Tom Oreb's Mickey model sheet Tom Oreb's Mickey model sheet

Mickey Styled

Tom Oreb’s Mickey model sheet

Here’s Mickey Mouse as you’ve never seen him before. The 1955 Disney-produced Nash car commercial posted below is as modern as the mouse ever looked. The redesign came courtesy of Tom Oreb, whose original Mickey model sheet is above. Victor Haboush, who did background design on the commercial, told me what happened after the commercial aired:

There was a little kid that used to write Walt telling him to stay away from modern art because it’s Communisitc. So when the commercial came on, he got a letter from this kid, a little malcontent sitting somewhere, and he wrote, “I’m disappointed Walt. I never though you’d succumb. What happened to you?” and Walt went crazy. He stormed down there and outlawed us against using any of the Disney characters in the commercials. I remember at the time everbody was incensed that we couldn’t use them, and it basically spelled the end of the unit. [Companies] were coming for the celebrity; to be able to use Disney characters in their commercials.

(via Disney History)

  • Jorge Garrido

    WHOAH!!!! Those are SICK!!! They should bring this back!!

    I saw the Oreb model sheet for “Pegleg-less Pegleg Pete Cat” on Amid’s site but this one blows it away!

  • Ugliest Mickey Ever. Weird how Pluto is drawn normally. Thanks for sharing!

    • Pluto’s certainly not drawn normally. There’s certainly more “angles” to his design than 1940’s pluto.

      Of course he’s not as changed as Mickey, but if you look closer, there’s certainly differences.

      Though I’m big fan of 1930’s mickey (*not 40’s) this Mickey is quite appealing. You might not get the same “personality” from this design, but it’s certainly appealing.

  • I have to admit that while the designs are jarring, they’re at least innovative, and innovation was something Disney was once praised for. It’s too bad more weren’t made.

  • Floyd Norman

    Those guys were right down the hall from us on the second floor of the Animation Building. I think it was 2G, but that’s a long time ago.

    Anyway, we loved seeing their work, and nobody complained until that goofy, angry letter got the old man’s attention. I loved Tom’s take on the standard Disney characters. What’s the big deal? We loved that stuff.

  • Heh. I love how Mickey looks all streamline and stylized and Pluto looks exactly the same.

    And that’s still a nice car.

  • Blimey, it’s Mickey Mouse if UPA got the rights to him, surely!

  • And that little boy’s name was..?

  • Whoa!! “Toot WHistle Plunk” MOUSE!! Except for the sharp angles….he almost looks like CBS’ Mighty Mouse (of the next year!) Grrrrreat Stuff! I adore the Nash (Diz) commercials!! Thank YOO!

  • Gerit Vandenberg

    It’s a strange notion that there’s something inherently “Communistic” about cartoon design that leans towards the modern. Where would a little kid writing to Walt get that in his head? Stylized design might make some think reflexively about angular soviet poster art, but that’s a pretty bone-headed conclusion about one of the most functional approaches to animated cartoons.

  • Using celebrity cartoon characters in a TV commercial to shill cars? I can’t think of anything less communistic than that! Good grief that’s right out of the textbook for Capitalism 101, kid. Heh.

  • Holy cow! Those Mickey designs are incredible! I wonder if Oreb ever took a crack at any of the other major Disney characters? A huge improvement, in my opinion.

    I wish the Pluto in the cartoon was designed the same way.

  • Why where the Disney characters stylized only for these automobile commercials? They should have expanded into new shorts.
    I’ve seen another couple featuring stylized Brer Rabbit, Brer Bear, Brer Fox, Donald Duck, Huey, Duey and Luey.

  • chuckfiala

    I love this design for Mickey! Even in 1955, people were complaining that things had changed from what they were in the good old days (those good old days are always experienced in the past tense, of course.)
    I suspect that the child’s parents put him up to writing that letter. Not too many kids are nostalgic for a past they didn’t experience.

  • Gorgeous stuff!

    There’s NOTHING like seeing great, inventive design coupled with
    nice, ‘full’ animation… The whole piece is a treat!

    Thanks for posting this bit of inspiration!

  • Nice!!! I love 50’s film voice-overs. Did everyone talk that way back then?

  • James Kormann

    Very interesting artwork indeed. It’s a rather innovative design for Mickey. It’s just too bad that Walt got his drawers all in a knot because of that kid’s letter and put the kibosh on further use of that design.

  • It would have been cool to see some Mickey shorts done in this style. This kind of reminds me of how Droopy evolved into the mid-’50s, as a more stylized version of himself. I still prefer the ‘classic’ Mickey (triple circle head) over this guy, but hey, why not experiment? It definitely fit the mold for animation at that time.

  • tom

    If they didn’t call him Mickey, and if he didn’t sound like a eunuch full of helium as he does, it wouldn’t seem like Mickey at all. Call him Dave and kick him out the door.

    The commercial was pretty cool, though. I enjoyed seeing the description of the features of the car played out by Pluto and the cat.

  • I like that design alot, seems perfectly suited to television in particular, rather than for the big screen. Above all its something new to look at!

  • I’m probably the one in the minority… but I hate how Mickey looks. He looks like something a kid made while trying to make a Mickey out of triangular blocks.

    That or the “modern” Warner Bros. cartoons. The one with that tiger. *shudders*

    • That’s a pretty creative, innovative kid!

  • Walt was right, but for the wrong reason.
    So many lessons and so little time:

    lesson 1: Don’t try to be all things to all people. If you want a “star” to plug your product, you use the star. If you want to push a new look, you create a new character (Nobody called Ward Kimball’s cavemen communistic.)

    lesson 2: Don’t change company policy based on a focus group of one. Be particularly wary of “kids” that use the word “succumb.”

    lesson 3: If you want to try something new and you’re on the fence about it, it’s easier to ask forgiveness than permission. Chances are, you’ll get to keep your job and you might get a really funny story out of it.

