This is what nightmares are made of…
Disney is infamous for creating controversial media and then later editing scenes out or removing the film or TV episode for circulation. Off the top of my head, I can think of Disney editing the nudity out of Splash, reworking the endings of its World World II propaganda cartoons, and changing the ending of Spirited Away.
But no Disney creation is as nightmare-fueled as the 1995 animated comedy-horror short film Runaway Brain, which features an evil Mickey Mouse and depicts one of the few on-screen deaths of a character.
The 7-minute short follows Mickey Mouse trying to make up his promises to Minnie after forgetting the anniversary of the first time they met. Hoping to get enough money to take Minnie on an expensive vacation, Mickey Mouse signs up for an experiment with scientist Dr. Frankenollie.
A Short History of Runaway Brain
The short was nominated for an Oscar in 1996, playing out of competitions at Cannes Film Festival that May, and was the first true Mickey Mouse theatrical short to play for theatrical audiences. The short is not just locked in the Disney vault but seemingly buried underneath it in a lead-lined box.
The Disney Renaissance neglected Mickey Mouse throughout most of the 90s, but executives on the merch side of the company were antsy to get Mickey out in the world in a "wacky and out-there" way, making it a priority for creative executive Kathleen Gavin. Developed around 1993, the time when Hocus Pocus had brought a bit of spookiness into the Disney brand, Runaway Brain finds Mickey Mouse getting more than he bargained for when Frankenollie swaps his brain with a hulking character.
The short is a frantic race against the clock that includes a number of perilous scenarios, including one where the monstrous version of Mickey attempts to woo Minnie, and an on-screen death of Frankenollie.
The idea was to turn the cliches of Mickey Mouse on his head and create something aggressive that didn't resemble the cute-Disney character we all know and love. In hindsight, the team at Disney didn't realize how far out there they had gone.
The Silent Death of Runaway Brain
When Thomas Schumacher and Peter Schneider took over the company, the company's support of the short slipped. The executives openly hated the short, and the studio had abandoned it after it had lost the Oscar to the Wallace and Gromit short A Close Shave.
Runaway Brain director Chris Bailey told Polygon that he worked 10 years at the Walt Disney Company, and ended his tenure after the short film.
"Because the cartoon wasn't really perceived that great [by the company], I felt like I didn't want to animate anymore and the opportunities there were slim, I thought it was time to leave," Bailey said.
The short didn't see the light of day for a long time. In November 1996, Disney considered attaching the short to its live-action iteration of 101 Dalmatians, with old message board posts indicating that prints of the short had been shipped to theaters. At the last minute, Disney ordered the shorts to be removed and replaced with trailers for upcoming Disney features. For some theaters, the notice came too late, and they showed Runaway Brain anyway.
Although the company does what it can to keep Runaway Brain hidden and out of sight, the internet reminds us that nothing is gone forever. You can watch the full short without digging too hard. (We'll let you do that detective work.)
The short still has an aura of maliciousness due to its unavailability, even though it is not Disney's worst offense in its history. There are no grossly outdated stereotypes, no questionable material, just an outrageous short that takes Mickey out of his cliche character and makes something that still feels modern 25 years later.
Do you remember this short? Let us know your memory in the comments!