Kids love the Where’s Waldo book series. They feel a sense of accomplishment when they discover the man with the striped shirt in the middle of a crowd. The Disney version of Where’s Waldo – called “hidden Mickeys” – offers the same thrills as vacationers hunt for the mouse’s outline in paintings or script or architectural embellishments. To hidden-Mickey fans, it’s a treasure hunt.
But the “hidden” angle has lost punch as multiple websites pop up detailing each Mickey, and even books – for sale inside the parks, no less – lead vacationers to the no-longer-very-hidden Mickeys.
In the beginning
Disney’s marketing department did not create hidden Mickeys as a tool to lure more visitors – they simply capitalized on it after it became popular. In some cases, artists began the craze mainly to relieve boredom. A beautiful mural takes time to paint, and if the ocean takes up 20-square feet, it requires a lot of waves and whitecaps. By the time an artist paints his twentieth wave, he might slip his kids’ names into the white froth; or, at Disney, a tiny Mickey Mouse icon. It wasn’t a secret among Disney artists, but it wasn’t advertised either.
At other times – in architecture, for example – a Disney designer had to choose between geometric shapes to finish a design. All things being equal, he or she chose something that looked like Mickey. It was, after all, Disney World.
One day, however, tourists discovered a hidden Mickey – one clearly inserted on purpose – and wrote down the location. Other tourists heard about the hidden Mickey and sought it out. Aware of one hidden Mickey, they kept an eye out and discovered another. And then another. It snowballed, and even the not-meant-to-be-secret Mickeys incorporated into buildings became “hidden.”
Disney noted the phenomena and encouraged it, so now company artists share their inside joke with the world.