Mickey Mouse’s first cartoon appearance in “Steamboat Willie” entered the public domain on January 1st, 2024, opening the door for independent creators to legally make their own Mickey Mouse stories without permission from Disney. Just hours after midnight, several horror films and video games featuring a murderous Mickey were announced.
Slasher Films Depict Mickey Mouse as a Crazed Killer
Within the first day of Mickey Mouse entering the public domain, two independent production companies unveiled plans for slasher films showing Mickey as a deranged killer.
Rhode Island-based Jagged Edge Productions released a teaser trailer for their film “Mickey’s Mouse Trap,” which shows a menacing Mickey stalking a frightened Minnie Mouse through an abandoned amusement park. In blood-spattered overalls and wielding an axe, this version of Mickey looks ready to go on a murderous rampage.
Meanwhile Los Angeles-based Dual Core Studios announced their film “Steamboat Willie: The Ghost of Mickey,” which also portrays Mickey as a deeply disturbed psychopath who embarks on a killing spree while haunted by visions of his early cartoon days.
Both films are expected to begin production immediately and release near the end of 2024. Their announcements sparked debate about the ethics of transforming a beloved family-friendly character into the subject of extreme violence and terror.
Mickey Mouse Stars in New Horror Video Game
In addition to the planned slasher films, Mickey Mouse is also being depicted as a serial killer in a new survival horror video game titled “Mickey’s Wild Ride.”
San Francisco gaming startup Gore Games released a trailer showing Mickey lurking in the shadows of an abandoned amusement park, preparing to attack the player. The graphics showcase an incredibly life-like 3D model of Mickey from his Steamboat Willie days, complete with his iconic red shorts.
Mickey Mouse Horror Media Announced as Character Enters Public Domain
|Mickey’s Mouse Trap
|Slasher film depicting Mickey stalking Minnie with an axe
|Steamboat Willie: The Ghost of Mickey
|Slasher film showing Mickey haunted by early cartoon visions while on killing spree
|Mickey’s Wild Ride
|Survival horror video game featuring Mickey stalking player in amusement park
The studio plans to release “Mickey’s Wild Ride” on PC and console platforms by October 2024. It seems eager gamers will get to experience facing off against a murderous Mickey Mouse firsthand.
Disney’s Copyright on Early Mickey Cartoons Expires
Under current US copyright law, creative works enter the public domain 95 years after their original publication date. Mickey Mouse’s screen debut in the 1928 animated short “Steamboat Willie” met that criteria on January 1st, 2024.
While Disney still owns later versions of Mickey like those seen in modern cartoons and movies, his portrayal in “Steamboat Willie” and several other early Mickey Mouse cartoons from the 1920s and 30s have now entered the public domain in the US.
That means anyone can freely incorporate those specific cartoon depictions of Mickey into their own creative works without needing permission from Disney. With the violent Mickey Mouse horror media announced right away in 2024, it appears some creators couldn’t wait to take advantage.
Disney Faces Loss of Mickey Mouse Copyright Overseas Soon Too
The expiration of Mickey Mouse’s early copyright protections in the US could be just the beginning for Disney. Many countries around the world have copyright terms even shorter than 95 years. Under current laws, Mickey Mouse is set to enter the public domain in 2024 internationally:
- United Kingdom – 5 years (2024)
- European Union – 7 years (2026)
- Canada – 26 years (2030)
- Australia – 27 years (2031)
Disney will likely lobby politicians in those regions to extend their copyright terms before losing exclusive control of their famous mascot and key company icon abroad as well. But for now that leaves a window where international creators can also make their own versions of Mickey without Disney’s involvement.
Legal Controversy Around Mickey in Public Domain
There is already controversy around the use of Mickey Mouse in the newly announced horror films and games. Shortly after releasing its trailer, Gore Games received a copyright claim on YouTube asserting the 3D model used for Mickey was owned by Disney. The developer insists its Mickey depiction is based specifically on designs from 1928’s “Steamboat Willie” which should now be in the public domain.
Copyright expert Jonathan Bailey said “Particularly with a character as iconic as Mickey Mouse, I’d expect many spurious takedowns in the name of protectionism…But creations solely derived from his public domain cartoon appearances should be safely usable by others for any purpose now.”
This early dispute shows there could be legal headaches ahead as people start making their own Mickey Mouse creations. Disney will likely try asserting that newly introduced story elements or characteristics constitute Mickey derivations it still owns rights to. But the consensus among IP lawyers seems to be that as long as creators closely stick to how Mickey looks and acts in those original 1920s cartoons now in the public domain, Disney has no grounds for complaints or takedown demands.
What Will Happen with Mickey Mouse Going Forward?
The unexpected reveal of ultra-violent Mickey Mouse horror media sparked discussion around what broader impact the famous cartoon character entering the public domain might have on popular culture.
Many creators seem eager to re-imagine Mickey in shocking new ways as seen with the planned slasher films. And with video games and NFTs also on the horizon, we will likely see the classic Disney icon taken in some very unconventional directions. Mickey may become fodder for transgressive art as a symbol of corporate control finally freed to more chaotic creative impulses from the internet generation.
But Mickey entering the public domain doesn’t erase people’s cultural memories of him either. He still remains an iconic American cartoon character strongly associated with family entertainment and Disney theme parks in the mainstream public imagination despite what cult followings some disturbing reboots may generate.
There’s also debate around whether these types of extreme re-imaginings of Mickey ultimately constitute meaningful creativity or just superficial shock value that contributes little. Many argue we should aspire to do something more thoughtful than horror gore and violence now that an embedded part of our shared culture is newly up for reinventing without corporate constraints.
In the US at least though, early vintage Mickey is here to stay as a character anyone can legally experiment with independently – for better or worse. And with delayed international public domain dates still approaching for Disney in regions like the EU, UK, Canada and Australia in the next decade, soon people all over the world may get their chance to each put their own creative stamp on Mickey Mouse and other early Disney cartoons.
So while Mickey’s copyright freedom kicks off in controversial fashion with his starring debut as a slasher movie psycho in 2024, the beloved mouse’s future lies wide open. As the world’s most famous cartoon character at last is partially emancipated from corporate control, artists, storytellers, game designers and more now have new room for imagination in crafting their own unique Mickey Mouse tales or editing his lore in their own image. What unexpected new multimedia journey might Mickey embark on next as he resumes a freer status he hasn’t known since his earliest days under Walt Disney’s pencil almost a century ago? However people choose to utilize the newly available elements of this cultural icon, one thing seems certain: even after all these years, and decades under stringent rules, you still can’t keep a good Mouse down.
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