If it weren’t for Nabisco, I’m not sure that I ever would have noticed. It took a package of Oreo sandwich cookies, a special edition package, for me to realize that Mickey Mouse and Steamboat Willie turn 90 on November 18. Instead of the traditional vanilla, Mickey’s morsels come complete with birthday cake flavored filling.
Yes, they are delicious.
In my defense, it is fitting that it took an Oreo cookie for me to realize that Mickey is turning 90, making this year’s celebration extra sweet. Both the cookie and the cartoon premiered in New York City. Both originally came only in black and white. Both also appeared together in Disney’s first commercially sponsored cartoon, Mickey’s Surprise Party, which ends with Mickey bringing home an assortment of Nabisco products to include, of course, Oreos.
Here’s the real surprise to this year’s party. Steamboat Willie wasn’t Mickey’s first cartoon. Despite all the fuss and all the fanfare, Mickey’s birthday—assuming an animated character can even have such a thing—is May 15 not November 18.
Think I’m crazy?
We celebrate November 18 because that is when Steamboat Willie premiered to the public at the Colony Theatre in New York City. Mickey, however, had been around since May 15 and had already played the leading mouse in two cartoon shorts, Plane Crazy and The Galloping Gaucho.
Unfortunately, Walt was unable to find a distributor for his newest character creation. In the interim, he used the summer of 1928 to explore adding synchronized sound. Realizing this was the next step in animation, Walt Disney sold his beloved Moon Roadster (the car he used to take Lily on their first date) to raise money for finishing the film. The final cost was $4,986.69.
Mickey Mouse and Steamboat Willie were met with critical acclaim and instant, world-wide success. Overnight, Walt Disney was a household name. At least that’s how we remember it 90 years later. Most have forgotten that Steamboat Willie wasn’t Mickey’s first cartoon. Many have also forgotten that Mickey Mouse wasn’t even Walt Disney’s first successful cartoon character. That honor goes to Oswald the Lucky Rabbit…a rabbit Walt lost in a contract dispute months before Mickey premiered.
Success is never instant. We may dream at night, but our dreams don’t come true overnight. There is always more to the story.
When it comes to Walt and Mickey, the most famous quote comes from Walt himself, “I only hope that we never lose sight of one thing, that it was all started with a mouse.” He says this on October 27, 1954, the night he reveals his dream of Disneyland during the first episode of the Disneyland television show.
Produced in partnership with ABC, halfway through the episode Walt reflects fondly on his first partner, Mickey Mouse. After encouraging us to remember where it all began, Walt takes us back to the beginning and when he first met Mickey. He then shows us, not Steamboat Willie, but Plane Crazy.
Today, your goals and dreams may well be just that. Plain crazy. You’ve been working for years and dreaming for decades. Why aren’t you an instant, overnight success like everyone else? Because there is always more to the story. Even for Walt Disney, it didn’t all start with Steamboat Willie and it didn’t all start with a mouse.
Last August, I spoke at a local school-district kick-off breakfast. I encouraged the teachers, despite all the challenges in today’s classrooms, to make 2018-2019 their Best Year Ever!
Afterwards, a teacher who had been toiling in the district for years shared with me a text message he had received recently from a student who had been in his classroom years ago:
Hi Mr. Wilder!
I am thinking back on a journal assignment you had us write in the second grade about what we wanted to do when we grew up. I wrote about wanting to work at Disneyland and my dream was to be Mickey Mouse. You left a comment in my journal telling me if that’s my dream then I should go for it. We are about 12 years down the line now and I am proud to say that I AM Mickey Mouse at Disneyland. Thank you for your encouragement to do something I always wanted to do since I was 7 years old ☺. I just thought I would share this with you.
For the student, it took a dozen years for their dream to come true. For the teacher, more than a decade passed before he was rewarded for a random comment on a random assignment. But he now knows that he is making a difference.
Like every other Disney fan, I will celebrate Mickey Mouse’s 90th birthday on November 18th. After all, I never need much of an excuse to enjoy another package of my favorite store-bought cookies, Oreos. I will also use the day to reflect on my own goals. My own dreams. My own story.
Am I where I want to be? Nope. Not yet. And that’s okay. I’ve only been working on The Wisdom of Walt for 3.5 years. Despite my impatience and frustration, I know there is no such thing as an instant or overnight success. Unlike our Oreos, the stories that we hear are never black and white.
Why does it have to be this way? Because when it comes to success, that’s the way the cookie crumbles.