  • joecab

    I love that Mickey, too. As well as the idea that you don’t have to slavishly stick to one iconic look for a character forever more. Isn’t it nice to have some style?

    I still don’t get how just ONE letter can have such a great effect. I’m waiting for the day that a company finally gets some courage and tells the ignorant letter writer what they can go do with their myopic opinions and their letters.

  • Robert Holmén

    So how did the kid come up with “communist”? I doubt it had to do with economic theory. It was just an easy way to appear to take the moral high ground and smear anything you didn’t like. I read of a professional wrestler in the 50’s who had an angry woman spectator call him a “sputnik”. There was nothing “space” or russian about his act but linking him with something communist was the most hateful thing she could imagine.

    It would be funny if the kid turned out to be from a competing studio that just wanted to free up some of the TV ad business.

  • All it took was one person, one kid, to make Walt stop producing these?
    You’ll never see that happen again!

  • Jeff Kapalka

    Since the commercial was for the Nash, wouldn’t Donald Duck have been more appropriate?

  • Jeff Kapalka wrote, “Since the commercial was for the Nash, wouldn’t Donald Duck have been more appropriate?”

    Perhaps they had trouble obtaining the proper clearances?

  • Inkan1969

    Hmm, the Mickey head is O.K. But I don’t like the body. I didn’t recognize this character as Mickey because of the huge square body. The body needed to be made of round components instead.

    I don’t understand why Pluto is drawn in standard model while Mickey is stylized. Is Pluto supposed to be a special character? Or is Mickey? The styles don’t mesh very well.

    Man, I find that letter story awfully hard to believe. That Disney would throw such a fit over just one letter indicates that he may have been suffering from early set senility.

  • Inkan1969:
    Actually, it looks like Pluto is a mixture of both modern and classic styles. His head isn’t so round, mostly it’s made with sharp corners.

  • RobEB

    So why haven’t we seen this until now? I guess in his rage, Disney suppressed it, but I’m still kind of surprised that it took so long for this to surface. I also wonder what the general reaction from the public was. I do think it would have been cool to see a few shorts made with this design.

  • Chris Sobieniak

    – I suspect that the child’s parents put him up to writing that letter. Not too many kids are nostalgic for a past they didn’t experience.

    Wonder if there was that sort of thing going on at the time where using such unconventional styles in art was frowned on for those reasons 50 years ago. Kinda seems sad to me that someone in America just couldn’t keep their mouth shut, oh well, it was nice while it lasted.

  • Jeff— there in fact was a Donald ad in this series, featuring Donald and his nephews; Thad K has posted it on Animation ID. Also a Brer Rabbit ad (available online elsewhere in the past), with UPA-style SONG OF THE SOUTH redesigns. Since according to the ad, the new Nash car is Brer Rabbit’s “laughing place,” he says everything in a “laughing” voice that makes him sound drunk as a skunk.
    There was an Alice ad as well, which I’ve never seen… and the Pegleg-Less Pete Cat model sheet by Oreb suggests that he might have been the villain in another Mickey or Donald ad—though if so, I haven’t seen that, either.
    I love Oreb’s style, but I don’t like his Mickey redesign. For me, that twee, smug look with stumpy limbs and dress coat completes Mickey’s transformation into a bourgeois bore. Now he isn’t even BUILT for the crazy conflicts of his early years.

  • Robert Igoe

    Not exactly subversive, but I can see how the first look at this alternate Mickey may have been a shock to a lot of people. Still, the execution was pretty good. Were there any alternate proposed sketches of Donald or Goofy?

  • I remember the first time someone showed me these commercials some years ago. Frankly, I didn’t care for them at all then, and I still don’t today. If they had been done with the Prof. Owl from “Toot, Whistle, Plunk and Boom” or anything else from that era of graphic experimentation, I wouldn’t have minded, but to radically reinvent Mickey or any of the feature characters just really puts me off. I think Walt was right to stop doing them, regardless of the reason behind that decision.

  • Mr. Semaj

    I guess this was also Walt’s reasoning for why he never created any animated TV series, especially for the Saturday morning market.

  • Kathmandu

    It was a totally alien society compared to what we have today in America and there was this odd attitude toward modern art at the time and many viewed it as subversive. In reality it was in a way but not “communist” in the way you might think but more as counter to the prevalent conservatism of the times. Anything that wasn’t a western theme, had rocket fins, pirates or was photo realistic was considered liberal and to many minds and that meant leftist or communist. To a kid from small town America anything that wasn’t the good ol’ Mickey from the comics or cartoons from 20 years before was that evil, leftist beatnik stuff. For Walt to succumb to the idea that modern art was communistic isn’t that surprising considering the times but “Fantasia” in essence is modern art and for him to snap as he did over one letter. He must have been really conflicted over creativity verses keeping his company in the good graces with his public.

  • Dig those caraaazy SCENE-O-RAMIC windows, Pops!

  • The design doesn’t satisfy my eyes overall. i think the proportions just don’t say “mickey” to me. I do find it ironic that in such a flat design his ears are actually more 3-D than in classic Mickeys.

  • What a sad back-story to a sweet looking design.

    I’m not a fan of changing Mickey’s iconic design, but once for a commercial, why not? I don’t see what all the hub-bub is about..

  • Riley

    I can’t get used to Mickey’s voice coming out from that body. But I can say I totally dig the designs, despite the Mickey here not looking very much like the one I’m used to. Very 1950s chic.