Epic Mickey = Epic Fail? Disney to Reboot Famous Mouse

5 Nov

I’m beginning to think people are starting to pay attention to me, if only in an attempt to piss me off.

piss me off

A few months ago I wrote an article about Disney’s upcoming live-action Alice in Wonderland film, an article that garnered an awful lot of negative press across the board (because apparently Tim Burton is the Patron Saint of Filmmaking and I don’t know what I’m talking about).

tim burton

For those of you who haven’t read the article, here are the talking points. I took issue with Burton’s approach to the film because Lewis Carroll’s “Alice” stories are (in my opinion) very dark and rather scary, and Burton’s movie looks like it’s going to be set in the same wacky, oddly-coloured world he brought to the likes of “Batman” and “Big Fish” – not necessarily a bad thing in its place, but not for “Alice”. I argued that “Alice” should more closely resemble American McGee’s realization – there’s a lot of frightening things to be said on the subject of madness, and “Alice” would be a great vehicle for that.

But you know what’s not a great vehicle for realizing a darker, grittier character?

Mickey Mouse.

mickey mouseTurns out Disney has done it again. And by “it”, I don’t mean “made magic” or “delighted generations of children”. By “it”, I mean “sold out”.

This morning, while fumbling around on the internet looking for a decent story, I came upon an article in the New York Times discussing Disney’s latest attempt to stay relevant in an increasingly cynical culture. Apparently the first step in that attempt involves the production of a video game for the Nintendo Wii, tentatively entitled Epic Mickey.

epic mickey

And on a side note, I’d like to thank the legions of internet nerds out there who have co-opted the term “epic”. Congratulations – you’ve managed to single-handedly strip a word, originally defined as pertaining to impressively great heroism on a grand scale, of all pertinent meaning. Surf culture did the same to “awesome” years ago: as Eddie Izzard is wont to point out, a hot dog cannot by definition be “awesome”, nor can a person (or in this case, an anthropomorphic mouse) be accurately described as “epic”. The only thing “epic” about your use of the word “epic” is the epic amount of FAIL you’ve brought to the table (and thanks for that one, too, while we’re on the subject).

eddie izzard

Now that I’ve broken the record for sheer number of quotation marks used in a 127 word paragraph, we’ll continue with the thrust of this article: namely, how much I hate Disney.

disney sucksI’ve never made any secret of my disdain for Disney’s recent incarnation. Once upon a time, Disney set the bar for excellence in animation, and while their stories were generally saccharine and far too musical-friendly for my tastes, they produced some outstanding work. Anybody remember how extraordinary “The Lion King” looked when it came out? I remember watching a documentary on the making of the film in which dozens of animators sat around for countless hours, sketching out the anatomically accurate movements of the real animals upon which they were basing the film’s primary characters. Leaving aside that overplayed “Circle of Life” song, the opening scenes in the movie were nothing short of visually astounding. Even the writing was good (and I admit that begrudgingly); it was funny while still being family-friendly, without having to resort to lame tongue-in-cheek pop culture references a la “Shrek”.

shrek

And then, somewhere along the line, somebody at Disney (I’m looking in your direction Eisner) decided that producing quality films wasn’t nearly as important as clogging the shelves of Wal Marts worldwide with direct-to-DVD sequels to movies that didn’t require sequels, complete with sub-par cartoony animation and plot lines that couldn’t be thinner if they’d been cursed by an old Gypsy with a bad attitude. Money won out, as it always does, and the result has been that even die-hard Disney fans like a few friends of mine have been consistently underwhelmed by the corporation’s recent “efforts” at animated films, efforts that have been fewer and farther between over the last ten years, especially since they bought out Pixar and turned a great CG company into another arm of a multi-limbed monster that has been slowly working its garish tentacles into every facet of popular entertainment for almost a century.

I’m beginning to think Disney is so corrupt it deserves its own Middle Eastern dictatorship.

Not content to ruin its own reputation through half-assed production quality and uninspired storylines, Disney is now taking the next step in its inevitable, implacable fall from grace: rebooting its’ most time-honoured character in an attempt to make The Mouse more accessible to the modern generation.

Their solution? Scrap the good-natured, squeaky-clean image that’s defined Mickey and the gang ever since Steamboat Willie went the way of the dinosaur in favour of a grittier, “cantankerous and cunning” character who will have an opportunity to be “naughty”.

