Mark Toole has been a cast member at Disneyland for more than thirty years.

Mark’s the oldest costume Mickey Mouse by a country mile. It’s a tough gig being dressed in a life-size costume that weighs as much as a small man, performing with pep and pluck for thousands of families and children every day. Sharing the wonder and magic can take it out of a Juilliard-trained actor.

“Mickey Mouse Overdrive” is a subversive short story about taking the safe path through life.

Does it pay to play the game?

2,000 words / 8 minutes of genuine reading pleasure

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‘Disneyland is presented as imaginary in order to make us believe that the rest is real.’ Jean Baudrillard 



Copyright 2024 Stefano Boscutti
All Rights Reserved

At midnight, the lights slam off around Disneyland and the magic kingdom is engulfed in darkness.

Flags droop as the fans that keep them flapping and flying high power down. Waterfalls shudder as rushing water stops and pools. Silence descends.

Under a tree at the start of Main Street, U.S.A. lies a full-size costumed Mickey Mouse, sprawled on his back on the ground. There’s no movement until the giant head lolls to one side and the muffled sound of a man’s voice spills out.

‘Awww, shit!!’

After more than thirty years of playing Disney’s most famous character, it’s come to this. Another blackout and the realisation that security has left for the night, unconcerned that what they thought was an empty and discarded costume actually contained a man, a real man.

Mark Toole sits up, looks left and right. Pats the side of his giant head. The blackouts are becoming more frequent. Maybe it was the second oxy. Maybe it was the bottle of cheap vodka he’d guzzled through the costume’s hydration system during his shift.

Thirty years a mouse. He’s got the tiny Disney service pin with Jiminy Cricket to prove it. It’s not even gold. It’s gold-toned. Some cheap trinket made in China to honour giving more than half his life to the Anaheim dream park.

Mark took the gig between casting calls and auditions when he first moved to California from New York. A summer stint, a bit of fun. Something to tide him over until the real acting jobs came.

But those acting jobs never came. Mark was a fair bit shorter than most actors. Not ideal for a leading man but perfect to play Mickey Mouse in costume.

He thought the costume would be the perfect cover. He never thought it would come to define him.

A mouse. A fucking mouse. A fucking perky, cheeky, happy-go-lucky mouse with a permanent dimpled plastic grin stretched from ear to ear.

Mark rolls on his side and struggles to get up. Yes, the oversized head makes it hard to balance. Yes, the hulking black galoshes make it hard to stand. And yes, the puffy three-fingered white gloves make it hard to grip anything.

But it’s Mark’s knees that are the problem. All that damaged cartilage, all that wear and tear, all that pain. He knows he needs surgery and one of the main reasons he’s still at Disney is the health insurance for full-time employees.

But the range of health benefits keeps shrinking, delayed medical care, higher copays, higher bills. Disney is cost-cutting everything these days. Shutting off the electricity at midnight and winding back on security is just the latest.

Mark hears something rustling at the railroad station. He knows it’s the feral cats. The cats always come out in the darkness, roaming for mice and rats. The irony of being dressed in a mouse costume is not lost on him. There’s thousands of cats slipping through the night.

Walt Disney first brought in the cats because they were cheaper than paying for exterminators. Also less chemicals meant less lawsuits.

Mark imagines he hears a train whistle. The station and narrow-gauge track that fringes the park was Walt’s initial idea that got Disneyland rolling. He’d always loved steam trains. Even built a ridable miniature Carolwood Pacific Railroad in his own backyard.

The day before Disneyland opened to the public in nineteen-fifty-five, Walt had screamed at the workmen who were frantically shovelling ballast rock into the tracks. Ordered all of it to be taken out and recrushed to match the five-eight scale of his railroad.

Everything in Walt’s life was an illusion, a trick of perspective. Even the American flags dotted throughout the park and down Main Street, U.S.A. aren’t real. They’re just props. They don’t have the official fifty stars and thirteen stripes. So they don’t have to be lowered or lit every night.

Walt loved playing with scale. Disneyland is a cultural and optical illusion. Forced perspective make buildings appear taller, grander. Upper levels are built progressively smaller than ground levels to look larger than life. Walt used every trick in the book.

Walt understood the sense of ease that came with playing with the size of things, manipulating the scale of things to create a more intimate atmosphere. By wrapping the horizon with his man-made buildings and jungles and mountains and tree tops and vistas, no one can see anything of the outside world.

Disneyland is its own world. Oddly authentic and idealised, visually calming, emotionally directed.

Mark looks into the gloom of the street lined with vintage shops and buildings pieced together from Walt’s childhood memories of small towns in Missouri. Bizarre to think one man dreamed all of this into existence.

But what Mark thinks is that he really needs a drink. There are only two restaurants that serve alcohol at Disneyland and both have the highest level of security with triple steel doors. He couldn’t break in if he wanted to.

But he could break into Walt’s secret apartment above the fire station. It’s been kept untouched since Walt died as a mark of respect. Walt liked his scotch and Mark is sure he remembers seeing a crystal decanter the last time he looked in.

Walt’s hidden apartment is the worst-kept secret at Disneyland. He’d built it above the Town Square Fire House during initial construction so he could stay overnight on site instead of driving to and from the studio at Burbank or his home at Holmby Hills. Later he used it for his family and to entertain VIPs visiting the park.

An antique lamp with dim green glass in the window is supposed to be eternally lit to signify Walt’s ever-lasting presence. But cost-cutting pressures mean even this light is switched off at night.

