They Made a Horror Film Out of Winnie the Pooh. What Will They Do to Mickey Mouse When He’s in the Public Domain?

Is there anything more iconic within the Walt Disney Company than Mickey Mouse?

Magician Mickey in Town Square Theater

Mickey has been the star of the Disney show since Steamboat Willie graced our screens in 1928. Since then, the company has been pretty strict about protecting its intellectual property. But soon, the copyright of that animated short will expire. So, what happens then?

Mickey Mouse is set to enter the public domain at the end of this year — leaving many folks wondering how Disney will handle the change legally. When Winnie-the-Pooh met a similar fate in January 2022, one filmmaker made a low-budget, live-action slasher film called Winnie-the-Pooh: Blood and Honey. So what does this mean for our favorite mouse?


“I’m seeing in Reddit forums and on Twitter where people — creative types — are getting excited about the possibilities, that somehow it’s going to be open season on Mickey,” said Aaron J. Moss, chair of Greenberg Glusker’s Litigation department, told The New York Times. However, it’s a little more complicated than that.

Heya, Mickey!

The original Mickey Mouse — the one seen in Steamboat Willie, an eight-minute short — is the only version of this character that will not be protected when the copyright expires. This version, a non-speaking Mickey with “a rat-like nose, rudimentary eyes (no pupils), and a long tail” isn’t what many envision when they think of the lovable mouse. He’s not as friendly as the Mickey we know today — in one scene, he uses a terrified goose as a trombone, and in another, he torments a cat.

Steamboat Willie

In fact, the in-color, kinder-looking Mickey with red shorts and white gloves is still under copyright for quite some time. So what will happen when the original copyright expires? Well, the general public will be able to use the original version of Mickey to create new media. When Winnie the Pooh’s original copyright expired, we saw a recreation of the character in a horror film. But, that doesn’t mean free reign when it comes to Disney’s original creations. Disney still holds trademarks on its characters, which never expire as long as the company keeps up with the paperwork. This means that even the original Steamboat Willie version of Mickey will still have some protections.

Lovable Pooh

“Copyright covers a specific creation (unauthorized copying), but trademarks are designed to protect against consumer confusion — to provide consumers assurance about the source and quality of a creation,” notes the New York Times. This means that any public use of the original character must not be able to be mistaken as coming from the Disney Company, which is why the Winnie the Pooh horror film was allowed. No sane person would believe that Disney would release such a film (and Pooh’s face is disfigured).

Steamboat Willie

This is a tricky battle to work around for those looking to take advantage of the expiring copyright. Disney has done a pretty good job of continuing to weave the Steamboat Willie image into its brand for quite some time. In 2007, the company redesigned its logo to include the original Mickey. Now, in modern movies like Frozen and Encanto, we see this logo before each film, further tying this character to the Disney company in our eyes. This became especially true during Disney’s 100th Anniversary when it used Steamboat Willie as a signature theme in much of its celebratory merchandise.

Steamboat Willie Loungefly

While copyright laws have been extended in the past, “Disney lawyers and lobbyists likely determined long ago that pressing Congress for another extension would fail.” But, Disney is still doing what it can to protect its intellectual property. Next year, Disney will likely have to rely on Trademark laws to protect its signature mouse. It will be interesting to see how this plays out once Mickey will partially be in the public domain. We’ll continue to monitor the situation, so stay tuned to DFB for more.

Click here to read about the legal battle between Disney and Florida Governor Ron Desantis

Join the DFB Newsletter to get all the breaking news right in your inbox! Click here to Subscribe!


Oh boy, planning a Disney trip can be quite the adventure, and we totally get it! But fear not, dear friends, we compiled EVERYTHING you need (and the things to avoid!) to plan the ULTIMATE Disney vacation.

Whether you’re a rookie or a seasoned pro, our insider tips and tricks will have you exploring the parks like never before. So come along with us, and get planning your most magical vacation ever!

Save 25% on the 2023 DFB Guide to Walt Disney World Dining with code WDW2023.

What do you think this means for the future of Mickey Mouse? Let us know in the comments below!

The post They Made a Horror Film Out of Winnie the Pooh. What Will They Do to Mickey Mouse When He’s in the Public Domain? first appeared on the disney food blog.


Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.