Characters and stories we love can reveal our hopes, fears, and things we're not aware of. People at the Walt Disney Company created legions of them, but few speak to us the way Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck do. In classic videogames, Mickey's high-spirited whimsy and Donald's cantankerous determination are too loud to ignore. Mickey speaks about the sunny side of our youth, and Donald about the side that hurts when the sunshine burns.
Mickey debuted in short films in 1928, and by the time 1990's Castle of Illusion Starring Mickey Mouse came out for the Sega Genesis, he'd been crowned Disney's king of childhood glee. In his cartoons he'd been cheerful, happy-go-lucky, and the leader among his friends. He usually played nice and came out on top no matter what, and most kids could envy a guy like that. The game had him battling evil in a magic castle, and his smile almost never faltered. His unflinching optimism was admirable and unreal.
Maybe it was the level with the enchanted forest with giant leaves and spider webs so wet they shimmered like diamonds that was so endearing. Maybe it was the level with building blocks, toy soldiers, and toy planes. Maybe it was the level with milk rivers flowing under candy bridges and between platforms made of cake. Or maybe it was the way Mickey fought bad guys by throwing apples and marbles at them or bouncing off their heads on his frickin' behind, but nearly everything about that game resembled a 16-bit dream world. The cherry on top, so to speak, was when Mickey walked across a rainbow to reach the final boss. Yes, folks, you read that right. A rainbow.
It would've been absurd if it hadn't been so magnificent. That's Mickey's charm as Disney's chief mascot, a symbol of unabashed innocence and joy. In Castle of Illusion, he's your buddy who reminds you what it's like to live with wide-eyed, childlike wonder before it vanishes with age.
The people who built the Disney machine manufactured childhood dreams for the masses, but childhood isn't all sunshine. Kids yell, they get angry, and they get into trouble. Mickey can't be our avatar for the ideal youth fantasy and the flawed part, too.
That's what Donald Duck is for.
The Disney universe changed forever after his 1934 debut. While Mickey usually kept his temper in check in cartoons, Donald's fuse was short, and when he got mad, he was rage unplugged. He shouted, wrecked property, and challenged others to fights. Even when he was happy he could be mischievous. He played tricks on other characters - bees, hens, roosters, chipmunks - for personal gain or just for laughs, and it usually got him in hot water.