Early Mickey Mouse version will star in horror movies

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LOS ANGELES — The first iteration of Mickey Mouse is running amok, just two days into the public domain.

Freed from Disney copyright since Monday, the iconic character of “Steamboat Willie” is already the subject of two horror films. On Monday, just hours after the 1928 short film entered the public domain, a trailer for “Mickey's Mouse Trap” was released on YouTube. Another untitled film was announced on Tuesday.


What do you want to know

  • The first iteration of Mickey Mouse goes wild, just two days into the public domain
  • Freed from Disney copyright since Monday, the iconic character of “Steamboat Willie” is already the subject of two horror films
  • On Monday, just hours after the 1928 short film entered the public domain, a trailer for “Mickey's Mouse Trap” was released on YouTube. Another untitled film was announced on Tuesday
  • With the expiration of the 95-year copyright, the public is allowed to use only the initial versions of Mickey and Minnie instead of the more familiar character designs.

“Steamboat Willie” featured early versions of Mickey and Minnie Mouse. Directed by Walt Disney and Ub Iwerks, it was the third cartoon featuring the duo they formed but the first to be released. In it, a more menacing Mickey, looking more like a rat than a mouse, runs a boat and makes musical instruments with other animals.

So it's perhaps fitting that the first projects announced are apparently low-budget, campy slasher films – and that's not without precedent. Winnie the Pooh – without a red shirt – entered the public domain in 2022; barely a year later, he recorded a heavy body count in the “Winnie the Pooh: Blood and Honey” microbudget.

In the trailer for “Mickey's Mouse Trap,” directed by Jamie Bailey, what appears to be a human wearing a comical little Mickey mask terrorizes a group of young people in a video arcade.

“A place to have fun. A place for friends. A place to hunt,” the trailer reads. “The mouse is out.”

“We just wanted to have fun with it all. I mean, it’s Mickey Mouse from Steamboat Willie murdering people,” director Jamie Bailey said in a statement cited by trade publications. “It's ridiculous. We ran with it and had fun doing it and I think it shows.

No release date has been set.

The second film is from director Steven LaMorte, who previously made a horror parody of “The Grinch”, which is not in the public domain (so the film is called “The Mean One”).

“A nighttime boat ride turns into a desperate fight for survival in New York when a mischievous mouse becomes a monstrous reality,” is the logline of the untitled film, according to a post on LaMorte's Instagram.

“Steamboat Willie has brought joy to generations, but beneath that cheerful exterior lies the potential for pure, disjointed terror,” LaMorte said in a statement cited by Trades. The film has not yet started production.

With the expiration of the 95-year copyright, the public is allowed to use only the initial versions of Mickey and Minnie, not the more familiar character designs.

“We will of course continue to protect our rights to more modern versions of Mickey Mouse and other works that remain subject to copyright,” Disney said in a statement before the characters entered the public domain.

The dead says Variety that the producers of his film are working with a legal team to avoid clashing with Disney and will name their rabid rodent Steamboat Willie instead of Mickey Mouse.

“We are doing our due diligence to make sure there are no questions or confusion about what we are doing,” he said.

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