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Mickey Mouse Celebration Starts in Wellington

New Zealand's Mickey Mouse Celebration Starts in Wellington.

On August the 4th Wellington becomes the first place on the planet to show the largest collection of Disney Toys and Memorabilia ever seen in public. Anywhere!

More than just an isolated event, it also heralds one of the most unique celebrations in the entertainment world. Mickey Mouse has been with us for 75 years.

The Great Disney Toy Exhibition, Michael Fowler Centre, Wellington is presented by the WOW Trust and the Old Tin Toy Shop.

It started with a Mouse!

This year marks 75 years in show business for one of the world's most popular personalities -­Mickey Mouse. He made his screen debut on November 18, 1928 as star of the first synchronized sound cartoon, "Steamboat Willie," at the Colony Theatre in New York.

Since his debut more than seven decades ago, Mickey has become an international personality whose success laid the foundation upon which Walt Disney built his creative organization. Besides being the personification of everything Disney, Mickey has become one of the enduring personalities of the century.

Mickey was cast in Walt Disney's imagination early in 1928, on a train ride from New York to Los Angeles. Walt was returning with his wife from a business meeting at which his cartoon creation, Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, had been wrested from him by his financial backers.

Only 26-years-old at the time and with an active cartoon studio in Hollywood, Walt had gone East to arrange for a new contract and more money to improve the quality of his Oswald pictures. The money men declined, and since the character was copyrighted under their name, they took control of it.

"... so I was all alone and had nothing," Walt recalled later. "Mrs. Disney and I were coming back from New York on the train and I had to have something... I couldn't tell them I'd lost Oswald... so, I had this mouse in the back of my head... because a mouse is sort of a sympathetic character in spite of the fact that everybody's frightened of a mouse... including myself."

Walt spent the train ride conjuring up a little mouse in red velvet pants and named him Mortimer, but by the time the train screeched into the station in Los Angeles, Walt's new character had been re-christened. Walt's wife, Lillian, thought the name Mortimer was too pompous and suggested Mickey. A star was born.

Upon returning to his studio, Walt immediately began work on the first Mickey Mouse cartoon, Plane Crazy. The enthusiasm with which his small staff completed the project faded when no distributor wanted to buy the film. Refusing to give in, Walt forged into production on another silent Mickey, The Gallopin' Gaucho. However, late in 1927 Warner Bros. ushered in "the talkies" with The Jazz Singer starring AI Jolson. Seeing sound films as the future of the motion picture industry, Walt dropped everything to begin a third Mickey cartoon -Steamboat Willie­ this one with sound.

To record the soundtrack Walt had to take his film to New York, since no one on the West Coast was equipped to do it. Walt sank everything he had into the film.

When it was finally completed, Walt screened Steamboat Willie for the New York exhibitors. The manager of the Colony Theatre liked the eager young producer and decided to take a chance on the film. Steamboat Willie scored an overwhelming success, and Walt soon became the talk of the nation.

Buoyed by the artistic and popular success of Steamboat Willie, Disney added sound to Plane Crazy and The Gallopin' Gaucho, and was able to offer exhibitors a package of three shorts. In most of Mickey's pictures through World War II, Walt himself supplied Mickey's voice. By the time Mickey and the Beanstalk was released in 1947, Walt had become too busy to continue providing the voice for Mickey, so veteran sound and vocal effects man Jim Macdonald took over. Wayne Allwine became Mickey's voice with the New Mickey Mouse Club in 1977, a role he has held ever since.

The thirties was Mickey's Golden Age. Of Mickey's 120 short cartoons, Walt produced 87 in that decade. Mickey played everything from fireman to giant killer, cowboy to inventor, detective to plumber. Technically and artistically, Mickey Mouse cartoons were far superior to other contemporary cartoons and gave life to an entire family of animated characters: Minnie Mouse, Goofy, Pluto, Donald Duck, Clarabelle Cow, Horace Horsecollar, and many others.

