To celebrate Mickey Mouse’s birthday on November 18, I will take what Walt Disney said to heart and not lose sight of one thing… “that it was all started by a mouse.” This week, we’ll remember just that, as I have two segments from the WDW Radio that both involve Mickey Mouse.
First, we’ll venture into Magic Kingdom, and explore not an attraction, land, shop or show, but a single location. In fact, a single statute. In our DSI: Disney Scene Investigation, Jim Korkis and I look at the history and story behind the iconic Partners statue of Walt and Mickey.
The legacy of and bond between Walt and Mickey goes far beyond one of simply artist and creation. In fact, Walt actually lent his voice to his most famous work. Over the years, Walt passed that torch to other men who became the voice of Mickey, and this week, I want to share my conversation with Bret Iwan, the man who eighty years after Mickey spoke his first words on screen, took over that role of a lifetime. We talk about his personal story of becoming the voice of Mickey, the legacy, and the future.
This week’s show from the Archives is a retrospect and thought-provoking look at two major figures in Disney history: Mickey Mouse and the man who created him. Today, we’ll be dipping into the archives and sharing two exciting discussions: Firstly, we delve deep into the hidden story behind the famous Partner Statue of Walt Disney and secondly, we explore the journey of our special guest, Bret Iwan, who became the voice of Mickey Mouse following Wayne Allwine’s passing in 2009. We’ll get you behind the scenes of Disney parks, from the subtleties of the partner statues around the world to auditions to becoming Mickey’s voice.
We’ll chat with Disney historian, Jim Korkis, about the thought process behind the Disney-themed statues and within these discussions, we’ll learn more about the man himself, Walt Disney. To add to this, we also have the honor of hosting Bret Iwan who carries the mantle of being the voice of Mickey Mouse. From an interest sparked in grade school, all the way to voicing one of the most iconic cartoon characters in the world, this story promises to be a blend of poignant and inspirational.
We’re excited to share this journey of discovery with you. And of course, we love hearing from you, so head to the WDW Radio clubhouse on Facebook or our voicemail to share your thoughts and memories of Mickey Mouse. Get ready for a trip down memory lane as we pay homage to Walt Disney and the character he brought to life. Tune in, as we recollect, learn, and appreciate the magic that is Disney! Prepare for a magical episode full of nostalgia and inspiration.
Thanks to the voice of Mickey Mouse, Bret Iwan for joining me… and my friend the late Jim Korkis for sharing his stories, knowledge, and gifts with us.
Timestamped summary of this episode:
- [00:00] From the WDW Radio Archives, Lou Mongello shares evergreen episodes featuring Mickey Mouse’s significance.
- [03:00] Love wandering and sharing stories through books.
- [06:07] Disneyland promotional activities ruined the castle view.
- [12:13] California statue signifies Walt Disney’s vision.
- [15:38] Partner statues blend in with local colors. Walt Disney would be happy.
- [20:20] Mickey Mouse became iconic face, voice changed.
- [23:33] Failed attempt at falsetto; became voice talent.
- [27:32] Mickey Mouse voice audition process, relocation required.
- [28:38] Waited two months before starting test projects, learned of Wayne’s passing, heartbroken over missed opportunity to work with him, started voice test projects including a parade segment.
- [34:38] Wayne and Jimmy influenced my character voice.
- [36:48] Mickey, Goofy, Minnie, singing, dancing, remembering.
- [40:06] Jazz, hors d’oeuvres, talking about journeys, auction, autographs
The key moments in this episode are:
- Lou Mongello as host of episode 757 of WDW Radio.
- Announcement of archived segments regarding Mickey Mouse.
- Encouragement for listeners to share their favorite Mickey Mouse memories.
- Highlight of W.W. Radio clubhouse on Facebook and voicemail for listener participation.
- Guest Introduction: Bret Iwan
- Iwan’s initial interest in doing voice impressions.
- Unexpected journey into voicing Mickey Mouse.
- Early career as an illustrator and transition to voice acting.
- Emotional reaction to Wayne Allwine’s death and taking over his iconic role.
- Move to Southern California as part of his role as the voice of Mickey Mouse.
- Bret Iwan’s Career as Mickey Mouse’s Voice
- Honor and responsibility of voicing Mickey Mouse.
- Technique in infusing personal passion and referencing previous stylistic choices.
- Various projects featuring Iwan’s voice talent.
- Unique position as the sole official English-speaking Mickey Mouse voice actor.
- Iwan’s Involvement in Preserving Walt Disney’s Legacy
- Role in the restoration of Walt’s original Laugh O Gram studio through Thank You Walt Disney Organization.
- Participation in fundraising event alongside Tony Anselmo.
- Personal contributions for the auction during the fundraising event.
- Guest Introduction: Jim Korkis
- Korkis’ recommendations of the audio guide to Walt Disney World.
- Comprehensive discussion on the statues of Walt Disney in various parks.
- Walt Disney Statue Facts and Origin Story
- Walt Disney’s original reluctance in having a statue.
- Inspiration behind the design and gesture of Walt’s statue.
- Symbolism behind Walt’s tie emblem.
- The story behind the decision to depict Mickey as three feet tall.
- Exploration of the original hub location and its transformation.
