Mark Mayerson

Writer, Cartoonist, Sculptor

The Flying Mouse (1934)
(May, 1988)

The story of this film is thematically opposite to much of Disney's work.

We are all familiar with the Disney attitude that dreams can come true. One song proclaims that "when you wish upon a star, your dreams come true." Another declares that "a dream is a wish your heart makes." In Pinocchio and Cinderella, when the characters dreams come true, they are better off for it. The Flying Mouse contains a dream coming true, but it results in a nightmare.

Thje film's main character is a mouse who watches birds and yearns for wings himself. He imagines himself the focus of adulation for his graceful flying skills. When he saves a buttefly from the clutches of a spider, the butterfly turns out to be a fairy who offers to reward him. He receives a pair of wings for his trouble, though the fairy cautions him that "a mouse was never meant to fly."

He joins the birds and ends his flight by applauding himself. The birds are scared of him and fly away. When he flies over his house, the shadow he casts on the ground terrifies his mother and siblings. He takes refuge in a cave where he meets some bats. They call him brother, but he denies it. They declare that if he's not a mouse and not a bat, he's a nothing.

The mouse flees and tries to pull off his wings. He is unable to, and breaks down and cries. The fairy appears out of one of his tears and fulfills his wish to return to his former state. She councils him to be happy being himself and vanishes. His family now eagerly embraces him and the film ends.

Dumbo takes the idea of a "wrong" animal being able to fly and treats it as a triumph. That's the kind of Disney attitude we would expect. The Flying Mouse is a deeply conservative film, implying a sort of class consciousness. Be happy with whatever life has dealt you. You shouldn't dream of anything out of the ordinary, because it will make you different than the rest of your kind and you will be ostracized. No one else will accept you. With this kind of reasoning, Dumbo's happy ending would have found him with normal-sized ears.

I would love to know who within the studio was responsible for the story development on this project and whether the theme is echoed in any of their other work. It seems to run counter to the studio's usual attitudes, and I wonder what Disney's own attitudes towards this story were.

What follows is complete and total speculation, but still worth considering. This film was in production around the time that Disney decided to do Snow White. Does this film represent Disney's doubts about trying to make cartoons more than just mice? Is this film Disney's nightmare of failure? Disney was about to push animation into areas it had never been, and about to push himself from being a shorts producer into a feature producer. Was he afraid that the film industry and the public wouldn't accept him in the new role and that he'd be sorry he attempted it? Does The Flying Mouse represent the part of Disney that wanted to play it safe and stay with what he was familiar with?