Mickey Mouse, is that you holding a bloody knife? Slashing youngster’s necks? Looking tattered and blood stained?
Disney’s most famous character is getting reworked. And it isn’t pretty.
The company lost its copyright protection of an early version of Mickey Mouse this year, giving movie and videogame makers a chance to reimagine the family friendly rodent—mostly as killers. These Mickeys wouldn’t be let through the gates of the Magic Kingdom.
In “Mickey’s Mouse Trap,” out in March, someone in a Mickey-like mask chases after young men and women with a knife.
“He kills people,” Jamie Bailey, the movie’s director, said about his mouse. “He doesn’t have a personality beyond that.”
Bailey said the movie was filmed in eight days late last year, and takes place in an arcade where someone is having a 21st birthday. “It is not Shakespeare,” said Bailey. “It’s just a fun campy movie.”
He waited until Jan. 1 to release the trailer, the day “Steamboat Willie,” the first movie introduction of Mickey Mouse, went into the public domain.
Another slasher flick was announced the same day. Steven LaMorte, a producer and director, said he’s working on an unnamed film that will be shot in New York City this spring and come out later this year. It takes place on a boat with commuters being attacked by what LaMorte calls “a mysterious, mischievous and murderous mouse.”
Turning a Disney character into a murderer has happened before. The same month Winnie the Pooh, the cuddly, chubby, honey-loving bear, went into the public domain last year, the movie “Winnie the Pooh: Blood and Honey” was released.
Famous killers can help bring in an audience, said Rhys Frake-Waterfield, the director of “Winnie-the-Pooh: Blood and Honey.”
The shock value helps, too. “With Winnie the Pooh, he’s so friendly and nice,” Frake-Waterfield said. “It’s a humongous contrast to see him grabbing someone’s head and stabbing them in the eye.”
The movie brought in $1.75 million domestically, according to BoxOfficeMojo.com.
Frake-Waterfield said he thought about making a horror film based on Mickey, but realized there would be too many competitors. Instead, he’s working on other horror films based on Bambi and Peter Pan, and is eyeing another on the spinach-eating Popeye.
A sequel, “Winnie-the-Pooh: Blood and Honey 2,” is out in March, with another character that entered the public domain this year: Pooh’s pal Tigger. The bouncy tiger will be killing people, too, Frake-Waterfield said.
Low-budget horror films are just the first step when a famous character comes into the public domain, said Jennifer Jenkins, director for the Center for the Study of the Public Domain at Duke Law School.
“When the dust settles we’re going to see some more serious and thoughtful uses,” she said, pointing to how characters like Romeo and Juliet have been used inmovies and musicals.
Works come into the public domain after 95 years, a term Disney has helped increase over time—even though Disney itself is a big user of public domain works.
Older works have inspired “The Lion King,” “Cinderella” and Disney’s first feature film “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.” That 1937 movie, based on a Brothers Grimm fairy tale, helped turn Disney into a movie behemoth.
Mickey was a Disney original, first appearing in the 1928 black-and-white film “Steamboat Willie,” along with his girlfriend, Minnie Mouse, whose early version is also now in the public domain. Since then, Mickey has become the face of Disney, leading parades in its theme parks and hugging children at meet-and-greets.
While anyone can use the Mickey from “Steamboat Willie,” Disney owns the trademark to its mascot, which means companies can’t try to confuse people into thinking their reimagined movies, shows or games are coming from Disney, Jenkins said.
Disney declined to comment on the projects that have been announced, but said in a statement it will continue to protect more modern versions of Mickey Mouse, “as well as work to safeguard against consumer confusion caused by unauthorized uses of Mickey and our other iconic characters.”
Other Mickey works announced this week include two videogames. “Infestation: Origins,” which will be out later this year, shows a “Steamboat Willie” Mickey Mouse with blood across his face, fur a mess.
“Mouse,” which is expected to be released in 2025, is a black-and-white shooting game with Mickey-like mice as characters. It will have elements from “Steamboat Willie” in it, the game’s makers said.
It isn’t all gore. Mickey is helping some live happily ever after—Sin City style.
At Las Vegas Immersive Weddings, a chapel in the city, couples can marry in front of screens as “Steamboat Willie” plays.
Kevin Breen, one of the chapel’s co-founders who also officiates weddings, said relevant parts of the movie will show up as he speaks. For example, when he says, “You’ll be there for each other loving and kind, making sure your partner is never left behind,” a clip will play of Mickey pulling Minnie onto the boat after getting left behind.
The cost: $199, plus $60 for the officiant.
“That’s the beauty of the public domain,” Breen said. “We can give fans of Mickey a magical wedding experience with their favorite character, even if they aren’t rich enough to afford an expensive theme park wedding.”