Putting Mettle to the Petal : Disney Helps Keep Mickey in Character for Rose Parade

TIMES STAFF WRITER

When Glendale officials decided to feature Mickey Mouse on the city's entry in the Tournament of Roses parade next year, it took more than just imagination to create the design.

It also took special coaching by the 83-year-old guardian of Mickey's image and approval of everyone up the Disney ladder, including Chairman Michael D. Eisner.

Instantly recognizable to the 425 million parade viewers worldwide, Mickey will star as the imaginative sorcerer's apprentice in "Fantasia," leading a parade of marching mushrooms, dancing thistles and broomsticks toting pails of sloshing water.

Mickey's appearance will mark only the second time that a Disney character will be featured in the parade on anything other than a Walt Disney entry, said Anthony Hatch, director of communications for Walt Disney Imagineering. Donald Duck made the first sanctioned trip in 1985--also on a Glendale float.

The company was particularly attentive to Glendale's float because the character of the sorcerer's apprentice is the logo of Imagineering, the Glendale-based unit where about 2,300 employees plan, design and create Disney theme parks.

To ensure the integrity of Mickey's image, veteran Disney artist and Imagineering vice president John Hench coached float designer Michelle Lofthouse. "We like to keep the character on line," said Hench, 83, who also is Disney's official corporate portrait artist.

"When somebody draws Mickey who hasn't worked with him before, there are details that they miss, such as the corners of his mouth," added Hench, who began work with Disney 53 years ago as a background artist on "Fantasia."

"I learned a lot of particulars," said Lofthouse, 28, who was coached to overemphasize the character's head, hands and feet. "His ear placement is important; his are round, rather than oval."

At Hench's suggestion, she stretched out the flow of Mickey's robe, for instance, to give him a jauntier command of the characters following his magical baton.

Bill Lofthouse, the designer's father and president of Pasadena float builder C.E. Bent & Son Inc., said he thought of using Mickey Mouse since Walt Disney is the largest employer in Glendale and the 1940 animated classic is enjoying a resurgence in popularity since it was reissued as a home video last year. His proposal was quickly endorsed by Glendale's float association, which includes several Disney officials.

An accomplished pianist, Michelle Lofthouse has a degree in music from the University of Delaware. But she said she has worked with the family business since she was old enough to hold a paintbrush. One of four artists on the Bent staff for the past seven years, she designs about eight floats a year for the Pasadena parade.

Hench, who still conducts seminars for Disney artists on the fine points of drawing Mickey Mouse and other characters, praised the float designer's grasp of details.

"You begin to see the good Mickeys versus the not-so-good Mickeys," Michelle Lofthouse said. "Mickey is very warm, very accessible. You can easily identify with him, no matter what your background. I really warmed up to him."

Much of Hench's coaching focused on the dynamics of the cartoon star. "Mickey's nature overall is extremely optimistic. He typifies the David and Goliath syndrome. Mickey is David. No obstacle is too big for him. Mickey always wins."

Members of the Glendale Rose Float Assn. are hoping the optimistic mouse will bring home another trophy for the city, which has won more than 60 awards for city-sponsored floats since 1911, said Petrice Ryan, association president.

Volunteer fund raising has so far generated $31,000 toward the $90,000 cost of the float. A casino night, restaurant night and a trip to Disneyland are planned to raise additional money. The association also will sell pens, T-shirts and posters depicting the float. City money will be used to make up the difference between donations and the actual cost of the float, city officials said.

The 1993 float will be the maximum size permitted by parade officials--55 feet long, 18 feet wide and 17.5 feet high. It will not be animated, but will feature the score from the sorcerer's apprentice segment of "Fantasia."

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