Animation Wednesday: Runaway Brain
Mickey Mouse is the most well-known cartoon character in the world. I don’t have a statistic for that, but I feel pretty confident in that claim. He’s the face (often the silhouette) of one of the biggest entertainment corporations on the planet, and is sold aggressively to kids around the world. However, a funny thing happened to Mickey Mouse along the way: he stopped growing. The character was developed from his roots as a prankster to a bland corporate symbol. He’s struggled to maintain relevance because Disney’s effort to make sure he’s inoffensive and relatable have left him devoid of conflict. It’s hard to make an audience care about him. That’s why Donald Duck, Goofy, and Scrooge McDuck have all seen success in television series, but Mickey has struggled to reach audiences. It’s the same problem Warner Brothers has had with Bugs Bunny for a while too, although the new series seems to be helping.
That’s not to say that there haven’t been bright spots. The recent Epic Mickey video game captured a lot of the simple aesthetics that made early Mickey cartoons engaging. And of course, there’s the topic of this post, 1995’s Runaway Brain. Through the magic of YouTube, I’ve embedded it here in its entirety, so you can watch it after the jump.
It’s kind of darker and more snarky than the average Disney short, but what really sells Runaway Brain is its depiction of Mickey Mouse. He’s a person again, with flaws and quirks. He’s lazy and forgetful. He’s broke, and he needs cash fast. He gets into a ridiculous scrape and has to get himself out of it. This is a short that understands that Mickey needs to make mistakes so that he can fix them, or else there’s nothing to watch.
It’s also a really fun bit of character design besides. Mickey and Minnie sport their classic 30’s looks, primarily so that the juxtaposition with monster Mickey later is even more extreme. Monster Mickey’s shredded ears and fangs are hilarious, and the rat tail is nice touch. Even without the context of the story, the designs are simple and communicate information well.
Obviously, I don’t want every Mickey Mouse story to be like this. Part of the reason it works so well is that it goes so hard against type, and the impact would be lost if every Mickey Mouse cartoon featured a crazy monster Mickey. But the core idea, of Mickey Mouse being an imperfect but overall good character trying to do right by everyone, is good. Giving Mickey some kind of quirk, like Donald’s temper or Scrooge’s greed, would put him in a better place to carry stories, and I don’t think it would alienate audiences the way Disney might fear. Even if it could, no risk, no reward.