- Call to Action:
- Invitation for listeners to visit thankyouwaltdisney.org to support the Walt Disney legacy preservation mission.
- Encouragement for listeners to participate in sharing their favorite Mickey Mouse stories.
What is your favorite personal memory of Mickey Mouse? Was it on TV? In a Disney Park? A piece of merchandise?
Share your thoughts in the WDW Radio Clubhouse at WDWRadio.com/Clubhouse, or call the voicemail at 407-900-9391 (WDW1) and share your story on the show.
Lou Mongello: Hello my friend, and welcome to another episode from the WW Radio Archives. I am Lou Mongello, and this is show number 757. And each week I'm gonna select an evergreen episode of the show. to share that maybe you haven't heard before, or one that you haven't heard in a long time, whether it's an interview, a top 10, a relevant review, or a guide, or way back machine.
It's a great way to visit and revisit some of our favorite episodes, including ones that you have suggested that I share from the archives. And this week to celebrate Mickey Mouse's and my daughter's, we didn't plan it, just happened that way, on November 18th, I'm going to take what Walt Disney said to heart, and not lose sight of one thing, that it really was all started by a mouse.
And so this week, we're gonna remember just that, as I have not one, but two segments from the archives that both involve Mickey Mouse. First, we're gonna venture into Magic Kingdom and explore not an attraction, a land, a shop, or a show, but a single location. In fact, a single statue, because in our DSI Disney Scene Investigation, Jim Korkis and I look at the history and the story behind the iconic partner statue of Walt and Mickey.
And that legacy of and bond between Walt and Mickey goes far beyond one of simply artist and creation. In fact, Walt actually lent his voice to his most famous work. And over the years, Walt passed that torch to other men who became the voice of Mickey. And this week, I want to share my conversation with Brett Iwan, the man who 80 years after Mickey spoke his first words on screen, took over the role of a lifetime.
We're going to talk about his personal story of becoming the voice of Mickey. The legacy and the future, and I'd love to hear from you. I think we all have a relationship with Mickey Mouse, and I want to know what is your favorite or most fondest memory of you and Mickey? Whether it's seeing him on screen, meeting and hugging him in Magic Kingdom for the first time, your vintage 1973 Mickey Mouse back scratcher.
Yes, I still have mine. Whatever it might be, I'd love to hear yours. You can share your thoughts. In the W. W. Radio clubhouse on Facebook over at W. W. Radio dot com slash clubhouse. I'll post this question there or you can call the voicemail at 407 900 9391. That's 407 900 WDW1 even better. And I will share your story and your memory on the show.
But for now, sit back, relax and enjoy this week's episode from the archives on the W. W. Radio show.
favorite places in all of Walt Disney World is Main Street U. S. A. I love just take the time and wandering and sharing with you through the books, the audio guide to Main Street, the magazine and so much more. Some of the stories that take place here and some of the incredible details. And as we reach the end of Main Street, one of the most beautiful and photographed locations and items anywhere in Walt Disney World is Cinderella Castle with the statue.
of Walt and Mickey in the foreground. And believe it or not, there is a story behind that as well. Not just the details of the statue itself, but how it came to be here and its prominent place in front of the icon of Cinderella Castle. And we talk about stories behind the stories. Certainly no one can tell it better than frequent guest and friend of the show, Jim Corkis.
Jim Korkis: Well, Lou, it's great to see you again and, uh, rosy cheeked and, uh, all of this. And yes, this is wonderful. This is, uh, one of my favorite locations as well, uh, too. And in fact, you know, imagineers do say everything speaks. In fact, that's one of the reasons that the Disney parks are theme parks rather than amusement parks is a theme is a story.
And so there's stories behind why these things are located where they are. The, the creation of them. And I noticed you mentioned that this is one of the most photographed locations at the Magic Kingdom. Actually, this is the second most photographed location at the Magic Kingdom. Do you have an idea what the first
Lou Mongello: is?
There's that Jim Korkus cardboard cutout right at the beginning. I was wondering if that might be it.
Jim Korkis: Ah, that's close. But actually, the first most photographed location at the Magic Kingdom is the Floral Mickey at the front of the park. And again, another area where... A lot of people just rushed by, but, uh, even beginning at Disneyland, that's how they associated this is Disneyland.
And that, of course, was the marquee to let you know that you were coming into a living theater. What's playing at the theater? Well, it's Mickey Mouse! And then you had the attraction, uh, uh, posters there, these are the coming attractions. And then, suddenly, you're into the theater and you're, you're part of, uh, the living experience.
But, uh, uh, this is, uh, terrific. The partner statue, uh, always touches my heart. Uh, uh, because I love Walt so much. And love Walt's, uh, uh, ideas and concepts. And, um, But, but,
Lou Mongello: real quick, before we talk about the statue itself. Let's take a quick step backwards. Because this statue was not always here. This was not here in 1971.
And certainly, I remember as a kid, And you can see a lot of the old pictures. The hub itself looked very different. And I, if the, The one thing that that impresses guests and still me to this day after being here hundreds of times Is when you turn into town square and you get that reveal of cinderella castle in the distance at one point The reveal wasn't quite as spectacular because the hub was so much more built up With benches and it was so full of trees.
