A horror movie inspired by the 1928 animated short Steamboat Willie is in the works now that the copyright has expired. The black-and-white short starring Mickey Mouse and directed by Walt Disney entered the public domain on Monday.
Director Steven LaMorte — the man behind The Mean One, a slasher retelling of How the Grinch Stole Christmas! — will direct the yet-untiled horror-comedy version of Steamboat Willie. According to Variety, LaMorte's movie is about “a sadistic mouse [who] will torment a group of unsuspecting ferry passengers.” Production will begin this spring.
“Steamboat Willie has brought joy to generations, but beneath that cheerful exterior lies a potential for pure, unhinged terror,” said LaMorte in a press release. “It’s a project I’ve been dreaming of, and I can’t wait to unleash this twisted take on this beloved character to the world.”
Disney Lost the Copyright to Steamboat Willie and the Original Versions of Mickey and Minnie Mouse
Variety reports that although Disney has lost its rights to Steamboat Willie and the original versions of Mickey and Minnie Mouse, the company still holds copyrights for the later, more familiar incarnations of the characters. LaMorte will have to take care to make his Mickey Mouse not resemble the still copyright-protected version of the character or risk potential legal action from the Mouse House.
“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,” said Disney in a statement last month.
LaMorte and his legal team seem determined to follow the letter of the law. The character in the movie will go by the name Steamboat Willie, not Mickey Mouse. “We are doing our due diligence to make sure there’s no question or confusion of what we’re up to,” said LaMorte. “This is our version of a public domain character. It’s a scary thrill ride with heart and humor, based on this character that everybody knows.”
Deadline reports that LaMorte's goal isn't to trash your memories of beloved characters. LaMorte said:
“Filmmakers — we’re all kids in the sandbox. We love taking our toys and playing with them in different ways. It’s not a desire to ruin these characters or make a quick buck, but to honor them and show them in a new light.”