Mickey and Friends: Psyche’s Formula?

Working my way through the Disney cartoon canon, it’s interesting to note how the Disney characters don’t only work in concert to entertain us, but they seem to function as components of myth/psyche (depending on how you want to approach this). Furthermore, at any given time, any one of them can function as a hero (especially Mickey, Donald and Goofy) or a group of heroes (especially Mickey, Donald and Goofy). At different times in Disney’s history, some characters have been more popular than others, but because each character has his/her own distinct personality, they can be used to represent different things. I hesitate to make a simple chart of comparison (Mickey is ego, Donald is shadow, etc.), but they each bring a different component to to the Everyman archetype that is dominant to the Disney Doctrine.

Mickey is everyman. He’s the gentle character of good middle American values. He’s a natural leader because he’s so well-put together. As Mickey evolved into a symbol for the Disney Corporation, it became more important that he behave as an upstanding citizen, which lead to the creation of others. Mickey holds it all together, which is where Walt’s reminder rings true: it all started with a Mouse.

Donald is a perfect foil to Mickey, often stealing the scene from the mouse. He is temperamental, mischievous (sometimes malicious), and prone to devilish vices. Because his character was created this way, he was allowed to get away with more questionable behavior than Mickey. As Leonard Maltin(?) says somewhere on the Walt Disney Treasures discs, if Mickey was the star of the 1930s (and thus the Depression), the 1940s (and the war) belonged to Donald. Donald gets drafted and we share his struggles through basic training and interactions with authority figures. This is provided an outlet for some pent-up frustrations culturally, especially toward limitations on the home front because of the war.

Goofy. Well, the name really just says it all doesn’t it?

Pluto seems to be the dog that belongs to everyone. He is the one Disney animal that was created to be an animal, and is so spot-on as a dog, it’s sometimes hard to forget that he’s just a cartoon character. He represents animalistic behavior, but I think he really is more about simplicity, nature, and romanticism. Perhaps we could say that Pluto is Disney’s Green Man?

Minnie/Daisy seem to be the same character and they both are the aspect of the feminine, however you want to read it. They are the balance factors.

There are many different characters to explore, but these are the main ones. In a way, they form the Disney pantheon, which is really just a fancy way of describing psyche.


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.

Mickey Mouse is Everyman

I know you’re probably thinking “B. F. Freakin’ O.” [Brilliant flash of the obvious.] Of course Mickey Mouse is Everyman. That’s nothing new. In fact, much of the critical research I’ve been reading since starting this dissertation thingy say the exact same thing—Mickey Mouse is Everyman. Why? Because he plays down-to-earth characters in all of his shorts who gets into down-to-earth, albeit hilarious, situations. He has a good heart, and more often than not, does not start his adventure with the intent of hurting anyone. John Hench, I believe, has famously described his mandalic features, suggesting that Mickey is popular because he’s made of circles, which are the most nurturing and gentle of all geometric shapes (and their composition in Mickey’s head stirs up memories of Mommy—I like the idea, but I don’t run away with it).

So I recently scored a used copy of the Disney Treasures Pluto collection, volume 1. As much as I’d love to utilize my D23 membership to get the awesome boxed set that contains almost all of the Treasures to date, it’s super-expensive. Like $500 expensive. But that’s neither here nor there.

The first cartoon I watched on the collection is “The Chain Gang,” which I think is one of Pluto’s first appearances as a police dog. He hasn’t become Mickey’s friend yet, but, as we all know, he does and also is one of the primary Mickey and friends characters. Watching this cartoon really cemented the Mickey as Everyman thing—What makes Mickey Everyman is that he has no clear racial indicator. He is neither black nor white. In fact, he’s both. He not only embraces “the common man” but he embraces all skin tones and cultural backgrounds. This is significant, given that he was born prior to desegregation. Walt Disney seems to be suggesting that Mickey Mouse is American, and that distinction has nothing to do with race, class or creed. He just is.

So this is one more feather in the cap toward Walt Disney’s Utopia. I have long held the belief that the secret to overcoming racial tensions is to stop using any of the negative terms or behaviors associated with them—but this should not be to the expense of diversity. Every culture group should be allowed to embrace it’s heritage, but that heritage should be celebrated and not used against anyone for malicious reasons. I grew up in the South, and while my school district did a really good job of celebrating diversity, I saw a different world on the school bus.

Mickey Mouse stands as a champion of a world without the tension and negativity, which brings me to another crucial point. Rolly May points out that the myths will precede the history. The stories have to become ingrained in our psyche before we can make them happen. Thinking about some other utopias from the 60s (Star Trek comes to mind), is it possible that the Utopia that Walt dreamed about is around the corner?

To wrap up this post, I googled some images of utopia and came across the following interesting tidbits:

Utopia woodcut by Ortelius
This is a picture from an SMU faculty web page, and looks to be a woodcut of More’s Utopia And this is a picture of Walt Disney with the original concept of Disneyland. The main similarity is in the heart-shape of the layout. Is this a crucial element of a Utopia?

And then I found this: Mickey Mouse is Corrupting Our Youth and Destroying Our Childhoods (link). I’m not sure what, beyond shaking my head, to think of this article, but the fear of Utopia is legitimate in our culture of Individualism, no?