Thanks a hell of a lot, Disney. The image of Mickey Mouse being “naughty” is one that all the slash fiction on the internet didn’t prepare me for. I’ll never sleep again.

mickey porn

Essentially the idea of Epic Mickey is not incredibly dissimilar from earlier incarnations like Kingdom Hearts (an action RPG incorporating Final Fantasy and well-known Disney characters in a fantasy environment), only the world they’re placing the Mighty Mouse into is significantly darker – downright dystopian according to the website. Here’s the gloss from the Times:

Epic Mickey, designed for Nintendo’s Wii console, is set in a “cartoon wasteland” where Disney’s forgotten and retired creations live. The chief inhabitant is Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, a cartoon character Walt Disney created in 1927 as a precursor to Mickey but ultimately abandoned in a dispute with Universal Studios. In the game, Oswald has become bitter and envious of Mickey’s popularity. The game also features a disemboweled, robotic Donald Duck and a “twisted, broken, dangerous” version of Disneyland’s “It’s a Small World.” Using paint and thinner thrown from a magic paintbrush, Mickey must stop the Phantom Blot overlord, gain the trust of Oswald and save the day.

I’ll be honest – a lot of this sounds downright awesome. I for one have always considered Disneyland a creepy place to begin with: especially that God forsaken “It’s a Small World” ride. Maddox once said that apart from Utah, that ride is the closest you’re likely to get to Hell on earth, and I tend to agree. All those animatronic puppets with their soulless little eyes, always watching…watching and waiting for their moment to rise up and slay the unsuspecting tourists who have ventured into their domain. Frankly, I’d forgo the pansy paintbrush approach and make the whole game about some kind of Rambo Mickey (with his cyborg sidekick Donald), armed with large, cumbersome artillery, carving a swath of destruction through that scary-ass ride.

it's a small world

But at the same time, the whole concept sticks in my craw a bit. Matt Britton, a New York media consultant, said this of the reboot:

There’s a distinct risk of alienating your core consumer when you tweak a sacred character, but at this point it’s a risk they have to take.

Is it? I don’t know about that. It’s going to sound awfully odd coming from me, but there’s a certain innocence and purity to a character like Mickey Mouse that I don’t know if they ought to monkey with. From a purely fiscal standpoint, Mark Britton is right – if Disney is going to continue to compete in the modern market with their trademark characters, on some level it makes sense to update them somewhat (sort of like how Archie and the Riverdale gang now have Blackberries and internet access). But like the old saying goes, if it ain’t broke, don’t turn it into a Christopher Nolan movie.

dark knight

I don’t like the idea that you have to take a famous character that once stood for family values, optimism and friendship and turn him into yet another wisecracking anti-hero in order to appeal to a younger generation. I don’t like what that says about the younger generation. Do all our heroes, even the cartoon ones, have to be snarky and flawed? Is it too late in the game for us to still appreciate a character that embodies the best human qualities, even if he’s a giant anthropomorphic mouse? And more to the point – even if this move is what’s required to connect with the current generation, don’t you think after years of straight-to-video “The Little Mermaid Part Seven: Ariel Becomes a Paraplegic” and “Bambi Part 9: Take Back The Woods”, it’s a case of too-little, too-late?

Oh well; I’ll still play the game when it comes out (even though I hate the Wii – more on this issue here) and I’ll try very, very hard to give Disney one last chance, even though I still think they have it bass-ackwards: Alice in Wonderland is dark; Mickey Mouse is not. And I’ll ruminate on the fact that it could be worse: given Disney just bought Marvel, at least we haven’t yet seen Spider Mouse.

Yet.

Don’t get any ideas, Robert Iger – I’m watching you.

Closely.

robert iger

11 Responses to “Epic Mickey = Epic Fail? Disney to Reboot Famous Mouse”

  1. Goomba November 5, 2009 at 7:54 PM #

    Honestly, the only part of this article that was even readable was the small blurb where you expressed your concern for how younger generations relating better to anti heroes makes you uncomfortable. Disney sucks. It’s sucked for a long time. It’s kiddy crap and most people leave it in the toy box with the rest of the inane garbage kids drool over when they become adults.

    Did you see what happened at that base in Texas? Far better fare for political and social commentary, hmm?

