Retro Recaps: Mickey’s 60th Birthday
Retro Recaps is where we will look back at old television episodes from the past, and analyze their story, content, and much more.
I think 1988 was the first year that I officially began to drift into my full-on admiration for many things Disney. Who Framed Roger Rabbit excited me that summer, Previews for Oliver & Company were prevalent that fall, and even a 2 week free-trial of The Disney Channel would eventually have my parents make it a regular part of our Cable TV lineup. Of course, there was one television special that fall, that still sticks in my brain 25 years later.
In the fall of 1988, Mickey Mouse was in the throes of celebrating his 60th Birthday. The Walt Disney Company went all out in advertising the event, even giving Mickey a snazzy logo with him in an 80’s style tux, and little bits of information about Mickey on The Disney Channel.
At the time of the event, the company also had a distribution deal with NBC to broadcast shows of the studio’s Wonderful World of Disney showcase, and a television special was to be broadcast on television, in early November of 1988.
During the early 80’s, the company would release television specials, largely utilizing older animation clips. like the DTV Valentine special. However, a few attempted to be character-focused, like Down and Out with Donald Duck, and the early 1988 Minnie Mouse-based episode, titled Totally Minnie.
Taking a cue from those last two specials, along with the reactions to that summer’s box-office hit, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, the company quickly put into production the special celebrating Mickey’s 60th Birthday, but with a storyline that sent the mouse on a journey across the television landscape, and acted as a Mickey-centric showpiece.
The episode starts out with Michael Eisner (in the days before his “madness”), delivering a few words about Mickey, and how the world perceives him.
We then cut to a television control room, where we see the behind-the-scenes staff getting ready for a pre-Birthday recording event at Disneyland. After some re-used animated shorts footage (meant to look like early show rehearsal footage), we then cut to Mickey in his dressing room.
The Mouse is rehearsing a small dance number, but after a few moves, feels that his audience for the evening will be bored with his act. Rummaging in his props chest, he comes across a familiar item: the sorcerer’s hat from Fantasia!
Mickey puts it on and brings a nearby broom to life, when suddenly, a voice emanates from his mirror: “So! Found it, did you?”
We soon see the voice is connected to a portly-faced character, with white hair, blue eyes, and the voice of Peter Cullen (aka Optimus Prime, and Eeyore).
Who is this character? Well, it isn’t Yen Sid (aka the Sorcerer from Fantasia), but the fact that he appeared after the use of the sorcerer’s hat, leads one to assume that it belongs to him…but who is he!?
Well, this question will have to wait, as the sorcerer in the mirror tells Mickey that he should use his (aka Mickey’s) own magic, and not someone else’s.
Just then, a stagehand named Charlie knocks at the door, telling Mickey he has one minute until showtime. It’s just then, that a familiar cartoon rabbit comes into view. This scene is a funny example of someone talking to themselves, as the stagehand is played by Charles Fleischer…who also is the voice of Roger!
Charlie tells Roger that he’s going nuts because he has to get Mickey on stage, and get the cake set up as well. Roger agrees to help the stagehand, and finds the cake, but notes that for a Birthday Cake, it doesn’t have any candles.
It just so happens that there’s a box with some ‘candle-looking’ objects nearby. Naturally, Roger takes one, puts it on the cake, and lights it.
It’s then that Mickey is cued to appear on stage, as Roger pushes the cake out. However, after thinking he’s done good, Roger takes another look at the box, and finds that he’s just put a stick of dynamite on Mickey’s cake!
Roger quickly attempts to rush out to the stage to extinguish the explosive, but as per his clumsy personality, he ends up causing plenty of mayhem on stage, and the cake ends up exploding onto the crowd and Mickey.
Up in the control booth, the show director is about to quit, when Mickey suddenly rushes off stage, and returns with the Sorcerer’s hat! Using it’s magic, he repairs the damage to the stage, and sucks the cake off the crowd, rebuilding it onstage!
Needless to say, the crowd is enamored with what Mickey is doing, and chant for more! After a few seconds of trepidation, Mickey decides to give in to their cries. Growing the cake into a large pinnacle, he makes stars dance among the crowd, rains confetti down on them, before causing lightning to flash overhead. It is in that moment that one bolt strikes Mickey, and he vanishes!
