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Facts About Paul Rudish's Mickey Mouse That Prove He's Unlike Any Other Disney Character We've Seen

Who's the leader of the club that's made for you and me? It's still Mickey Mouse, as it has been since those lyrics hailed the premiere of "The Mickey Mouse Club" to American children in 1955. The beloved cartoon star put Walt Disney on the map in 1928, and Disney — first the person, and later the company — ensured Mickey always maintained a prominent position within popular culture by adapting the character with the passage of time. For example, the '70s had disco Mickey while the new millennium celebrated video game hero Mickey.

A new expression of Disney's signature character made his debut in 2013. From the mind of Paul Rudish — known for his art direction on Cartoon Network shows such as "Dexter's Laboratory," "The Powerpuff Girls," and "Samurai Jack" — the simply titled "Mickey Mouse" premiered as a series of short films produced by Disney Television Animation that aired during commercial breaks on Disney Channel.

Silly but heartfelt, visually gorgeous yet effortlessly cartoony, Rudish's "Mickey Mouse" became a sub-franchise in and of itself. The series spanned five seasons, a spinoff on streaming, and copious extended universe projects. That's not to mention its impressive accolades, among them numerous Emmys, including two for outstanding short form animated program, and Annie Awards including best animated television production for children. Simply put, this version of Mickey came to define the iconic mouse for a generation going on 10 years now, continuing a nearly century-old legacy.

Inspired by Mickey's vintage roots

In developing the aesthetic of the "Mickey Mouse" series for its 2013 launch, supervising director and executive producer Paul Rudish and his team turned to Mickey's 1930s beginnings for inspiration. "The original black-and-white 1928 Mickey films, the early color ones from the '30s, that was our launching point for these," Rudish shared in a behind-the-scenes YouTube video, "to go back to that flavor of Mickey and that personality from the old days and jump off from where we left off in, oh, say, 1934."

While modern audiences of 2013 had become accustomed to a calm, warm, friendly, and almost patriarchal Mickey as Disney's corporate symbol, that's not how Mickey Mouse got his start. Viewing some of Mickey's early filmography yields the surprising discovery of a rule-breaking rascal, still loyal to his friends and eternally optimistic, but decidedly more off-the-wall.

Animators looked to that vintage Mickey as their starting point, while tweaking elements here and there to create something new. In "Walt Disney's Mickey Mouse: The Ultimate History," authors J.B. Kaufman and David Gerstein write of the series, "The 'updated' designs were familiar in many respects: while exaggerated, they were exaggerated specifically from the early 1930s character models — even a pantless Goofy and a peg-legged Pete, the first time such models were adapted for any kind of new animation." With the characters accompanied by gorgeous background artwork, the aesthetic of the series is eye candy in every frame.

No more preschool Mickey

As a character, Mickey inherently achieves universal recognition regardless of demographic. However, around the time Rudish and his team developed their 2013 series, the most prominent Mickey project was the ongoing "Mickey Mouse Clubhouse" geared toward a preschool audience that had been airing on Disney Junior since 2006.

Rudish shared with Collider that Disney CEO Bob Iger "had charged all of the departments at Disney to develop something new with Mickey Mouse," and that Disney Television Animation's 2013 series came from this challenge. In speaking to the Disney Examiner, Rudish elaborated on his vision for the show. "I wanted our cartoons to be for the older audiences," he said. "The [Walt Disney] Company did studies years ago basically proving that Mickey was for babies, and that made a lot of sense given that there weren't any programs featuring him ... that were for older kids."

"Mickey Mouse Clubhouse" still continued production while Rudish's crew produced "Mickey Mouse," and Mickey's preschool programming later evolved into other series like "Mickey Mouse Mixed-Up Adventures" and "Mickey Mouse Funhouse." The difference, though, is that the version of Mickey aimed at younger tykes was no longer the only version of Mickey in circulation. Rudish's take on the character was there for kids to grow into, so to speak, as they outgrew Disney Junior, ensuring Mickey remained on their radar and continuing to bring them joy as they aged.

Mickey's new voice

Being the voice of Mickey Mouse is a time-honored tradition that goes back to the character's original voice actor, Walt Disney himself. Historically, the role of Mickey was passed on to one actor at a time, with decades separating new voices. When Wayne Allwine, who had performed Mickey since 1977, died in 2009, Bret Iwan replaced him as Mickey's new official voice. To this day, Iwan radiates Mickey's friendly, welcoming persona originally perfected by Allwine.

Breaking from Disney custom, though, Rudish's Mickey series chose to take a different direction and hired Chris Diamantopoulos as Mickey. (Iwan remains Mickey's voice artist in literally everything Mickey appears in except Rudish's series.) The decision likely traces back to the scrappy, somewhat mischievous Mickey that Rudish wanted to revive. After all, as Diamantopoulos shared with the Inside Of You podcast, his audition was to dub "The Brave Little Tailor," a 1938 Mickey cartoon, word for word.