  2. Alex James November 6, 2009 at 1:51 AM #

    Perhaps, but I try to cover all aspects of the sociopolitical forum. That, and it’s my blog — and I’ll talk about what I feel like. I appreciate you reading the whole thing even if only part of it was readable, and I welcome your comments on my further waste-of-time posts.

  3. Brent Chittenden November 6, 2009 at 4:44 AM #

    Alright bazooka is loaded and BLAMO let the blowing holes in the post begin.

    Apparently you kind of missed the whole … what’s it called? oh yeah the POINT OF THE GAME in your research.

    Part of Mickey’s mission is to find out why the world has become the way it is. It’s night like he’s become Robocop and begins just shrugs and begins to turn people into hamberger.

    Given the fact the the game 1) Hasn’t been released yet and 2) The amount we actually know about the game is pretty much what you’ve stated with the addition of my previous comment.

    Is there a chance Disney is doing gritty and grim with Mickey?

    Maybe

    Is there a chance Mickey will be fun loving Mickey by the end of the game?

    I’m willing to bet 20 bucks on it.

    The fact of the matter is Disney is making great strides to go back to what it once was.

    Creative.

    They are also very much honoring their past as well. A few years ago, Dark Horse Comics publisher Mike Richardson unearthed a lost piece of Disney. The Gremlins was written by Roald Dahl for Walt Disney and optioned for a film that never happened. It was turned into a book by Disney and about 5000 copies were printed.

    Richardson unearthed it, Disney for the longest time didn’t have an idea that it even existed but were happy when he did and allowed Dark Horse not only to reprint the book but to do a sequel in comic book form.

    A few years ago this happened. Had it been ten years ago, not a chance.

    I’m not a Disney fan boy by any stretch of the imagination. I have very big issues with how it’s treated copyright law, employees (if you ever think you know anything about how fucked up that company can be, ask someone who’s worked at one of their theme parks and you’ll be amazed) and some of the company’s business ethics. Not to mention Walt Disney’s poor ethics in terms of unions and a ton of other things.

    But at the same time Disney is taking really decent strides back into the realm of creativity. Traditional animation has been brought out of mothballs. Straight to dvd sequels no longer exist. Pixar was bought (not a single bad movie have they made).

    Disney also owns The Muppets.

    Did you know that? Ever wonder why we haven’t been inundated with tons of Muppets merchandise and crap Muppet tv shows or straight to video movies since Disney bought them?

    Because Disney is taking the time with the Muppets. They are slowing going through with the next film and making sure it’s done right.

    This game is another sign of that. Instead of just the same old platformer or some lame Disney rock band rip off, the company opted to allow someone take their characters in an interesting direction. But I can guarantee you, the characters you know and love are in the game and very much safe.

    And finally, just to play along with your little theory about how Mickey is being turned into a grim bit of a jerk creature….

    When Mickey first appeared, he wasn’t exactly kind nor was he rather nice. In fact, bit of an amorous douchebag just looking to get a piece of tail (excuse the pun).

    Look up Plane Crazy and The Galloping Gaucho. Hell, watch Steamboat Willie.

  4. Shayla November 6, 2009 at 10:52 AM #

    It’ll be nice when Mickey’s copyright finally expires… in 2023… unless they keep on extending the copyright law like they’ve been doing to keep him so far (http://www.vernmaine.com/publications/copyright-articles/mickey.htm).

    Also, a hotdog can definitely be described as awesome. Don’t tell me you’ve never bought streetmeat while shitfaced downtown at 3 a.m. and genuinely felt that hotdogs were awesome.

  5. Alex James November 6, 2009 at 11:43 AM #

    @ Brent: If you’re right about Disney and especially about this game, I’ll immediately write a full retraction to this post. I hope you are. But I think you missed the thrust of my point here. I’m not saying Disney was never creative (and yeah, I knew they owned the Muppets but I figured they were keeping the franchise on the back burner because the last Muppet movie didn’t do that well), I’m saying they haven’t been in a long time, and this seems like a shallow way of getting people interested in their oldest franchise again.

    (Case in point regarding creativity: I don’t care how good Pixar might be, do we really need ANOTHER reenvisioning of A Christmas Carol, this time starring that relic Jim Carey because it’s the last classic role he hasn’t bumblefucked his way through yet?)