Yeah, it was so very lush
Jim Korkis: with trees and and you're absolutely right and that that was Actually, that situation was even worse at Disneyland because as you know, the the castle is so much smaller and In the 80s, especially the 70s in the 80s Disney was doing an awful lot of promotions And so they were using that hub area.
So for instance when they had circus days Uh, smack dab in the middle of the hub. They might have the wheel of death, which is that big circle and the motorcycle guy going around and around. Or they had the blast to the past, celebrating the 50s. And they had a huge, giant jukebox. And basically what happened was, uh, uh, John Hench and Marty Scalar took a look and said, This is ruining the story.
You're looking down Main Street and you should be seeing the castle of your dreams. And you're seeing this giant jukebox, you're seeing this, you're seeing all of these things. We've got to have something to prevent operations from putting anything in that hub. And, uh, one of the things that they discovered, too, was that, um, Uh, it had been a while since Walt had passed away.
So, a lot of people had not grown up watching Walt on, uh, on TV. So a lot of kids, and they were, even some college students, They were doing surveys, uh, thought that Walt, uh, Uh, was very much like Betty Crocker, completely made up character. Uh, or Colonel Sanders, who was a real person, but was just sort of an icon.
Didn't have day to day interaction, you know, uh, with the, with the business. And, um, they took a look around and they, they said, uh, Okay, Kellogg's Corn Flakes. Kellogg's Corn Flakes, very, very popular. And it's, uh, even got the signature of, uh, Kellogg's on it. Everybody's had ke What's Kellogg's first name?
Harry. William, actually. Close. Okay, we'll do an easier one for you. Uh, Hershey. Hershey, Pennsylvania. It's got the, all those great candies. They've got an amusement park. I know this one. Ask me again. Okay, yes, okay. What's, what's Hershey's first name? Milton. Milton, exactly. Most people do not know that. And so, um, now, when you say Disney, most people come up with Walt, and one of the reasons is because they said, let's get a statue You know, to commemorate Walt, and this was a bigger problem, uh, than, than you can imagine, you know.
Yes, it'll be great to have a statue there, because then they can't put anything else, you know, around there. We can still see the castle, but Walt never wanted a statue. Walt always said, statues are for dead people, I don't want a statue. So they had to get special permission from Walt's widow, Lillian Disney, uh, to create a statue.
And in fact, um, the statue was erected out at Disneyland, um... Around the time of Mickey's, uh, 65th, uh, birthday. And then later, uh, installed, um, out here at Walt Disney World. And then, you know, at, at the Disney parks, uh, uh, around the world. But, you know, in reality, the statue began in 1962. Um. What happened is Blaine Gibson, an Imagineer and a very popular sculpture, he a sculptor.
He, uh, uh, sculpted the, uh, head for, um, Mr. Lincoln and for the Pirates of the Caribbean. Uh, uh, all of that. In 1962 as a gift for Walt, he sculpted a bust and presented it to Walt, and Walt said, get that thing outta here. You know, what, what do I need with that? And so. It ended up in Blaine Gibson's garage for decades until Marty Sklar says, we need a, you know, a statue of Walt.
And so he pulled that out as reference. And so the head there is actually inspired by. A sculpt of Walt while Walt was alive. And, um, how do you begin, uh, coming up with a, a design for a, a Walt statue? Because Walt was so many things, you know. What represents Walt Disney? And so working very closely with, uh, uh, John Hench, uh, dozens of concepts were proposed.
One of them, Had, uh, Walt holding the rolled up blueprints for the original Epcot in his hand and pointing with the blueprints down the street. So you're pointing in the direction of where Epcot, uh, uh, is now. In, in one version they had, um, Mickey with an ice cream cone because they wanted that spirit of youth.
And they thought that, no, that made him look too young. And also John Hench felt that that, uh, uh, would emphasize carnation ice cream. And, and have one sponsor. Uh, one version had Mickey running ahead and pulling Walt, uh, along. And, um, so, uh, many, many different versions before they, they came up with this one.
And one of the problems that, uh, Blaine Gibson had was, Okay, Walt's gonna hold Mickey's hand. What is the only reference I have? of Mickey holding a live person's hand. Fortunately, one existed. And do you know what that is? Favor us, Jim Korkus! Have you been to the Contemporary Hotel? Have you been in the lobby of the Contemporary Hotel?
Does that help you? There's
Lou Mongello: that, uh, the, the statue in the lobby of him with,
Jim Korkis: uh, Stokowski! Stokowski from Fantasia. So, the only reference that, um, Blaine had was, uh, Stokowski shaking hands with Mickey in Fantasia. So he used that as a reference of how would an animated hand interact with a live human hand.
Now, um, Walt is pointing, and he's pointing down the street because the theme, as Blaine Gibson told me, of this statue is Mickey, look at all the happy people who've come here today. To spend the time with us
Lou Mongello: and and you know, the story of what is Walt pointing at has been the subject of speculation and urban legend that he was pointing to Epcot that he was pointing to the future that he was pointing to his brother.
