Sorcerer Apprentice Mickey

by Jim Korkis, contributing writer

I thought I should celebrate Mickey Mouse's birthday this week since, for many years, it was celebrated on September 28. Starting in 1978, a Disney archivist proclaimed, after doing research on Mickey's first appearance in Steamboat Willie (1928) at the Colony Theater in New York, that Mickey's official birthday was November 18, 1928.

However, for nearly a half-century, Mickey's birthday was celebrated on a variety of dates between September and December, including October 1. Often the determination would be the release of a Disney film or an opportunity to sell a package of shorts to theaters.

Frequently, September 28 came up, especially on Mickey"s "Lucky Seventh Birthday" that had several events connected with it.

I have three acquaintances who only collect Sorcerer Mickey material. One, in particular, who buys one-of-a-kind items, like original artwork from Disney artists.

It got me to thinking that there was a lot of merchandise out there with Sorcerer Mickey on it and that the image has become so iconic, it is almost a separate persona from Mickey Mouse.

Let's go back to see how it all began in the late 1930s.

Walt Disney was looking for a piece of music for his Silly Symphony cartoon series, where the action was drawn to suit the music.

When he ran across Paul Dukas' "The Sorcerer's Apprentice," a scherzo for orchestra, he was especially pleased because it already told a story. The tale of a lazy magician's apprentice who foolishly experimented with his mentor's magic to bring a broom to life to do the apprentice's chores and quickly discovered the situation getting out of control had been around since the second century.

In 1897, Dukas composed the music, basing it on the 1797 Goethe ballad poem of the legend.

In May 1937, Walt began looking into purchasing the use of the Dukas score, and final arrangements were made by July 1937.

Leopold Stokowski, conductor of the Philadelphia Orchestra for 25years, re membered "I first met Walt Disney in a [Los Angeles] restaurant. I was alone having dinner at a table near him, and he called across to me, 'Why don't we sit together?" Then he began to tell me how he was interested in Dukas' 'The Sorcerer's Apprentice' as a possible short, and did I like the music. I said I liked it very much and would be happy to cooperate with him."

"I am all steamed up over the idea of Stokowski working with us on 'The Sorcerer's Apprentice'" wrote Walt on October 26,1937. "I am greatly enthused over the idea and believe that the union of Stokowski and his music, together with the best of our medium, would be the means of a great success and should lead to a new style of motion picture presentation…In fact, I think so much of the idea that I have already gone ahead and now have the story in work with this crew, on the chance that we will be able to get together with Stokowski and possibly have the music recorded within a short time…"

Perce Pearce was assigned as animation director for the project and was to work with Carl Fallberg on the story. A rough story was prepared by November 9, 1937.

At the time, it was strongly suggested that the character of Dopey from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs perform the role of the apprentice, especially knowing that audiences would want to see more of the character.

Walt never seriously considered the suggestion because, at the time, he wanted the characters in the feature films to be separate from the shorts and felt that too much exposure of feature film characters would dilute the impact of the original film.

One rare exception was Jiminy Cricket. Walt liked how articulate the cricket was (as opposed to characters like Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck who could not sustain long stretches of dialog) and the warmth of the voice provided by Cliff Edwards, so Jiminy was used as the narrator in Fun and Fancy Free (1947) and in educational shorts for the original Mickey Mouse Club.

Some of the elements from Dopey's costume in Snow White remain in the final Fantasia film, including the over-sized sleeves that would slip over his hands, the long robe with the distinctive neckline and soft brown shoes.

In addition, Walt wanted a good story to showcase Mickey Mouse, whose theatrical appearances had diminished because of the restrictions on the character to be a role model. He also worried that the sound of Mickey's voice was also connected to his lessening popularity.

On November 15, 1937, all members of the Disney Studios were alerted to the fact that the short was going to be made. They were shown a paragraph synopsis of the story and that it would star Mickey Mouse.

Director Pearce emphasized to the staff that "The picture will be made without dialogue and without sound effects, depending solely on pantomime and the descriptive music…Our picture is designed to intrigue the audience, thrill them, entertain them, but not in the bellylaugh manner."

The memo was also a plea for possible visual ideas, story suggestions and gags that needed to be turned in by November 27. Even artist Carl Barks, who would later gain fame as the comic book artist on the adventures of Donald Duck and his relatives, submitted gags including one where Mickey causes two waterspouts to spring upward and do a gyrating dance.

Perce and Fallberg were later pulled to work on Bambi and James Algar was assigned as the new director.

Even five weeks away from the opening of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and the anxiety of getting that film ready, Walt was holding meetings on "The Sorcerer's Apprentice."

