The estimable Mickey Mouse turns 82 today; hopefully, his birthday is made more happy because it comes on the cusp of a new wave of recognition thanks to the impending Epic Mickey videogame. It’s hard to believe that the corporate icon of today – the giggling, krumping creature of the “Disney Dance Crew” – was once the scrappy, feisty heir of Fairbanks as seen in Plane Crazy or The Gallopin’ Gaucho. Hopefully we’ll see some more of that spark soon!
For your viewing pleasure, we have the special that aired on NBC’s The Magical World of Disney in 1988 to celebrate Mickey’s 60th birthday. If you were around at that time, you’ll no doubt remember that Mickey’s 60th was a huge deal; during the 1980s any major anniversary of a park or character was celebrated, and those early Eisner years saw a number of specials like this. Mickey’s 60th brought Mickey’s Birthdayland and a new parade to the Magic Kingdom in Florida, but it was also celebrated coast to coast and around the world, as can be seen in this special.
As to the special itself, it comes from the couple of years when Disney was partnering with NBC to produce some fairly high-quality original programming. The Magical World of Disney began with the promise of new serial programming – new hour-long specials based on Davy Crockett and The Absent-Minded Professor were produced – in the vein of Walt’s old Wonderful World of Color shows. The push for original programming overlapped nicely with the promise of the upcoming Disney-MGM Studios in Florida.
Of course it never really worked out, but at the time the idea of a return to these classic franchises with a modicum of production values seemed pretty exciting. Let’s face it, once you’ve survived the Klinkers or Kraft, these NBC specials seem like Citizen Kane. Upon watching, I was kind of surprised that it holds up. I watched this a billion times as a kid, but it’s still pretty funny (Charlie Fleischer: “You want me to kill the duck? The duck makes a lot of money…”). At the very least, it reminds us that John Ritter could make the most of any material and that NBC really wishes it still had the primetime lineup from 1988.
So here’s Mickey, with his new friend Roger Rabbit, and a cast of thousands, celebrating Mr. Mouse’s 60th birthday. And a shout-out across the ages to Walt and Ub, for getting the whole thing going and knowing how to make some darn fine cartoon pictures.