So it's nice to know that there is some sort of a reason that and you knew Blaine Gibson. Personally, he told you these stories that that is what he was really trying
Jim Korkis: to signify, right? Because again the statue in California isn't pointing towards Epcot. It's not pointing to all of these things It's pointing towards these guests and it actually comes from the story from the night before Walt passed away Roy was at his bedside and Walt was describing the layout of Epcot On the tiles, uh, above the, uh, hospital, uh, room.
And at one point, Walt goes there. That's the spot. And Roy froze and Roy goes, I've been paying attention. What, what, what is he talking about? What, what did I miss? And Walt is there. That's where we'll put a bench so that Lily and I can sit and see all the happy people coming in. And so now Walt has that spot where he can see all the happy people coming in and he's pointing to Mickey.
Now he's pointing with the famous two finger point. And Walt did point with two fingers. And what is the reason behind that two finger point? You know, here at, at, at Walt Disney World and all that, we say, well, this is more gracious because pointing with one finger is, you know, uh, uh, spotlights people, so two fingers or the whole hand.
You point it with two fingers because... He was holding a cigarette. He was holding a cigarette. He was a smoker. And in fact, he didn't encourage kids to smoke. So if you go back into the photo archives, um, at the Disney studios, you'll see photos from the forties where Walt has his hands crossed in front of him or over at the side.
And he's got the two fingers. And there's a little puff of smoke in the air, but there's nothing between the fingers. They've airbrushed out the cigarette. Because he tried not to do that, uh, in public to encourage, you know, kids to smoke. But that's where that famous point, uh, came from. And, uh, one of the things that people bring up all the time is the little emblem that's on his tie.
It's the Smoke Tree Ranch, which is where he had his, uh, vacation home in, uh, Palm Springs. And, uh, I said, well, Blaine, how did you get the, uh, proportions there? And he says, well, Walt was about 5'9 but he always liked to say he was 5'10 or a little... And, and, and in fact, he was a little self conscious about that, because when Disneyland opened, both Fess Parker and, uh, Buddy Ebsen were well over six feet, one of them 6'5 And so to have his picture taken next to them, he actually got an apple crate out of a photographer's van, put it there, and he stood on it, so he's standing up almost shoulder to shoulder, uh, with them.
Don't look, don't look down at me like
Lou Mongello: that when you say that. Just because I'm
Jim Korkis: looking for an apple crate over here. Um, and Mickey, we know, is three feet high, and the only reason we know that is because Frank Thomas was able to convince Walt in the movie, The Pointer, They were having difficulty staging a scene and they said, Can we film you doing Mickey's voice?
And Walt says, Well, if you're way in the back and you don't make any noise and all of that. And in, in that film, basically Mickey is confronted by a big, huge bear who's gonna attack him. And Mickey goes, Gosh, uh, uh, uh, I'm Mickey Mouse. Uh, uh, you know,
Lou Mongello: uh, uh, um, Mickey Mouse. Uh, uh, uh, I hope you're heard of me.
Jim Korkis: Uh, uh, I hope. And he held out his hand exactly three feet... Yes, Jim Korkus did... Gorsh! The Jim did Mickey's voice. Gorsh! And so, uh, Walt held out his hand about three feet high. And so that's how they know that Walt thought that Mickey was three feet high. And so, uh... Blaine combined, uh, those proportions. Now, again, uh, you know, in an earlier segment, we talked about John Hench talking about, you know, the difference in color because of the skies and all that.
You'll notice that the partner statues are different colors, uh, around, uh, the world, based on, um, not how they were created, but in terms of blending in with the rest of the colors of that area there. And, uh, I, I think Walt would be, uh, very happy to, Uh, even though he hated statues, I think, especially of him, I think he'd be very happy to have, uh, uh, that, uh, statue there, so that, and also so we can remember that, you know, this really is Walt, uh, Disney World, and even just in the time that we've been spending here, so many people, a constant flow of, of, of people, uh, taking pictures, standing up there on, on, on the railing, uh, all of that, so, um, a wonderful, wonderful, uh, nice, uh, Uh, little touch for this park and for all the Disney parks and just
Lou Mongello: one of the detail that I always invite people to look at is on his outstretched hand.
He's also wearing a ring and it's a traditional Irish clatter wing ring that both he and I believe his wife
Jim Korkis: also wore. Absolutely. You are absolutely correct. So, and
Lou Mongello: so, I found it fascinating as you were talking about the incarnations of what the statue could have been. I said, wow, that's, that's so interesting to try and picture it that way.
But to, when you see it this way and you sort of think about the way you're describing it, you almost couldn't imagine it being anything else other than something as simple as that, as what we have now.
Jim Korkis: Absolutely, I, I, I agree. And here at, uh, Walt Disney World, it actually works on that other level by him pointing down.
If you follow that line, you get down towards where the flagpole, where the Roy statue is. Also done by Blaine Gibson. And I, I think that's Walt giving a little acknowledgement to his brother who, who saw through the dream out here to build the Magic Kingdom. Wouldn't have happened without Roy. And
Lou Mongello: to see the, uh, Walt's head, the Walt's bust, you can head on over to Disney's Hollywood Studios.
In the, um,
Jim Korkis: the courtyard over there for the, uh, Academy of Television, Radio Arts and Sciences there. And as
Lou Mongello: you so pointed out, uh, so eloquently on a prior show, it is the only statue there that's signed.