Their artistic success was honoured with an Academy Award to Walt Disney in 1932 for having created Mickey.

Mickey's popularity spawned a Mickey Mouse Club in 1929, which met every Saturday for an afternoon of cartoons and games in local theatres. The several million Mouse Clubbers had a secret handshake, a special member greeting, a code of behaviour and even a special club song, "Minnie's Yoo-Hoo."

The culmination of Mickey's Golden Decade was his starring role in the feature Fantasia in 1940. A major artistic innovation, it interpreted music in colours, shapes, movement and story. The animation techniques, which were years ahead of their time, have never been matched. Fantasia also introduced stereophonic sound to theatres, an element not employed by other studios until more than a decade later.

With the advent of World War II, the Disney Studio suspended nearly all commercial activity and concentrated on aiding the war effort with training films, goodwill tours, and the design of posters and armed forces insignia. Mickey played his part by appearing on insignia and posters urging national security and the purchase of war bonds. And, incredibly, a code word for the Allied forces on D-Day, June 6, 1944, was "Mickey Mouse."

Following the war, the Disney Studio returned to making occasional Mickey Mouse cartoons and Mickey appeared in his second feature, Fun and Fancy Free, in which he co-starred with Donald Duck and Goofy in a new version of the fairy tale "Jack and the Beanstalk."

Through the forties and early fifties, Mickey was used in fewer cartoons, giving ground to Donald, Goofy and Pluto, who were now seen as more flexible characters. Mickey's evolution into a Disney symbol made it increasingly difficult to create story situations for him. If he lost his temper or did anything sneaky, fans would write in insisting that "Mickey just wouldn't do that."

After the success of the "Disneyland" television show in 1954, Disney agreed to create an afternoon program for ABC. He gave them the "Mickey Mouse Club," which remains one of the most successful children's shows ever. In 1977, a second version of the club debuted on television, and a third version enjoyed tremendous success on The Disney Channel from 1989 until 1994.

Over the years, Mickey has been frequently seen on dozens of Disney television shows and specials, and in 1988, he actually appeared on the Academy Awards telecast, presenting an envelope to actor Tom Selleck.

In 1983, Mickey returned to the theatre screen in the featurette Mickey's Christmas Carol, a Disney version of the Dickens classic, where Mickey played Bob Cratchit to Scrooge McDuck's Ebenezer Scrooge. In 1990, Mickey again appeared in a theatrical featurette, this time playing a dual role in The Prince and the Pauper. In 1995, a brand new theatrical Mickey short cartoon called Runaway Brain was released, the first since 1953's "The Simple Things." Two new ABC animated television series soon followed, "Disney's Mickey MouseWorks", premiered on May 1, 1999, and "House of Mouse" premiered on January 13, 2001, with new cartoons starring Mickey, Donald Duck, Goofy, Pluto, and Minnie Mouse.

Mickey may have moved to Disneyland in 1955 to become the theme park's Chief Host, but today he welcomes millions of visitors annually at the Disneyland Resort, Walt Disney World Resort, Tokyo Disneyland Resort and Disneyland Resort Paris. In this role Mickey has greeted kings and presidents, prime ministers and princes, sports stars, film stars, TV stars and millions of just plain folks.

Mickey remains a mainstay in the lives of today's kids as he can be seen on television weekdays on Disney's "House of Mouse" on Disney Channel. In 2004, "The Three Musketeers" Direct-to-Video Premiere will be the first full-length feature film starring Mickey and his friends. Additionally, the 2004 holiday season will bring the "Twice Upon A Christmas" Direct­ to-Video Premiere with Mickey Mouse and the gang in three-dimensional CGI animation for the first time.

One of the finest tributes to Mickey was given by Walt Disney himself when, on one of his first TV shows, as he talked about his company, Walt said, "I hope we never lose sight of one thing ... that it was all started by a mouse."

Biographical Information courtesy the Walt Disney Company

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