The lights are on
Upon our visit to Junction Point to learn about Epic Mickey, we had the opportunity to sit down for an extended conversation with Warren Spector. We tapped his expertise on Disney and Mickey Mouse, asked him all about his new game, found out what he thinks it will take to revitalize the character of Mickey Mouse, why he chose the Wii, and even what other Disney dream project he’d like to tackle. If you’ve been following our coverage of the game, you’ll recognize some of his words from other articles. To get the full scoop, read ahead for our complete interview.
GI: What do you think the significance of the Mickey Mouse character is in relation to film history and animation history?
Warren Spector: Mickey is critical to both animation history and film history. He was absolutely and demonstrably the most recognizable and popular film star in the world for about three or four years in the early ‘30s. He was huge at the box office. It’s not an overstatement to say that he gave hope to an entire generation of people living through the Depression. He was a little ray of sunshine. He seems kind of sweet and innocent, and his films don’t seem as anarchic and crazy and maybe relevant as today’s films do, but at the time it was exactly what the country needed, what the world needed. So he was there to provide it.
Just in terms of animation, he also represents a push for quality and for characterization and for story over gags – that was entirely new to cartoons. No one had ever really done that before. It’s actually not that completely accurate to say that he was the first sound cartoon character, but he’s the one that got in peoples’ heads first, and that means he’s the most important star of the talking pictures. You can argue that in 1928 when Steamboat Willie came out as the first sound synched cartoon that people were really aware of, Al Jolson was making the Singing Fool, which was a crummy old silent film style – and I mean, I love Al Jolson, and I love that movie, and there are probably five fans out there that are going to be offended now, but – he showed that sound film could be an art form in the same way that silent films were. Huge, hugely important.
GI: What made those early Disney cartoons stand apart from the crowd? Animation was growing big at that point in general. What made Disney’s stuff work and take on that status that you’re talking about?
WS: The thing that I think set Disney apart more than anything else was his unwavering commitment to quality. He would not cheap out on anything. Animation at that point was this little backwater. No one cared about it. There were Felix the Cat cartoons, and some others. There were some cartoon characters who had some popularity back then, but they were really quickly thrown together, kind of haphazardly, slapdash things that nobody cared about. Disney really paid attention. He focused on quality.
He lost Oswald because he refused to compromise on budget. That was the fundamental issue. He wanted more money to make better cartoons, and his distributor wouldn’t give it to him. So they fired him, found somebody who would do it cheaper, and guess what? Nobody remembers Oswald after Disney stopped doing him. So unwavering commitment to quality, that’s number one.
Number two was he moved beyond just gag, gag, gag, which is what the earlier cartoon shorts were. It’s not that Disney skimped on the gags. I mean, he paid his animators by the gag. It’s not like he wasn’t thinking about that stuff, but he really brought a level of character and story to short cartoons that no one had ever seen.
GI: How do you see the character of Mickey Mouse having changed over the years? Were there particular eras that you identify in the character’s life?
WS: Yeah, there were definitely distinct periods in Mickey’s life. There’s a wonderful poster of all of the different major eras of Mickey. We’ve got it up on the wall, actually. I don’t know who owns the rights to that. It’s a great poster.
There’s that early phase where he was a rat. There’s just no two ways about it. He was a guy who smoked and drank and shot guns and skewered people with swords and threw Minnie Mouse out of a plane when she wouldn’t kiss him and abused farm animals. He was a badly behaved little guy. As he became more popular, I think Walt started saying, “Let’s make this guy more realistic. Oh, we don’t want to do things with this guy that the world isn’t going to like,” so they started taming him and taking different parts of his personality. I’m about to get really pretentious – he was like this fully individuated ego. Jung would have loved Mickey Mouse.
But at some point they fractured his personality. They took his mischievousness and his anger and need for revenge and gave it to Donald. At some point they took his naïve simplicity and gave it to Goofy. They took his loyalty and infinite affection and gave it to Pluto, of all things. They took his character and just shattered it, and all of a sudden he’s kind of a straight man for the gang. So there’s that middle period where they kind of lost some of what made him special. He stopped being Douglas Fairbanks the adventurer or even Charlie Chaplin the humor guy, and they turned him into just the straight guy.
GI: When was this period? When do you see this change first happening?