Jim Korkis: Right. Signed by Blaine Gibson right on the back there. And again, also that based on that bus that fortunately he kept in his garage for decades.
Normally a sculptor, he says, normally people would just smash these things if they weren't going to use them. And he says. I just didn't have the heart to do that, and I'm glad I didn't.
Lou Mongello: Well, and so are we, because obviously it's an icon of the park. It's, like you said, so photographed, and I hope that this segment helps people appreciate more what it represents and the history behind it and what it signifies for the millions and millions of guests that come through, that they get a chance to see it, and hopefully get a chance to hear Jim Korkis tell more of these stories that only you can tell.
And again, to read more of Jim's work, Check out celebrations magazine. Jim is frequent contributor with his stories behind the stories as well as to the W. D. W. Radio show and of course, find out more about Main Street and some of the other details and stories. Be sure and check out my audio guide to Walt Disney World available on CD and download at W.
D. W. Radio dot com or iTunes. Jim Korkis, Disney historian, Disney expert Storyteller extraordinaire and good friend. Thanks so much for coming on the show.
Jim Korkis: Lou. Always a pleasure. I know your listeners love the show. I do as well. And yes, I've got copies of those CDs. I recommend them to everybody else as well.
Lou Mongello: I couldn't ask for a better endorsement. Thanks.
Jim Korkis: Thank you.
Lou Mongello: Since the first time we heard him speak the words hot dogs in 1929, in a short called The Carnival Kid, Hot dog! Hot dog! Hot dog!
Bret Iwan: Hot dog!
Lou Mongello: Mickey Mouse became more than simply a cartoon character. He became arguably the most recognized face. In that first role, and for years to come, he was voiced by his creator, Walt Disney himself. In 1947, starting with the Mickey and the Beanstalk segment of the fun and fancy free package film, the task and role of Mickey's voice was handed to veteran Disney musician and actor, Jimmy McDonald, as Walt was simply too busy to continue.
In 1983, the late Wayne Allwine voiced Mickey in Mickey's Christmas Carol and continued to do so until his passing in 2009. And that really was a perfect match as Allwine was, coincidentally, married to Russi Taylor, the voice of Minnie Mouse. But in 2009, the torch was passed to a new Mickey Mouse and my next guest.
He is Brett Iwan and Brett, I want to welcome you to the WDW Radio Show. Wow, hot dog!
Bret Iwan: Thanks for having me. I
Lou Mongello: was hoping you would do it, and I love the fact that you lead off with it, so. Um, yeah, I certainly want to talk to you all about your, you know, certainly the role of a lifetime. But, real quick, tell us a little bit about your background, because you didn't sort of start out as a voice guy.
You were an artist,
Bret Iwan: correct? Yeah, that's correct. Um, I started out as an illustrator, actually. Went to school. Uh, Ringling College of Art and Design, which is in Sarasota, Florida. And from there, I got a job as an illustrator working for Hallmark Cards in Kansas City. And that was always kind of my passion.
My dream was to work for Disney. And, um, at an early age, it was, uh, I wanted to be an animator. So, of course, I was drawing Disney characters, learned to draw by drawing Disney characters and Mickey Mouse. Um, so that was always my background. And, um, you know, oddly enough, the background is what led me into the voice acting because it was a friend of mine from college.
Who works at Pixar now as an animator, um, she received the internal memo, uh, discussing the audition process that was going to start, um, so she's the one who informed me of it, passed along the info, and because of hers, uh, how the whole process started, so. Yeah, and it's pretty I started out as an artist, but it eventually led me to the voice acting, I
Lou Mongello: guess.
Well, it's funny because you sort of always had that connection. You were a Disney fan, uh, you were an artist. Even Hallmark, you know, Hallmark had their sort of historic relationship with Walt Disney and the company for many years. But, you know, Brett, every look, everybody thinks they can do Mickey. Um, some are obviously better than others.
When did you start doing it and be like, hey, I can do this. I can, I can be Mickey Mouse.
Bret Iwan: Um, you know, I, the earliest I can remember doing it was, you know, sometime in grade school. My, my grandpa, um, did a pretty good Donald Duck impression. At least, you know, at that age, I thought it was pretty good. And I could never do it.
I, I'd always try and I could never do Donald's voice. Um, so I just remember one day being, you know, thinking to myself, well, if I can't do Donald, maybe I'll try to do a different character and... Um, like I said, huge Disney fan, especially Mickey. I've loved him as long as I can remember, so naturally I tried to do Mickey.
Well, it didn't really work at first. I remember, you know, attempting it, but something about reaching that falsetto just wasn't there. Um, I was a huge fan of Phantasmic, and after a trip to Disneyland one time, I came home with the soundtrack and listened to that thing over and over and over again. And eventually I started to try and do the voice as Wayne had done it in Phantasmic.
Still didn't work, but then at one point after my voice had changed... Um, on a whim, I tried it again, and it kind of sounded good, at least I thought, so um, at that point it just kind of became a little, little trick that I did for my friends, um, I never, I never really thought it was, you know, anything amazing, uh, I figured a lot of people could do it, but it was just, you know, I'd give an oh boy, or a laugh for my friends when we'd go to the theme parks, and um, that was really all it was, I, I never, I never planned on it becoming a career, especially in an official capacity.
