ORLANDO, Fla. – Mickey Mouse squeaked and whistled his way into pop culture, but until now, he hasn’t said a word to visitors at Walt Disney World.
After four decades of silence at the theme park, Mickey is talking to guests inside the Backstage With Mickey Mouse attraction at the Magic Kingdom, the company announced Monday.
But Mickey is not exactly the mouse that roared. In a video posted online by Disney, Mickey greets visitors with stock phrases, including “Well, hi there,” “Come on in” and “Could I sign that for you?”
Mickey, dressed as a magician, also engages visitors in a longer routine: “I’ve been working on a magic trick. Can you help me out? … Pick a card, any card.”
Disney officials would not discuss the technology behind the character, whose eyes blink and whose mouth moves with the recorded phrases.
Ricky Brigante, owner and editor of the Inside the Magic website, which follows theme parks, called the change “a big deal.” Princesses and a few other characters talk to guests, but most of Disney’s costumed cast members have stayed silent, reduced to arm gestures and sideways glances during photo opportunities.
“It’s an awkwardly silent conversation,” Brigante said.
Mickey gained fame in 1928’s “Steamboat Willie” but had his first spoken lines in 1929’s “The Karnival Kid.” He has a high-pitched voice in movies and in TV and theme-park stage shows, but he hasn’t talked to individual theme-park visitors since the Magic Kingdom opened in 1971.
Testing of Talking Mickey has been done sporadically at Disney World and Disneyland in California over three years. There were two versions at the D23 Expo, a fan-club gathering, in 2011, Brigante said. One conversed freely with people, but the other was limited to key phrases, he said. It appears that the Magic Kingdom got the less chatty Mickey, he said.
One future use of Talking Mickey could be with Disney’s still-in-testing MagicBands, a bracelet that guests will use to enter the park, make purchases, secure reservations and – eventually – allow characters to recognize them.
“I have to imagine that Mickey Mouse has a nice ‘Happy Birthday’ that he would be able to share with anybody,” Brigante said.