Steamboat Willie: Disney’s copyright ends with horror

Steamboat Willie: Disneys copyright ends with horror

Tristan Schneider is a Contributing Writer for The Bugle. The opinions expressed here are solely his own and are not meant to reflect views of the Bugle staff or The Bolles School.

Mickey Mouse as a character has been synonymous with child friendly content for the past 95 years, but now he will be seen as a hellish monster out for blood. This might seem like an out of left field decision for the Mickey Mouse character by Disney, but these new interpretations are not being made by Disney. 

As of 2024, the copyright for the first version of Mickey Mouse, Steamboat Willie, has expired, meaning that anyone can now use the Steamboat Willie version of Mickey Mouse without any licensing issues in any type of media. It has been a long journey for the character to enter the public domain, with Disney lobbying Congress about the copyright laws in the 70s and 90s, trying to keep Mickey in their ownership for as long as possible. To show how much of a hold Disney has had on the copyright laws, Steamboat Willie was originally supposed to expire in 1955, and it has finally expired 69 years later.

The release of the character basically prints money for companies because of the brand recognition, so with the announcement of the copyright expiration, film and game studios have been hard at work at using the character in any way possible. As of January 2024, two horror films, “Mickey’s Mousetrap” (a “Scream”-like slasher movie) and another untitled film have already been announced and started production, with “Mickey’s Mousetrap” releasing in March of this year. There has also been a horror video game announced, “Infestation: Origins,” a four-player co-op survival game with Mickey Mouse as one of the enemies. 

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This is not the first time a popular children’s character has been used in horror projects. Last year saw the release of “Winnie the Pooh: Blood and Honey” after the expiration of Winnie the Pooh’s copyright. The movie garnered almost all negative reviews but managed to make 5.2 million dollars on a 100,000-dollar budget.  

This seems to be a new trend, and a successful trend at that, making millions of dollars off of shoestring budgets. These movies, however, are not seen well in the public eye. They are mostly cheap cash grabs that don’t promote quality storytelling or the general art of film. The Steamboat Willie movies will probably be the same as the other poorly made films – they won’t have good stories or characters but will just exist for the shock of seeing Disney’s mascot brutally murdering people. 

This could have been a very cool and interesting idea if done correctly. Horror movies in the past have always had low budgets, but they also had people that cared about what they were making. These new movies feel like they are just being made as quickly and poorly as possible, with the people creating them not caring about what they are putting out, just the paycheck. That’s not what the art of film should be about.


About the Contributor
Tristan Schneider
Tristan Schneider, Contributing Writer
Tristan Schneider is a sophomore and second-year staffer. A stop motion animator with hopes to study film in college, Tristan hopes to contribute opinion and satire stories to Bugle. On a day off, Tristan enjoys visiting Colorado to go skiing and his favorite color is purple.