That just seemed, you know, unrealistic and so far out of reach, but, um, you know, who knew? Now I'm here and it's definitely surreal and, um, exciting and... Uh, overwhelming at times, but, yeah.
Lou Mongello: Well, so you, so you hear about this opportunity, truly, I mean, a once in a lifetime opportunity, considering the, the short legacy of people that preceded the voice of Mickey Mouse.
Can you tell us about maybe preparing for the audition and what that audition process was like?
Bret Iwan: Well, the audition process started out with a phone, um, audition, a hotline they had set up. Um, Wayne's health had been declining for a while and, and, uh, sadly they decided that maybe it was best to start finding somebody who could maybe be an understudy to Wayne.
So, in that process, they decided, well, you know, traditionally, like you had mentioned at the top of the interview, that Mickey had come up through the studios, so they thought, why not, let's start our search internally, so they sent out a company wide memo to all their animation studios, um, discussing the audition process, and, uh, had this phone line set up, So they attach a script and there's an mp3 reference file where you could hear, uh, some Walt clips and some Wayne clips.
Um, and what they're looking for is a voice match. They wanted you to get as close as possible. Um, when I got that email that first night, I was overwhelmed with excitement. I couldn't believe that. You know, this opportunity had found its way to me. It was just, it was unreal. Um, so of course it was like overly excited and there was a, I think the hotline was going to be open for about two months.
And, you know, in, in the email it mentioned, you know, take your time, practice, prepare for this audition. And I, I couldn't, I was so excited, I couldn't wait. So I think my best friend convinced me to wait about three days, and in those three days, you know, I listened to that MP3 file over and over and over again, and I practiced and I did it for friends.
I kept telling my friends, you know, tell me honestly, because I don't want to be one of those people who auditions for American Idol and says, all my friends and family say I'm great, but the rest of America is listening and going, well, I don't know what those friends are thinking. So, you know, I, I tested out for friends.
They all were very encouraging. And, uh, I think it was about three days after I found out about the audition, I, I called the hotline. I'm heart racing, um, shaking, and I left my name, my phone number, and the audition. Uh, you know, it felt like two seconds worth when I was done and, and then I started being paranoid that, did I leave my right number?
Did I leave my correct name? Um, so yeah, my, my preparation wasn't much. It was, you know, definitely a little rushed, but, um, I think just the, the excitement and the passion I had behind Mickey. Was already there and so there wasn't too much I had to do to prepare to get to know the character by any means.
Lou Mongello: And so literally does the phone ring one day and, and somebody says, oh, by the way, just so you know, you're gonna be Mickey
Bret Iwan: Mouse. Well, uh, kind of. It was a little lengthy of a process. The phone, the phone did ring and they, you know, since they were looking internally that they assumed that I was somewhere in California and finding out that I was in Kansas City was a little bit of a shock for them because Um, the voice of Mickey Mouse has to be in, in Southern California around the Burbank studios because that's where, um, industry is and that's where everything happens and they need Mickey so much so, um, the idea of finding someone, somebody and having them relocate was a little bit more than they were looking for but, um, after they discussed it they, uh, gave me a call back and said that they would really love me to be a part of that audition process because they were starting callback auditions.
At that point, they wanted to do in studio auditions, and uh, so I had to fly myself out to L. A., took a trip out here with my best friend, and uh, went to the studios, did my first in studio audition ever. My first time behind a microphone in a sound booth. Um, did that, and you know, at that point, they had a few other candidates that they were having callbacks with.
So, it was, um, about two months, I think, went by. Uh, before I was called in to start doing test projects. Unfortunately, within those two months is the time when Wayne passed away. And, uh, never meeting him, I was still so heartbroken when I found out that news because, uh, you know, I had set it up in my head that I was auditioning to work with him, to learn from him.
And, uh, you know, the, the honor of being Mickey aside, I was so excited at the prospect of having the honor to get to meet this legend and, and, and learn from him. So that was a really sad time for everybody, uh, at the studio and the rest of the cast and even for myself. Um, but I was called in and started doing some test projects, uh, which were real projects that had to be done, but test projects in terms of me being the voice.
And that was when I did a parade little segment at the end of. The day for Animal Kingdom, and I started with some Disney on Ice projects, and a couple projects after that is when they sat me down and said, You know what? We'd like you to be the guy. You're doing a great job. We'd love to have you move out here.
So, at that point, I had to pack up my life in Kansas City, sell my house, and Move out here. Fortunately enough for me out here is home. So I was essentially moving back home, but still definitely a challenging time to pack up and relocate, especially, uh, to start a new career that I knew nothing about.
Lou Mongello: But again, you're coming from Kansas City, another Walt connection, so it was really, Brett, it was fate for you to become Mickey Mouse considering the...
Bret Iwan: You know, I, I, I jokingly say my life has somewhat taken a Walt journey in a way. I, I grew up in Southern California, surrounded by the Disney Studios and Disneyland. In high school, my family moved to Central Illinois where, you know, Walt was born in Chicago, so there's Disney history in there, at that location.