In a Reddit AMA, Diamantopoulos gave a glimpse into his approach for voicing the iconic mouse. "For me, Walt remains the ideal Mickey," Diamantopoulos wrote, "and while other Mickeys have been wonderful, I'm a purist, so Walt was my model for how I characterized my Mickey." The actor mentioned that some of his coaching from directors while in the recording booth performing Mickey included instructions for him to be "more Walt," project "less testosterone," and to "imagine getting smashed in the face with a frying pan."

Globetrotting Mickey

Mickey is a unique character in that animators can place him into scenarios that are wildly different from one another, and the audience still accepts it. There's no minutia of a cinematic timeline or painstaking continuity to keep up with. As such, while the "Mickey Mouse" series maintains consistency in style across different episodes, its flexible narrative allows the crew to try out something new — or rather, something old, as the case may be.

The first several seasons of the show feature episodes with Mickey in different countries with dialogue spoken in the native tongue of the nation in which it takes place with no English subtitles. Viewers see Mickey visit the Beijing Zoo to photograph a panda, glide along a gondola in Italy, ride a bullet train through Tokyo, and so much more, beginning with the very first short in the series, "Croissant de Triomphe," in which Mickey delivers croissants to Minnie's bakery in Paris.

While this pattern may seem to originate with this series, it's actually a tradition from the 1930s revived. Speaking to The Mad Chatters Podcast, composer Christopher Willis noted that Rudish found inspiration in a vintage Mickey cartoon that takes place in Mexico and in which the character spoke Spanish. (He might have been referring to "The Cactus Kid," a 1930 short.) "One just doesn't realize that some of these things are there," Willis said, pointing out that while the formula might seem completely new, it's "been lurking in the cartoons since the start."

Cameos from familiar Disney friends

Rudish pays homage to Disney's heritage throughout the entire run of the series. "As Disney fans, we can't help but want to tuck in a little wink and a little nod, little Disney references as we're exploring stories," Rudish said in a behind-the-scenes YouTube video.

While the show focuses on Mickey and his usual ensemble of pals — Minnie, Goofy, Donald Duck, Daisy Duck, and Pluto — deep cuts from Mickey's history occasionally make appearances, too. Operatic chicken Clara Cluck performs at a concert Mickey and Minnie attend, the rarely seen José Carioca commentates a soccer game, and Professor Ludwig Von Drake occasionally introduces a newfound scientific gadget to the gang.

Beyond characters typically associated with Mickey, the series also includes frequent cameos from stars of other Disney franchises, from princesses like Belle and Cinderella to more low-key characters like Lady and Tramp or the seven dwarfs. Furthermore, viewers might pick up on recurring references to Disney theme parks, such as the façade of Disneyland's "It's A Small World" ride appearing among the Italian cityscape or Mickey's voyage into the jungle visually mimicking the classic "Jungle Cruise" attraction.

Rudish told Collider he's intentional about letting "those jokes find themselves organically as we go." If a moment lends itself to including a favorite character, the crew finds the best one to fit the scene, rather than retroactively creating a moment around a desire to include a specific character.

Celebrating Mickey's birthday

Disney officially recognizes Mickey Mouse's birthday as November 18, the day that his debut cartoon "Steamboat Willie" premiered in 1928. Rudish's series commemorated Mickey's screen anniversary with several birthday-centric shorts that each dropped on November 18 during their respective seasons broadcast from 2016 to 2018.

Season 3's "!Feliz Cumpleaños!" sees Danny Trejo voicing a piñata who crashes Mickey's birthday party in Mexico. In Season 4, "The Birthday Song" involves Minnie scrambling to gather up the displaced sentient music notes from her sheet music for the new song she wrote for Mickey. The last of the bunch, "Surprise!" in Season 5 shows Mickey pleading with his friends for a quiet birthday after years of problematic surprise parties.

It's interesting to note that while Disney also officially recognizes November 18 as Minnie's birthday — as she shares her debut in "Steamboat Willie" right alongside Mickey — it only ever seems to be Mickey's birthday in these shorts.

The music understands the assignment

Christopher Willis composes the score for the series and is purposeful about infusing the DNA of classic cartoons into each episode. On The Mad Chatters Podcast, Willis talked about the pointers Rudish gave him in establishing the sound for the show. Rudish told Willis, "The '30s were a good place to start," as was the "mid-century modern aesthetic" and "retro futurism" of the '50s and '60s.

The inclusion of these specific eras' musical signatures, Willis noted, was an effort to lean into the two decades of history when Mickey's popularity exploded the most — the '30s, when Walt Disney introduced him to the world and he became an international sensation, and the '50s, when "The Mickey Mouse Club" reigned supreme on television and Disneyland opened its gates.

As Mickey travels around the globe to visit many different countries throughout Rudish's short films, Willis had the opportunity to learn about all sorts of music styles and integrate them into the series. "It's a great education for me," he said, citing Samba, Bollywood, and K-Pop as among the new genres he learned about amid what he called "an extraordinary sense of extended education about music of the world."

