A reddit post caught my attention this week, about film music and the phrase “Mickey Mouse” as a way to describe a composition style. I’ve been thinking about this post for a few days now and on some projects I’ve done a true Mickey Mouse job at scoring, admitting that with no shame. What I mean is that I have employed a direct connection between on screen visual events and what the music is doing in real time. This is the method of many cartoons and to me it’s also a very classic silent film or Vaudeville type of style. My last project was scoring a 1910 silent film after all. I wasn’t familiar with the term in that specific usage until I read this post. I would have assumed it referred instead to a non-advanced type of compositional style, simplistic in a way that was lacking skill and depth. To many it may mean this too but what I’m talking about in this post is specifically having the music blatantly accentuate the visuals, like a xylophone on the blink of an eye or something like that. There’s a time and place but usually we don’t go to that extreme unless we want it to look silly.
Consensus in the comments of the reddit post was generally that this practice is not in style and will give an effect of making you irrelevant if you overdo it. Many say it’s not trending and should generally be avoided. The author’s reason for the post was expressing that they lost a job because they were Mickey Mousing it too much, so there’s a case in point argument for why it may be a bad technique. I then naturally considered my own work and the question arises if it’s irrelevant and by association that would make me irrelevant as an artist and maybe even as a human being if I’m feeling especially dramatic. Without answering my own question yet, I stand firm that there’s a place for Mickey Mouse. I strongly associate the character Mickey with the inspiring story of Walt Disney and so I have a hard time coming around to use the term in a negative way. This, while somewhat related, is not actually the point of the whole discussion though so I’ll get back to it.
Most motion picture works are a huge abstraction for many reasons, so having a soundtrack that is closely woven into the action in a direct way it’s not going to automatically kill the mood in my opinion. It can surely get to a point of distraction or add an inappropriate comedic feel that will kill the vibe if it’s contrary to the nature of the story. I’m going to consider these things pretty seriously going forward but I’m not going to rule out using these effects. I just heard an interview with Danny Elfman where a film editor complimented his soundtrack saying the music fit so well it made it look like the editor had fit the film to the music instead of the other way around, is that Mickey Mousing? To me it seems kind of like it is and it also seems like something I want to do. It can be a good thing, I think it can be a very good thing. Humans like things being synchronized. That’s why music and dance is such a universal love of people worldwide in every generation. Doing it tastefully, yeah that’s important, but let’s not throw it all out, that would be losing something beautiful.
I think I haven’t done a bad job, I also think I can improve and that’s my take. So how do we all feel about using this so called Mickey Mouse technique, yea or nay? For my next project I’ll ask the question whether it’s necessary, whether it helps the story, whether it distracts, whether is can be just as good without it, but ultimately I need to deliver what the customer wants so that is also a big factor. Being more aware of it should be a good thing though. Just remember though that Fantasia is a classic!