How a Church Member Helped Shape Mickey Mouse (+6 Other Latter-day Saint Ties to Disney)

November 18, 2018, was Mickey Mouse's 90th birthday! Check out this little-known story about how the iconic mouse was influenced by a Latter-day Saint.

Did you know that Mickey Mouse wasn't always the kind, compassionate role model we know today?

In the early days, Mickey was quite the violent troublemaker. His gradual change to the gentle, caring character we now know and love was significantly influenced by the man who was in charge of the Mickey Mouse comic strip for 45 years: Church member Floyd Gottfredson.

Mormon Lloyd Gottfredson illustrated the Mickey Mouse comic strip for 45 years.

Image from

Gottfredson was hired by Walt Disney in 1929 to train in animation, even though his real passion was for comic strips. But four months later, Walt Disney asked Gottfredson to take over the Mickey Mouse comic strip.

At this point, Gottfredson was enjoying working in animation and didn't want to make the switch, but as Gottfredson said in a 1979 interview with Jim Korkis, "Walt was quite a salesman. He told me to just take the strip for two weeks to give him some time to find another artist. I wanted to help out, so I agreed."

Gottfredson filled that "temporary" position from 1930 to 1975.

J. Michael Hunter, author of "The Mormon Influence at Disney" and editor of Mormons and Pop Culture: The Global Influence of an American Phenomenon, writes:

"Under Gottfredson, Mickey evolved in the comic strip from little more than a mischief-maker to an emblem of right and good. Although Walt Disney had an influence in Mickey's development, Geoffrey Blum, a writer who specialized in animation art, wrote, 'Gottfredson's Mormon upbringing and his unflaggingly positive outlook made him the perfect keeper for this icon. Never complaining, choking back his hurts—this is the ethic he brought to Mickey. Gottfredson's mouse combines the virtues of good citizen and good soldier.'"

Hunter further reports that "the slapstick, gleefully puckish animated Mickey evolved on film into the self-sacrificing, heroic Mickey of the comic strip—a strip whose general plot and story line were worked out by Gottfredson for nearly 50 years."

Now that you know more about the world's most famous mouse, read on to learn 6 more fun facts about how Latter-day Saints have left their mark on the magical world of Disney.

1. The voice of the Magic Mirror in Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs belongs to Church member Moroni Olsen.

Mormon Moroni Olsen played the voice of the Magic Mirror in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.
photo from

Moroni Olsen was an Ogden-born Church member who, after working in Broadway, made his debut screen appearance in a 1935 adaptation of The Three Musketeers. He later returned to that story as a different character in a 1939 comedy version. His biggest claim to fame, however, is his baritone voice, which audiences heard coming from the Magic Mirror in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1938).

► You'll also like: 9 Disney Mentions in General Conference

2. The Osmond Brothers catapulted to fame after singing at Disneyland in the summer of 1961.

The Osmond Brothers performing on The Andy Williams Show

The Osmond Brothers performing on The Andy Williams Show (image retrieved from Pinterest)

In the summer of 1961, the Osmond family had driven from Utah to California to audition for The Lawrence Welk Show. Unfortunately, Lawrence Welk was too busy, and the Osmond Brothers, a quartet that at the time consisted of Allan (bass, age 12), Wayne (baritone, age 10), Merrill (tenor, age 8), and Jay (lead, age 6) never got the chance to audition. 

Their luck changed, however, when their father took them to Disneyland to meet the famous barber shop quartet known as the Dapper Dans. The boys were invited to perform at Disneyland for the rest of the summer, and the next year they made television appearances on Meet Me at Disneyland and Disneyland After Dark. That was when the Osmond Brothers caught the attention of singer Andy Williams, who invited them to do regular performances on his television show, The Andy Williams Show. The rest is history!

Check out the video below of the Osmond Brothers performing on the television show Disneyland After Dark in 1962. (Watch to the end for the live audience's reaction.)

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Video Companion
Osmond Brothers - Side by Side

3. Disneyland used to host "Mormon Night" in the '60s, '70s, and '80s.

Remember when tickets to Disneyland were only $5.75? I don't either. But thanks to an annual "Mormon Night" sponsored by Seminaries and Institutes of Religion, Latter-day Saint families could enjoy the Happiest Place on Earth without breaking the bank. On the admission tickets, Disneyland even included the phrase, "L.D.S. standards to be observed" next to Mickey Mouse himself!

Poster for Mormon Night at Disneyland

Admission ticket for Mormon Night at Disneyland

images from

4. Mickey Mouse once visited the Polynesian Cultural Center.

Mickey Mouse at the Polynesian Cultural Center
photo courtesy of the Polynesian Cultural Center

We wish we could have been there in 1995 to see Mickey at the Polynesian Cultural Center. PCC cast members Hare and Billy are sure lucky!

► You'll also like: 6 Disney Movies That Teach Powerful Gospel Lessons

5. Church member Don Bluth animated or produced several well-known movies, including The Rescuers and Pete’s Dragon.

Mormon Don Bluth animated Pete's Dragon
image from

Don Bluth is perhaps the biggest name in feature-length animation since Walt Disney. He got his start at Walt Disney studios, where he worked on The Rescuers, Pete’s Dragon, Robin Hood, and Winnie the Pooh. He eventually left Disney to start his own company, where he created The Secret of NIMH and animated a sequence for Xanadu. Some of his other successes include An American Tail, The Land Before Time, All Dogs Go to Heaven, Anastasia, and Titan A.E.

6. “Judge” Wetzel Whitaker, who is known today as the founding father of LDS film, began his career as a Disney animator. 

Judge Whitaker, the founding father of LDS film, got his start at Disney
Photo from Brigham Young University Lee Library University Archives

Whitaker worked as an animator on several well-known Disney films, including Cinderella, Alice in Wonderland, and Peter Pan. In fact, he based the look of the two mean stepsisters in Cinderella on himself and his brother in an effort to make them look less feminine and less attractive.

► You'll also like: 18 Disney GIFs That Perfectly Describe What It's Like Going to Church

Whitaker went on to help the Church establish its own motion picture studio at Brigham Young University. He produced the first temple films, as well as Church classics like The Windows of Heaven, Man’s Search for Happiness, Johnny Lingo, and Cipher in the Snow.

He met apostles Harold B. Lee, Mark E. Petersen, and Matthew Cowley while they were touring Walt Disney Studios. Whitaker suggested that he and other Latter-day Saints in the film industry might be able to create a film to help the Church promote the new welfare program.During the process, Whitaker felt the weight of the responsibility and sought a special blessing from his stake patriarch. In this blessing, he was told, “The time will come when you will be called to an assignment which will literally revolutionize the teaching methods of the Church. Thousands of people throughout the Church will know of the work you will do and will bless you and those associated with you.”

Five years later, in 1953, he left Walt Disney Studios to establish the Department of Motion Picture Production at BYU, which would serve as the center for LDS films.

More than 150 films were produced during Whitaker’s 22 years as director and producer at the studio. He received an honorary doctorate of fine arts from BYU in 1971 and retired in 1974. He died in 1985.

To learn more about the history of filmmaker “Judge” Wetzel Whitaker and the BYU Motion Picture Studio, don’t miss the award-winning documentaryA Reel Legacy. Available on DVD at Deseret Book.


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