‘Steamboat Willie’ is Officially Public Domain, and the Mickey Mouse Horror Movies Have Already Begun with Two Announcements

Mickey’s Mouse Trap and an as yet unnamed horror movie based on Steamboat Willie are on their way. Thank you, public domain.

Mickey’s Mouse Trap (2024) is hoping for a release date sometime in March of this year.

In the world of exploitation filmmaking, is doesn’t pay to wait. Whenever there’s an idea or trend to be exploited for a b-movie, if you’re not first, you might as well be last. So, it should come as no surprise that on the very day the 1928 Disney cartoon Steamboat Willie entered into the public domain, the announcements for mouse-based horror movies began. First to the party was Mickey’s Mouse Trap which already had a trailer ready to go on January 1st, 2024. Check it out below.

The trailer for Mickey’s Mouse Trap was posted on Simon Phillips’ YouTube channel. Phillips is credited as the writer of the movie, and he stars as the killer “Mickey.”

Judging from the trailer, Mickey’s Mouse Trap appears to be a straightforward b-movie slasher that just happens to have a killer wearing a Steamboat Willie/Mickey Mouse mask. It could be fun, but it leaves plenty of room for other movies to dig deeper into Steamboat Willie connections. Speaking of which, on January 2nd, just one day after the trailer for Mickey’s Mouse Trap dropped, Variety reported that an untitled Steamboat Willie horror-comedy is in development with Steven LaMorte attached to direct.

As you would expect, YouTube was was awash with Steamboat Willie uploads on January 1st, 2024.

Steven LaMorte is best known for directing the 2022 horror-comedy The Mean One starring David Howard Thornton (Terrifier‘s Art the Clown) as a version of The Grinch. La Morte has stated that The Mean One avoided copyright infringement by adhering to the fair use exception for parody within copyright law. But with Steamboat Willie being public domain, there is even more freedom when twisting an adaptation of the source material into a cheesy horror movie. Variety reports that in LaMorte’s Steamboat Willie movie “a sadistic mouse will torment a group of unsuspecting ferry passengers,” so that at least sounds like it might be a more direct adaptation than Mickey’s Mouse Trap.

The Mickey masked killer in Mickey's Mouse Trap (2024).
Mickey’s Mouse Trap (pictured here) is about a killer in a Mickey mask. Hopefully the upcoming Steamboat Willie movie will have the killer be an actual anthropomorphic mouse.

As many sources have noted, it is only the Steamboat Willie version of Mickey Mouse that is public domain and not the later versions of Mickey. The Center for the Study of the Public Domain notes that the silent version of the Disney cartoon Plane Crazy is also public domain as of 2024 (the sound version isn’t public domain yet). The Mickey and Minnie characters are essentially the same in both cartoons, though they are drawn slightly differently between the two. Regardless, the modern version Mickey with his red shorts, white gloves, and iconic voice is still off limits.

Young people in Mickey's Mouse Trap discuss horror movies cliches.
Mickey’s Mouse Trap is set inside an arcade which is reminiscent of recent movies like Five Nights at Freddy’s (2023) and Phantom Fun-World (2023), but hopefully the movie can make the most of the location.

There is currently no release date for either Mickey’s Mouse Trap or Steven LaMorte’s untitled Steamboat Willie movie. According to The Hollywood Reporter, Mickey’s Mouse Trap is hoping for a release sometime in March of 2024, but we’ll have to wait for an official announcement. In the meantime, it’s entirely likely that we’ll see more Mickey Mouse horror movies pop up while the gimmick is still fresh in people’s minds.

A shadow of a figure with mouse ears is seen in front of a woman in Mickey's Mouse Trap.
Before Mickey’s Mouse Trap (pictured here), director Jamie Bailey and writer Simon Phillips worked together on the movie Deinfluencer (2022) which you can watch on Tubi and Prime Video’s Freevee.

Of course, all of this brings to mind Winnie the Pooh: Blood and Honey which released in theaters in 2023 after the characters from the book Winnie-the-Pooh by A.A. Milne and E.H. Shepard became public domain in 2022. Blood and Honey was a success, making around $5 million at the worldwide box office and garnering enough interest to warrant the release of a limited edition SteelBook Blu-ray and even a Record Store Day vinyl release of the movie’s soundtrack by Andrew Scott Bell. We’ve previously written about the upcoming sequel to Blood and Honey (which will feature Tigger since the character became public domain in 2024) as well as writer/director Rhys Frake-Waterfield’s plans to expand his horror universe with twisted versions of Bambi and Peter Pan.

A film projector with Steamboat Willie artwork placed beside it.
The trailer for Mickey’s Mouse Trap takes full advantage of public domain, showing clips from Steamboat Willie and displaying poster art for the cartoon.

Can these Mickey Mouse horror movies generate the same interest as Winnie the Pooh? Or is the kitsch appeal of these types of b-movies already wearing thin in the eyes of the wider public? Have the people curious about this kind of public domain horror already had their curiosity sated? Time will tell, and if Mickey’s Mouse Trap can meet its proposed March 2024 release date, we won’t have long to wait.

Meet The Author

Chris has a degree in film studies at Temple University’s campus in Tokyo, Japan. He is a renowned expert on horror cinema.