And then I went to school in Florida, just hours away from Disney World. And then I ended up in Kansas City, where, you know, Walt, uh, had his early beginnings doing, um, cartooning for the Kansas City Star, and working for the Kansas City Film and Slide Company, and eventually starting his Laugh O Gram Studio, which is still there, and, um, where I'll be participating in a fundraiser May 7th, um, with the Thank You Walt Disney Organization, who is, has taken on the task of restoring that location and saving it.
Um, so that the history of it is truly appreciated.
Lou Mongello: Yeah, and I certainly want to talk to you about that event, uh, coming up very soon, sort of that private evening with Mickey and Donald, but let's just quickly go back to you getting the role, because I have to assume, you know, you're doing test work, so maybe you don't have time to process it, but I have to imagine that you're nervous, or do you realize that I'm going to be the guy, I'm going to voice Really, Brett, the most recognized public figure in history, not only that, you're representing more than just a character or a brand or even a company because of what Mickey means to so many generations of people.
Bret Iwan: Yeah, it, that is the part that, you know, as you said, that I get goosebumps because it's, um, it's so surreal for me and at the same time such an honor and I think I had that mindset going into it from the beginning. Um, You know, Wayne would always say, and I like to imagine Wayne would have told me that, you know, we're just filling in for the boss.
I'm just doing my part now as Mickey number four to fill in for the boss. We're carrying on that legacy Walt started. And I'm number four, there's going to be a number five. Um, you know, starting out, though, I was definitely nervous. I, uh, this was so brand new to me to be, to be doing it, and, and the opportunity seemed so, um, out of left field that, you know, I was terrified I would screw something up.
But, um, at the same time, um, kind of like you said, fate, in a way, seemed like, I, I had this feeling that, you know, I was meant to do this. This was... This is something I was meant to do, so, um, there was a calmness in, in that sense, but, you know, there's definitely nerves when you're stepping into a new role and, and, and thinking about all that Mickey means to so many people and, and, and knowing that people know what Mickey sounds like and Wayne, Wayne brought so much life and emotion and gentleness and kindness to, to Mickey's voice that, you know, people expect and they want to hear so, um, but it.
You know, it wasn't so much just, uh, being able to make a sound, um, and sound like Mickey. It was being able to bring all of that, um, to Mickey and, and, and help him live on in what Wayne and Jimmy and Walt had already established. So... Lots of nerves, lots of nerves. I still get nervous to this day. Uh, and, and, and I tell people, you know, I hope that that never goes away because it's still surreal, it's still exciting, it's still very humbling.
Um, and I don't want that to go away. I don't, I don't want it to ever go to my head or, and I don't think it will because I'm, I'm not that type of person. Every time I get the phone call that we have a new session, it's just, it's... Just as exciting. You know, I'm a, I'm a Disney geek down in my core. So I'm so excited to find out what the new projects like, Oh, we're new doing a new parade or a new toy or new show.
It's. It's so exciting for me to be, to have that backstage view into it, and, and then when I stop to think about what it is I get to do, um, yeah, it's amazing, it's an honor and a huge responsibility
Lou Mongello: as well. Yeah, no pressure being Mickey Mouse, I'm sure. No pressure at all. But again, considering that, you know, unfortunately, you've got this legacy behind you, and you did miss out on the opportunity to learn from Wayne directly, so in preparing for it to be.
The Brett Mickey Mouse, is it trying to craft his voice to be Wayne Allwine, or do you try and bring a little bit of your own passion and energy and personality maybe into the voice?
Bret Iwan: Um, well, you know, I heard Wayne once say in an interview that when you're voicing these characters you start to recognize a lot of their qualities in you and when I first started Everybody told me that when I meet Bill, Wayne, and, er, I'm sorry, Bill, Tony, and Russie, that I would quickly find out that they are their characters.
Um, and that's proven true, and I remember thinking to myself, Well, am I Mickey? And, you know, the more I've, I've done it, the more I start to recognize a lot of his qualities in me. Um, the, the naivety, I definitely have those qualities. Um, so I, I think I can't help but bring those to the character. Um, in terms of the sound of the voice, I know I am always referencing, uh, Wayne and, um, I have, you know, a CD I listened to on my way to the studio just to kind of get me warmed up.
But then also, you know, trying to go back to, to, to Waltz Mickey because he, you know, he's the one who originated it and I think Wayne and, and Jimmy would both tell you that, you know, they, they sought to preserve Waltz Mickey. So, there's definitely that that I, that I, uh, aim, aim for when doing it. Um, yeah, I think, I think that answered your question.
I got kind of on a ramble there.
Lou Mongello: No, no, that's great, and it's great to hear sort of inside your thought process as to becoming that character. So, you've been Mickey for a while now. Uh, you've been kind of everywhere. Everywhere from Epic Mickey to, uh, starting to come into the theme parks. If I'm correct, you are now the That's Right, It's Out of This World Mickey on the People Mover in Walt Disney World?
Bret Iwan: That's right. Uh, yeah, that was one of the earlier projects I did, um, when they revamped, uh, the PeopleMover, so it's there, and I was actually there about a month ago, and I got to hear it for the first time, and I did not realize that if you stood under the, the PeopleMover bridge, you would hear Mickey over and over and over, so I apologize to anyone who's sat there too long, and um, Listen to it for too long.