"The thought is this: Mickey is an apprentice wanting the power of the Sorcerer to do his work. Then when that happens and he has that power, then he dreams of his great power. But when he awakens and finds what the broom has done and he hasn't the power to stop the broom, we find Mickey having to resort to an axe and try to stop the broom's work," Walt said.

The story continuity at the time stated that once Mickey was dreaming it was "a picture of a typical little man and what he would like to do one given complete control of the earth and its elements. In his dream, Mickey is having a spectacular lot of fun without being malicious."

At that November 13 meeting, the stenographer included the note: "Walt expressed himself about this dream several times by saying that Mickey could be here, there—anywhere. It is like a dream actually is. There doesn't need to be any flowing continuity."

Walt saw Mickey as an orchestra conductor in his dream directing the ocean and the stars and when it came to layout, he suggested "Have a lot of up-shots, looking up at the guy, you know, like you'd shoot up at an orchestra conductor as he is conducting."

Walt was briefly shocked when November 29, he received a letter from Stokowski suggesting rather than using Mickey Mouse, that Walt should consider creating a new character representing "everyman."

"What would you think of creating an entirely new personality for this film instead of Mickey?" Stokowski asked. "You may have strong reasons for wishing Mickey to be the hero….I feel that if you create a new personality which represents every one of us, it might be a valuable factor in the years to come."

Walt completely ignored the letter, knowing that audiences already identified with Mickey as their "everyman" character.

The recording session with Stokowski and a full orchestra began at midnight on January 9, 1938 at the Selznick Studio, and it ran into the early morning hours of the next day. The live-action shooting of Stokowski had to be delayed until January 24 because, according to Bill Garity, who was in charge of handling the recording, "Stokowski's tails had not arrived."

Jim Algar began handing out the first scenes to animate on January 21, with Preston Blair being giving the scene of Mickey waking from the dream. Les Clark who had become the Disney Studios "Mickey expert," after the departure of Ub Iwerks, did much of the animation of Mickey.

Fred Moore was called upon to help with the design of Mickey. Besides being an acknowledged expert on Mickey Mouse, Moore also animated Dopey in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. It was Moore who gave Mickey pupils for the first time.

"Work for a cute, short, chunky Mickey in this scene," the animators were told. " Do not let him get too tall. He should not be over three-heads high. When the first key poses have been drawn, please refer them to Fred Moore for possible suggestions. Fred Moore is assisting all animators on this picture in an attempt to make the Mickeys conform to a cute style."

Other animators working on Mickey included Grim Natwick, Riley Thompson and Cornett Wood. Preston Blair and Ed Love animated the brooms.

Legendary Bill Tytla did the animation for the Sorcerer and slyly gave the character Walt's habit of raising his eyebrow to indicate disapproval, that Walt himself called "that dirty 'Disney' look." The Disney Studio dubbed the character "Yensid" which was the word "Disney" spelled backward.

Nigel de Brulier, a well-known silent film star, was brought in to portray the live-action reference of the Sorcerer. Carl Fallberg went to Hollywood costume rental houses, like Western Costume, to find an appropriate robe and pointed hat.

The hat he did finally get needed to have white stars and crescent moons pasted on it.

A rough preview of the short was shown on April 12 with a handful of scenes unfinished. Even Roy O. Disney wrote in a letter on June 10 that "the picture is practically completed. It looks grand."

However, Roy was not pleased with the final cos,t which was more than $125,000, nearly three to four times the cost of a regular "Silly Symphony." Roy felt the only way to recover the production costs was to exploit it as a "special" to the public.

This idea sparked in Walt the concept of putting the film together with several other musical numbers and marketing it as a concert. Stokowski came to the Disney Studio in September 1938 along with composer and music critic Deems Taylor to discuss the film then known as The Concert Feature.

On September 3, Walt first broached the idea of making the film an immersive experience with broom shadows marching down the sides of the theater toward the screen and the sound of water rushing from behind the audience to seemingly through the audience to finally crashing on the screen.

The music for Fantasia was recorded by the Philadelphia Orchestra on April 1939 in Philadelphia. Interestingly, only "The Sorcerer's Apprentice" was the only piece of music not recorded by the Philadelphia Orchestra. The film uses the recording from the Selznick Studio session.

However, new live-action filming was done at the Disney Studio in Burbank in 1940 for the live-action introduction and conclusion to "The Sorcerer's Apprentice," including Mickey bounding up the steps in silhouette to shake hands with Stokowski.

Fantasia premiered on November 13, 1940 at the Broadway Theater in New York, the same theater that premiered Steamboat Willie almost exactly 12 years earlier on November 18. Several New York film critics singled out Mickey's segment as the best part of the film.

