Mickey Mouse is no spring chicken.
The venerable rodent has been fronting one of the world’s biggest corporations for more than 80 years now, and his duties leave him little time for frivolity. He has responsibilities, after all. Meetings to lead, small children to hug. Does he drink? Smoke salvia? Fight with paparazzi? Of course not. When would he have the time? Why, the last time he got into any real trouble was that unfortunate mishap with the magic book and those brooms, and that was 70 years ago.
Well, until now, anyway.
Epic Mickey, Disney’s much touted game for the Wii, allows gamers to meet a mouse telling an altogether different tail—er, tale. This is not your father’s Mickey Mouse … it’s your great-grandfather’s—the slightly smudged character from Steamboat Willie and The Sorcerer’s Apprentice. He is not the sort of mouse you’d leave in charge of a multigazillion-dollar business.
It’s a Messed Up World After All
The game begins with Mickey jumping through a mirror and finding himself in the workshop of Yen Sid, the sorcerer from Apprentice (and Disney spelled backwards). Seems the wizard has been hard at work on a new land for forgotten characters. But Mickey can’t leave well enough alone, and he starts waving around a magic paintbrush, mistakenly conjuring an evil entity we come to know as the Shadow Blot. Though Mickey tries to douse the Blot with paint and thinner (making a mess of the world in the process), it can’t be wiped away. So Mickey, realizing he’s done something very bad, sneaks away without telling anyone.
No real harm done, right? So Mickey thinks, until the Blot pulls him into Wasteland—now a mottled, misshapen world filled with broken rides, sad little characters and a whole bunch of evil henchmen called Blotlings. It’s Disney World in need of a serious attitude adjustment. And the land’s lead malcontent turns out to be a little guy named Oswald the Rabbit (Disney’s first real-world cartoon character), who seems seriously jealous of the mouse’s success.
The plot is simple enough: Mickey needs to escape from Wasteland, defeat the Blot and, along the way, repair some of the damage he did. He does this using a magic brush loaded with two important ingredients: paint, which can create bridges, repair walls and fix rides, and thinner, which, naturally, makes some of the world’s painted structures disappear. The paint and thinner can serve as weapons of a sort, too. Fling thinner at the Blotlings, and they’ll dissolve into goo. Dump paint on them, and they can become your friends and allies.
There are loads of other tools gamers can use in their romp through Wasteland—from televisions (which distract Blotlings for a bit) to clocks (which momentarily stop time) to star-like guardians (which may fight for you in a pinch). There are two different kinds of guardians, and what type you attract depends largely on how you play the game.
Brushing Out the Blot
Indeed, consequences abound in Epic Mickey, with each decision you make influencing gameplay later on. You can leave destruction in your wake or sow seeds of peace and happiness. Wasteland is brimming with ways Mickey can help his fellow ‘toons. And while these quests can be harder in the short run, the game always rewards you if you make the extra effort.
“I sense some of the Blot in you,” a character tells Mickey, “but I also sense a good heart.”
Before the game was released, much was made of how Disney was using it to “update” Mickey, making him darker and edgier, more in keeping with our cynical age. In reality, Mickey’s far more like his old, old self than he’s been in decades. But no matter how you play the game, he never turns “bad,” exactly: He’s more like an 8-year-old trying to make the best choices he can—and they’re not necessarily the right ones.
The game does have a few problems, most notably spiritual issues: Mickey must do a favor for a disembodied medium in a crystal ball, for instance (Madame Leota from the Disney theme parks’ Haunted Mansion ride), and Yen Sid’s magic paint literally saturates Wasteland. Mickey can “kill” his enemies, too—though since most of them are either robots or heartless Blotlings that dissolve when defeated, I’m hard-pressed to call them true onscreen fatalities. Images can be a little scary, delivering about the same level of intensity as Disney’s animated films.
But while Epic Mickey may not be obtusely dark in the metaphorical sense, it can be in the literal one—so much so that it can be tough to see what you’re doing. The “camera” can jerk around at inopportune times, too. And using the Wii’s remote can make it challenging to properly aim the paint and thinner.
Those last few bits, perhaps, are quibbles. This game takes those who play it into a Disneyland gone wrong and asks them to make it right. It dips deep into Disney history and reclaims some long forgotten characters. And, most importantly, it tells us that the decisions we make matter.
Paul Asay has been part of the Plugged In staff since 2007, watching and reviewing roughly 15 quintillion movies and television shows. He’s written for a number of other publications, too, including Time, The Washington Post and Christianity Today. The author of several books, Paul loves to find spirituality in unexpected places, including popular entertainment, and he loves all things superhero. His vices include James Bond films, Mountain Dew and terrible B-grade movies. He’s married, has two children and a neurotic dog, runs marathons on occasion and hopes to someday own his own tuxedo. Feel free to follow him on Twitter @AsayPaul.