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By Popular Demand: The Mickey Mouse Watch

By Brian | August 20, 2010 | Share on Facebook

In my (almost) annual post about Beloit College’s Mindset List, I called attention to an item suggesting that today’s college freshmen don’t have an instinct to look at their wrist to tell time in the same way that, er…, those of us “of a certain age” still do. This prompted my blogging buddy, Jason Bennion, and I to start a small discussion about cool wristwatches, in which I mentioned my custom-made Mickey Mouse watch. Jason said the story sounded “intriguing,” and well, as anyone who’s ever read this blog knows, I don’t need too much of an incentive to tell a story.

So, here goes: the story of my watch. First, let us take a moment to pray that the copyright gods are dealing with something much more important (like whether or not Wikipedia can display the FBI’s seal?) OK, let’s go…

About seven years ago, when my younger son was an infant, our family took a trip to Los Angeles to visit some relatives. While we were there, we visited Disneyland. For those of us on the East Coast, Disneyland is a quaint throwback – kind of the Walt Disneyworld prototype, if you will. But heck – we were in the neighborhood and the kids offered a plausible excuse, so off we went.

On Main Street USA, I spied a watch store. At the time, I had been wearing a Mickey Mouse watch that my wife found in Macy’s for about $75. Obviously not a very fancy watch, but I found that I got more compliments on Mickey than all those people with the fancy Rolex watches got on their watches. But this store was different. From the street, I could see artists sitting next to large magnifying glasses, apparently drawing pictures that would be turned into watch faces.

I instantly had an idea. I entered the store and sat down with a fantastic Disney artist by the name of Dave Smith. I told Dave that now that my family was complete (my wife and I had agreed on two children and that’s what we had), I wanted a watch that showed Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, and two baby mice, and over each mouse’s head I wanted the names of my family members – Brian, Sherry, Avery and Brandon. This, I thought, would be a Mickey watch, but also a nice family memento that could be passed down through the generations.

Dave informed me that he could not simply draw two baby mice. Disney artwork needs to be consistent with the “Disney universe,” he explained. At first, I was disappointed. I thought, perhaps, of Donald and Daisy Duck with two of their three famous nephews (Huey and Dewey, but not Louie?). No, Dave informed me – the nephews always appear as a group of three. Dem’s the rules.

But then, Dave pulled out a hardcover copy of The Official Disney Encyclopedia, edited by his grandfather, also named Dave Smith, who was the chief archivist of the Walt Disney Archives for 25 years. Do I know how to pick ‘em or what? From the encyclopedia, we learned that Mickey had two nephews – Ferdie and Morty Fieldmouse, who appeared in the 1934 cartoon, Mickey’s Steamroller (Youtube). Armed with this information, Dave was now free to draw me the watch I wanted: Mickey, Minnie, Ferdie and Morty. One catch, though: Disney needs to approve all original drawings before they can appear on a watch. If I had chosen one of the stock images from the books they had on display, he’d have drawn it for me right then and there, but for a custom job, we had to wait for approval.

I bought and paid for my watch in the store, gave Dave my e-mail address, and walked away with nothing more than a receipt and the anticipation of my new watch. When I arrived home, this sketch was waiting for me in my inbox:

(Attention copyright folks and Disney lawyers: Quick! Look behind you! Someone’s writing Mickey/Minnie fanfic. It looks bad. Better investigate…)

Anyway, Dave explained that since the 1934 cartoon was drawn in the “old style,” he was required to draw the watch picture the same way (Mickey was a bit pudgier back then, his shorts had elastic at the bottom, and his face was more white, rather than skin-toned like it is now. Also, his nephews wore blue “onesies” rather than clothes). Again – all pictures must be consistent with the Disney universe. Impressed, both with their sense of history and with Dave’s drawing, I gave my approval and he submitted it to Disney corporate.

A few days later, I got disappointing news. Disney corporate rejected the image because, despite Ferdie and Morty being Mickey’s nephews, the picture looked too much like a family, and Mickey & Minnie are not permitted to be shown as having children (they are officially “just close friends.”)

Dave offered to refund my money and call the whole thing off, but I was determined not to give up. I did some research, and found that Ferdie and Morty appeared in the 1983 animated short film, Mickey’s Christmas Carol. Ferdie played Peter Cratchit and Morty landed the big role of Tiny Tim. Yes, that’s right – Disney restricts itself to the same “Disney Universe” rules, and they actually assign “actors” to the parts in these cartoons. It isn’t just any little mouse playing Tiny Tim, it’s Morty Fieldmouse of Mickey’s Steamroller fame. This discovery was significant, because it meant that Dave could now draw the mice in the modern style (by 1983, all the characters had graduated to the style we know today).