We then see Mickey appear in a void, as a voice growls: “Just couldn’t resist, could you?”
It’s soon apparent that Mickey was pulled away by the Sorcerer, who seems none-too-pleased that Mickey used “his” hat.
Though Mickey just wishes that they both “forget the whole thing,” the Sorcerer is not willing to just let bygones be bygones. After reclaiming “his” hat and looking over a spellbook, he then decides to make people ‘forget’ that Mickey is who he is.
As Mickey attempts to escape, the Sorcerer’s voice echoes through the void:
Magic powers are special, you must find your own,
You stole someone else’s, and now must atone.
When people look upon you, they won’t know who you are.
You must seek out your own Magic. You’ll find it isn’t far.
Mickey then finds himself back on the stage after the event. Running into Charlie the stagehand, Mickey is surprised when Charlie doesn’t recognize him, and demands this “stranger” leave immediately.
We then see Mickey leave through a side-door, and heading off for who-knows-where, claiming he’s ‘got a bad feeling about all this’ (he must have been watching Star Wars before the event).
From this point on, we are then inundated with several newscasts by Dudley Goode (John Ritter), and Mia Loud (Jill Eikenberry). This news program appears to have devoted all its time to ‘The Search for Mickey Mouse,’ including interviews, montages, and even plenty of Mickey-related stock footage, as the clock ticks down until Mickey’s big party. At one point, even Ed McMahon appears, offering $5 million for the safe return of Mickey Mouse (I kid you not, that really happened on the show!).
Meanwhile, Mickey begins a quest to seek out “his own magic.” Where does one start? Why, in the realm of television sitcoms, of course!
He is first discovered sleeping on a park bench by Andy Keaton (Brian Bonsall), the young son of Family Ties’ Keaton Family. Though he at first doesn’t recognize Mickey, Andy is more than willing to pass the ‘un-Mickey’ off as the real deal, planning to make a lot of money (hey, it was the 80’s, what else are young kids supposed to want?).
Outfitting Mickey in a pair of over-sized red shorts and yellow shoes, young Andy attempts to convince his sisters Mallory (Justine Bateman) and Jennifer (Tina Yothers) that he has found Mickey Mouse. Mickey performs for the girls, but not even his voice and 4-fingered hands, are enough to convince them.
In the wake of Mickey’s disappearance, some people start to suspect that the mouse may have met with ‘fowl play.’ That isn’t (really) a pun, as some assume that a certain duck may be behind this. After word comes that Donald displayed some jealous tendencies about not being involved in Mickey’s broadcast, the media begins to hound the duck. Apparently, the old line ‘innocent until proven guilty’ is just a figure of speech.
Eventually, even though he hasn’t confessed to doing anything wrong, Donald is arrested and put on trial!
Meanwhile, Mickey continues his trek through sitcom-land, ending up in a familiar bar in Boston…aka Cheers. Pretty soon, Mickey is heckled upon by Norm Peterson (George Wendt) and Cliff Claven (John Ratzenberger), who don’t buy his story about “a sorcerer putting a magic spell on me.”
It also happens to be Rebecca Howe’s (Kirstie Alley) birthday, and upon finding out that Mickey has no money to pay for his drink (a root beer float), Sam Malone (Ted Danson) makes a deal with Mickey, to sing “Happy Birthday” to pay off his tab.
Mickey sings his cheerful birthday ditty for Rebecca, who breaks down in tears, feeling old.
Claiming she needs “a magic wand” to feel younger, Mickey convinces her that she doesn’t need magic, and that it’s all a matter of being as old as you feel, and your outlook on life. These words perk her up, and Rebecca then offers to treat Mickey to dinner and a movie for making her feel better.
“I don’t get it,” wonders Sam. “What’s that guy have that I don’t have?”
“Well at the moment, Rebecca,” chimes in Frasier Crane, as Mickey and Rebecca leave the bar, as she questions her date’s ‘funny-looking hat.’
We are then returned to the Goode and Loud newscast. With less than a day until Mickey’s Birthday celebration in Disneyland, and with no leads having panned out (and Donald still pleading his innocence), there is the thought that Mickey may be gone for good.
…so, if Mickey’s gone for good, and Donald’s put in jail, does that mean the figurehead of The Walt Disney Company, will become…Minnie? Goofy, maybe?