    Dragging characters out of mothballs that they haven’t touched in a thousand years and graciously allowing Dark Horse to do something with it also isn’t necessarily a sign of positive improvement. It’s like if I found a treasure trove of old comics in my basement that I didn’t know I owned, optioned them to you and you sold them for me on consignment, taking a share of the profits. That’s not magnanimous — that’s good business sense. Why not profit from something you didn’t even know you had? It’s not like you were doing anything else with it.

    @Shayla: When I’m drunk at 3am, I prefer shawarma if I can find it, which *could* qualify for the “awesome” moniker; settling for street meat is merely “great” or, depending upon my mood, “bitchin'”.

  6. the mule November 6, 2009 at 11:59 AM #

    in regards to your idea of what alice in wonderland should be like maybe you are looking for this EXACT version –> http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alice_%281988_film%29

    now let me go back and read the rest of this bitch.

    eat shit and die,
    the mule

  7. Shayla November 6, 2009 at 12:57 PM #

    Brent’s right about Mickey: in Plane Crazy he tries to rape Minnie.

  8. Brent Chittenden November 6, 2009 at 1:53 PM #

    A Christmas Carrol is not Pixar. It’s a part of a division of Disney yes, but not Pixar. And you can blame Robert Zemeckis for that.

    and once again you are missing the point.

    Disney was a company that was once out to screw others even if it meant bad things for them.

    They were a company that sued a High School over an image of Mickey Mouse used in a year book.

    That was painted by a student.

    But yet they sued despite the ill will it would cause in the general public.

    They also sued a group of underground cartoonists who did a comic portraying a parody of Mickey and Mini being kidnapped by their “nephews” in order to force them into revealing that they were Mickey and Mini’s kids.

    A small print run comic that is obviously a parody but Disney went after them anyways.

    In today’s Disney I’m not sure either of those things would happen (I’m almost certain the high school lawsuit would not occur). The years you are referring to in a majority of your article is the Eisner years.

    The game that is the crux of your whole argument isn’t about Disney saying “Well let’s make Mickey bad ass cause that’s what the kids like.”

    It’s Disney saying “You know what Warren Spector. A majority of our Disney games have sucked. You seem to be really good at this stuff. Do you promise to bring him back in one piece?”

    “I promise and the game will be awesome. Trust me.”

    “Alright then, here you go.”

    Part of the game also involves Mickey gaining the trust of Oswald the Luck Rabbit. Oswald (a character that predates Mickey) ruled the land that Mickey accidentally falls into. Mickey sets out to make things right and put Oswald back in his place.

    Keep in mind Mickey is also the one who screwed up this world. So Mickey is going in to fix his mistake.

    Now yes the game will also give you a choice between being a good guy or being a bit of a prick but at least one of the storylines follows Mickey as a hero. Nor is this even a Mickey “reboot” Because it’s the same old Mickey we know and love that goes into this weird world, just when he gets there things have changed a little, he still has memories of his old life and what the world should be. A reboot is like Batman Begins where “Nope, those movies don’t exist in this universe.”

    I will also grant you that Warren does have a habit of making darker themed games but the fact that the storyline involves all of the traditional characters and characters like the aforementioned Gremlins and Oswald kind of shows that is done with a love of Disney.

  9. phinux November 6, 2009 at 8:08 PM #

    I hate to say it, but Brent’s got a point.

    1) Mickey has been “re-imagined” many times throughout the years, making him more or less childish, depending on the decade. (80s Mickey had that stupid blue shirt, for instance)

    2) They do that both as an attempt to “keep pace” with the audience AND, I would imagine, for copyright reasons.

    3) The former head of Pixar is now the head of animation at Disney, and his first order of business was to prevent any more straight-to-DVD sequels. So you don’t have to worry about that anymore. (Toy Story 3 was already in the works when he made this decision)

    4) The earliest version of Mickey was a mischievous little bastard, mostly because animation was a novelty for adults at the time and not really for children. (There is some seriously messed up cartoon porn from the same era out there, btw)

    So, I guess, it really depends on the audience that the video game is aimed at. I probably wouldn’t play it, but speaking strictly as a person who has a professional investment in the narrative quality of video games, it sounds pretty damn good.

  10. pamela benietz October 3, 2010 at 5:07 PM #

    I hate you, this is not true
    Who are you? something really stupid
    you can take all your comments and leave because no one is interesed.

    AND YOUR A USELESS
    OK!?

  11. pamela benietz October 3, 2010 at 5:08 PM #

    stupid

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