In animation and film, "Mickey Mousing" (synchronized, mirrored, or parallel scoring) is a film technique that syncs the accompanying music with the actions on screen. "The exact segmentation of the music analogue to the picture." The term comes from the early and mid-production Walt Disney films, where the music almost completely works to mimic the animated motions of the characters. Mickey Mousing may use music to "reinforce an action by mimicking its rhythm exactly....Frequently used in the 1930s and 1940s, especially by Max Steiner, it is somewhat discredited today, at least in serious films, because of overuse. However, it can still be effective if used imaginatively".
Note that often it is not the music that is synced to the animated action, but the other way around. This is especially so when the music is a classical or other well-known piece. In such cases, the music for the animation is pre-recorded, and an animator will have an exposure sheet with the beats marked on it, frame by frame, and can time the movements accordingly. In the 1940 film Fantasia, the musical piece The Sorcerer's Apprentice, composed in the 1890s, contains a fragment that is used to accompany the actions of Mickey himself. At one point Mickey, as the apprentice, seizes an ax and chops an enchanted broom to pieces so that it will stop carrying water to a pit. The visual action is synchronized exactly to crashing chords in the music.
The first known use of Mickey Mousing was in Steamboat Willie (1928), the first Mickey Mouse cartoon by Walt Disney, scored by Carl Stalling. In the 1931 Van Beuren Studios animated short Making 'Em Move the "Mysterioso Pizzicato" theme is Mickey Moused to the action first to produce a 'false sense of foreboding' as a curious visitor enters the animation factory, and then again to accompany the villain in a cartoon-within-a-cartoon. The entrance:
C Eb G C' | Ab------- G------ :|| step step step step | stop/shhh door--- :||
"Mickey Mousing" is also used to criticize that a visual action is – without good reason – being duplicated in accompanying music or text, therefore being a weakness of the production rather than a strength. Newlin lists six other functions which music may serve besides this one. Complaints regarding the technique may be found as early as 1946. In 1954 Jean Cocteau described Mickey Mousing as the most vulgar technique used in film music.
An effective modern example of "mickey mousing" is used to accompany Bill Sikes's beating murder of Nancy in the film Oliver! (1968). In this case, the music is partially used to "cover" her cries as she is being struck.
- Goldmark, D. (2011) "Sounds Funny/Funny Sounds" in D. Goldmark and C. Keil (eds). Funny Pictures: Animation and comedy in studio-era Hollywood pp 260-261. Berkeley and Los Angeles, University of California. ISBN 9780520950122.
- Wegele, Peter (2014). Max Steiner: Composing, Casablanca, and the Golden Age of Film Music, p.37. Rowman & Littlefield. ISBN 9781442231146.
- Newlin, Dika (1977). "Music for the Flickering Image – American Film Scores", Music Educators Journal, Vol. 64, No. 1. (Sep., 1977), pp. 24–35.pdf
- Chuck Jones, Chuck (1946). "Music and the Animated Cartoon", Hollywood Quarterly Problems of Communication: The Animated Cartoon, Vol. 1, No. 4. (Jul., 1946), pp. 364–370.
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