Mickey Mouse horror films announced as Disney copyright expires

Mickey Mouse horror films announced as Disney copyright expires

Later, more sophisticated iterations of Mickey Mouse, such as those seen in 1940 Disney feature 'Fantasia,' are not in the public domain, and cannot be copied
Later, more sophisticated iterations of Mickey Mouse, such as those seen in 1940 Disney feature 'Fantasia,' are not in the public domain, and cannot be copied. Photo: Robyn Beck / AFP/File
Source: AFP

Oh boy! Barely 24 hours after Disney's initial copyright on Mickey Mouse expired, two new indie horror films starring the beloved character have been announced.

"Steamboat Willie," the first Disney movie to feature Mickey, entered the public domain under US law on Monday, 95 years on from its initial release.

That means anyone is now free to copy, share, reuse and adapt the primitive, early versions of the characters that appear within the film, including Mickey and his girlfriend Minnie.

Despite warnings from Disney that it would seek to safeguard its most iconic character, opportunistic filmmakers had been expected to quickly announce their own unofficial remakes and adaptations -- and they did not disappoint.

"Mickey's Mouse Trap" will feature a masked killer dressed as Mickey stalking a group of young friends through an amusement arcade, while another untitled horror-comedy sees a sadistic mouse tormenting unsuspecting ferry passengers.

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"We just wanted to have fun with it all," said "Mickey's Mouse Trap" director Jamie Bailey, in a trailer posted on YouTube.

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"I mean it's Steamboat Willie's Mickey Mouse murdering people. It's ridiculous. We ran with it and had fun doing it and I think it shows."

The low-budget horror-comedy is expected to launch in March.

Meanwhile filmmaker Steven LaMorte -- known for "The Mean One," a 2022 slasher romp inspired by The Grinch -- is working on his own "twisted take" on Mickey.

"'Steamboat Willie' has brought joy to generations, but beneath that cheerful exterior lies a potential for pure, unhinged terror," he said in a press release.

Production on the untitled film is due to begin this spring.

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Both projects are reminiscent of "Winnie-the-Pooh: Blood and Honey," a micro-budget slasher film that drew headlines last year after the copyright on the first A.A. Milne books expired.

Analysts say Disney will be watching closely, and is likely to send in the lawyers if anyone oversteps.

Only the earliest, black-and-white version of Mickey is in the public domain -- not the colorful character from later Disney films like "Fantasia."

And trademark protections mean that any film or product that could mislead consumers into thinking it was made by Disney could be liable.

"We will, of course, continue to protect our rights in the more modern versions of Mickey Mouse and other works that remain subject to copyright, and we will work to safeguard against consumer confusion caused by unauthorized uses of Mickey and our other iconic characters," said a Disney statement.

But LaMorte told Variety he was not concerned.

"We are doing our due diligence to make sure there's no question or confusion of what we're up to," he said.

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"This is our version of a public domain character."

Source: AFP

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