Mickey Mousing

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For the character, see Mickey Mouse.
Mickey Mousing occurred with forms of the The Villain's Theme, such as with steps synchronized with the notes[1] About this sound Play 

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. "Matching movement to music,"[2] or, "The exact segmentation of the music analogue to the picture."[3][a] 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,[b] it is somewhat discredited today, at least in serious films, because of overuse. However, it can still be effective if used imaginatively".[11] Mickey Mousing and synchronicity help structure the viewing experience, to indicate how much events should impact the viewer, and to provide information not present on screen.[12] The technique, "enable[s] the music to been seen to 'participate' in the action and for it to be quickly and formatively interpreted...and [to] also intensify the experience of the scene for the spectator."[6] However, Mickey Mousing may also create unintentional humor,[5][13] and be used in parody or self-reference.

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.[3] 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.[1] The entrance:

C    Eb   G    C'   | Ab------- G------ :||
step step step step | stop/shhh door--- :||

King Kong (1933) uses Mickey Mousing throughout,[14] and is described by MacDonald as, "perhaps the single most noteworthy aspect of Steiner's score for King Kong."[4] The descending scale segments accompanying the chief's walk down stairs towards Denham's party continue after the camera cuts to the Denham, implying the chief's continued descent and maintaining suspense.[12] Some scenes in The Informer (1935) where filmed in synch with a prerecorded score.[15] In Casablanca (1942), the technique is only used when Bergman draws a gun on Bogart and at the end when Rains throws away a bottle of Vichy.[16][7] Rhapsody Rabbit (1946) depicts Bugs Bunny slip back and forth between performing Hungarian Rhapsody and various music Mickey Mousing his actions.[6] Cartoon examples include Tom and Jerry (1940),[6] Ugly Duckling (1931), Dizzy Dishes (1930), and Barnacle Bill (1930).[17] Paul Smith used the technique in several scores for True-Life Adventures documentary films in the fifties, including In Beaver Valley, Nature's Half Acre, Water Birds, and The Olympic Elk.[18]

An example of "mickey mousing" is used to accompany Bill Sikes's beating murder of Nancy in the film Oliver! (1968).[citation needed] In this case, the music is partially used to "cover" her cries as she is being struck. In Kenneth Branagh's Much Ado About Nothing (1993), Mickey Mousing is used at the opening, with the visual slowed to match the music, producing an intentionally lightly comical effect.[19]

In video games, Mickey Mousing may occur in dynamic audio compositions, such as in reaction or for indication (for example, in response to character action or to alert the player to the end of a countdown), and is often found in platform games.[13]


The term "Mickey Mousing" is also used as a pejorative to imply that a technique used in productions aimed at adults is too simplistic and more appropriate for a juvenile audience.[8] The technique is also associated with melodrama.[8] The technique is criticized for visual action that 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.[11] Complaints regarding the technique may be found as early as 1946, when Chuck Jones complained that, "For some reason, many cartoon musicians are more concerned with exact synchronization or 'Mickey-Mousing' than with the originality of their contribution or the variety of their arrangement."[20] In 1954 Jean Cocteau described Mickey Mousing as the most vulgar technique used in film music.[3] In 1958 Hanns Eisler described Mickey Mousing as, "This awful Wagnerian illustration technique! When they speak about a dog, someone in the orchestra barks...for love we have the divisi violins in E major...This is unbearable."[3]

"It is interesting that Mickey Mousing has come to represent the worst excesses of the Hollywood film score. Perhaps as contemporary spectators we are no longer used to Mickey Mousing in films (its use radically diminished in the fifties and after). Still, the practice of catching every moment with music has a visual equivalent, and Mickey Mousing has been made to bear the brunt of the criticism for an overobnoxiousness that it only partially creates."[21]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ The "split-second synchronization of music with visual movement."[4] "[Close] Synchronization of music and image."[5] Following, "the physical action of a character with similar musical movements."[6] "The subtle film composer's art of linking a bit of music to a specific on-screen action or character reference."[7]
  2. ^ "Steiner used Mickey Mousing sparingly, mostly saving it for key cinematic moments."[3] "Max Steiner, the composer who most often used Mickey-Mousing as a compositional technique."[8] "Mickey Mousing...is particularly prominent in the scores of Max Steiner."[9] "Steiner...is...the composer who utilized [Mickey Mousing] most."[10]


  1. ^ a b 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.
  2. ^ Bordwell (2008), p.276, quoted in Rauscher, Andreas (2012). "Scoring Play: Soundtracks and Video Game Genres", Music and Game: Perspectives on a Popular Alliance, p.98. Moormann, Peter; ed. ISBN 9783531189130.
  3. ^ a b c d e Wegele, Peter (2014). Max Steiner: Composing, Casablanca, and the Golden Age of Film Music, p.37. Rowman & Littlefield. ISBN 9781442231146.
  4. ^ a b MacDonald, Laurence (2013). The Invisible Art of Film Music. Scarecrow. ISBN 9780810883987. Quoted in Slowik (2014), p.239.
  5. ^ a b Stevens, Meghan (2009). Music and Image in Concert, p.94. Music and Media, Syndney. ISBN 9780980732603.
  6. ^ a b c d Edmondson, Jacqueline; ed. (2013). Music in American Life: An Encyclopedia of the Songs, Styles, Stars, and Stories That Shaped Our Culture, p.199. ABC-CLIO: Greenwood. ISBN 9780313393488.
  7. ^ a b Lebo, Harlan (1992). Casablanca: Behind the Scenes, p.178. Simon and Schuster. ISBN 9780671769819.
  8. ^ a b c Helvering, David Allen (July 2007). "Functions of Dialogue Underscoring in American Feature Film", p.177. The University of Iowa. ISBN 9780549235040.
  9. ^ Kalinak (1992), p.86.
  10. ^ Helvering (2007), p.103n28.
  11. ^ a b Newlin, Dika (1977). "Music for the Flickering Image – American Film Scores", Music Educators Journal, Vol. 64, No. 1. (Sep., 1977), pp. 24–35.pdf
  12. ^ a b Helvering (2007), p.178-180. Would viewers still have, "empathized with Kong if Steiner had not used Mickey Mousing to show Kong getting hurt when poked with knives or shot with bullets"? p.22.
  13. ^ a b Rauscher (2012), p.98.
  14. ^ Slowik, Michael (2014). After the Silents: Hollywood Film Music in the Early Sound Era, 1926-1934, p.239. Columbia University. ISBN 9780231165839.
  15. ^ Kalinak (1992), p.115.
  16. ^ Wegele (2014), p.38.
  17. ^ Slowik (2014), p.334, n.50.
  18. ^ MacDonald (2013), p.173.
  19. ^ Stevens (2009), p.95.
  20. ^ Chuck Jones. "Music and the Animated Cartoon", p.365, Hollywood Quarterly Problems of Communication: The Animated Cartoon, Vol. 1, No. 4. (Jul., 1946), pp. 364–370. Quoted in Helvering (July 2007), p.177.
  21. ^ Kalinak, Kathryn (1992). Settling the Score: Music and the Classical Hollywood Film, p.116. University of Wisconsin. ISBN 9780299133641. Quoted in Wegele (2014), p.38. Kalinak describes Mickey Mousing as nondiegetic or extradiegetic.

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