After multiple changes to US law that kept it copyrighted for nearly 100 years, 1928 Disney cartoon Steamboat Willie—which contains the first appearances of Mickey and Minnie Mouse—is now in the public domain.
And what do we do when a beloved children’s character becomes available to use in new creative works? We make them into monsters. Three Mickey-themed horror projects have already been announced, one game and two movies.
The game is Infestation: Origins, and was announced via IGN hours after it became legally safe to do so. It’s a co-op horror game “in which you’re an exterminator treating sinister infestations caused by twisted versions of classic characters and urban legends”—Mickey being the prime antagonist, of course.
Infestation was originally announced as “Infestation 88” in reference to its 1988 setting, but the developers changed the name on Tuesday after it was pointed out that the number 88 is a neo-Nazi dog whistle and suspicions arose on social media that the studio had intentionally paired the number with a game about extermination and “an outbreak of vermin.” The developer, Nightmare Forge Games, said that it simply hadn’t known about the association: “We apologize for our ignorance on this and appreciate that this was brought to our attention so we could address it ASAP!”
Infestation looks typical of the co-op horror games that have become popular over the last few years, such as Phasmophobia and Lethal Company, and is scheduled to release in early access sometime this year.
Also announced this week was Mickey’s Mouse Trap, a movie that’s being billed by its creators as “the first ever live action Mickey Mouse comedy horror feature film.” The trailer embedded below doesn’t make it look great, but there is something inherently satisfying about seeing the mouse in scenes that would’ve gotten anyone sued to oblivion a few days ago.
Variety also reports that another, unnamed horror comedy based on Steamboat Willie is also in production.
A very similar example of the kid’s-character-to-horror-villain transformation was seen in last year’s Winnie the Pooh: Blood and Honey, a horror movie take on the beloved character that went into production after the first Winnie the Pooh book entered the public domain in the US in 2022. A Winnie the Pooh horror game called Hundred Acre Wood is also in development.
Mickey’s a slightly different case, though. Although he’s become Disney’s mascot and a symbol of childlike innocence, only the Steamboat Willie-era version of Mickey has entered the public domain, and that version of Mickey has no chill at all. If you haven’t watched the Steamboat Willie cartoon (embedded below), Mickey spends most of it tormenting other animals. At one point he swings a cat around by its tail.
So an indiscriminately violent Mikey feels like less of a corruption than a murderous Winnie the Pooh, but I’m sure we haven’t nearly seen the end of Mickey-masked slasher villains. I’ll bet we also see a few American McGee’s Alice-style twisted reimaginings with Mickey as the protagonist—a Lies of P-style Mickey soulslike is definitely in our future, right?