WS: I think you start to see it by the early ‘30s. By 1932, that was well under way. He was created in 1928, and he had a three or four year run of being this amazing character that I think even if kids watched that cartoon, if they could stand to watch something in black-and-white, I think they’d really get a kick out of it and be amazed at how badly behaved Mickey was.
But by the early ‘30s, though he was no less popular – I mean, he was absolutely beloved in ’32, ’33; that was his peak right there – but by that point he had kind of become the straight man. And then toward the end of the ‘30s, it looks to me from the outside that they were trying to bring back some of the adventurous spirit that he had. By the ‘40s, they were doing things like Brave Little Tailor and that kind of stuff. They tried to get it back, but they just couldn’t take any risks with the guy. He was so successful and so popular that taking any risks with him risked the entire future of the company. Who’d be crazy enough to do that? Wait, other than me. No one’s nutty enough to do that.
By the ‘40s, he was already kind of on the wane. If you look at it, Donald Duck was way more successful by the ‘40s. There were lots more Donald cartoons. By the ‘40s, Mickey was appearing as a secondary character in Pluto cartoons for the most part. Goofy and Donald were doing their solo thing. I think in 1952 they did “The Simple Life.” That was Mickey’s last cartoon for about 35 years. It was kind of over. He was an icon on a watch, on a t-shirt.
There have been attempts to bring him back. “Run-Away Brain” in 1995 – I loved that cartoon. I don’t understand why people at Disney don’t like it. I think it’s brilliant. It’s a fantastic cartoon. But other than that, there’s “The Three Musketeers.” I dunno. “The Christmas Carol.” Eh. They didn’t know what to do with him anymore. He’s kind of been laying fallow, which is a great opportunity for us.
Email the author Matt Miller, or follow on Game Informer.
I'm finally buying a Wii next summer and this is deffinitly one of the first games I'll be getting for it. I'm not a big fan of motion controls, and the Wii does have an insane amount of shovel wear, and an even more maddening amount of casual games, but there are just to many hidden gems like this one to keep ignoring it.
Okay that's it - I officially had to join Gameinformer online to comment on this article:)
First off, HELLS YEAH a new Duck Tales game needs to be made! Warren Spector - thank you. A LOT of Disney properties from the 80's and 90's could exist as video games these days - Chip & Dale Rescue Rangers and Darkwing Duck also come to mind. I was actually hopeful that, considering Disney Interactive is letting this game happen, they'd perhaps move studios like Avalanche and Fall Line (actually, I think they're both just one studio now) onto properties like that. Ones that don't have to tie in to a movie release; one they could really work on and make fun y'know?
I sincerely hope you guys succeed with Epic Mickey then, so perhaps Disney Interactive will realize that. They're DISNEY for christ sakes! They should have a lot more synergy between their traditional animation guys and their new video game studios - why not take the character designers and animators from stuff like Princess and the Frog and the Tinker Bell movies and have them design characters and stories for original games that studios like Propaganda and Avalanche can make? I think that this whole project is EXTREMELY important because this is exactly the kind of thing that can turn Disney Interactive into a huge force in the games industry.
Also, I grew up playing SEGA's and Capcom's Disney games! Disney games can kick loads of ass, and Mickey can be cool. It's not impossible - after seeing him dual wield keyblades in Kingdom Hearts, I'm sure there are a lot of gamers who would gladly say, "I want to be Mickey Mouse!" after seeing him kick ass in KH2:) Heck, I'll say it now, "I want to be Mickey Mouse" in this adventure. It sounds super cool - a great core gameplay mechanic and an excellent visual style (that looks to have at least as much care put into it as say, a Ratchet and Clank game).
I am very much looking forward to this title. And Warren Spector, everything you say just makes me want look forward to it more! I'm getting this game - I was one of the hardcore that bought the likes of Okami and Zack and Wiki and MadWorld for the system, so I'm still supporting it's great games. This is definitely something I'm going to get the day it comes out!
And yes, Disney Interactive, let him make a new Duck Tales! Hell, start talking to Capcom again! Get some of those classic games - Magical Quest, Castle of Illusion, Duck Tales, etc, - out on Wii's Virtual Console or Gametap or something! Heck, pull a SEGA and release a disc-based collection with all those classic games on them (perhaps with some classic toons on the disc as well...?)
I have to say. Warren Spector is a truly incredible person.
My good sir... Would you consider doing a Sonic the Hedgehog title? Because my favorite little blue rodent is lacking something that you seem to be capable of pulling off.
