An all-new Mickey returns to screens, embracing his symbolism, faults, enduring magic

Zoe Tzanis, Life & Arts Reporter

Mickey, the nearly 100-year-old mouse, marches triumphantly back on-screen March 19 in the biographical documentary “Mickey: The Story of a Mouse,” which premiered at South by Southwest. The Disney+ production outlines the enduring history of Mickey, as both a cartoon character and a long-standing American symbol. Directed by Jeff Malmberg (“Won’t You Be My Neighbor?”), this seemingly sweet film delves deep beneath the surface, showcasing the exhausting animation process, Mickey and Walt Disney’s concurrent character development, as well as Mickey’s commercialization and racist imagery.

At its core, the movie paints a reflective portrait of America’s favorite mouse. Through his rocky beginnings, entrepreneurial spirit and eventual success, Mickey symbolizes the American dream in action. Through interviews with Mickey fans young and old, Malmberg and his team present Mickey as not only an icon but a tangible consolidation of love, a character capable of bridging the gap between older and younger generations and bringing everyone together.

The film flips through several different narratives seamlessly. Tackling the development of Walt Disney as a pioneer in the industry, of Mickey as a cartoon and of Mickey as a part of the American psyche, all the while following animators through the creation of an all-new celebratory 60-second Mickey short — it’s safe to say there’s a lot going on. However, incredible editing, imagery and character bring these almost disjointed elements together in a single cohesive piece.

While the history offers intriguing insights into Disney’s beginnings, the most visually appealing elements of this film surround the physical creation of Mickey himself. Showcasing veteran animators flipping back-and-forth between pages, sketching out Mickey’s iconic form again and again, “Mickey: The Story of a Mouse” physically invites the audience into the drawing room. As magical as Mickey appears on-screen, watching animators bring Mickey to life with merely pen and paper is on another level.

However, the film begins to fall short in the third quarter. The pace slows, and the narrative turns to address Disney’s controversial past — specifically, copyright conflicts, as well as sexist and racist imagery in Mickey shorts. The film seems to dance around the issue instead of delivering any direct condemnation. Though it would be unlikely for any Disney+ production to vilify Disney itself, this lackluster approach to such a complex issue — suggesting that Disney’s missteps were a product of the time — slightly soured an otherwise marvelously sweet depiction of an American hero.

“Mickey: The Story of a Mouse” is just as magical as Mickey himself. Despite its lulls and lack of attention to some of Disney’s uncomfortable, yet critical, past, “Mickey: The Story of a Mouse” provides an incredible and whimsical watching experience alongside a gripping story of heroism, hope and love.

4 mouse ears out of 5