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Mickey Mouse Turns 75

Mickey Mouse celebrates his 75th anniversary today as one of the world's most beloved cultural icons. Ever since Mickey debuted in the first synchronized sound cartoon, STEAMBOAT WILLIE, on Nov. 18, 1928, he has remained in our consciousness while also presiding as the face of The Walt Disney Co. around the globe. Today, the company honored Mickey 75th by kicking off 18 months of celebration beginning at Walt Disney World Resort with the unveiling of 75 uniquely designed, 700-pound, 6-foot-tall Mickey statues -- a tribute to Mickey from an impressive group of friends. Chairman/ceo Michael D. Eisner kicked off the festivities at Walt Disney World Resort in Florida to honor Mickey and celebrate his future.

"It's a true testament to Walt that he was able to create Mickey Mouse with such depth and personality that, on his 75th anniversary, Mickey continues to take us on adventures, make us laugh and inspire us," Eisner said. "Mickey's relevance can even be seen in the diverse array of people who are participating in this statue program -- some have been working with Mickey for years and others are just true fans."

The statue program, appropriately deemed "Celebrate Mickey: 75 InspEARations," brings together Disney legends, as well as artists, actors, athletes, performing artists and painters who lent their creative talent or simply creative inspiration to the program that culminated in 75 original statues of Mickey (the complete list of artists and themes follows).

Whether deciding to use Mickey as a canvas or finding fun ways to dress him up, each artist's statue is a genuine work of art. Artists such as Raven, Wyland, David Willardson, Peter and Harrison Ellenshaw, Rosie O'Donnell and MEAR ONE chose to personally paint their Mickey statue. Otherwise, TivoliToo, a Minnesota-based design and sculpting studio, transformed each individual artist's design into the finished Mickey statue. TivoliToo also molded and sculpted each of the polyurethane statues.

After the unveiling, the statues will remain at Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom through April 2004 for guests to enjoy. From there, the statues are presently scheduled to visit Philadelphia, Boston, Atlanta, Minneapolis, Chicago, Denver, Kansas City, Houston, Dallas, Portland, Disneyland, Washington D.C. and New York City. In 2005, Sotheby's Auction House will auction off the statues for charity. All proceeds from the auction will go to the charity chosen by each artist.

The Walt Disney Co. was able to bring "Celebrate Mickey: 75 InspEARations" to fruition with the help of The Coca-Cola Co., the primary tour sponsor. In addition, The Home Depot provided the Disney Color by Behr paint and all the supplies to bring the statues to life. Suddath Relocation Systems will transport the statues to each destination. Kodak will use its EasyShare system to offer digital photographs of tour guests with the statues in each city involved with the tour.

A star of stage, screen and ice, as well as the chief host at all of Disney's Parks & Resorts, Mickey has entertained kings and presidents, prime ministers and princes, sports stars, film stars, TV stars and millions of fans. Added Eisner: "No other single character has remained in the limelight like Mickey, no other single character has been at the definitive forefront of a global entertainment company, no other single character has such timeless, ageless appeal or has engaged the hearts of so many. Chances are, if you talk to a 4-year-old or a 70-year-old anywhere in the world, they consider Mickey a special friend."

Mickey was conceived one year after Walt Disney started producing films for a new animated character, Oswald the Lucky Rabbit. Legend has it that Mickey came about during a cross-country train ride when Disney had been forced to give up the rights to Oswald to his ruthless New York distributor. On the ride back home to L.A., Disney thought of a subversive little mouse named Mortimer as a replacement, but wife Lillian suggested that Mickey was friendlier. However, many historians believe that Mickey was most likely the collaboration between Disney and chief animator Ub Iwerks, with Disney taking credit, since Iwerks first drew Mickey.

Disney and Iwerks initially produced two silent Mickey cartoons, "Plane Crazy" and "The Gallopin' Gaucho." But after the phenomenal success of THE JAZZ SINGER in 1927, the movie industry's first "talkie," Disney went ahead with STEAMBOAT WILLIE, synchronizing songs, music and sound effects. The short was a smash and so was Mickey, arriving on the cusp of technological change in American culture. By the end of the '30s, he starred in 120 animated shorts. Mickey reached an artistic culmination with his starring role in FANTASIA in 1940, which happened to coincide with Disney's animation breakthrough as an art form.

Over the years, Mickey's personality has softened, becoming less subversive and more likable in keeping with the persona of a movie star or cultural icon. His presence in movies became less dominant in the '40s and '50s, but he became a star of TV and later Disneyland and the other theme parks. Today, he's the host of ABC's HOUSE OF MOUSE, and next year stars in his first 3D CG feature, TWICE UPON A CHRISTMAS, a DVD-premiere movie from DisneyToon Studios. He recently underwent a 3D transformation along with some of his Disney pals for the opening of the 3D attraction, MICKEY'S PHILHARMAGIC, at Disney World.