In the summer of 2013 animation fans were treated to something unexpected: a brand new series of Mickey Mouse shorts. If their mere existence was a surprise, then their quality was downright miraculous—these were shorts that paid loving homage to the classic Mickey Mouse shorts of yore, while making the character contemporary and modern in all the right ways. By returning to the past, creator Paul Rudish made the character more relatable to audiences today. And the response has been resoundingly positive; this new version of the character has been lovingly embraced by diehard animation fans and kids who might know the character but are unfamiliar with his wacky exploits. (It’s become so big that this version of Mickey appears in the World of Color: Celebrate nighttime spectacular at Disney California Adventure.)
The third season premieres this week with “Coned” (airing at 8:35 p.m. on Friday night), a charming installment that sees Pluto coming home from the vet with a protective plastic cone (the “cone of shame,” as Alpha from Up would call it). In order to make his best pal feel better, Mickey (the always-excellent Chris Diamantopoulos) dons a similar cone and, of course, chaos ensues. It’s a typically hilarious installment, sharply animated and genuinely heartfelt. It kicks the third season (which has some of our very favorite Mickey Mouse shorts yet) in a wonderfully off-the-wall fashion.
We got the chance to talk with Mickey Mouse creator Paul Rudish about what it was like to create new content for the greatest and most well-known animated character of all time (no pressure), the genesis for “Coned,” and if there was anything that was deemed too wacky for the gonzo series.
How did you first approach this character?
Well, I had a development deal with Disney but I was worried that the character was too precious. I was trying to think if there was a way for me to trick people into letting me make a Mickey Mouse cartoon. But as fortune would have it, the request came from franchise and went out to all departments to look at developing something new around Mickey. The folks here knew that I was interested and asked if I wanted to take a crack at it. And the guidance from here was really nice in that they wanted to see my take on it without giving me any pre-prescribed rules.
How did you make the decisions about what to maintain and what to make your own?
It was really just thinking about my favorite Mickey Mouse cartoons and where Mickey had been in all of his evolutions along the way. I always gravitated back to the rubber hose stuff from the late ‘20s, early ‘30s and would always stop at the Main Street Theater at Disneyland and watch “Plane Crazy.” I loved how zany and surreal those old cartoons were and how mischievous Mickey was, while still being naïve and good-spirited. But he still had some teeth back then. So I just wanted to try my hand at making a cartoon in that vein, kind of jump off from 1934 or something. But not to try and mimic a cartoon from the ‘30s but use the characters that had been established at that point and how they interacted with each other and their personalities and add my own style to it. It should be contemporary but based on the rulebook that Walt Disney and Ub Iwerks established.
How does it feel creating a Mickey Mouse for an entirely new generation of kids? Do you ever feel that pressure?
Not often, honestly. I feel a great sense of respect for it and it’s an honor to work with the ultimate cartoon star from our history. To be at Disney and to follow in the footsteps of so many of the fantastic artists who have come through the gates of Disney, I have great reverence for the job of being very irreverent with the character.
Was there ever anything that you wanted to do but couldn’t?
Well there are certain more ideas that we’d like to do if we get more seasons. But there weren’t a whole lot of limits, surprisingly. It was more if things started to feel too old timey, that was a note we’d get. Like, This is starting to feel a little too 1930s. Is there anything you can do to make it more contemporary?
Let’s talk about “Coned,” the season three premiere episode. What was your idea behind that one?
We’ve always been looking for stories where we can employ Pluto and they’re always elusive. Given the short nature of the shorts, Pluto is always a supporting character and he ended up getting cut and all the action would be performed by Mickey. So this one came up. What if Pluto got the cone? Pluto is really the star of this one. We thought, “What if Mickey, since he’s such a good guy, is so bummed by seeing Pluto with this thing, he’s going to help out and say we can do this together!” It would be really funny, and if he’s got the cone on too, it adds sympathy like, “Oh my gosh, think of all the silliness we could come up with, with Mickey bumping around the world.” And of course it falls back on Pluto to save Mickey. It just rolled into that story pretty naturally.