Disney icon Mickey Mouse becomes horror villain after Steamboat Willie copyright expires

The original depiction of Mickey Mouse, enshrined in the 1928 timeless classic Steamboat Willie, has entered the public domain – and creators have already taken a dark turn.

Marking the end of its 95-year exclusivity under Disney’s ownership, creators all over the world now have access to the original black-and-white characters, raising concerns within the Disney community about the potential reinterpretations of this beloved character.

And now, Bailey Phillips Production has released a trailer for Mickey’s Mouse Trap, a slasher film featuring a sinister character donning a Mickey Mouse mask.

Weaving in the original Steamboat Willie cartoon, the film unfolds as a chilling narrative, where the joyful atmosphere of a birthday celebration – with a cheeky nod to one of the most cliche lines in any horror movie: “I’ll be right back” – turns into a nightmarish ordeal as a murderer in a Mickey Mouse mask crashes the party.

Speaking to The Hollywood Reporter, Director Jamie Bailey said, “We just wanted to have fun with it all. I mean, it’s Steamboat Willie’s Mickey Mouse murdering people. It’s ridiculous. We ran with it and had fun doing it, and I think it shows.”

However, a disclaimer makes it clear that the filmmakers are only using the Steamboat Willie version of Mickey Mouse and that their project has no connection to Disney in any way.

The Mickey Mouse Protection Act

In the US, characters created become public domain after 95 years, and since Mickey Mouse’s inception was in 1928, he is now fair game for creative use. Despite this, Disney ensures the protection of modern versions, stating, “More modern versions of Mickey will remain unaffected.”

“Mickey will continue to play a leading role as a global ambassador for the Walt Disney Company in our storytelling, theme park attractions, and merchandise,” the statement said.

Robert Thompson, a professor at Syracuse University, believes that while people can use the original Mickey, it’s the first version, not the one most people know.

The company has historically fought for copyright extensions, with the 1988 Copyright Extension, known as the Mickey Mouse Protection Act, extending its ownership by 20 years.

“It wasn’t just Disney that was pushing for term extension. It was a whole group of copyright holders whose works were set to go into the public domain soon, who benefited greatly from the 20 years of extra protection,” said Jennifer Jenkins, a professor of law and director of Duke’s Center for the Study of Public Domain, reports Time.

Disney fights for copyright extensions

Disney’s attempt to extend copyright went as far as lobbying for the 1988 Copyright Extension – known informally as the Mickey Mouse Protection Act – which extended their ownership by 20 years.

“It wasn’t just Disney that was pushing for term extension. It was a whole group of copyright holders whose works were set to go into the public domain soon, who benefited greatly from the 20 years of extra protection,” said Jennifer Jenkins, a professor of law and director of Duke’s Center for the Study of Public Domain, reports Time.

While Disney may not endorse these projects, the public domain status grants creators the liberty to explore unconventional narratives, bringing the once-wholesome Mickey Mouse into a darker spotlight.

Other notable works whose copyright expires in 2024 include Lady Chatterley’s Lover by D. H. Lawrence, Orlando by Virginia Wolf, The Mystery of the Blue Train by Agatha Christie, and House at Pooh Corner, the Winnie-the-Pooh book in which Tigger first appeared, making bouncing tiger available to the public domain for the first time.

–with the Sun.

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