Q. So what’s Mickey Mouse been up to?
A. Let’s talk about mice, baby, let’s talk about King Mickey.
Mickey Mouse is a real anomaly in the Kingdom Hearts mythology. To touch on it briefly, approximately 90% of the Disney characters in Kingdom Hearts are amazingly flat, as if some random guy listened to any given character’s introduction jingle and then made that the entire basis for every action the character performs. Aladdin is a street rat. Belle is a funny girl. Ariel ain’t got no legs. Etc. Meanwhile, Mickey Mouse has nearly a century of history, has appeared in over 100 films, constant random television shows, is the mascot for one of the largest corporations in the known universe, and has been consumed as ice cream on a stick more times than every super hero combined. Despite all of this real life and fictional history, Mickey Mouse is not pigeonholed into some easy story telling slot, and may actually be the character in Kingdom Hearts with the most development.
He also might be an immortal trickster god.
First of all, two of Mickey’s most famous films, Steamboat Willie and The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, officially happened in the past of the Kingdom Hearts Universe. According to some light time traveling in Kingdom Hearts 2, it appears most of the old black and white Mickey shorts occurred in one fashion or another, which is relevant, because it means Mickey was kind of a giant dick. Go watch Steamboat Willie, right now, and marvel at how Mickey doesn’t even make it to the two minute mark before brutally abusing some defenseless bird. And then the cat? Oh God, the poor cat. Then, of course, there’s the Sorcerer’s Apprentice, where it is revealed that Mickey is so lazy, he may destroy us all. Also part of Mickey’s past is a general version of The Three Musketeers, where Mickey, Donald, and Goofy all rescue Princess Minnie from the clutches of Pete the Cat and The Beagle Boys (not the cool Beagle Boys, though, sadly).
Princess Minnie, eh? Huh. I guess “King Mickey” married in to royalty as opposed to earning his crown in any real political or aggressive way. Suppose that’s just as well, most of his subjects in Disney Castle kind of outrank him on the food chain…
Also worth noting: the actual years involved in the “Kingdom Hearts Past” are really nebulous. No numbers are given for how long Mickey has been a “sorcerer’s apprentice”, and, while there was a time before Disney Castle was an actual castle, nobody is talking about how many years it took to build the place, left alone how long it has been occupied. Fun fact! In Kingdom Hearts, Birth by Sleep, Huey, Duey and Louie all appear to be ducklings helping out at Disney Castle, and Sora, Riku, and Kairi appear to be five year olds. Ten years later, in Kingdom Hearts 1, Sora Riku, and Kairi are all approximately 15 years old (and look like teenagers), while Huey, Duey, and Louie are all… ducklings. I realize this all may simply be a way for the universe to forestall the prophecy of the Quack Pack, but still, kind of unsettling.
By the time of Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep there are three significant keyblade masters. The first is Xehanort, who I am contractually obliged to mention at least once a post. The second is Xehanort’s metaphorical brother, named Eraqus (rearrange the letters in his name and it spells “devoured by Enix”). Eraqus has three apprentices, and they all equally contribute to unwittingly destroying the whole of existence. Good job, Eraqus. The third keyblade master, who has officially stepped down as a keyblade master, but can’t retire from meddling, is Yen Sid (which sure isn’t backwards for Ub Iwerks). Yen Sid you may recognize as the fairly generic wizard from Fantasia, and pretty much has a place in the Kingdom Hearts canon because Merlin had already been used by the time “Sid” made his introduction in KH2. There are only so many Disney wizards to go around! Mickey is the apprentice of Yen Sid (the sorcerer), and, despite already being a married man (mouse) and ruling monarch, Mickey is trying to learn how to use a keyblade to protect not only his own world, but every last living creature.
Except that cat from that steamboat that one time. Fuck that cat.
Mickey has good intentions, but a short attention span. When Yen Sid mentions that he senses a disturbance in the Force, Mickey grabs a random magic rock called the Star Shard, and bounces around the universe like a ping pong ball, going wherever the
deus ex machina plot Star Shard takes him. He successfully saves the life of Ventus on one occasion, then tries to do it again, and gets his little mouse ass kicked. Aqua saves him, the he saves Aqua and Ventus again, sorta, and then Mickey’s involvement ends just as everyone’s lives get much worse. Mickey thinks he’s a big fat failure for saving a couple of kids that then wind up either comatose or completely missing, so he hands in his Star Shard and keyblade to Yen Sid. Yen Sid, showing that ol’ Yen Sid compassion he’s known for in all his many appearances through the years, returns Mickey’s keyblade, and declares that Mickey is now a keyblade master. Yen Sid probably didn’t promote Mickey because every other keyblade master is effectively dead at this point. Probably.
