First a little bit of history. Created in 1928 by Walt Disney and Ub Iwerks, the Mickey Mouse character first appeared in movie form that same year in "Steamboat Willie", one of the earliest movie animations with sound. According to Time magazine, which published an 80th anniversary piece on Mickey Mouse in 2008, the original name given to the character was Mortimer.
“The moniker didn't last; there are a number of tales attempting to explain how and why — the most popular being that Disney's wife hated the name and suggested its replacement — but soon he was ready for his debut as Mickey”.After 130 movies, a long-running newspaper comic strip, comic books, video games, various merchandising products, a long-running television program, "The Mickey Mouse Club" (think Annette Funicello and Justin Timberlake), cable television, and his seemingly ubiquitous presence at Disney theme parks, Mickey Mouse has become the best known cartoon character in the world. Indeed, this Kat was present at the opening of Disneyland in Anaheim in 1955 (thanks to Mother and Father Kat), and he remembers nothing from that historic day other than the character of Mickey Mouse.
This is not to say that the figure has remained static. As described by Wikipedia—
“Originally characterized as a mischievous antihero, Mickey's increasing popularity led to his being rebranded as an everyman, usually seen as a flawed, but adventurous hero. In 2009, Disney began to rebrand the character again by putting less emphasis on his pleasant, cheerful side and reintroducing the more mischievous and adventurous sides of his personality, beginning with the video game Epic Mickey.”Along the way, both the visual character and the name, Mickey Mouse, have come to be valuable commercial properties. A check of the USPTO trademark database TESS reveals that the “Mickey Mouse” mark was first registered in the name of Walt Disney in 1928; this registration is still in force. Other registrations for the name have followed. As well, of course, the character itself has enjoyed long commercial success under various forms of intellectual protection. Whatever changes have been made to the character, there is Kat consensus that the character of Mickey Mouse enjoys a universal positive image.
entry on Google Answers, posted by “justaskscott-ga” as follows:
"There is a lot of speculation, and even some informed-sounding statements, on the Internet as to the origin of "Mickey Mouse" as a derogative adjective. Some think that it relates to the poor quality of Mickey Mouse watches. Another source traces it to American college students of the late 1950s, who would describe an easy course as "a Mickey Mouse course." Yet another goes back to World War II, where soldiers apparently referred to absurd army routine as "mickey mouse". But the true origin seems to be in the jazz world. According to the Online Etymology Dictionary (a source that I've found trustworthy in the past): "Mickey mouse (adj.) 'small and worthless' is from 1936, originally used especially of mediocre dance-band music, a put-down based on the type of tunes played as background in cartoon films ...."The Urban Dictionary concurs with this conclusion, stating the term dates from— “1930-35; after the animated cartoon character created by Walt Disney, orig. with reference to the banal dance-band music played as background to the cartoons.”
Assuming that this explanation is the correct one, in then raises an interesting and more fundamental question: how did the specific reference to the quality of the background music to the cartoons expand to become a general term of derision? This Kat found no ready answer. More generally, how do we account for the fact that Mickey Mouse, the property, appears to co-exist along the use mickey mouse (and even in capitalized form) as a derogatory adjective? One reason, perhaps, is that the popularity of Mickey Mouse derives the cartoon character. While the name is important, at the end of the day, it is ancillary to the artistic core. It also points to the seemingly unlimited ways by which a name can take on independent meaning quite detached from its origins. The power of words and names goes far beyond the matter of reputation and goodwill.
Permit this Kat to conclude by bringing the closing lines to the song that brought each television episode of The Mickey Mouse Club to an end (at
“Now it's time to say goodbye, to all our company,
M-I-C, See you real soon!
K-E-Y, Why? Because we like you!
M - O - U - S – E”