I know I’m a little late on the bandwagon, but I finally started playing Epic Mickey last month. This is a Wii-console game (only) about a land constructed by Yin Sid for the forgotten Disney characters. Except that it’s called Epic Mickey and not Disney’s Forgotten Characters. So here’s the plot: Mickey Mouse is playing around in Yin Sid’s lab (an homage to “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice”) and spills a magic paint into the model land, causing the Blot or Thinner Disaster. Mickey is then pulled into this wasteland by the Mad Doctor (another tribute to an old Mickey cartoon), who almost cuts out Mickey’s heart, except that Mickey escapes. He picks up his magic paintbrush and is tasked with restoring the wasteland.
What follows is a tribute to Disney. Areas of the game occur in places inspired by Disneyland areas and attractions. Transitions between the game areas are inspired by old Mickey Mouse cartoons. Mickey becomes friends with Oswald, the Lucky Rabbit, his predecessor, and is reunited with friends he hasn’t seen since the first Mickey cartoon days. All along the way, Mickey battles paint splatters and mechanical creatures, solves puzzles, and rescues the Gremlins that keep this wasteland running.
But what is interesting with the dystopian theme of the entire game. Real-life Disneylands and Magic Kingdoms project a utopian ideal. These are places where everything is clean, believed to be safe, and mechanics are running properly. Epic Mickey’s wasteland is full of deadly paint thinner, is dangerous, and nothing is running properly. One of the first areas you encounter outside Dark Beauty Castle (based on Sleeping Beauty Castle) is a sort of Fantasyland with the spinning tea cups, flying Dumbos and It’s a Small World—except the tea cups jerk around, the Dumbos don’t fly (and have a mad elephant look in their eyes), and the Small World dolls look like something from it and Small World attraction is likewise broken. The music is a slowed-down bummer remix. This wasteland is anything BUT the Disney ideal. Even for all of Mickey’s repairs, this land never gets up to the Disney-standard, which makes sense since it is the land of the Forgotten Characters (unless you’re a Disney-geek, like me, who has never forgotten).
But, in the vein of that show Life After People, I’ve often wondered just what a run-down Disneyland would look like. This game gives this imagery very nicely.
So now, what does it mean? Disney has been plussing the parks lately. Some notable new attractions or reduxes have happened within the last 10 years to the present, from adding Jack Sparrow to the Pirates of the Caribbean attraction to the Star Tours redux or the Little Mermaid attraction. Disney parks rank among the best theme parks in the country (if not the world). But they do come under the criticism of being the happy side of a mythic spectrum, ignoring the shadow, or that counter element to any mytheme (Jung coined to term to describe unconscious elements that get filed away as we go through the course of identity formation). Everything in Disneyland is supposed to be perfect – this is a part of the utopian ideal. We enjoy going to Disneyland because we want to experience utopia. A key component of the American myth is the constant quest for a utopia. We need it, we hunger for it, we want it, but we can’t make it happen in our real lives, no matter how hard we try. The constitution and its constituent parts is utopian philosophy.
Not everyone wants the escapism of a utopia. It’s not realistic. The modernist and post-modernist world has filled us with dystopian imagery, so what better place to explore this dystopia than in the place of utopia?
But the whole point is that Mickey is cleaning it up. In the past, I’ve written about the idea of Mickey Mouse as Everyman. So it is in the hands of Everyman to clean up our present state of dystopia. But we can’t return it to the polished state of utopia. Once something has been damaged like that, it’s in the past. When we rebuild, we build something new. But if the goal is not rebuilding, as Mickey is just repainting, there will always be a dingy reminder of the dystopian past. This is a statement about the current state of America, and a reminder that we have to tend to the utopia ourselves rather than hope that someone will make it happen for us. There’s a lesson to be learned from this game, not just a really fun time to be had or Disney tribute to experience.