As far away from animated shorts as his fortunes and interests would take him, Disney would always keep Mickey front and center. When Walt went high brow with Fantasia, Mickey was there to help ground the project. When Disney went to television, he gave Mickey his own show. And when Walt built Disneyland, he gave Mickey a permanent home.
Fantasia sprung up around the production of a special Mickey Mouse short, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice. Leopold Stowkowski collaborated with Disney, providing the musical arrangements and a hand-picked orchestra. Walt suggested to Stowkowski the idea of expanding their relationship, to make a bigger picture with all kinds of music.
Fantasia (1940) was the end result, perhaps Disney’s greatest experiment in combining sound and picture, music and animation. But it was Mickey who stole the show.
In the post war years, Mickey returned to short subjects and Disney created "package films"–feature length releases containing multiple sequences. Mickey and The Beanstalk, another special short, was incorporated into the feature Fun & Fancy Free (1947). Mickey, Donald and Goofy climb the beanstalk, rescue a magic harp and defeat Willie the giant. But bigger than Willie were the further plans Walt had for Mickey.
In the 1950s, Walt created his Disneyland theme park and made Mickey it’s host. More people today probably know Mickey as the icon of Disneyland than from his animated films.
Walt also built a weekday TV show, The Mickey Mouse Club, around his star. This popular kids show featured a group of 20 Mouseketeers and incorporated singing, dancing, comedy and cartoons. All the sets and costumes reflected the image of Mickey Mouse. New animation of Mickey opened and closed the show each day–with Walt still providing Mickey’s voice for these segments.
Walt Disney was a genius. His contributions to pop culture, to the art of motion pictures, to family values and American ideals are unmatched in terms of quality and quantity. But Mickey Mouse will always be his greatest creation and his everlasting alter ego. Mickey’s brave, funny, humble, inventive … and a nice guy. What could be better than that?