Although not yet eligible for Social Security, Mickey Mouse, 60 years old today, has probably had more face lifts than any other Hollywood star.
The genially hip mouse in the tuxedo and tennis shoes who smiles from Disney's 60th-anniversary logo and the blocky rodent who played "Turkey in the Straw" on a cow's teeth in "Steamboat Willie" (1928) look and act very differently. Hundreds of animators, designers, writers, voice actors, model makers and artists have fashioned and refined him over the years into one of the world's most widely recognized characters.
"Working with Mickey, I've always felt I had some really big shoes to fill," says Mark Henn, who animated the character for the Academy Awards broadcast earlier this year. "The nicest compliments I've received are the ones that say, 'He looks just like the old Mickey.' "
Although no Mickey film shorts were made between "Pluto's Christmas Tree" (1952) and "Mickey's Christmas Carol" (1983), his film career looks to be moving back into high gear. Disney is building a new animation facility in Florida, as part of the Disney/MGM Studio Tour, to produce featurettes starring the familiar cartoon character. The animators hope to revive the more energetic Mickey of the late '30s in the new films.
"The kind of stories we'll be doing call for Mickey to be more forthcoming and gutsy," says Roy Disney, vice-chairman, Walt Disney Co. "We want to get back to a Mickey who can instigate action without turning him into something too modern."
Celebrations for Mickey's 60th birthday have been going on at the Disney theme parks for most of the year.
Among the events planned for today: The premiere of Walt Disney Pictures' newest animated feature, "Oliver and Company," with a special commemorative logo.
A birthday special will air tonight at 8 on the Disney Channel (see review on page 29). The Walt Disney Co. will donate an original cel from "Steamboat Willie" to the Smithsonsian Institution in Washington. The Goodyear blimp will flash birthday messages and images of Mickey over various U.S. cities.
And radio stations all over the world will invite listeners to sing along with the "Mickey March": "M-I-C . . . K-E-Y . . . ."