Oh, and about the movie.... I can't wait. That's all I can say. I must see the trailer as soon as possible once you get the movie going on its track.
"Also, I want to do a Duck Tales game. Convince the world that a Duck Tales game needs to be made. I can’t convince anybody at Disney to let me do a Duck Tales game. How can that be?"
Ever played/seen Ducktales for the NES? It's a Pure Gem.
When I grow up, I want to be Warren Spector :)
i like that insect looking thing about to bite mickey's head off on page 3. little birdy told me that everyone at junction point is really super-excited about their game. i think they should be, i am.
Warren has come such a long way. I really look up to him now.
I hope he gets to do everything on his list before he dies. He's an awesome guy.
I cannot wait to see a movie and a ride from Warren Spector. He succeeds at everything, I see no reason why he should not succeed there. I can't wait to see the game!
And if "I want to be Mickey Mouse too" Doesn't become the new signature fad by the time this game comes out, I will be very disappointed with these forums.
This was a great read, I'm very excited for Warren and his team. I hope Warren achieves what he's setting out to do with this game. He's been given a great opportunity to restore this timeless character. People forget how significant or how much of an impact something as simple as a cartoon mouse is red shorts can have on a generation of people, such as those mentioned who lived during the Great Depression. Mickey has definitely lost his appeal to people like me who are fans of his classic appearances. He was exciting and bold. Now, Mickey just comes off as this pampered mascot for Disney World. There's a whole generation of kids who are probably going to grow up and associate those two elliptical black ears with a theme-park rather than the intrepid little mouse they came from.
but it would have been cool to see micky on the 360 & ps3
Disney, if you're listening:
Let Warren Spector make the Ducktales game. Epic Mickey already has my money in your pocket, and that game would also have my money in your pocket. It just needs to be made. This is the guy to make it. Please.
''I want to be Mickey mouse'' Well I don't but this game will make me wont to well any video game with make you want to be the character take mario for example he plays tennis,golth,basketball,gokarts he does all theses amazing things and has this awesome life I think when ever anyone plays a game or watchs a tv show they see a little of their self in one character.
I'm probably going to buy a Wii just to play this game. After reading this interview I'm looking forward to this game even more.
And I really really hope Warren Spector gets to do a Duck Tales game.
Might try to get Epic Mickey when it comes out.
Oh-my-gosh. A new Ducktales game. That would be like a dream come true.
This is officially getting better and better! I believe this will be the game that will start a new era for Disney games. And I SURELY hope this will be a success (in the same way I hope that Princess & the Frog will be a success for traditional animation revival)
Why not making a "Disney Afternoon" game? All the series were great. I'm personally a Talespin fan, and as proof, here's my fansite :
I can't dream too much about a new Talespin game because if Disney doesn't want to make a Ducktales one, it's even less likely to happen...But well, you never know...
Mickey Mouse in a game...no. Duck Tales and Chip and Dale Rescue Rangers, HELL YEAH! Those are some of the greatest games I remember playing when I was a kid. I love Uncle Scrouge's pogo cane attack, it is classic!
My parents bought a wii only to return it later... We had to save the money for later... Sucks cuz i could have gotten epic mickey when it comes out
Warren Spector - if Disney Interactive were smart (and I think they're getting there - Kingdom Hearts really opened up their eyes), they'd position you as their Miyamoto. Their guiding light for all their games, y'know? You have as much passion and talent as anybody who could possibly end up working on Disney video games - you need to have a presence in every one of their games from now on, and they need to officially move away from movie tie-ins and start doing more stuff like this game, the new Turok titles, Split/Second, etc. They're actually starting to look really promising, and your game is looking like the top of that lineup, easily:)
I can't wait to see more of this. God, Gameinformer - you're killing us fans, making us wait a month to (hopefully) see a trailer. If it's just a teaser, I think i'm gonna lose it :O
haha, it's funny because i'm a PS3 owner, and avid M-Rated game player, and I'm insanely excited for this game. It's funny how he has such a black and white opinion on consoles. I mean PS3 has LittleBigPlanet, and the Wii has MADWORLD, so since when was the Wii exclusivly the 'kids only' system and the PS360 'mature only'. Wow. Well regardless this game is going to force me to buy a Wii, and Warren is a genius, at least if he can pull this off.
I will play this game if good 'ol warren can deliver on his promises.i wanna see a disney game i will be able to have in my house without using the "its my sisters" excuse