Disney is a wonderful brand, that for a lot of children and adults is simply synonymous with happiness and nostalgia. The classic stories that they have brought us over the years have taught us all about love, loss, heroics, courage and togetherness. Their adorable anthropomorphic animals and creatures have smiled, sung and danced their way through hardships and obstacles that captured our imaginations and held onto them for years to come. The characters they’ve created became instant classics, and the ones they reinvented quickly became the standard image of a beautiful princess or prince charming.
The progression of art and culture is all about taking what has come before and reworking and reinventing it in the modern day. Cinderalla, or sleeping beauty were wonderful fairy tales that have been told to children for hundreds of years being passed down through the oral tradition. But in the 20th century the wonderful invention of animation allowed for Disney to bring to life some of the images, and stories that everyone had heard with such joy and passion that these images soon became the standard. The longevity of these images is phenomenal; today it is not uncommon to see a little girl playing in sleeping beauty fancy dress, but the animated classic itself first arrived on our screens in 1959. Even the songs from the film, which most children could sing to you, are actually adaptations of the arrangements from the classic 1890 ballet version of sleeping beauty by Tchaikovsky.
By taking a classic character and reinventing it for a modern audience, Disney has managed to strike a perfect balance and develop characters so iconic that they have a nearly supernatural longevity; working on images, themes and ideas that are already hugely present in the public consciousness.
With this in mind, it seems a shame that Disney seems to be perpetually in legal battles over copyright laws to protect their brand and their characters. It is easy to see why they are fighting so ferociously to hold onto their creative property, the fantastically iconic character Mickey Mouse was created in 1928 and the copyright for the cartoons are constantly being updated so that they can’t be borrowed and distributed without the permission of Disney. It is often said that without the battles that Disney fights, Mickey Mouse would enter into the public domain – meaning anyone could reproduce the character or use him in films without asking, crediting or paying Disney for the use. However, the character is actually trademarked, meaning he belongs to Disney as long as they keep on using him as a company. But the earlier cartoons themselves could fall into the public domain without the extended copyright laws – often called the Mickey Mouse Protection Act by campaigners in large support of the public domain.
The character itself has permeated into the public consciousness in the same way that the characters of fairy tales became part of the oral tradition, it’s part of what makes up our culture. Mickey Mouse is something of the folk hero of the modern age, and perhaps in years to come, the image of the anthropomorphic mouse could be belong to all of the people and lives that he has touched over the course of nearly a century. From this, he could be changed, adapted, reworked and reimagined in order to reach more people and evolve for the future.