Still, we had the “looks like a family” issue to deal with. After some thought (and discussion with my wife), I decided to remove Minnie Mouse from the picture. It was, after all, my watch. And while I’d have loved to have all four of us represented, I’d rather have “Daddy and his boys” depicted than no watch at all. Dave drew up another sketch, sent it to me for approval (a resounding “Yes!”) and then obtained approval from Disney corporate. Some weeks later, the watch arrived in the mail, along with an 8×10 original ink drawing of the picture that was eventually miniaturized for the watch. Here’s the drawing in full, glorious color:

…and here’s the watch (as best as I could photograph it):

You’ll note that below Mickey’s feet is the word “Brian” (that’s me!), and that Ferdie and Morty are wearing T-Shirts that say “Avery” and “Brandon” on them. Dave thought the T-Shirts would look better than having their names floating above their heads and, of course, he was right!

One last detail, just to prove that the folks at Disney don’t miss a single thing. Here’s the clasp:

EPILOGUE: Years later, we were in Walt DisneyWorld in Florida, and the wife and kids went off on a bathroom run. Left by myself for a few minutes, I noticed the equivalent watch store, also on Main Street USA. I wandered in and showed one of the artists my watch. His eyes lit up like a schoolboy on Christmas Day. “May I see that?” he asked. I took the watch off and handed it to him, and he put it under one of those large magnifying glasses and examined it thoroughly. He then told me that he wished they’d let him do that kind of work in the Florida store, but because of the much higher traffic volume, they only offer a selection of pre-drawn scenes. Customers select one from the sample books and the artists draw them on the watches. I was suddenly even more glad that I had taken the time to get my watch when I was in California. Truly a one of a kind…

Topics: Family Matters, The Disneyverse | 8 Comments »

8 Responses to “By Popular Demand: The Mickey Mouse Watch”

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  4. jason says at August 20th, 2010 at 12:43 pm :
    That’s really, very cool, Brian! I’ve been to Disneyland a couple times in my adult life (once when I was a kid) and never noticed this watch shop. Also, I knew Disney was ridiculously protective of its trademarks, but I had no idea they took it so far as to restrict whether Mickey and Minnie could appear to be hitched (I could swear I’ve seen something with Minnie in a wedding dress… maybe it was a bootleg piece?), or prevent earlier characters from being modernized. I’m glad you were able to find a solution.

    What a great keepsake, both the watch and the artwork…

    (For what it’s worth, I’ve been to both Disneyland and Disneyworld, and I personally prefer the smaller, quainter California prototype. But that could be because that was the one I visited when I was a kid. So much of the Disney experience is bound up with nostalgia, it makes me wonder if we can ever truly be objective about this stuff.)

  5. Brian says at August 20th, 2010 at 1:44 pm :
    @Jason #4: I will resist the urge to write you ten pages about how cool DisneyWorld is, and how its breadth and depth truly add to the nostalgia, not take away from it. Suffice to say, DisneyWorld was Walt’s original concept, but California wouldn’t give him enough land. When Disneyland became successful, Florida came through with thousands of acres, and Walt got to build his dream (the “Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow” or EPCOT, for short…).

    As trite as it sounds, DisneyWorld really feels to me like another world, one in which the Disney characters are the celebrities and we get to walk among them (right down to the kids running around with autograph books and getting their signatures & pictures taken).

    I’m also a big fan of the Disney Cruise Line, which gives kids their very own cruise experience (down to activities on the ship where the characters come & play with them – basketball with Goofy, anyone? Baking cookies with Chip & Dale?) All the while, the parents can partake in the Disney universe, or retreat to the “adults only” sections of the ship, where they can relax in peace & quiet. The best of both worlds…

    Anyway, Disney praise aside, the concept of managing a corporate brand is really fascinating to me. For instance, watch the first minute or so of the Mickey cartoon I linked to above (finding it on YouTube for this post was the first time I actually watched it). The first time we see Minnie, she’s pushing a baby carriage with two little mice in it. Looks like a mom to me! But then she says, “Look, kids – it’s Uncle Mickey!” Very clever, those Disney folks. Very clever, indeed…

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  7. jason says at August 24th, 2010 at 12:21 pm :
    So wait… Disney would rather have Minnie appearing to be a single mother than be married to Mickey? That’s… odd…

  8. Brian says at August 24th, 2010 at 1:23 pm :
    So wait… Disney would rather have Minnie appearing to be a single mother than be married to Mickey?

    Just for a moment, it seems. Then she refers to “Uncle Mickey,” and I think everyone was supposed to get a chuckle out of the fact that Minnie isn’t really that kind of mouse…

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