Most Kingdom Hearts characters get some time off between Birth by Sleep and Kingdom Hearts 1, but not Mickey. This leads to the first event where I can ask the question: King Mickey, most caring creature in the universe or dangerous lunatic? King Mickey meets Ansem the Wise. This is not a random occurrence, as King Mickey has to distinctly travel to an entirely different world to pull off this maneuver. By all accounts, King Mickey visits Ansem the Wise on multiple occasions, and they talk about being philosopher kings, the multiple worlds that exist in their universe, and their shared mutual hatred of river-faring cats. Now, if you’ve been paying attention, you know that at some point not long after this meeting of the minds, Xehanort performs his coup, shoves Ansem the Wise into a blackhole, replaces all of Ansem the Wise’s staff with a bunch of Nobodies, goes the extra mile by stealing Ansem’s name, and then signs the deed to the whole planet over to noted wicked witch, Maleficent. By the time of Kingdom Hearts 2, Mickey speaks fondly of his “old friend” Ansem the Wise, but doesn’t mention at all why he never bothered to check in on his “old friend” around the time his whole planet started radiating evil like a KISS Karneval. Not like Mickey could do anything, he’s just the only active keyblade master in the universe and commander of an entire planet’s armies.
Kingdom Hearts 1 doesn’t have much Mickey Mouse, but what’s there adds a few more ticks to the “dangerous lunatic” column. First, Mickey leaves a note that Donald and Goofy are supposed to strike out into the universe and “find the key”. Mickey’s most trusted companions must know Mickey already has a keyblade, right? They probably spent a solid week trying to parse out if Mickey had just found some new, weird way to refer to his royal self. Also, according to later materials, Mickey is IN Traverse Town at the same time as Sora (“the key”). Just as a reminder, Sora has lost his entire planet along with everyone he has ever known, and has a brand new weapon that he has no idea how to use, and, oh yeah, Mickey is a literal master of said weapon. But, no, Mickey just waves his hand (paw?) and moves along, presumably deciding that he has his best men on the job, Belligerent Bird and Dopey Dog, or whatever their names are. At least he didn’t send Horace Horsecollar to help, that dimwit has been wearing a toilet seat on his neck for eighty years.
Turns out the reason Mickey couldn’t be bothered with the trifles of the kid who is saving the universe is that the diminutive mouse had to venture into the realm of darkness to retrieve the Kingdom Key D, the dark counterpart to Sora’s Kingdom Key (of light). This little story factoid has only made less and less sense as the Kingdom Hearts plot has spiraled out of control, but with all the talk of the χ-blade in BBS, and the fact that the χ-blade in question looks like two crossed Kingdom Keys, well, that plot point is kind of due for a comeback. Or maybe it’ll be ignored so Xehanort will have time to start his own boy band (proposed name: Skyboxes Tet Crab). Hard to say.
So King Mickey uses that Kingdom Key D in conjunction with Sora’s Kingdom Key, and the duo seals the Door to Darkness, with the only issue being that King Mickey (and Riku) are stuck on the darkness side of the door. The problem is quickly solved, however when… well, something happens.
After that undefined something, Mickey becomes Riku’s cheerleader for Chain of Memories. Riku is grappling with his new dark powers, and begs Mickey to kill him should he fall back into the darkness. Mickey, who practically just met Riku, claims he cannot make that promise, because Mickey values Riku’s life far too much. Days earlier, Sora, Riku’s best friend, beat Riku to death like three consecutive times. Riku and Mickey march out of Chain of Memories, and even make a new friend who wears bandages all over his face and isn’t suspicious at all.
Mickey identified Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days as a big steaming turd well before it even was released, so he basically takes those 358 days off. At one point he almost killed Riku? It’s not worth mentioning. Oh, wait! This is where Riku infamously makes Mickey promise not to reveal what happened to himself to Sora. This will be important in a moment (40 hours of game time).
Kingdom Hearts 2 is really where Mickey comes into his own. First of all, Mickey is working closely with Riku (currently looks like Ansem, Seeker of Darkness) and bandage freak DiZ (Dude, it’s Ziggy!). These three know the plot, and while Riku and Dizzle Dawg have their own reasons for keeping Team Sora in the dark, Mickey has no such hang-up, and will explain everything just as soon as he feels like it, which is at approximately the half way point of the entire game. Prior to that he was… doing his laundry? He’s only recently gotten into wearing shirts, and his whites are very important to him. Mickey basically does weird, shadowy-but-ultimately-good things in the background of the first half of the game, then explains the plot, helps out for like an hour, and then ducks out until the big finale. Also, during this time, because he’s keeping that promise to Riku, Mickey refuses to tell Sora anything about Riku’s whereabouts. While it’s never outright stated, given Sora’s reaction to Riku upon their reunion, and his general concern prior to that, Sora pretty much assumes Riku is dead. Sora assumes Mickey is holding back some brutal truth to spare his feelings, so Sora wanders from planet to planet, probably crying into his gummi chair, mourning his imagined-dead friend. Dammit, Mickey.
That’s the general gist of Mickey’s involvement in Kingdom Hearts 2, but we’ll circle back to that in a moment, as I know some of you are throwing up your hands right now with, “But you didn’t mention…” We’re getting to that.
