You might know him as Disney’s most iconic figure, but a Canadian horror director has other ideas.
The earliest iteration of Mickey Mouse entered the public domain on Jan. 1, and Jamie Bailey and his team were quick to release a trailer that day for the upcoming slasher movie Mickey’s Mouse Trap.
Asked why he would make a movie corrupting the beloved children’s character, Bailey’s response was: “Why not?”
“It’s really such an iconic character, and we felt there was kind of a pent-up audience for this,” he said. “And we were proven right. We just cannot believe the amount of responses we’ve gotten back since we released the trailer. It’s just been wild.”
The famous mouse made his first appearance in the 1928 short film Steamboat Willie, and only that version of him is now in the public domain — not the gloved, big-eared version of Mickey that people know and love today.
Bailey said Mickey’s Mouse Trap was partially inspired by Winnie the Pooh: Blood and Honey, a slasher movie released in early 2023 after the copyright expired for the original version of the beloved anthropomorphic bear.
Bailey, who is originally from Glace Bay, N.S., and now resides in Toronto, said putting a gritty twist on characters typically linked to childhood nostalgia is bound to get people talking.
“Just the novelty of it, it piques everyone’s interest right off the bat,” he said. “Seeing your beloved childhood character going around murdering people, it’s just kind of fun.”
Mickey’s Mouse Trap, directed from a screenplay written by Simon Phillips, tells the story of a group of friends celebrating the lead character’s birthday at a Chuck E. Cheese-esque venue one night. Terror ensues when someone gets possessed by Mickey Mouse and begins killing attendees.
“That’s pretty much all you need to know,” Bailey said.
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The movie was shot in September 2023 at Funhaven, an amusement centre in Ottawa. Bailey said they wanted to get the filming done early so they could release the trailer as soon as the copyright expired.
“We thought it would get some attention, and it sure did,” he said.
There is no set release date yet as Bailey is still in talks with distributors, but he hopes to have it released by March.
Bailey said he’s not overly concerned with Disney taking legal action, though he acknowledged that as a huge conglomerate, it could squash his production company “like a bug.”
“I’m totally willing to direct the next three Marvel movies for free, Disney, if you don’t sue us,” Bailey offered. “It’s a fair deal.”
Disney did not respond to a media request asking about its reaction to the upcoming horror film, but said in a statement to The Associated Press that it will, “of course, continue to protect our rights in the more modern versions of Mickey Mouse and other works that remain subject to copyright.”
Using characters a ‘no-brainer’
With a number of children’s characters having entered the public domain this year, like Pooh’s friend Tigger and the never-aging Peter Pan, and others set to have their copyright expire in the next decade — such as Disney darlings Donald Duck and Pluto — Bailey said the time is ripe to reimagine these characters in different ways.
The horror genre is a particularly good way to explore these characters’ darker sides, he said.
“It’s the only genre of film that you can make without a big star. The genre itself is the star,” he said.
“So tying it up with a childhood character like Mickey Mouse … it’s kind of a no-brainer. I think the market might get saturated with it, and it will really come down to what ones are good or not.”
Whether or not the film is viewed as good has yet to be decided. Online reactions to the trailer’s release have been mixed – but Bailey said any publicity is good publicity, “especially for a movie like this.”
“The more people that talk about it, the better,” he said. “I assume that a lot of people will be hate-watching it, that’s fine too — just as long as they watch it.”
While Bailey’s Mickey Mouse horror film may be the first, it won’t be the last. Another horror flick featuring the Steamboat Willie character, which has yet to be titled, was announced Tuesday from director Steven LaMorte.
And a Steamboat Willie-inspired survival horror game named Infestation: Origins is set to release later this year.
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