Vintage Mickey Mouse gets instant horror makeover as copyright expires

Mickey Mouse has has a scary makeover.

Source: YouTube/ IGN

One of Disney’s biggest characters is up for grabs in the US – and is set to star in a horror film and video game.

Disney’s copyright over the first version of Mickey Mouse, along with Minnie Mouse, expired on January 1 in the US as the company’s early films Steamboat Willie (1928) and the silent version of Plane Crazy (1928) finally entering the public domain.

The films were among thousands of copyrighted works from 1928 that entered the US public domain this year.

These include Charlie Chaplin film The Circus, AA Milne children’s book The House at Pooh Corner (which introduced the character Tigger) and DH Lawrence novel Lady Chatterley’s Lover.

When works enter the public domain, they are no longer protected by copyright law, which means anyone is free to use the content however they like as long as they don’t mislead others into thinking the content is from the original creator.

Disney, which has previously lobbied for copyright extensions, emphasised in a statement that “more modern versions of Mickey will remain unaffected” by the expiration of the Steamboat Willie copyright.

The character will continue to play a leading role in the company’s global storytelling, theme-park attractions and merchandise.

“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,” the company said.

Disney will “work to safeguard against consumer confusion caused by unauthorised uses of Mickey and our other iconic characters”.

Classic characters snapped up by horror fans

Some have been quick to capitalise on the new freedom of the iconic character Mickey Mouse, even if it is an older version than current audiences are used to.

A trailer for a horror video game featuring Mickey Mouse, Infestation 88, has already been released, along with a trailer for horror film Mickey’s Mouse Trap.

The film’s trailer features scenes from Steamboat Willie, and teases the story of a group of friends throwing a party at an amusement arcade before a killer wearing a Mickey Mouse mask decides to play a sinister game.

Source: YouTube/FilmSelectTrailer

This is not the first time filmmakers have been quick to reimagine a classic children’s character in a horror setting once copyright has expired.

The 2023 slasher flick Winnie-the-Pooh: Blood and Honey similarly took advantage of the 1926 original Winnie-the-Pooh book entering public domain; a sequel to the film is set for release this year.

Although many international creatives are now free to work with the vintage Mickey Mouse character to their heart’s content, those working in Australia face a longer wait.

American law protects eligible copyrighted material made between 1923 to 1977 for 95 years, but in Australia, copyright for published works generally lasts for the life of the author plus 70 years according to the National Library of Australia.

Walt Disney, the director of Steamboat Willie and Plane Crazy, died in 1966, so Australia may have to wait until 2036 to have some fun with Mickey and Minnie.

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