At 12:01 am this morning, the earliest iteration of one of the world’s most beloved children’s characters entered the public domain. Shortly thereafter, the trailer for a slasher film called Mickey’s Mouse Trap was posted online.
In it, clips from Walt Disney‘s 1928 animated classic Steamboat Willie are shown interspersed with newly-shot footage that tells the story of a mouse mask-wearing killer who stalks college-age kids at an arcade.
Here’s the logline: It’s Alex’s 21st Birthday, but she’s stuck at the amusement arcade on a late shift so her friends decide to surprise her, but a masked killer dressed as Mickey Mouse decides to play a game of his own with them which she must survive.
The film was shot, edited and directed by Jamie Bailey and written by Simon Phillips. A trailer for the Steamboat Willie inspired horror game Infestation 88 having also dropped a trailer earlier today.
So is there a lawsuit in the filmmakers’ future?
“More modern versions of Mickey will remain unaffected by the expiration of the Steamboat Willie copyright, and Mickey will continue to play a leading role as a global ambassador for the Walt Disney Company in our storytelling, theme park attractions, and merchandise,” a Disney spokesperson said of the dos and don’ts of the sound-synched film entering the public domain today. “We will, of course, continue to protect our rights in the more modern versions of Mickey Mouse and other works that remain subject to copyright, and we will work to safeguard against consumer confusion caused by unauthorized uses of Mickey and our other iconic characters,” the company added.
The sharpest leghold trap Disney can still put down to snare anyone trying to encroach on its Mickey territory is perception. Even though the original incarnation of AA Milne’s beloved character had slipped into the public dominion in 2022, no one in their right mind truly thought Disney was behind last year’s Winnie-the-Pooh: Blood and Honey and getting into slasher flicks. However, if there was to be a version of Steamboat Willie and/or Plane Crazy’s Mickey or Minnie that in any way lead consumers to believe it came from Disney or even implied as much, the Mouse House’s lawyer would shut that project down faster than a nighttime Magic Kingdom parade in a thunderstorm.
In fact, appended to the trailer is the following: “DISCLAIMER: THIS IS NOT NOT A DISNEY FILM OR PRODUCTION. IT IS NOT TO AFFILIATED OR ENDORSED BY DISNEY IN ANY WAY. This film makes use of Public domain Steam Boat Willie Mickey Mouse only. Steamboat Willie’s Mickey Mouse entered public domain on January 1st 2024.”
Dominic Patten contributed to this report.