There’s no doubt about it – Mickey Mouse is most famous for his shorts. Not for those red ones he wears (although they’re iconic!), but for the short cartoons he’s starred in over the decades. From his debut in 1928’s “Steamboat Willie” onward, Mickey has been making audiences laugh. And he’s still at it, in a new series of cartoons featuring Mickey and all his pals. The 19 new three-and-a-half-minute cartoons will begin airing on Friday, June 28, on Disney Channel, and right here on Disney.com. The first two shorts, “Croissant de Triomphe” and “No Service,” are already live for your viewing pleasure, and Insider went behind the scenes to see how they came to life.
The cartoons are made with cutting-edge animation technology, but Mickey’s new adventures have a timeless feel. They evoke the character designs of the ’30s and background art styles of the ’50s and ’60s. The stories they tell are about situations that we can all relate to – whether it’s trying to beat cross-town traffic or being embarrassed in front of the object of our affections.
Paul Rudish, executive producer of the new shorts, oversees the crew that makes it happen. He tells us, “The immediate inspiration for the new Mickey Mouse shorts is — the old Mickey Mouse shorts! The original black and white 1928 Mickey films, and the early color ones from the ’30s – they were kind of our launching point, to go back to that flavor of Mickey. Thirties animation used more visual humor and slapstick. It was a lot less dialogue-driven. The animation style and character design we’re using are obviously very ‘30s with white faces and what we call pie-eyes, and ‘rubber hose’ animation.”
“Rubber hose” is a distinctive, flexible style that lets characters move as though they have no bones. This allows for wackier and more surreal gags than more realistic character designs. Paul’s team is taking full advantage of the possibilities. Keep an eye out for the moment in “No Service” when Mickey tries to hide behind a wrought-iron fence and you’ll see what we mean.
One thing that makes the new shorts so fun to watch is that so many of them are set in recognizable worldwide locations – Paris, Tokyo, the Swiss Alps, and the heart of New York City among them. Paul explains, “The story comes first, and it might lend itself to a particular location. It’s always fun to find those locations and capitalize on what they have to offer. As long as his personality is intact, Mickey can live and do anything all over the world. For Croissant de Triomphe at first we were playing with the idea of Mickey trying to rush across an urban environment to deliver something – we were thinking of making him a bike messenger in New York. But then I realized I didn’t really want to draw him in a bike helmet. So I thought how about a scooter helmet – and scooters are awesome in France! And the environment felt really fresh and fun to explore.”
The settings are full of charming art details and each harkens back to the chic, stylized art of the ’50s and ’60s. “It was fun to go to the Disney archives and dig up old paintings and development art from ‘101 Dalmatians,’” Paul said, and then went on to talk more about other inspirations like Mary Blair. “Mary Blair’s stuff is always inspiring and you can really see her touch, especially in our Swiss location. Because we had stories in so many different settings, we were able to play around with the backgrounds and accentuate the mood or find something that feels appropriate for each story.”
Animation has always relied on teamwork. The collaborative process for the new shorts isn’t much different from Walt’s techniques for the first Mickey shorts. “We start in the storyboard room with the storyboard artists and the writer and just start kicking around ideas until we seem to have one that we can hang a story on. We write an outline and it’s taken to the storyboard phase, then the artists flesh it out and explore it. We pull the final script from the storyboard so we can record that with the actors. They seem to be having a lot of fun with these new flavors of cartoon and they bring their own touch to it.”
Paul says that Mickey Mouse cartoons helped him decide to pursue an animation career. So what was it like to take his own turn drawing an icon like Mickey? “Drawing a historic character like Mickey has been an honor, a little bit intimidating, but ultimately fun! I was raised on Disney cartoons, as most kids are even today, I think. Mickey was an inspiration to me early on, so to be able to follow in the footsteps of artists who have been so inspirational to me, to follow the trail that Walt and Ub Iwerks blazed, has been a remarkable opportunity.”
The cartoon shorts Paul and his crew are creating are designed to make Mickey fans of all ages share a chuckle — and perhaps to inspire another generation to become Disney artists.