The mouse that launched a thousand films

If it weren’t for one woman’s idea, we’d be celebrating the 90th birthday of Mortimer Mouse. As it is, Walt Disney’s wife Lillian suggested a different name than the one her husband had initially picked for what would become the world’s most famous mouse.

Mickey, or originally Mortimer, was born on a long train ride across the US in the spring of 1928. While he had his first appearance in a test screening in May of that year, his official on-screen debut was on November 18, 1928: 90 years ago, Mickey Mouse whistled merrily in the short film Steamboat Willie, the first cartoon with synchronised sound. The innocuous-looking mouse steering a boat kick-started the Disney universe that continues to delight millions to this day.

The film premiere in New York City’s Colony Theater was followed by more and more adventures revolving around Mickey, his friends Pluto and Goofy and, of course, the love of his life, Minnie. Walt Disney also branched out to comic strips. The first one about Mickey Mouse appeared in January 1930, following on the heels of his celluloid excursion. Disneyland in Anaheim opened in July 1955. And in 1978, Mickey Mouse became the first animated cartoon character to get a star on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame. Not bad for a little mouse!


Visitors at the Mickey Mouse exhibition in New York Photo. | Photo: Getty Images

To celebrate Mickey, who is by now well advanced in years but still full of beans, ABC airs a two-hour prime-time special – Mickey’s 90thSpectacular – and there will be plenty of events in theme parks all across the world. Disney has even collaborated with well-known fashion designers, thereby extending its consumer products franchise that already makes $3.2 billion annually. To top off the festivities, even contemporary artists have seized the opportunity and present their take on the mouse alongside historic artwork in “Mickey: The True Original Exhibition” in Manhattan.

Signs are pointing to a lot of Mickey-related merrymaking – there’s no escaping the little mouse in red trousers with the distinctive voice, so all that is left to do is join in. Happy birthday, Mickey!

You can find the short film Steamboat Willie here.