"Perhaps Bach and Beethoven are strange bedfellows for Mickey Mouse, but it's all been a lot of fun," Walt told the newspapers.

Oddly, only two pieces of merchandise were produced of Sorcerer Mickey from that original release: a Hagen-Renaker ceramic figure and a Grossett & Dunlap storybook. It was not until the beginning of the 1980s that a flood of Sorcerer Mickey started to appear due to public requests.

That image of Mickey Mouse in his Sorcerer Apprentice costume was so powerful that it evolved into another persona of the Mouse where he was elevated to full magician status.

First, Mickey Mouse appeared in his Sorcerer Mickey outfit every Wednesday ("Anything Can Happen Day") on of the original Mickey Mouse Club in 1955, entering on a bucking flying carpet.

Sorcerer Mickey was animated in this segment by animator Hal King with Walt Disney providing the voice. Walt filmed this sequence in color and Mickey's robe is colored purple not red.

Sorcerer Mickey made a few appearances on the House of Mouse television series, including the episode "Mickey and Minnie's Big Vacation" where he has to save the nightclub from a flood caused by Donald Duck.

In Mickey's House of Villains, Mickey has to transform into Sorcerer Mickey to save the nightclub after it has been taken over by villains like Captain Hook, Jafar and Cruella De Vil.

Sorcerer Mickey appears in video games like Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance and Epic Mickey 2: The Power of Two as well as Disney Infinity.

Sorcerer Mickey was the mascot icon for Walt Disney Home Video and its home video releases beginning in 1987. Sorcerer Mickey was also the icon for Walt Disney Imagineering beginning in the late 1990s and continuing until today.

In addition, Sorcerer Mickey is the mascot for the Disney Dream cruise ship, which launched in 2011, and a full figure of him decorates the stern of the ship along with his brooms.

A 45-foot tall-inflatable Sorcerer Mickey balloon was one of the parade floats for Disneyland's Party Gras Parade from January 1990 to November 1990, as part of the 35th birthday celebration for the park.

Sorcerer Mickey was the logo for the 25th anniversary celebration of Walt Disney World in 1996.

Sorcerer Mickey is the unofficial mascot of Disney Hollywood Studios (formerly Disney MGM Studios) since Fantasia came out in 1940 and the park was meant to represent the Hollywood of the 1930s and 1940s.

A statue of Sorcerer Mickey is in the store Mickey's of Hollywood.

A huge 55-foot-tall inflatable Mickey rose behind the Chinese theater for the Sorcery in the Sky fireworks show from summer 1990 to several years after the opening of Fantasmic! Appearing directly behind the Chinese Theater during the last minute of the eight-and-a-half minute show, Sorcerer Mickey had a shower of sparks shoot out of the first finger of his outstretched right hand.

He is the star of the night time spectacular Fantasmic! Despite promotional material and photographs, Sorcerer Mickey never fights any villains during the show but appears triumphant in the final minutes.

Unveiled at the end of Hollywood Boulevard at Disney Hollywood Studios on October 1, 2001, as part of the "100 Years of Magic Celebration," was the iconic hat that Mickey wore in "Fantasia" in the Sorcerer's Apprentice segment.

The entire structure is 122 feet tall. The hat itself is 100 feet tall and weighs 27 tons. To wear this hat, Mickey would have to be 350 feet tall. The hat size is 605 and 7/8. There are six stars and two crescent moons on it.

As part of the Millennium Celebration in 2000, a 24 story Sorcerer Mickey's arm and hand that held a gigantic magic wand, with "starfetti" was installed next to Spaceship Earth at Epcot. By October 1, 2007, it had been removed.

Today, Mickey even greets guests at the Disney theme parks attired as Sorcerer Mickey.

For the 1988 Academy Awards, an animated Mickey Mouse dressed as the Sorcerer's Apprentice appeared on stage with co-presenter actor Tom Selleck to announce the winner of the best animated short subject.

I am sure I must have forgotten a few significant Sorcerer Mickey appearances, but I am also sure that MousePlanet readers will jog my aging memory in the comments section.

So, Happy Birthday this week to Mickey Mouse, and I will continue to write a few more columns about him as he reaches his official milestone birthday in November.



  1. By Buckimion

    One of my favorite "salutes" to Sorcerer Mickey is the Mickey's 60th Birthday special that aired on NBC on November 18, 1988. I still have the (badly recorded) original broadcast on a VHS tape.

  2. By Niwel

    Quote Originally Posted by Buckimion View Post
    One of my favorite "salutes" to Sorcerer Mickey is the Mickey's 60th Birthday special that aired on NBC on November 18, 1988. I still have the (badly recorded) original broadcast on a VHS tape.

    Me too! I also found it on YouTube - what a great program

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