Why Walt Disney Stopped Being The Voice Of Mickey Mouse

Walt Disney Animation Studios, and the wider Disney company, have risen to become a true pop-culture powerhouse. According to IMDb, more than 119 feature-length animated movies have been released by the studio since the debut film, 1937’s “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.”

Everybody has their own favorite characters, whether an enduring favorite like Donald Duck or a newer addition to the lexicon like Wreck-It Ralph. It’s impossible to imagine the company, however, without picturing the iconic critter who started it all: Mickey Mouse.

According to The Walt Disney Family Museum, the iconic “Steamboat Willie” was not the very first Mickey cartoon ever created. “Plane Crazy” (which sees Mickey and co. working on an airplane) and “The Galloping Gaucho” were first and second respectively, making “Steamboat Willie” the third, but the former two were not accepted by distributors. The latter debuted in a New York City theater on November 18, 1928, immediately becoming a hit.

In his first cartoons, per Skyway To Wonderland, Mickey was voiced by none other than Walt Disney himself, who provided all his vocalizations before the character actually spoke. He would continue as the voice-actor of his most famous creation for almost twenty years, until 1947’s “Fun and Fancy Free.” But why did Walt quit his role as the voice of Mickey Mouse?

A little bit of Disney delegation

Disney wrote in 1948’s “What Mickey Means To Me,” per The Walt Disney Family Museum, that the character came to him “at a time when the business fortunes of my brother Roy and myself were at [their] lowest ebb.” The company was very, very far from the media juggernaut it is today (the humble business had only been founded in October 1923, per History, when it was known as Disney Brothers Cartoon Studio), and so Walt had both the availability and simply the need to provide his voice-acting talents.

Skyway To Wonderland reports that, increasingly, Walt Disney did not have the time to voice Mickey (and, at the beginning, Minnie, a role he also held until 1930). Apparently, substitutes like Clarence Nash (the original voice of Donald Duck) would perform the role when Disney himself was away on business or otherwise unavailable.

Behind The Voice Actors states that James McDonald became Mickey’s regular voice actor in the 1950s, 1977 marked Wayne Allwine’s first time in the role, and that Bret Iwan has starred as Mickey since Allwine’s death in 2009. It also suggests another factor in Disney’s decision to step away from voice work: his smoking seems to have given his voice a harsher, hoarse quality, hardly conducive to playing the adorably high-pitched mouse.

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