Meanwhile, Mickey has completed his sitcom journey, and returns ‘home’ to Disneyland.
As he walks down the street, an early-morning street-sweeping crew is working on Main Street USA (with some of the brightest cleaning uniforms you’ll ever see). One of them (played by Cheech Marin) wonders what the point is in still throwing a party if the ‘guest-of-honor’ won’t show up. A cleaning woman (played by Phylicia Rashad) tells him that “the Mick’s” gonna show up, but the sweeper just dejected claims that won’t happen.
The cleaning woman then starts singing a song, and pretty soon, the entire street-sweeping crew (and Mickey!) joins in.
The theme of the song mentions “magic,” and as Mickey continues to sing (and the sun rises over Disneyland USA), an infectious energy seems to hold in the air, causing Mickey to think about the lyrics to the song.
“Magic?” he ponders, aloud, as the sweepers rush off (to who-knows-where). “It is magic!”
However, these words suddenyl cause the familiar, grouchy-looking Sorcerer to appear. Afraid of what the Sorcerer will do to him now, Mickey claims that he’s talking about his ‘own magic,’ that we’ve seen him work on several people he has met on his journey.
“You’ve found the secret,” replies the Sorcerer, his face taking on a smile. “The real magic is inside of you, Mickey, and it’s all you’ll ever need!”
Now that he’s learned his lesson, the Sorcerer breaks the spell, and changes Mickey’s clothing into his Birthday tuxedo, before vanishing into thin air (and cartoon obscurity).
Seconds later, Roger Rabbit appears, and quickly alerts the media that Mickey has been found.
Following this event, the charges against Donald are dropped, and he’s released (without any form of apology for what happened, I’m sure).
This is then followed by Birthday footage at Disneyland, along with numerous celebrities wishing Mickey a Happy Birthday.
The segment then ends with Mickey reuniting with Minnie on the balcony of Disneyland’s Sleeping Beauty Castle, as Mickey proclaims it to be “the best birthday ever.”
When looking back at this special, one can see that age and time have revealed that it wasn’t quite as “magical” as my youthful mind made it out to be. Then again, I was most likely pulled in by the promise of more antics by Roger Rabbit.
Probably the biggest problem, is that it’s largely a glorified clip show throughout. It’s kind of structured like Beetlejuice, where the character whose name in the title, is relegated to a very small amount of time on-screen.
Mickey’s story about “finding his own magic,” could possibly have been made into an interesting cross-country road trip. Instead, these journeys are just relegated to his appearances in the sitcom worlds of Family Ties and Cheers.
One of the most surprising things regarding the show, was that it was mentioned in a blog run by a former writer of Cheers, Ken Levine. Originally, non-Cheers writers at Disney had written Mickey’s encounter with the gang, but none of it worked properly. Word was, Michael Eisner contacted Cheers producer James Burrows to help, and with the help of 6 writers (including Ken!), the scene became what it was in the final show production.
You can read more about Ken’s experience here. In fact, the Cheers gang would again be associated in a Disney special a few years later, when they were part of the opening segment on a TV special celebrating Disneyland’s 35th Anniversary. Maybe somewhere down the line, I’ll find a way to cover that for Retro Recaps.
However, if the Cheers segment held up well, the segment in regards to Family Ties was rather lackluster. Well, to me it seemed that way. If you can’t get Michael J Fox to appear as Alex Keaton, then it’s pretty much a bust. In fact, the writers of that segment found a pretty eye-rolling way to shoehorn Alex into the show: by having Andy flashback to a conversation he and Alex had in a previous episode.
One segment that was kind of creative yet a little freaky, was when one kid’s entire Mickey Mouse collection just up and abandons him to look for Mickey. It’s all done in stop-motion, but the ‘chittering’ of the different items (yes, some of them talk) seemed a little creepy.
Oh, and before we go, I thought I’d conclude with that earlier question: just who was the Sorcerer in this special?
I actually posed this question to Dave Smith, the head of the Walt Disney Archives a few months ago. Needless to say, just as people wondered what Kramer’s first name was, I had been wondering this character’s name ever since I was 8.
Dave answered my question, simply stating the Sorcerer didn’t have a name. So, I guess I’ll have to accept this guy as some “No-Name Sorcerer.”