Mickey Mouse: Emblem of the American Spirit by Garry Apgar
Reviewed by Mike Kenny
In the first fully realized biography of Walt Disney’s greatest creation, Mickey Mouse: Emblem of the American Spirit recalls Disney and Ub Iwerks’ development of the spunky mouse to his worldwide impact through his many cinematic adventures. With a legacy spanning nearly 90 years, Mickey Mouse’s influence on the culture, his place in the annals of art history and of course, his equally iconic and sometimes controversial role as an American icon are exhaustively covered in Author Garry Apgar’s detailed study.
Unlike any cartoon character before or since, Mickey Mouse’s meteoric rise to prominence cannot be overemphasized. Tracing Walt Disney’s earliest years in the midwest to his popular character Oswald the Lucky Rabbit being swindled away, Apgar’s biographical overview of Disney’s famed mouse showcases his creator’s desperation on a long train ride home from New York to deliver a new, unique creation that would lead to the salvation of his studio. Separating fact from fiction, Apgar goes to great lengths to set the record straight regarding Mickey’s origins that range from Walt, during truly desperate days as a struggling artist, feeding a friendly mouse that supposedly planted the germ of his eventual idea to the routinely retold, although factually inaccurate, tale of a chance encounter with child actor Mickey Rooney influencing Disney’s decision to name his character after the future Pete’s Dragon star. As the pieces come together in Mickey’s creation, Apgar traces the many phases of his enduring career from his popular headlining appearances in the studio’s short subjects to his dazzling turn in 1940’s Fantasia. With the arrival of The Great Depression and World War II, Mickey blossomed into an image of bravery for the struggling country before transitioning into the sunny mascot of Disneyland. While Mickey’s optimism and good-natured personality were viewed as a controversial image during the difficult days of Vietnam and an extension of forceful American propaganda, Disney’s alter ego endured rising to the ranks as a timeless creation where modern artists such as Andy Warhol and the power of nostalgia cemented his deserved place in the world and as a beacon of American iconography.
Extensively researched and containing countless rarely seen stills, Garry Apgar’s Mickey Mouse: Emblem of the American Spirit is a scholarly analysis of Walt Disney’s enduring creation that continues to delight audiences of all ages. Never shying away from the outcries of Mickey’s harshest critics, Apgar’s essential volume is exquisitely balanced with insight from a multitude of sources that allows readers to fully absorb all facets that make Mickey the valued image he has become.