“I think the family pictures are what people really want to see – and musicals, of course.”
Mickey Rooney’s boyishly ebullient spirit could have been custom made for a lifelong Disney career. His outlook about what movies could do for the public runs parallel to Walt Disney’s vision for his young audiences. Although the rumor that Disney named Mickey Mouse after the child star has proved to be false, Rooney participated in several projects with the Disney franchise, from voice work as “Oswald the Lucky Rabbit” (1931-32) to his most recent cameo in THE MUPPETS (2011). In 2000, Rooney made an appearance in a Disney Channel Original Movie called “Phantom of the Megaplex” in which he delivers this moving homage to the movies. I dare you not to get a little weepy when he quotes Judy Garland.
Mickey Rooney starred in two feature-length Disney movies, as the voice of Tod in THE FOX AND THE HOUND (1981) and as Lampie in PETE’S DRAGON (1977). Having been a world-famous child star throughout the 1930s, Rooney’s career had slumped since the war, turning him to Broadway and television. He tried to get back into movies in the 60s with smaller parts like Mr. Yunioshi in BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY’S (1961) and Ding Bell in IT’S A MAD MAD MAD MAD WORLD (1963). In the 70s, Rooney found some success in made-for-TV films like THE YEAR WITHOUT SANTA CLAUS (1974). Although Rooney was never able to climb back to the zenith of the popularity he had enjoyed as a teenager in the Andy Hardy movies, he did earn the affection of a new younger audience with his work at Disney.
“When I was nineteen years old I was the number-one star for two years. When I was forty, nobody wanted me. I couldn’t get a job.”
PETE’S DRAGON was a favorite of mine growing up. I loved the songs and I would have liked nothing better than to live in a lighthouse by the sea. And let’s be honest, who doesn’t love the playground made up of different parts of fishing ships (“There’s Room for Everyone in this World“)? Mickey Rooney plays Lampie, the lighthouse keeper, although it’s his daughter Nora does most of the work. Lampie is a drunk, but he’s not a bad man. Rooney brings his classical Hollywood-style energy to the comedy of his role. As hard as it is to laugh at scenes that depict a real social problem like alcoholism, Rooney brings such a level of camp to his portrayal that it seems unrealistically endearing. But maybe I’m just making excuses because I love this movie so much.
THE FOX AND THE HOUND is often tagged one of the darker feature length animated films to come out of the Disney studios. The story is actually based on a much darker novel in which basically every character but the hunter dies a horrible death. Growing up, my brother always picked this movie over my choice (usually MARY POPPINS (1964)), mostly because it had dogs and hunting. It’s also a movie packed with action, including a number of chase scenes and an epic fight with a humongous grizzly bear. Disney packed a lot of emotion into this movie about a fox and a hound dog who become friends and must fight nature and social pressure in order to maintain their friendship. Rooney plays Tod, the fox, who doesn’t seem to understand why his childhood friend would want to hunt him. Like Bambi, THE FOX AND THE HOUND portrays the hunting culture with a degree of cynicism, preferring to teach a lesson of compassion rather than destruction.
“The audience and I are friends. They allowed me to grow up with them. I’ve let them down several times. They’ve let me down several times. But we’re all family.”
I am so grateful that Mickey Rooney was such an energetic performer. He didn’t seem to mind what kind of role he had to take, as long as he was acting. For a boy who grew up on the silver screen, I can imagine he would have found it difficult to stop working. According to IMDB, Rooney has almost 400 acting credits to his name, a career spanning from 1926-2015 (try and explain that one). Over the years, this boyish star has given audiences a little controversy, but a lot of joy. Read more about Mickey Rooney, the audience’s best friend and some funny tweets following Rooney’s passing in April.
This post is written in conjunction with the getTV Mickey Rooney Blogathon hosted by Aurora of Once Upon a Screen (@CitizenScreen), Kellee of Outspoken & Freckled (@IrishJayHawk66), and Paula of Paula’s Cinema Club (@Paula_Guthat). Please visit the getTV schedule for details on Rooney screenings throughout the month of September and any of the host sites for a complete list of entries.