Anyway, Kingdom Hearts 2 eventually gives way to Kingdom Hearts Re:Coded, an upgraded cell phone game where, technically, Mickey is the main protagonist, as the Sora of that game is a virtual Sora avatar with Mickey playing the role of the player/controller. Long (stupid) story short: Mickey hooks up Jimminy’s Journal to a scanner, and all hell breaks loose, but at the end the day is saved, and Willow learns a very valuable lesson about mixing technology and magic, which will be completely ignored come Season 6. Wait, may be some bugs in this paragraph…
Now, an interesting thing happens in Kingdom Hearts Dream Drop Distance. By Kingdom Hearts chronology, KH3D comes immediately after Kingdom Hearts 2 (or Re:Coded if you’re nasty), but in real world, how these games are produced chronology, KH3D was released on the heels of Birth by Sleep, aka the game where Mickey inadvertently lets three fellow keyblade apprentices die (or close to it). Just prior to the events of 3D, Yen Sid informs Mickey that, excellent work everyone, you just paved the way for Xehanort returning, and the last time we saw that guy, you nearly got killed twice, you silly mouse. While Mickey barely actively does anything during KH3D (he does rush in and save everybody with a well timed Stop spell at one point), he spends the majority of KH3D in a perpetual state of concern, as the last time he saw some teenagers go up against Xehanort, they kind of got wiped off the face of the universe. Eventually, Riku and Sora prove they can hold their own (because of course they can), and that seems to cheer up the mouse in the end.
Which brings me to a crazy game design theory section.
Video games are important. You’re reading this on a video game blog, so you likely agree with this to at least some point. One thing that I feel video games can do more than any other medium is grant the player some level of control over the “mood” of the cast in any given story. Yes, it’s all fake, and no, no matter what you do, you can never save Aeris just the same as you can’t “save” Sephiroth. But, you can feel responsible. When you complete every last sidequest in Colony 9, and see the “happy meter” for the entire town has skyrocketed, yes, it’s all fake and the gauge is no different than your experience bar, but it likely will convey a sense of accomplishment that you’re just not going to get from booing Hans Gruber in Die Hard, no matter how hard you yell at the screen.
And then there’s Mickey Mouse, and Mickey Mouse should be happy.
Mickey Mouse is Mickey Mouse in Kingdom Hearts. This isn’t a case of “Leon” or Cloud or Aeris where “here’s your beloved character… but with bat wings!” Kingdom Hearts even goes out of its own way to confirm that, yes, that short you saw with Mickey Mouse happened in this universe, it was just a while back. My grandfather, my father, and myself all saw the same Mickey Mouse cartoons, at one time or another in the last century, and we all think well of the rodent, and the same goes for much of the planet. Three generations of this world, all with the same shared good vibes. Say what you will about Disney the corporation, but Mickey Mouse is gold.
One of the absolute dumbest moments in Kingdom Hearts 2 is the “death” of Goofy. For those of you that haven’t had the pleasure of seeing this scene, Goofy is hit by a large rock lobbed by some random heartless (not even a named villain, just some arbitrary debris), and Goofy falls over, apparently dead. Obviously, there’s no blood. There’s no real effort put forth by the game or direction to convince the player that “Goofy isn’t coming back” whether it be a party member switch (think Galuf to Krile) or even a cutscene with anything approaching an Aeris level of effort. Though Goofy’s equipment is returned to your inventory, which seems to suggest Donald looted his best friend’s corpse. In maybe 15 minutes of game time, Goofy will return to the party, no worse for wear, and the event is never spoken of again.
But all of that doesn’t matter, because the bad guys just killed Mickey Mouse’s friend.
Mickey is there for Goofy’s death. Mickey can be interpreted as a capricious jerk for a lot of Kingdom Hearts’ run time, and he seems to act this way simply because he can, and he knows it. But there, in that moment, Mickey is reminded that there is a cost to this war, it’s not just some game, and it’s time to beat some heartless like a cat on a boat.
And it’s a silly little cartoon mouse with a silly little key sword and it should be just as ridiculous as it sounds, but it’s not. It’s a beloved childhood icon who should be all smiles and happiness who cannot be happy right now because his friend is dead. Mickey Mouse is going to kick ass, and you, player, are going to help him.
And it’s God damn exhilarating.
So you, Sora, go on to slay over 1,000 heartless (the game counts, you must kill, at least, without hyperbole, one thousand) with the blessing of Mickey Mouse. A century old symbol of joy cheering you on to slaughter an army of pure evil bugs? There’s nothing more simple and clean than that.
I could make a giant post about how Kingdom Hearts (1) is one of the most important games I’ve ever played, how it hit at just the right time in my life, and, while none of the sequels have lived up to it, KH1 will always hold a place in my heart and my brain, and thus these posts; but the real thing that makes the Kingdom Hearts series so amazing, and something that I would argue makes KH important even to the entire of medium of video games and storytelling in general, is how it can “take” a fictional character, one well known the world over, and use him and his motivations to enable the player to do and feel things that would be impossible in any other medium or situation. When Kingdom Hearts does it, and does it right, it is awe-inspiring.
COMING UP NEXT KH FAQ: Donald and Goofy, or when Kingdom Hearts completely fails.