Monday, October 27, 2008

A Biological Homage to Mickey Mouse

Snippets from a short article written by Stephen Jay Gould (in his larger collection of articles called The Panda's Thumb), centered on Mickey Mouse's evolution during 50 years.

"The original Mickey was a rambunctious, even slightly sadistic fellow. ...As Mickey's personality softened, his appearance changed. Many Disney fans are aware of this transformation through time, but few (I suspect) have recognized the coordinating theme behind all the alterations. ...In short, the blander and inoffensive Mickey became progressively more juvenile in appearance." (95-97)

Copyright Walt Disney Productions

"To give him the shorter and pudgier legs of youth, [Disney artists] lowered his pants line and covered his spindly legs with a baggy outfit. (His arms and legs also thickened substantially–and acquired joints for a floppier appearance.) His head grew relatively larger and its features more youthful. The length of Mickey's snout has not altered, but decreasing protrusion is more subtly suggested by a pronounced thickening. Mickey's eye has grown in two modes: first, by a major, discontinuous evolutionary shift as the entire eye of the ancestral Mickey became the pupil of his descendants, and second, by gradual increase thereafter. ...Mickey's ears moved back, increasing the distance between nose and ears, and giving him a rounded, rather than sloping, forehead." (98-99)

These features match almost perfectly with Lorenz' features of youth: "a relatively large head, predominance of the brain capsule, large and low-lying eyes, bulging cheek region, short and thick extremities, a springy elasticity, and clumsy movements."

"[We must] ask why Disney chose to change his most famous character so gradually and persistently in the same direction? ...The abstract features of human childhood elicit powerful emotional responses in us, even when they occur in other animals. I submit that Mickey Mouse's evolutionary road down the course of his own growth in reverse reflects the unconscious discovery of this biological principal by Disney and his artists. ...To this extent, the magic kingdom trades on biological illusion–our ability to abstract and our propensity to transfer inappropriately to other animals the fitting responses we make to changing form in the growth of our own bodies." (100-104)

Basically, Mickey changed in order to keep with one of Walt Disney's many rules of thumb: "Keep it cute!"

Copyright Walt Disney Productions

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