One thing I really appreciate about your Mickey is that there was this decades-long period where Disney was so afraid to let Mickey be a character. They let him become a mascot for so long, they didn’t know who he was anymore. These shorts come along and you reinvent them as this brave, but neurotic, character. Can you talk about reclaiming Mickey?
Well, that’s very kind to you say. I would give all that credit to Paul Rudish and Darrick Bachman, and all of those brilliant writers, directors, and animators over at Disney, to Dave Wright over at Disney TV and to the whole team over there, because they really were the ones who reconceived Mickey as this three-dimensional character and brought him back to his roots of who he originally was when he first popped onto the screen. So, I stepped into a very, very beautiful and warm environment. I think one of the things that I was really lucky with was they allowed me to explore and to use some of my comedy tools and some of my lexicon of emotions with regards to what I would infuse in Mickey. There was just something very freeing about being able to realize that, no, no, Mickey is just like us, and sometimes he gets frustrated and sometimes he gets really scared, and he’s neurotic. He might be a little bit of a hypochondriac occasionally. There was something really beautiful about that.
I have an affinity for 1930s and 1940s cinema and culture, and so there was something great about being able to utilize that lilt, the way that people spoke back then, certainly on screen, and being able to bring that to Mickey, which again, was a throwback to what Walt was simply doing intrinsically because he was of that era. So, when you heard Walt on “Brave Little Tailor” go [enters Mickey Mouse voice] “Huh? Yes, your Honor. And how! I was all alone. I heard them coming, I looked up, they were here, there, everywhere, a whole bunch of them. They came at me from the left, from the right, left, left, right, right, and then I let them have it.” [exits Mickey Mouse voice] When I go back to those and I’m like, “Oh yeah, man, I mean, Mickey had all of the stuff that I was allowed to do.” It’s just somewhere along the way, like anything in life, we like to compartmentalize. It’s like, “No, Mickey Mouse is for children, so he only goes from A to B.” But no, he’s for children and he goes from A to Z, because so do kids. So, it’s really nice.
I’m one of those guys who likes exploring old 1930s, ’40s, ’50s Disney comics. You see in the old Mickey Mouse comics and the old Donald Duck and Scrooge comics, they go on adventures, they have relationships with one another.
There you are. My son’s got all those old comics, the Donald Duck comics from the ’40s and the Mickey Mouse comics from the ’40s. Exactly, the subject matter wasn’t treated with any kid gloves. It was like any other hero or leading character on an adventure, on a weekly adventure. They allowed those characters — Mickey, in particular — to run the gamut within what was in the confines of him being able to come back to neutral so they could do another strip the next week or the next day or whatever it was.
As somebody who grew up going to Disney theme parks, I’ve got to ask about your work on Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway, and the process of recording for a theme park attraction, as opposed to an animated short. Was that a different process?
Have you been on the ride?
No, I live in Texas, so I haven’t been able to get to either coast yet.
I haven’t been able to get to it either. I was supposed to go when it opened, but it was just shortly before Covid hit and we weren’t able to go. They’ve been wanting me to go now that it’s open here in California, and I really want to take my kids. As I say, I’ve got four kids, so that’ll be a fun one to do. Boy, was that a real honor to be able to voice this ride that people are enjoying daily, hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of people are enjoying daily. I had a ball recording it. I can’t say that I took any different approach with regard to doing the voice.
I think I was aware of the fact that it was going to live on as long as the ride is there, and that because the character speaks in the ride, at least in my understanding, you can hear Mickey while you’re waiting in line, and then Mickey also takes you through the whole ride. There’s a beautiful song that brilliant Chris Willis did. So for me, it was really just a matter of bringing my best Mickey, you know what I mean? Making sure that the kids and the families that were in line waiting for the ride just felt like they were in Mickey’s presence. I couldn’t believe that I was being asked to do it, and I can’t wait to see it. I hear it’s just terrific.
There’s this long history of incredible voice actors being the voices of Disney theme parks. I’m thinking of Thurl Ravenscroft being one of those voices that I just know from Disney. He’s so identifiable to Haunted Mansion. There must be a point of pride where you think you get to be on the same level as someone like that now.
Oh my goodness. I would never, ever deign to put myself on the same level as someone like that. I mean, these people were legends, right? Here’s what I’ll say. I’m the luckiest guy alive. I get to work in a medium that brings me so much joy, because it reminds me of how much joy I got being an audience of that same medium, and I still get. So, the fact that I get to be able to do some of this stuff, it really still astounds me, and I feel so grateful. If I can entertain some of these kids and some of these families, and some of these audience members, some grown-ups as well, in any of the stuff that I do, and make them step away from themselves a little bit or laugh a little bit, if it gives them a chance to feel like they feel fulfilled by virtue of some performance of mine, then jeez Louise, man, that’s not a bad way to make a living. Truthfully, I really do feel lucky. It’s a pretty neat gig, man. I know nothing lasts forever, so I’m just going to enjoy it while it’s happening.