Mod Mickeys: The Modernization of Disney’s Mickey Mouse

The modernization of Mickey Mouse

The most famous Disney character continues to evolve as trends, art and style do. Take a look at the very first images of Walt Disney’s Mickey Mouse and his transformation over the years as the iconic rodent is turned into everything from contemporary art, home decor, toys and electronics.

The Modernization of Mickey Mouse

The first and early images of Mickey Mouse:

1928 steamboat willie
1928’s Steamboat Willie, the very first Mickey Mouse
evolution of Mickey Mouse
The Mickey Mouse with which most of us grew up

For at least a half-century Mickey Mouse, ears and all, has served as one of the most potent icons in contemporary visual culture. The poster boy for everything from cinematic innovation to American cultural ‘imperialism,’ the animated rodent is freighted with a veritable encyclopedia of inference. Not surprisingly, artists the world over — and especially Mickey’s countrymen and -women — have fixated on the simply, distinctively drawn figure. But however much that (deceptively) ingenuous face and unique silhouette turn up in Pop paintings, social-commentary cartoons, and even abstract sculpture, writers and historians have let Mickey’s ubiquity pass without substantial comment. Until now. Defying the perils of post-modernist close reading, pop-culture fetishism, and the fabled wrath of Disney Corp., Holly Crawford proffers an exhaustive documentation, classification, and analysis of Mickey’s many appearances in the visual art of our time. Her study fills a gap in the critical history of recent art, not to mention in Mouseology.” —Peter Frank, Critic and Curator

Walt Disney with early plush version of Mickey Mouse
Walt Disney with early plush version of Mickey Mouse
Andy Warhol's Mickey
Andy Warhol’s Mickey

Andy Warhol’s Mickey Mouse (above) was one of the first widely known modern interpretations of Mickey seen by those of us born before 1980.

Claes Oldenburg, Geometric mouse, 1968 

Artists who’ve used the same or multiple forms of the image many times over many years include Lichtenstein, Helnwein, Oldenburg, Pensato, Ospina, and Chagoya. The facade of Disney and America in the guise of the Mouse is one of the things that Helnwein and others present to us.

claes oldenburg proposed facade for MCA IIHIH
Model of Proposed Facade for the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, in the Shape of a Geometric Mouse by Claes Oldenburg, 1977

Claes Oldenburg took the facade to its literal extreme when he proposed a flat Mouse’s image for a facade to Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Art (above), and produced a flat Mouse sculpture. (see more of Oldenburg’s Mickey-inspired art here)

marilyn manson mickey ears
Gottfried Helnwein’s portraits of Marilyn Manson in Mickey Ears
Gottfried Helnwein, Midnight Mickey, 2001
Gottfried Helnwein, Midnight Mickey, 2001, 200 cm x 300 cm, oil and acrylic on canvas

The above painting by Gottfried Helnwein is one of the modern interpretations of Disney’s Mickey Mouse in Holly Crawford’s book, Attached to The Mouse.

attached to the mouse by holly crawford iihih

Helnwein, Oldenburg and others are using the Mouse to make social and cultural comments about our society, in the broadest sense, but with humor, according to Crawford. Paperback: 194 pages. University Press of America (July 28, 2006) Buy the book here.

disney x WA-Qu

This past summer, Disney & Wa-Qu, A Japanese design firm teamed up for an exhibit that incorporated Mickey into interior lifestyle elements such as wallpaper, chopsticks, lacquer dishes and more.

Wall coverings incorporating the famous mickey outline for Wa-Qu's Disney exhibit.
Wall coverings incorporating the famous mickey outline for Wa-Qu’s Disney exhibit.
Wall coverings incorporating the famous mickey outline for Wa-Qu's Disney exhibit.
Items incorporating the famous mickey outline for Wa-Qu’s Disney exhibit.

The exhibit has since ended.
More Exhibit info here

Modern interpretations of Mickey in collectibles and toys

david flores vinyl mickey
above: David Flores’ Mickey Mouse, Vinyl Collectable Doll (VCD) by Medicom. Stands 14 cms tall. Japan Import
Artist David Flores’ vinyl mickey

buy it here

Three new “modern” Mickeys.
Manufactured by Tomy for Disney of Japan.

Modern Mickeys designed by Tomy for Disney, Japan
Modern Mickeys designed by Tomy for Disney, Japan

Released a few months ago; The Punk, Pass Da M.I.C., and Take Off sold for approximately $45 USD each (sold out).

The iRiver Mickey Mouse Shaped MPlayer

The iRiver MPlayer is also known as the Mickey Mouse player. The gadget was available in Japan and is scheduled to ship on the November first. The little and cute MPlayer does not have display screen. It connects via USB and comes in 1GB capacity. The iRiver MPlayer was available in five different colors for $87. No longer available.
Learn more here

Runaway Brain Mickey:
runaway brain mickey

Above: This version of Mickey Mouse was featured in the animated short, Runaway Brain, is a super hot collectible vinyl figure for any Mickey Mouse fan. Produced by Medicom.4 inches tall (buy it here)

Clash Mickey – a tribute to The Clash London Calling album Cover (also called Guitar Mickey):

The Clash Mickey
The Clash Mickey

The Clash Mickey

Designed by ROEN, and produced by Medicom Toy, this is the new VCD (Vinyl Collectible Dolls) series Clash Mickey, released exclusively in Japan. Clash Mickey plays as a cool tribute to the Clash, based on their famous ‘London Calling’ album cover. Standing 6 inches tall, Medicom Toy’s Clash Mickey also comes packed in a neat collectors window box. Buy it here.

There’s also a dark grey version of Guitar Mickey!
Vinyl Guitar Mickey Mouse
Buy the above version here

White Munky King exclusive by Frank Kozik. White. Vinyl. 16 inches tall. Only 50 produced. The infamous founder of Communist China sporting the symbol of America’s cultural imperialism…Mickey Mouse ears?

Frank Kozik Mao with mouse ears

Frank Kozik’s controversial reinterpretation of Chairman Mao stands 16 inches tall in white or black, reminiscent of the plaster of Paris busts of yesteryear but this is pure rotocast vinyl. Comes packaged in a beautiful red box with gold foil printing. Very hard to find in white now.

In orange fiberglass:

kozik mao mickey

Frank Kozik’s Mao Mickey Bust also comes in limited edition colors as well as flocked.
Try ebay for these collectibles.

Mickey in Fashion

Manish Arora Mickey mouse clothes
Manish Arora

Many a fashion designer has been inspired by the Disney Mouse. Manish Arora and Jean Charles de Castelbajac are just two.

JCDC Mickey fashions
Jean Charles de Castelbajac (JCDC)

Disney even created their own artsy Mickey Mouse toys with Vinylmation (shown below). Sadly, Vinylmation and Disney stopped creating these a few years ago, but you can still find some many here and there the Vinylmation vault here.

There are literally hundred of contemporary artists who have ‘updated’ Mickey in their own visions, too many to list. But browse or search Behance, Coroflot, Deviant Art or ebay for “Mickey Mouse” and you’ll see many more.

Walt Disney’s Mickey Mouse: The Ultimate History is a beautiful hardcover from Taschen that celebrates 90 years of Mickey in one of the most expansive illustrated publications on the Disney universe.

mickey mouse the ultimate history taschen
Buy it here.

Of course, traditional Mickey always has his appeal as well.
For Disney’s newest Mouse items, shop the Disney Store.

Check on Amazon for all things Mickey here!