TUCSON, AZ — Mickey Mouse is such a goliath of a cultural icon that it's tough to fathom where he came from, how he became so significant or why he endures despite hardly ever starring in new material.
"Mickey: The Story of a Mouse," which drops on Disney+ Friday, manages to shrink Mickey down to size and put his significance into perspective, and manages to do it in a consistently entertaining manner.
The film may be geared toward Disney mega-fans, but has value as a somewhat neutral cultural examination of the figure's evolution.
Director Jeff Malmberg tells a vivid, vital and often eye-opening story of the growth and mutations of the character over the years.
Going back to the character's creation in 1928 — purportedly by Walt Disney on a train ride — Malmberg sifts through troves of rare footage and archival interviews to craft Mickey's sprawling life story and influence.
I expected the Disney-produced documentary to stay overtly positive, but a portion of the film focuses on uncomfortable moments that crept into Mickey's past, such as appearances in cartoons with overtly racist images.
The film also tackles the character's long, winding descent into cultural ambiguity and irrelevance. Malmberg gives examples of the way the generations co-opted the character to their own purposes. It also mentions Disney's hard-line copyright enforcement of the image over the years, as well as businesses that dared to use Mickey to their purposes without permission.
This peek into Mickey's dark, forbidden sign is by far the most appealing aspect of the film. It would be interesting to get a look at the themes and footage Malmberg cut for time or purposes of pleasing his corporate backers.
"Mickey: The Story of a Mouse" has to tapdance a fine line between investigation and Disney-sanctioned entertainment, and manages the task with aplomb. It's enough of a peek behind the curtain to intrigue, if not satisfy, your curiosity about the mouse's winding path.
RATING: 3 STARS OUT OF 4.
Phil Villarreal is the senior real-time editor for KGUN 9. He is also a digital producer and host of "Phil on Film" seen weekly on Good Morning Tucson, Phil moved to KGUN after 17 years with the Arizona Daily Star. He is married and has four children. Share your story ideas and important issues with Phil by emailing email@example.com or by connecting on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.