Lou Mongello: No, it's great to hear Mickey back on there. Uh, any other attractions in Walt Disney World that maybe we could listen for the voice of Mickey as Brett? Brett
Bret Iwan: as Mickey? Oh gosh, um, let's see if I can remember. Well, um, I think I mentioned my first, um, job was doing the Adventurer's Celebration which is at the end of the day Animal Kingdom.
Um, little Little play along, sing along dance party that comes out with Mickey, Goofy, and Minnie, I believe, and I think sometimes it's Goofy, sometimes it's Mickey, but, um, you can hear me there. I'm a people mover, of course, and... Gosh, I'm trying to think what else, uh, um, You know, I know there's some commercials playing right now for, uh, Typhoon Lagoon and the water parks and, uh, maybe some other stuff there.
So, yeah, I do so much that it's hard to keep track. People ask what I did last week and I have a hard time remembering. Cause there's just so much, but the variety of projects definitely keeps me on my toes. I just
Lou Mongello: want to ask you one more quick question before we talk about the fundraiser on May 7th. I always thought about this, especially for a voiceover actor like yourself, who's doing such an iconic character.
You know, you're the guy. You are the voice. Is there no one else? Like, is there a backup Mickey, a Mickey understudy? Like, what if he gets sick, or go on vacation, or is it... Do they do that frantic search, um, you know, if you
Bret Iwan: get a sore throat? Well, you know, I've, I've heard it, um, explained like this before.
There's, there's no Johnny Depp backup, uh, you know, so, um, we, we don't have, as character voice actors for Disney, we don't have backups, um, you know, we, we do our best to stay healthy and have our voices sounding the best because, um, there is so much work that we, uh, we want to stay on our toes. Yeah, so, um, I, I am the fourth and only official English speaking Mickey restaurant.
For the world, um, there are, there's Mickeys, you know, for Paris and Japan and Germany, um, there's guys that do the, the, the dubbing over there, um, but yeah. And I still get to do stuff for those theme parks over there, so.
Lou Mongello: You're still Mickey number one, you know, in our book, so. Alright, let's talk real quick about the Thank You Walt Disney fundraiser on May 7th.
Uh, that's a private evening with, uh, Mickey and Donald. Tell us a little bit about the foundation and the event, because they're doing great work up there.
Bret Iwan: They are. Um, like I mentioned earlier, the, Thank you Walt Disney Organization has taken on the task of restoring Walt's original Laugh O Gram studio.
Uh, which not only being significant for Disney animation with Walt and of iWork starting out there. Um, but a lot of other legendary animators who went on to work at Warner Brothers and Hanna Barbera and MGM. They, they also got their start there. So, um, there's a lot of history there in Kansas City. They are working to restore that building with the hopes of turning it into a, uh, And, uh, a museum, an animation museum, an educational, um, facility.
Um, they've done a lot of great work so far. When I moved to Kansas City in 2004, it was really kind of a shell of a building. Since then, they've reinforced the walls. They've been able to pour a brand new first floor. Um, they got a roof put back on the building. And, you know, they're on their way. But, um, there's a lot of work to be done yet.
So they have these yearly fundraisers, and I'm... I'm really excited to be participating in it this year, um, along with Voice of Donald Duck and my friend Tony Anselmo, we'll both be out there for an evening of... Jazz and hors d'oeuvres and, um, we're going to spend some time talking about our journeys. I'll, I'll share more about my, my journey in becoming Mickey Mouse and, um, the exciting time I've had getting to know everybody and work with everybody out here.
Um, and there's also going to be, uh, a silent auction and a live auction and, um, both being artists, Tony and I have, um, donated a couple pieces each, a couple drawings, um, that will be up for auction. And then, you know, of course, question and answer time, just kind of mingle and greet, and, uh, I think we'll be doing some autographs, if you have anything to be autographed by us, so it's going to be a great time.
I'm really looking forward to it. I think it's a great organization. I'm really excited to do my part in, uh, in restoring that, because, um, you know, I definitely have a passion for Walt and the legacy and what he stood for, and he has so much history out there in Missouri, especially Kansas City, that, uh, I want to make sure that gets recognized.
And saved for future generations. Yeah,
Lou Mongello: I wish I could get out there. For those people who are up in the area who wanna learn more, you can visit Thank you walt disney.org. I also have a great article on the WDW radio blog about the Laffer Gram studios and. Uh, trying to refurbish those and bring those back from John Nell.
I'll put a link to that in this week's show notes. Uh, Brett, I have to tell you, it's been great talking to you. When I told my kids that I was going to be talking to Mickey Mouse the other night, they literally dropped their forks and their mouths sat agape. Um, but for you, I can't imagine the honor, um, and the pressure, that it must be being the voice of Mickey Mouse, uh, you are carrying on.
Uh, an incredible tradition and an incredible legacy that began with Walt Disney himself. So I want to thank you for your work and for taking time out of your day to, uh, to come and join us on the show.
Bret Iwan: Well, thank you. Thanks. It's been a blast talking to you. And like I said, it's definitely an honor to, uh, be considering the legacy.
So thanks. I appreciate it. Hope to
Lou Mongello: get a chance to meet you in person someday soon.
Bret Iwan: Definitely.