No matter because Mark can find the back stairs with his eyes closed. He knows every nook and cranny of the park, every inch.

The gate to the back stairs is always open. Mark clomps his way up the staircase, trying to keep steady so the oversized head doesn’t make him lose balance. He’s puffed by the time he reaches the top landing and the entrance door to the apartment.

What the hell? He turns the knob and the door silently opens. He grins almost as wide as the dimpled smile moulded onto the oversized head of his Mickey Mouse costume.

But as he takes a step forward the oversized head smacks into the door frame and topples off as his neck snaps back. Rolls across the landing and then tumbles and bounces down the stairs.

Mark looks a little dazed. Bites off each of the puffy white gloves and spits them out, scratches his hair and saunters into the secret apartment wearing the costume yellow bow tie, white waistcoat, black tuxedo tailcoat and floppy red pants.

There’s a bathroom and a small kitchen on the right with a vanity on the other side. Mark plops down on a small chair. The living area is just as Walt’s wife Lillian had left it.

Thick cranberry red brocade curtains and matching sofas and carpet, accented with Victorian-era floral armchairs shortened to make the ceiling look higher than it is. Walt forever playing with perspective.

When Walt first thought of Disneyland and his magic kingdom, his brother Roy thought he had completely lost his mind. Television had eaten into their studio’s movie business. Rather than laying off animators and art directors and illustrators and scriptwriters and production designers and costume designers, imagineers, storyboarders and the rest of the staff, Walt thought why not put them to work on the amusement park of his dreams? If his staff can turn out audience-pleasing ninety-minute movies with dramatic ups and downs and satisfying endings in two dimensions, how hard can it be to create a three-minute ride in three dimensions? It’s just a question of perspective.

Walt had found a thousand acres in Anaheim, in the middle of nowhere to build his dream. At the time it was nothing but dirt roads and the occasional orange grove and broken farm, forty-five miles from where anyone lived. Everyone thought he was crazy.

Walt sold his vacation home in Palm Springs to kick in the money to get the project rolling. Two decades of planning and delays and more planning. A year of backbreaking construction. This apartment gave Walt a bird’s eye view over every area of the sprawling development.

During the final weeks, the construction crew tripled to two thousand five hundred men, many pulling double shifts. Crane operators worked in rotating shifts around the clock. Seventeen million dollars and an eight-million dollar line of credit from Bank of America and the park officially opened on Sunday, July seventeen, nineteen-fifty-five. In a heatwave with soaring temperatures and soaring crowds. Press, VIPs, hundreds of guests, thousands of gatecrashers.

Walt orchestrated the ABC television network to film and broadcast the opening of Disneyland in return for some free episodes of “The Mickey Mouse Club.” The opening was hosted by Art Linkletter, Bob Cummings and Ronald Reagan when he was still an actor.

Twenty-four cameras spread throughout the park, the biggest live television event in history where a record ninety-million American viewers tuned in. More than half the country had the happiest place on earth poured into their living rooms through cathode-ray tubes.

Mark looks over Walt’s empty apartment. A phonograph with a dusty 78rpm disc in place, gold picture frames holding small painted landscapes, bric-a-brac that Lillian had collected in her travels.

Walt loved to sit in the main chair reading scripts while his daughters and wife sipped tea from fine bone china cups. Walt’s own cup was always full of scotch and kept out of reach of the children.

Like every cast member, Mark had heard the stories after Walt died in the sixties of the orgies with Snow White and the Seven Dwarves in the apartment. How Goofy had to be carried away by ambulance after taking one too many LSD trips and opening the front window ready to jump out and fly to the moon. The time Mary Poppins climbed onto the roof to ring the brass fire bell but slipped and fell off.

Where had all the fun gone? There was a time when it was all a giant non-stop party in the sprawling underground network of tunnels and break rooms, make up rooms, dressing rooms and rehearsal facilities. It’s where cast members go between sets to relax, recuperate, swap out costumes, hang out far from public view.

Mark remembers fucking Cinderella doggy style in full Mickey Mouse costume in the headroom, that cavernous space where thousands of Disneyland costumes rotate among the cast members. Pulling back on her choker and fucking her hard. No one has sex in Disneyland anymore.

Mark stands and stretches his right knee. Limps around to the vanity and spots the crystal decanter on a highboy dresser with Walt's bakelite grooming set, hair still in the brush.

Mark lifts the stopper and pours himself a cup. Takes a gulp and immediately spits it out. It’s not scotch. It’s rancid tea. Just another prop. Another illusion.

That’s when the idea strikes him to write a play, a one-act play about being Mickey Mouse. About playing an illusion.

As he wanders out of Walt’s apartment, he starts discarding his costume piece by piece.

By the time he steps out onto Main Street, U.S.A, Mark is completely naked.

Ideas are flowing through him as he heads towards Sleeping Beauty castle.

As a new day breaks and morning sunlight ripples through the land.

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Copyright 2024 Stefano Boscutti

All Rights Reserved

The moral rights of the author are asserted.

No part of this work may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, digital, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying or copying and pasting, recording or any information storage or retrieval system, without permission in writing.

Stefano Boscutti acknowledges the trademark owners of various products referenced in this work. The publication or use of these trademarks is not authorised or sponsored by the trademark owner.

This is a work of fiction. While many of the characters portrayed here have counterparts in the life and times of Walt Disney, Mickey Mouse and others, the characterisations and incidents presented are totally the products of the author’s slippery imagination. This work is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. It should not be resold or given away. Thank you for your support. (Couldn’t do it without you.)

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