The Stuff That Dreams Are Made Of: Mickey Mouse

There are two directions to go with this. One is an extension of this post I made about Mickey Mouse as Everyman. The other is literally about dreams. So I’ll start with the first:

1. Since that previous post, I scored the Walt Disney Treasures box set and have been working through the Mickey cartoons. The more of these I watch, the more I’m convinced that Mickey Mouse is an archetype in the truest use of the term (i.e., a universal symbol that transcends time and place.) Most automatically disagree with the application of “archetype” to Mickey Mouse because he isn’t universal. Rather, the argument goes, he is “archetypal,” full of the energy of the archetype, but very specific to American culture. (As a further example, Harry Potter is “archetypal;” he represents the hero “archetype.”) Leonard Maltin in the intro to the Mickey DVDs remarks on the primeval nature of Mickey’s design that is automatically attractive to people of all backgrounds. John Hench described this is being inherent in the circular nature of Mickey’s design. The circles are inviting, warm, nurturing. Someone (Hench, perhaps) said that the shape of Mickey’s head and the position of his two ears evokes mother imagery. And indeed, he is a caring figure. Epic Mickey truly puts him into the hero role, but in his previous cartoons, I would argue, he is really acting more as Everyman, representing the average American without pretense of a major adventure. Because his representation is often farm-based, it’s tied to an environment that all world cultures can relate to. Had Mickey’s stories been set in the city, they would have lost some of their appeal. Additionally, he has transcended time and place. He is the by-product of the modern world, yet 83 years later, he still evokes the same reaction.

2. In watching all of these Mickey cartoons, I’m amazed how many of them occur while Mickey or one of the other characters is in some kind of dream state. These stories tend to drop into the surreal or the macabre, but for the most part, we don’t know they are dreams until the dreaming character wakes up in the end. While this makes for some really fun stories (two of my favorites are “Thru the Mirror” and “Pluto’s Judgment Day”), I’m curious about the equation of Mickey to our collective dreams, as though he’s acting as a meta-archetype.

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