The Walt Disney Company has dozens and dozens of characters that are associated with its brand, none more than the iconic Mickey Mouse. As the company mostly celebrates the accolades and happiness that come with a 100-year run, it’s come to light that Disney’s oldest mascot will enter the public domain next year.
In 2024, the oldest iteration of Mickey Mouse will no longer be copyrighted by The Walt Disney Company. 95 years after his first appearance, the star of Steamboat Willie (1928) becomes public. This first hand-drawn version of Mickey Mouse is black and white and wears a tall white cap without his signature white gloves – which evolved later on. Late-night host John Oliver has already joked about stealing the cartoon and renting him out to events.
There’s a legal loophole that could maintain Mickey Mouse as Steamboat Willie under the Disney brand, and it looks like the magical media company is going for it. Basically, they can claim a trademark as inherently associated with their brand to circumvent the expiring copyright. There’s a legal gray area, but Disney has already begun by using Steamboat Willie in attachment to the Walt Disney Animation Studios logo.
Today, in a bundle of announcements from the Annecy Festival, Disney dropped a trailer for a Mickey Mouse short that will premiere July 28 on Disney Plus as a part of the Disney100 celebration. The short is called The Wonderful World of Mickey Mouse: Steamboat Silly.
Check out the trailer here:
Say hello to Mickey and Mickey… and more Mickey?!
— Disney (@Disney) June 13, 2023
Do you see what they did there? First, the trailer is careful to be clear and mark the century long history Mickey Mouse himself has with Disney. Then they say there is only ONE Mickey Mouse, but then Steamboat Willie appears! And they are sure to make it clear that they are one in the same…they’re ALL Mickey.
Not only did they shoehorn Steamboat Willie’s image into the modern and strongly Disney100 branded celebration short, but they have him appear hundreds of times! There’s rows of marching Steamboat Willie Mickey Mouses, and a crowded mob, and a few floating through a musical void? Did you catch that one shot from the original Steamboat Willie cartoon film strip in there? Legal genius.
In the short, the black and white Mickey Mouse characters crash cars, topple light posts, and cause explosions, but the real danger is for anyone who was planning on trying to profit from Steamboat Willie’s move to the public domain.
Watch The Wonderful World of Mickey Mouse: Steamboat Silly on Disney Plus this summer and see for yourself!