt Disney Company.
Thanks, Mel and Christopher!
Previously: Hustled by Mickey


David Webb said...

A bit creepy? I shouldn't have watched that. Now I'm going to have to sleep with the light on.

Thanks James.

elgin said...

It is slightly ironic that Disney, who (as a corporation) is so amazingly strict about being copied has a moist throw a brick at a cat. Can anyone say "Krazy Kat"?

elgin said...

Moist should be mouse. Old age has many problems

Rich said...

"How tall"?

I'd say: -this small size creature has become a real Giant;
quite out of proportion...and still he keeps growing on, growing stronger by the day- business-wise, so to say;-)

Not so Minnie Mouse! Never ever saw her aggrandized in any parking lot this way.

Why not?

Any gender issue there?-)

MoStarkey said...

Toys were scary back then. Disney seemed to be the first to make conscious decisions on what was cute. I'm sure Preston Blair had something to do with it, because we see Mickey evolve into a more childlike, rounder character as time when on. Animation in the early days was still experimental and some of the figures were alarming.

The poor little monkey was probably traumatized being confined in that suit. Plus the viewer wouldn't be aware right off that it's a monkey in a suit. That would be disturbing, because of a sort of uncanny valley. It's not a kid in a costume, too small, but has some movement we can relate too. Makes it really disturbing.

I'm so glad you posted this. Cartoon characters seemed to have a problem translating into actual figures back then and it's great to see them evolve over time. Thanks, James.

Indian Art Idea said...

Very nice artwork is presented here. I have gifted this to my friend exactly like this painting with a bouquet of flowers which I have buy from online flowers gallery.

Unknown said...

Our two year old son's first trip to Disneyland was a scary disaster because of the life size Mickey. You are not alone in that reguard.

Unknown said...

What a great blog! So glad I found you I really enjoyed all the images too!

Cloud Nine Studios

Eugene Arenhaus said...

Frank Thomas had told about the only clue Walt ever gave the animators on Mickey's height. Walt Disney had done Mickey's voice himself, and for one of the early shorts he was recording a scene where Mickey encounters a bear and tries to talk his way out. And when Walt had been saying "I'm Mickey Mouse... you know? Mickey Mouse?" he showed a height of about three feet above the ground with his hand - apparently without even noticing that he was doing it. Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston wrote in "Illusion of Life" that it was the only hint Walt ever gave about his mental picture of Mickey's size, but the animators picked it up and used it.