Since 1928, The Walt Disney Company has revolved heavily around the character of Mickey Mouse. Now, almost 100 years later, Mickey Mouse continues to captivate audiences through a variety of TV shows, short films, and specials. And the latest Mickey cartoons to hit the screen are 10 brand-new episodes of The Wonderful World of Mickey Mouse, which premiere on Disney+ on Wednesday, July 30. To get some insight into the making of The Wonderful World of Mickey Mouse, I sat down to chat with Jason Reicher, the director of multiple episodes in the series. Keep reading for my full, exclusive interview with Jason Reicher!
CORBAN: So, let’s jump right in – when did you know that you wanted to be in animation, and how did you start working for Disney?
JASON REICHER: Like a lot of kids, I grew up hypnotized by the theatrical cartoons from studios like Disney, Fleischer, and Warner Bros. Disneyland was just a 45-minute drive from where I grew up, and visiting it always gave me a similar heightened sense that watching animation would give me. I later learned that some of the artists who worked on the original Disney animated classics also designed rides and attractions for Disneyland, and that most of them started working in animation! I knew right then and there that I wanted to study the art of animation.
I was accepted into CalArts for animation, where, on top of classes, the students would make their own animated films at the end of each year. That hands-on experience was invaluable to me and gave me some insight at what working in the industry might be like. A few years after graduating, I got an offer to storyboard on the DuckTales 2017 reboot, which was the first job I had at Disney TV. After that show, I was lucky enough to be offered a directing role on The Wonderful World of Mickey Mouse.
CORBAN: I can’t wait to see where animation takes you next, and one day we might even see your name at Disneyland! You directed my favorite of the Wonderful World of Mickey shorts so far – “House of Tomorrow”. In the short film, Mickey and the gang get to interact with the iconic Professor Ludwig Von Drake and even get to sing “There’s a Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow”. How do you work to incorporate the legacy of Disney in these short films, and what characters would you like to see in future Mickey shorts?
JASON REICHER: Everyone on the Mickey shorts crew has a deep love, respect, and understanding of the Disney legacy. At the same time, it’s important that the cartoons aren’t only about the references- ideally, they come naturally from the character’s motivations in the given story we work on. Our goal with these shorts is to make people laugh and not take ourselves seriously! Sometimes we’ll use references as a punchline of a joke or place them in unexpected scenes for a gag.
The hard work first comes from our story editor Darrick Bachman, who works with executive producer Paul Rudish to come up with the simple premises of each cartoon. For The House of Tomorrow, the premise might be something like “Ludwig Von Drake shows Mickey and the gang a futuristic house.” After that gets approved, Darrick would normally go off and flesh out the story, like deciding that maybe the house’s A.I. will turn evil by the end of the short. Once that is finished, the director and storyboard artist start storyboarding the cartoon.
The Wonderful World of Mickey Mouse is an outline-driven show as opposed to script-driven, which means the board artists have the freedom to adjust and add to the story as we start to translate it into the visual medium. For example, I thought that having the A.I. sing “There’s a Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow” in a creepy tone would be a fun way to show how things have gone wrong in the house à la HAL 9000 singing “Daisy” in 2001: A Space Odyssey. One thing to note is that this could only work if Mickey sang “Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow” in a joyful tone at the beginning of the short when everything is going well (which Chris Diamantopoulos performed beautifully). As for characters I’d like to see in future cartoons, all I can say is that I wish I had put Bongo the Bear from Fun and Fancy Free in a certain short I worked on for season 2!
CORBAN: Yes, Bongo the Bear is awesome! We mentioned the use of “There’s a Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow”, but many Mickey cartoons often rely heavily on visual humor, as opposed to one-liners of dialogue. Does creating this type of humor come naturally to you?
JASON REICHER: I enjoy coming up with visual gags, but I don’t always feel like it comes natural to me. It’s hard work! Lucky the Mickey shorts crew is full of silly, like minded artists that inspire each other and are more than willing to be there to help bounce ideas off of. Fellow WWOMM director Eddie Trigueros was a huge inspiration to me, having a lot of experience directing on the 2013 Mickey Shorts. He’s also just an insanely talented and funny artist. He definitely pushed me to work harder and helped me out with some of the cartoons I got to direct. I am a fan of so many of the storyboard artists and directors that have worked on these Mickey shorts, like Aaron Springer, Eddie, Dave Wasson, Alonso Ramirez-Ramos, Bill Reiss, etc. They are all visual comedy geniuses and I encourage anyone who is a fan of the shorts to check out their work!
CORBAN: I love a good Mickey short, so I will have to check out their other projects! It sounds like a large group of people must come together to “make the magic happen”, and I have always wondered how a Mickey Mouse cartoon goes from an idea to the screen. What is the timeline for one short film, and how do you get inspiration for Mickey’s hijinks?
JASON REICHER: I hope this explanation doesn’t get too complicated, but there are always multiple cartoons in production at the same time in television animation. We have about 5 weeks to storyboard a Mickey cartoon from start to finish before we move onto the next cartoon. Once we’re done with one storyboard, artists in each department will work on a portion of the short. An editor will collect all the storyboard panels and turn it into a watchable animatic. That animatic will then be used as reference for character designers to draw cleaned-up models of the characters and props that appear in the cartoon.
From there, the talented layout artists and background painters will flesh out the backgrounds. Then all those elements get sent to Mercury Filmworks, the incredible animation studio that animates the shorts! Meanwhile, while all of that is happening, the director and board artists are storyboarding the next cartoon, so the whole process can continue! From start to finish I would say one cartoon takes about a year to complete.
Honestly, our inspiration for jokes and stories comes out of the camaraderie of the crew. I really love and miss working with everyone on this show, and truly believe that the strength of these shorts comes from the team. We learned to make each other laugh walking down the halls, during meetings, and out at lunch together (pre-covid). Being able to have fun and laugh really makes a big difference to the crew’s morale, and I think you can see it in the final result in the shorts.
CORBAN: Wow – it takes a long time for a Mickey short to get onto our screens, but I can tell that these cartoons are a passion project for all involved! Likewise, I cannot wait to see what the next batch of episodes will hold for Mickey and his pals. What can viewers expect from these upcoming shorts?
JASON REICHER: Expect more fun Disney references, episodes inspired by Disneyland rides, and most importantly to laugh.
CORBAN: I will definitely be tuning in on July 30th to check out the all-new episodes! Aside from Mickey shorts, do you have any future projects in the works, and where can our readers keep up with you?
JASON REICHER: I’ve been trying to work on a silly independent animated short during COVID, but it’s taking longer than I expected! You can find me on Instagram (@jasonreicher) and my website, https://www.jasonreicher.com . Thanks so much for the questions- have a great day!
CORBAN: And thank you so much for sitting down to chat! It was such an honor getting to hear your Disney story, and I will be keeping an eye out for all your future projects!
And, to the reader, you can stream brand-new episodes of The Wonderful World of Mickey Mouse each week starting July 28th