Unless you’re a Highlander, Betty White, or are a very stealth time traveler; chances are you weren’t around when Mickey Mouse made his debut on this date, 90 years ago, when Steamboat Willie premiered at the Colony Theater in New York Nov. 18, 1928.
That said, chances are very high that in the 90 years since Steamboat Willie, you have had your own encounter with Mickey Mouse. Whether that’s through one of his myriad of cartoon appearances; via a beloved stuffed animal or other assorted merchandise; or if you’re lucky enough, to have met the mouse himself at one of his parks.
I unabashedly love Mickey Mouse—the core gang of Mickey, Minnie (my forever favorite), Goofy, Pluto, Donald, and Daisy represent a part of my childhood that can’t be touched, and a connection to the past. I grew up in a large family, and our vacations were usually of the camping variety. Of all the trips we took growing up, only two of them involved boarding a plane: once to Disneyland in 1988; and again, to Disneyworld in 1992.
This was before the princess mania took over Disney’s marketing budget, and the parks at the time were squarely Mickey and Minnie’s realm—and bless my parents, they helped me track them down each time, so I could hug my favorite cartoon couple and get their autographs. I still have that autograph book, tucked safely away, and I’ll keep it with me always.
There’s something about Mickey Mouse that transcends the obvious cash-grab aspect of his ubiquitous merchandising—he was a steady friend we’ve all grown up with. He goes on Adventures, gets himself into pickles, yet always has his friends to help him out (even Donald, who’s kind of an a*shole.)
Today, Mickey is for everyone, although he was created in a time when media was primarily for a white, relatively well-to-do audience. My grandma, who was born in 1927, would fondly recall how she and her brothers would save up for weeks all the spare change they could find, just to be able to afford to go to the Nickelodeons and see Mickey Mouse cartoons. Her father died when she was very young, and her mother had to work to support 4 children during the Depression—there wasn’t any money to spare. Being able to go to the movies was a very rare treat that she and her siblings had to work towards, and 60 years later, she would fondly talk about seeing Mickey on the big screen. Those were the only cartoons she could remember having seen. They stay with you. She died a few months ago, and now that she’s gone, I appreciate our old pal Mickey in a different light—he’s the connective tissue between generations of families. A steady friend that never grows old, but is there to greet each new generation with the same warmth, and instill the same sense of wonder. He’s a connection to my grandma, and I’m extremely grateful to him for that.
It’s hard to reconcile his origins with the happy-go-lucky mouse I grew up with 60 years after he was created. He may not have been created to be a friend to everyone at the time, but he’s certainly meant to be now—and I sincerely hope that children (of all ages) are able to see in him a pal, and not a painful reminder of the worst parts of our society. We all deserve a little break from the harsh realities of the world we live in, and Mickey, in his current iteration, should be that for everyone.
So on behalf of my late grandmother, my self, and every one else who considers him a friend, I’d like to wish Mickey a Happy Birthday. Here’s to the next 90 years.
Header Image Source: Getty