There’s something about a little mouse named Mickey that has captured hearts and defined popular culture over the past nine decades. Disney is trying to capture that “something” in its new exhibit, Mickey: The True Original, and they’ve done it well. The exhibit, a pop up in New York City celebrating the famous mouse’s 90th anniversary, opens today. The 16,000-square-foot space is hard to define—part art show, part museum, part interactive experience. But one thing is for sure: It’s all Mickey.
The experience starts with a short hype movie, which showcases Mickey through the years and his journey to becoming a pop-culture icon. A cast member then introduces the exhibit, encouraging guests to take photo and videos and saying, “Mickey brought us together, and we cannot wait to have you join in celebrating this milestone with us.” You’re then free to explore the exhibit at your own pace.
Mickey (and, to an extent, Minnie) Mouse are entwined in every single detail of the space, which is made up of 13 different rooms that each celebrate a different facet or era of Mickey. Each is totally different, from the “Ink & Paint” room, which pays tribute the women who used to hand-color Mickey Mouse cartoons, to the “Mickey Mouse Club,” a replica of the All New Mickey Mouse Club set which showcases memorabilia from both Mickey Mouse club eras and offers a free scoop of Mickey-themed Ample Hills ice cream.
There is plenty of memorabilia throughout, including Walt Disney’s first Oscar and original art from Fantasia, which Disney-lovers will be sure to geek out over. However, the main focus of the exhibit is the incredible variety of Mickey-inspired art, which was created by 27 different artists. Some works, such as Keith Haring’s massive Mickey Mouse mural, were made decades ago and brought back for the anniversary. Others were commissioned specifically for this exhibit.
Discovering the art is the best part of the experience, so we don’t want to give too much away, but here are a few of our favorite pieces created for the exhibit:
Steamboat Willie Redux, collaboration lead by John Quinn:
More than 50 different animators worked together on this project, which currently can only be seen as part of this exhibit. The animators each received a small section of Mickey’s six-minute debut cartoon, Steamboat Willie, to reanimate in whatever style they chose. John Quinn, a director of character art at Disney, coordinated the project and combined all of the segments, putting them to the original Steamboat Willie soundtrack. The new version, which plays alongside the original in the Mickey: The True Original exhibit, includes an incredible array of animation styles, including computer animation, hand-drawn animation, and even a stop-motion section that Quinn created with his daughter. While the animators kept Mickey’s general actions the same, they were free to change the scenery and style within their section. Quinn, who has worked at Disney for 20 years, says the result is “the entire history of animation in one short.” He believes Mickey Mouse has such an enduring impact because of the personality Walt Disney created for him. “The character resonated, not just what he looked like or not just the fascination of seeing that cartoon move on screen,” Quinn says. “He has real thoughts, real ambitions, and I think that kind of stuff really resonates.”
Untitled T-Shirt, Amanda Ross-Ho
There was truly no limit on the types of art at this exhibit. This massive Mickey Mouse shirt and equally massive hanger, intentionally distressed to look well-loved, look like they could have come out of any Disney fan’s closet (just a few times larger). According to the artist, the collar was the most challenging part of the shirt to create.
Supersonic Skein, London Kaye
London Kaye, a street artist known for using crochet to create large-scale art pieces, created this tribute to the Mickey Mouse short, A Band Concert. She says the piece went through a lot of conceptual variations, but the final piece spans an entire wall of chainlink fence in the “Burst Into Color Room,” contains more than 300 different colors of yarn, and was all made with single-hook crochet. Kaye even made part of the piece while blindfolded, as an added challenge to herself. This was her first time doing a piece for Disney, but she grew up in California as a big Disneyland and Mickey Mouse fan. “It’s cool that we brought chain-link inside,” she says, discussing her work. “Because I do street art and I put it outside on chain-link fence and leave it there, so it’s nice to kind of bring that in to use as the canvas.”
In addition to these and the other art pieces, there are countless photo-ops, an interactive game show, and a killer gift shop full of all things Mickey with on-the-spot customization options.
Also, as you travel through the experience, look closely and you may find some hidden Mickeys. Take a peek at the frame of the door marked cast-only in the “Hello Mickey” room, and you’ll spot at least one!
Overall, the exhibit is a thorough, unique tribute to the Mouse who started it all, and something any Disney fan will enjoy.
The Mickey: The True Original exhibit will be open from now until Feb. 10. Tickets are $38 dollars, and are available online.