The Epic Team-Up Made Possible in Epic Mickey
There have been some pretty great Disney games throughout the years as the company sought to bring many of its most famous and iconic creations over to interactive media. There have also been some world class duds clearly meant to cash in on a name alone. Disney is hit or miss when it comes to the interactive realm, but one fellow who hadn’t seen a lot of play beyond a few games in the ‘90s and some cameo appearances post-2000 was the star attraction of the whole set-up: Mickey Mouse himself. Disney saw this as an issue as well and in 2010, they sought to resolve it. It was on this day that players took up the paintbrush and stepped into the yellow shoes of the world’s most famous mouse to save the day in Epic Mickey.
Conception of Epic Mickey began Disney’s Buena Vista Games Studio in 2003. From the very beginning, the team mused over the idea of using one of Walt Disney’s very first cartoon character creations, Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, in a story with Mickey and heavy elements of the movie Fantasia. Oswald’s last appearance had been in 1943, but the character was licensed to Universal Studios and they owned the exclusive rights to Oswald’s use. When Bob Iger took over as acting CEO of Disney, one of his biggest desires was to bring rights to Oswald back to Disney. In 2006, he finally succeeded in an assets trade with Universal and in 2007, Junction Point Studios under director Warren Spector was commissioned to develop Epic Mickey.
Epic Mickey plays upon the old and the new in unique ways. An unknown Mickey Mouse finds a magic mirror in his home acts as a portal where he discovers himself in the workshop of Yen Sid (the sorcerer in Fantasia to which Mickey is an apprentice). Yen Sid has created a living model world for forgotten cartoons and ideas with the help of a magic paint brush. When Yen is away, Mickey attempts to use the brush as well, but creates a terrible monster known as the Shadow Blot. Attempting to hastily use a magic paint thinner to kill the blot, Mickey runs away in a panic, only to have spilt the thinner over the model and let the Blot escape with the thinner. Years later, Mickey had become famous and the incident was forgotten until the strengthened Blot entered his home and took him to the Wasteland world he had helped ruin. He finds Oswald, the Wasteland’s original owner and resident, twisted and furious with him and through the game, must find a way to defeat the blot and make good with Oswald and other kinder residents of the Wasteland.
Epic Mickey’s design was that of a platformer centered upon many famous Disney cartoons and characters. Armed with Yen Sid’s brush, Mickey explores the world of the Wasteland, solving puzzles and overcoming enemies. In this world of living ink and paint, the brush is capable of utilizing paint and thinner to add or remove many features from the world. Mickey can erase obstacles from existence, put them back, bring life back to characters or remove them and more as he travels through the various lands with help from Oswald and other characters.
The story of Epic Mickey has a markedly darker tone than most Disney products centered on the iconic mouse. Warren Spector and his team wanted to convey a more mischievous side of Mickey, but also make a truly threatened world in which Mickey would become a meaningful hero. In fact, concept art for the game had a darker tone than even the final product. Concept art for Epic Mickey, although preliminary, featured a post-apocalyptic theme for which many of the more iconic Disney characters and locations were imagined. This darker vibe was eventually shed to make way for a more stretchy and colorful animated world which the team felt would play better as a Disney title.
Epic Mickey was an interesting release. Although its use of paint and thinner as a story element was given love for its ingenuity, some poor camera utilization and occasionally sketchy controls drew the ire of many critics. That said, Epic Mickey has an undeniable charm of story, art and character design that could only come from the collaborative help of Disney Studios and Pixar as well. Mickey, Oswald and friends delivered a magical world worth exploring for players that have the patience, and for the first time team-up of Walt Disney’s Oswald the Lucky Rabbit and Mickey Mouse in their near century of existence, it was more than historic.