Donald gets jolly and Mickey gets spooky in holiday specials

Extending their narrative space beyond the confines of a three-minute short, the crew behind "Mickey Mouse" created two half-hour specials that aired on Disney Channel around the time of the show's fourth season. Brimming with the same heart and humor as the shorts — and retaining Rudish as supervising director — these specials proved this iteration of Mickey's world had potential to be adapted into other formats and perhaps even other mediums.

"Duck the Halls: A Mickey Mouse Christmas Special" debuted in December 2016. Directed by Alonso Ramirez Ramos and David Wasson, the program reveals that Donald always flies south for the winter. Determined to stick it out this year, Donald stays with Mickey and the gang for the holidays to experience their traditions for the first time. In a flashback, we even see Mickey's childhood ... including his parents.

"The Scariest Story Ever: A Mickey Mouse Halloween Spooktacular!" premiered in October 2017, again directed by Ramos and Wasson, this time joined by Eddie Trigueros. On Halloween night, Mickey, Donald, and Goofy babysit Donald's nephews — Huey, Dewey, and Louie — and Mickey's nephews — Morty and Ferdie Fieldmouse, making an extremely rare appearance. The kiddos demand that the adults tell them a scary story, and the trio take turns trying to one-up each other's spookiness. Like "Duck the Halls," here Huey, Dewey, and Louie are all voiced by Russi Taylor, who also provided their voices in the 1980s. This marks a departure from the concurrently airing "DuckTales" reboot.

Step into a cartoon on Mickey & Minnie's Runaway Railway

As Disney continued to renew Rudish's "Mickey Mouse" season after season, it became clear that the series had made an impression with the public. This wasn't just another random Mickey project that would come and go with the wind. This show was so beloved and embodied Mickey so well that Walt Disney Imagineering gave it the ultimate stamp of approval — adapting it into a permanent theme park ride.

Developed in partnership with the creative team behind the series, Mickey & Minnie's Runaway Railway opened in 2020 at Disney's Hollywood Studios in Florida and will open in 2023 at Disneyland in California. The attraction brings the world of Rudish's series to life by inviting guests to step into a cartoon. When a serene train ride conducted by Goofy goes haywire, Mickey and Minnie attempt to keep things on track by guiding the runaway locomotive through outlandish environments like waterfalls and tornadoes. Vibrant animation surrounds riders throughout the space at all times, combining with innovative technology to transport riders into Mickey's world.

Like the series, the ride has a reverence for Disney history. Among other tributes, the ride vehicle's locomotive whistle came from the same exact instrument that recorded the boat whistle in "Steamboat Willie," Mickey's first screen appearance in 1928.

Graduating to Disney+

With the holiday specials and theme park attraction as proofs of concept that the version of Mickey launched in 2013 had the staying power to remain part of the Disney zeitgeist longer than anyone anticipated, the studio found new ways to extend this era of Mickey's filmography. After five seasons, "Mickey Mouse" ended its run of three-minute shorts in 2019. (You can watch that entire series on Mickey's YouTube channel.) In 2020, "The Wonderful World of Mickey Mouse" debuted on Disney+ as essentially a continuation of the same series, but with a longer runtime of seven minutes per cartoon.

The spinoff has a central focus on the friendship of Mickey, Minnie, Goofy, Donald, and Daisy, with numerous episodes featuring all five pals in outings as simple as grocery shopping and outlandish as building their own life-size board game. The lengthier runtime means more cartoony antics, references, and breathing room to have more dialogue to accompany the zany visuals.

As a means of keeping things fresh again, what could be considered the second season of "The Wonderful World of Mickey Mouse" instead debuted as four separate half-hour specials celebrating each of the four seasons of the year, as first reported by CBR. At the time of this writing, winter, spring, and summer have already rolled out, each proving themselves to be a future perennial favorite.

A last hurrah for iconic voice actors

As the series progressed, several members of its cast unfortunately passed away, with the show inadvertently providing several actors with their final performances as characters they performed for decades.

Alan Young performed the voice of Scrooge McDuck since 1983 and died in 2016. Though he only appeared in two episodes of "Mickey Mouse," the series marked his last time voicing the beloved Uncle Scrooge.

Pat Carroll famously voiced Ursula in 1989's "The Little Mermaid" and its spinoff projects. In a wild cameo, Ursula appears in a 2020 episode of "The Wonderful World of Mickey Mouse" to take over Mickey's favorite roller-skating rink. Save for one final appearance in a video game, this was Carroll's final onscreen role as Ursula before her death in 2022.

Russi Taylor, who voiced Minnie Mouse since 1986, passed away in 2019. In this series, Taylor introduced a spirited, sometimes frantic side to Minnie's vocal performance that perfectly balanced her signature sweetness. With the extent of Minnie's presence in Disney media being so vast, the Rudish series wasn't technically the very last thing Taylor recorded, but in a touching coincidence, it provided a moment to celebrate her legacy. The final episode of "Mickey Mouse," entitled "Carried Away," aired just days after Taylor's death and prominently features Minnie singing a love song to Mickey, a proud display of Taylor's talent. Kaitlyn Robrock became Minnie's new voice for the series beginning with 2020's "The Wonderful World of Mickey Mouse."