There’s something very weird about Mickey Mouse. It’s something that’s obvious once you’ve seen it, and it’s something you may never have even noticed.
I’ve been playing ‘Epic Mickey’. The hours I’ve spent in the game have filled me with a wonderful sense of nostalgia, but they also reminded me just how strange Mickey Mouse is. He’s a cartoon mouse, so no one expects him to be perfect, but there’s one thing about Mickey that’s not true of any mouse that I know of, nor of other cartoon characters.
If you’ve never noticed it, you’ll soon start looking for it every time you see the world’s favorite mouse in animated form. You won’t be able to get it out of your head, and you’ll have to keep telling people until everyone around you knows. Mickey’s strange deformity?
His ears don’t rotate with his head.
I never really noticed when watching Mickey cartoons, since the animation tends to be fast, fluid and full of detail. It’s also fairly flexible, and can be adjusted to make sense in context. The subtle oddness becomes painfully obvious once Mickey is 3-D animated.
Check out the opening to ‘Mickey Mouse Clubhouse‘. About six seconds in, you’ll see Mickey turn his head to the side, but his ears simply move around his head in some sort of bizarre orbit. They stay the same size and shape, all but killing the 3-D illusion. It’s even worse at about a minute and ten seconds in, when Mickey turns completely sideways to the camera and still retains the same ear shape.
If you’ve got time, sit down and watch a full episode. You’ll never see anything from Mickey but the one large circle and two small circles that make up the now familiar shape of Mickey’s head. Don’t worry, if someone sees you watching it, you can just tell them the theme was done by They Might be Giants and they’ll realize how cool you are.
It seems a bit sinister at first, the way Disney ensures that the Mickey logo is visible no matter which way the character turns, but it also appears to have been going on since the beginning. Even back in the 1928 cartoon ‘Steamboat Willie‘ that marked the introduction of Mickey to the world, the ears behaved in this very strange way. Mickey looked a lot different than he does now, but his strange gyroscopic ears were the same.
John Ford, an animator at Junction Point, says that the alternative just doesn’t work. “We did some tests with Mickey without ears that were facing the camera and it just didn’t hold up,” he told MTV Multiplayer.
With a little extra work, the ‘Epic Mickey’ developer managed to keep that Mickey look. “We had some really smart programmers write code that would always make sure that, no matter which way Mickey was facing, you would have ears that not only faced the camera correctly but also oriented correctly on his head.”