SXSW 2022 Review: Mickey: The Story of a Mouse

As Walt Disney once said, “It all started with a mouse.” Now, that mouse, whose name you are probably spelling out in sing-song fashion in your head at this moment, has his own documentary. Set to release on Disney+ sometime in 2022, Mickey: The Story of a Mouse is exactly what you would expect from the studio that brought you the beloved character and many of his counterparts. It’s a fun, entertaining glance at how Mickey came to be known as the symbol of the Disney Corporation – nothing more, nothing less.

Jeff Malmberg’s documentary starts off with a diverse cast of people proclaiming their love for Mickey, or how others they know love the character so much. It’s a cutesy way of showing how beloved the character is for both young and old, and there is some adorable footage of young children meeting Mickey for the first time.

Once it gets into the history of Mickey Mouse, Malmberg regurgitates a lot of what is already known. We get the reaction to Steamboat Willie when it first debuted and how Mickey boosted morale during a time of the Great Depression and World War II. Mickey’s image was seen everywhere in advertisements and in cartoons that would run at the theater.

Of course, with the history of Mickey, there also has to be the history of Disney himself. Mickey: The Story of a Mouse showcases how Walt Disney came from a very strict background and would escape to draw. Once Mickey garnered attention via Steamboat Willie, the studio expanded into what it is known as today.

One of the most interesting aspects is how many people it took to animate Mickey. Eric Goldberg, an animator for Disney, discusses how the studio had more than 100 people developing Mickey cartoons. Now, there are only three, and they’ve all enlisted to create a short film, Mickey in a Minute, which is shown in the developing stages throughout the documentary and then in its entirety in the end. It explores a modern-day version of Mickey going through a wormhole and seeing all the different iterations of him throughout the years. It’s brief, but it’s also sweet.

Mickey: The Story of a Mouse does get into many of the criticisms that have plagued Disney’s past, whether it’s the beloved mouse donning blackface or when his attitudes toward Minnie Mouse could be viewed as harassing. While they’re not deep explorations into the more troublesome aspects, and you kind of wish they were, Malmberg’s film is able to acknowledge that the iconic character has changed over the years – much like how the rest of the world has, too. What was once acceptable to society then is no longer acceptable today.

Malmberg  is also able to showcase how Mickey, despite garnering fame in the Depression era, had a huge flop with Fantasia. While the movie is more acclaimed now, its initial release was a disaster for the studio. Throughout the documentary, there are both the ups and downs of Mickey’s career, and how the Disney Corporation faced a lot of challenges after the character’s inception.

There’s a certain level of charm that Malmberg brings to the documentary that makes it feel light and entertaining to watch, even as it subjects the viewer to some of the tough times that Mickey faced. Mickey: The Story of a Mouse won’t exactly alter anyone’s perception on Disney’s most iconic character. Nor will it really change any perceptions on the man that brought him to life. But, for being what it is, a 93-minute look at the history of a beloved character, it’s intriguing and informational in most aspects, and it is sure to bring a smile to Mickey fans young and old.

David Wangberg

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