Written by: Robin C. Farrell | November 18th, 2022
Mickey: The Story of a Mouse (Jeff Malmberg, 2022) 2½ out of 4 stars.
Mickey: The Story of a Mouse chronicles the history of Mickey Mouse from inception to present day. The movie plays all the hits: Steamboat Wille, Fantasia, and Mickey and the Beanstalk, along with the Mickey Mouse Club, Disneyland, and the more recent cartoons and shorts. It levies nostalgia to tug on your heartstrings while also offering a few new additions to familiar tales.
This is a largely straightforward documentary. Director Jeff Malmberg (Spettacolo) doesn’t experiment too much with the form and, if you’re at all familiar with the general history of Mickey Mouse and the Walt Disney Company, then much of this film will feel like familiar territory. That doesn’t mean the majority of this recount is not enjoyable. It looks lovely, with a scrapbook-like visual style, and the interviews are with employees and artists from within the Disney company as well as Mickey fans sharing the purely emotional fondness they have for the character.
A significant joy comes from seeing veteran animators Eric Goldberg, Mark Henn, and Randy Haycock collaborating on an upcoming project, creating completely hand-drawn sequences. That section is followed by a short but comprehensive demonstration of the ink-and-color process: where and how it splits from what most of us know as the initial phase of animation. For non-animators in the audience, it sheds light on how intrinsic that step is, the true artistry of it, and how radically the studio and the art form itself has changed through the shift to digital animation.
The film does acknowledge its uncomfortable moments in history: Mickey cartoons with the title character in blackface, for example, as well as the company’s history of rigid copyright restrictions. But it doesn’t go far enough towards taking responsibility or offering any sort of apology. By only briefly recognizing the mere existence of those moments without making it a part of the ongoing conversation, let alone deconstructing these parts of history and their future, it winds up giving the film an overall tone that is, at best, a little wishy-washy and, at worse, still skewed towards revisionism.
The intention seems to have originally been to focus on Mickey’s impact on us, the audience, across the generations, but they were unable to do so without involving and almost exclusively praising Walt. The takeaway is ultimately a familiar yet continued wish to do better. However, this film at least does make that acknowledgement when many other films avoid the subject entirely. Perhaps this indicates a small amount of growth and, in the spirit of the titular character’s optimism, a discernible step towards doing better. Here’s hoping.