Fall Of The Mouse House

With less than two weeks to go before Public Domain Day 2024, signs are already emerging that creators are ready to rethink Steamboat Willie.

By Ernie Smith

I have snarked on many occasions about the public domain status of Mickey Mouse. I mean any creator like me is basically required to.

I pointed out, for example, that there is evidence that Steamboat Willie, which finally, officially hits the public domain in two weeks, has likely been in the public domain since its release due to the quirks of copyright law. And I think that the frustration with Disney for so aggressively taking away some of the public’s rights to the public domain will begin to show itself with the release of the early iterations of Mickey Mouse into the public domain.

Nowhere has this proven itself more than with a forthcoming video game, called MOUSE. It is a first-person shooter themed off the earliest of the Mickey Mouse cartoons, the very toons hitting the public domain in just two weeks.

At this time, there is no Mickey in this game, technically, but one can imagine, based on its design, that it has been built so far so Mickey can just be dropped into its jazzy, black-and-white settings. It is violent, appealing to a shoot-’em-all style like Doom or Quake. It is aggressive and bloody. And if it was made just a few years earlier, it would be a lawsuit waiting to happen.


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Even if they don’t name the main character Mickey, it is very obvious what they are trying to do. It is not like Cuphead, taking detailed inspiration from a vintage animation style—it is literally designed to look like Steamboat Willie-meets-Wolfenstein 3D. It does not scream parody, and while I am not a lawyer, I can’t imagine a studio, big or small, taking a risk like this without legal precedent being on their side.

But by the time it releases in 2025, unless Disney finds the right arms to twist in Congress, it most assuredly will be.

Blood And Honey

Didn’t need it, still got it.

There have already been examples of this sort of creation, using a popular children’s work in a violent format clearly intended for adults. The 2023 film Winnie-The-Pooh: Blood and Honey, a violent slasher film, was clearly intended to play into our basest desires, and while it received a critical drubbing, it was successful enough that the film’s creators already have a sequel in the works and plan to do the same thing with Bambi, which was based on a book that went into the public domain a few years ago, and Peter Pan, which has been in the public domain for decades. (And because everything needs an extended universe these days, the films will be connected. Sigh.) The film’s producers know what they’re doing, and so does anyone who searches this obviously terrible film out.

MOUSE, on the other hand, seems like it’s been set on a platter for game critics to adore. Cuphead was an immensely successful game, and the general creative approach could translate well to a first-person-shooter format.

That some of the works derived from these public-domain properties are worse than others is simply the name of the game. Just as with anything else, creative work comes in varying degrees of quality.

And it’s not like creators have problems going down the parody or inspired-by road, either. Five Nights at Freddy’s, a horror-themed video game franchise that was inspired by animatronics, had a hugely successful film debut earlier this fall, and is arguably a significantly hotter cultural property than the companies that inspired it—highlighted by Chuck E. Cheese’s decision to shelve most of its animatronics right around the time of the film’s release. (The timing was so odd that Chuck E. Cheese’s head of comms had to clarify to TMZ that the success of Five Nights had nothing to do with the decision.)

I guess what I’m saying is this: We should be excited for all the creative works that we’re about to see thanks to the public domain, even if some of them aren’t very good. The first Looney Tunes cartoon hits the public domain in just two years, and it won’t be long before characters like Donald Duck, Goofy, Porky Pig, and Bugs Bunny become fair game for new creative works. And that’s just cartoons—literary works, radio shows, and films are also about to see a renaissance. Could you imagine the podcasts we could make from popular 1930s radio serials?

People who love creativity should embrace the opportunity. Personally, I can’t wait for all the Three Stooges films to hit the public domain.

Unrestricted Links

As we get close to the holiday break, now is a great time to refresh your coding skills—which I’ve been doing through a neat tool called Scrimba. While it has a paid option, many of its tools are free.

Screenshot 2023 12 19 at 10 06 54 PM

What time is it? Time for us to change our time zone.

Something I did not know I needed: A research facility in Antarctica announcing to ICANN, at random, that it was changing its time zone, with zero notice. (↬ Matthew Garrett on Mastodon)

Bird down.


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Ernie Smith

Your time was just wasted by Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is the editor of Tedium, and an active internet snarker. Between his many internet side projects, he finds time to hang out with his wife Cat, who's funnier than he is.

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