There are zombies that stagger hungrily through the intersection at the corner of art and commerce. Still cute and adorable these dead and shambling monsters exist only to stimulate our nostalgic memories, and then suck money from our wallets. They can have their image stamped onto any object with a surface flat enough to accept it. In death they remain posed and perfect, smiling the most adorable rictus grin you’ve ever seen.
But they can no longer entertain us.
When they were alive, they were intelligent, and witty. They danced and sang across our movie screens and televisions, making us laugh. In times of war they lifted the hearts of a nation, and sent a message to the world of just how powerful the American imagination could be. They were an embodiment of the American character, and they reflected the best part of us back on ourselves, a funhouse mirror as seen through anthropomorphic animated caricatures.
Bugs Bunny and Mickey Mouse were once genuine animated characters. Both were movie stars that helped redefine the state of the art. They were created by masters of motion, who helped define one of the truly unique art forms of the 20th century. But like many superstars, it was their success that killed them. They were too good to live, and too valuable to die.
But once a character has been embalmed it’s value comes from veneration as it lies in state, and people are charged to take a look at the body. In the case of a cartoon character it’s a little more ghoulish than that. You can animate the corpse from time to time, and make it sing and dance just like it used to when it was alive. It’s all good as you don’t do anything that might change peoples opinions about it. After all, the value of the character as a corpse is far greater than it ever was when it was doing dangerous things like actually having ideas and adventures that could cause people to become engaged, or thoughtful, or angry. They must remain safely wrapped in a fluffy cloud of nostalgia. The past is always quaint and cute, isn’t it? And while they’re dead there’s is no danger that they can become a source of controversy.
Not that there haven’t been efforts to bring the characters back to life. Who wouldn’t want to see new Mickey or Bugs cartoons and be charmed all over again? But if you fail you risk revealing them for the undead creatures that they actually are.
Disney did try an experiment in bringing the magic back in the 90’s, when they created a new short called Runaway Brain. But at best they only managed to create an ironic statement by putting Mickey’s mind into a Monster, and turned the beloved icon into a slavering demon. I can only imagine the fear that crept into the Disney executives when they saw their cash cow turned into an angry rat. That was twelve years ago, and they haven’t tried again since. Perhaps Lassiter will attempt to revive the mouse, but it’s important to remember that Mickey’s heyday was seventy years ago. He’s been an icon a lot longer than he’s been a character.
With his corpse far less stiff, it seems that Warner Brothers is more game, and tried to revive the Looney Tunes as a franchise with Back in Action. But unlike “Space Jam” it failed to give the corpse a kick. Clearly the money was better spent in licensing than in movie making.
Disney has campaigned hard to make sure that the corpse will never rise again, pouring millions into lobbying for every increasing copyrights so that no one may touch the corpse for generations to come. Too bad. I’m guessing a public domain Mickey would be a lot more fun to have around.