Steamboat Willie has entered the horror film genre, but will it tarnish the Disney legacy?

The 1928 version of Mickey Mouse entered the public domain. Already, a full-length horror film trailer and another on the way featuring the titular mouse in his Steamboat Willie persona was released, but will the movies tarnish or destroy the Disney legacy?

Mexico and Walt Disney: A Magical Encounter Exhibition
Mexico and Walt Disney: A Magical Encounter Exhibition / Victor Chavez/GettyImages
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When Mickey Mouse made his official publicized debut in 1928 in the classic animation Steamboat Willie, it catapulted the Walt Disney Company and its founders, Walt Disney and his brother Roy's careers to international recognition. The introduction of Mickey led to the company's expansion of animated feature films, characters, and global theme parks. Furthermore, Disney's vision of producing family content was met and will continue through the respective fans.

On Jan. 1, 2024, the earliest design of Mickey Mouse, which happens to be his Steamboat Willie composition, entered the public domain. Disney lost its copyright to this version but still maintains ownership of current Mickey designs. The loss opened doors for other content creators and filmmakers to create their own stories for early Mickey now that the copyright has been lifted.

It wasn't even two days into the New Year that two horror movies, one in post-production entitled Mickey's Mouse Trap and an untitled one in pre-production featuring Steamboat Wille, were announced by Variety. I'm not one to dissuade one's creative potential of crafting new adventures for the influential mouse (after all, Steamboat Itchy exists), but as a Disney fan and consumer, I feel that settling into the horror genre isn't the way to go.

How the Steamboat Willie horror films could potentially tarnish the Disney legacy

Since its foundation in 1923, the Walt Disney Company has prided itself in creating masterpieces for all to enjoy. Because of this idealogy, the company became one of the most financially successful enterprises in history, and Mickey became a pop culture icon. Therefore, a legacy was set into place as people will continue to enjoy for years to come.

Steamboat Willie
Copyright Protection Expires On Earliest Version Of Mickey Mouse / Brandon Bell/GettyImages

With the distribution of the horror films with Mickey being painted as a serial killer, I feel that Disney's legacy and the man who built it will be tarnished. Mickey's a much-beloved mascot after being designed to save the company in its early years. As such, he's well-known and synonymous with Disney, an honor that he rightfully earned. The release of Mickey's Mouse Trap and the second film might cause consumers to boycott Disney, although neither film is affiliated with them. Another potential reason is that since children gravitate toward Mickey, having them see this scary version of their hero, even if it's just a trailer clip, would cause mental duress. Kids might get fearful when they attend the parks or even watching Mickey's Clubhouse, a cartoon intended for preschoolers; kids might connect "Scary Mickey" with it.

Honestly, even though public domain and copyright laws exist, there should be exceptions, as certain creative properties shouldn't be touched nor have their licenses expired. It ruins their original purpose and spirit.

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