Mickey Mousing

The Mouse Machine, by J.P. Telotte, discusses the technology that the Disney Company has used, since its inception, to differentiate its art and attract people to its product. In the following quote, Telotte looks at how sound changed cartoons forever–and our relationship to cartoons.

Supposedly coined by David O. Selznick, the term [mickey mousing] describes “the close synchronization of music to action”, such that the action is continually punctuated by a specific musical tempo or motif. Sometimes seen as an unfortunate influence of the exaggerations found in the early Mickey cartoons, the term is typically used pejoratively, to suggest overscoring and a pointedly manipulative or intrusive use of the soundtrack that violates the reality illusion. However, that effect most commonly works in conjunction with realistic sound effects–and, in fact, it largely gained that negative implication because of this conjunction and the rather difficult narrative negotiation it imposes on the audience. It is, consequently, also in some ways the essence, perhaps even the glory of the early Mickey Mouse and Silly Symphony cartoons, because of the way it suggests the very spirit that moves in them. For “mickey mousing” shows us how the world of these films adapts itself to sound, moves to the beat of the new sound environment, finds its full aural/musical potential, thanks to the energetic intervention of the mouse or some other figure or force.
–p. 29, The Mouse Machine: Disney and Technology

Looking at cartoons across the years, mickey mousing has taken hold and is one of the ways that we relate to the characters and one way the artists create their own reality. Make sure to keep your ears open the next time you get the chance to see an animated short from the 1930’s through the 1950’s.

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