Happy Accidents #058 - Mickey Mouse

Multiple setbacks lead to the creation of an iconic animated character

Welcome to another edition of Happy Accidents, where we uncover the delightful stories behind accidental discoveries.

This week, we unravel the incredible tale that saw multiple setbacks lead to the creation of an iconic animated character.

The Happy Accidents newsletter is brought to you by:

  • The Author’s Playbook online course.

    "I’ve just finished going through this course. you did a fantastic job with it! Really impressed so easy to follow, lots of great tips and resources along the way. And of course having facilitated a lot of training over the last several years I’m always looking at things from that perspective as well, and honestly it was exceptional. Also I loved the workbook in excel. I gave this course a 5 star rating. It will be extremely useful as I’m writing my book. I’m so glad I now have some structure to work with, thanks to you!" - Kris Dawson

Promote your business, product, or service to 1130+ people. Sponsor an edition of the Happy Accidents newsletter for only $30.

Let's dig in, shall we?


This is the part of every Happy Accident story where we see every successful outcome starts with the person putting themselves in a favorable position. They work hard, they try new things, they meet new people. They're not just sitting around 'hoping' to be successful some day.

Walt Disney had a passion for drawing from a young age. He pursued art and animation, working for his high school newspaper and taking art classes. After serving in the Red Cross during World War I, he began his career as a commercial artist and eventually started a small animation business in Kansas City.

In 1920, Disney founded his first animation studio called "Laugh-O-Gram Studio" in Kansas City. He created a series of short films called "Laugh-O-Grams" that combined live-action and animation. However, due to financial difficulties, Laugh-O-Gram Studio went bankrupt in 1923.

Undeterred by the failure of Laugh-O-Gram Studio, Disney decided to move to Hollywood, California, in 1923. He, along with his brother Roy O. Disney, co-founded the Disney Brothers Studio. Their first successful creation was Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, which was distributed by Universal Pictures.

Despite Oswald's success, Disney faced a setback in 1928 when he lost the rights to Oswald due to contractual issues with Universal.

Here’s what happened.

When Disney sought to renegotiate his contract with Universal, he discovered that Universal's distribution executive, Charles Mintz, had secretly hired away most of Disney's animators and retained the rights to Oswald. This loss was a major blow to Walt Disney, who not only lost control of the character but also faced the challenge of rebuilding his animation studio.

Wow, can you imagine?

But here’s where the story takes an interesting turn…


This is the part of every success story where there's a chance encounter, a serendipitous moment, an unintentional discovery (or Happy Accident) that paves the way for the next steps. In some cases, a Happy Accident can even be disguised as something bad in the moment.

The devastating losses of both Laugh-O-Gram Studios and Oswald the Lucky Rabbit prompted Disney to create a new character. Enter Mickey Mouse, marking the beginning of a new era for his animation career.

Mickey Mouse made his debut in the groundbreaking synchronized sound cartoon "Steamboat Willie" in 1928.

The movie achieved significant success at the box office compared to other films of its time. While it's challenging to directly compare box office figures from the late 1920s to modern standards, the film's impact and popularity were substantial within the context of the era.

The success of Mickey Mouse not only revitalized Disney's career but also played a crucial role in the evolution of animation as an art form.

Imagine, this iconic character never would have existed if not for the unfortunate fate of Disney’s prior inventions!


Just like Happy Accidents don't just fall into your lap (you need to set the stage first), they also don't turn into anything if you don't recognize them and take action. This is the part of every success story where we see people capitalizing on their Happy Accident.

The success of Mickey Mouse and Steamboat Willie caused Disney to double down on his creations.

But he still faced skepticism when he decided to produce the first feature-length animated film, "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs," in 1937. Many in the industry doubted the viability of a full-length animated feature, but the film's success proved them wrong and established Disney as a leader in animation.

Yet again, Disney seemed to have the magic touch.

Fast forward several decades and Disney is still at the forefront, making hit movies every year that dominate the box office.

To provide a sense of the scale, as of 2022, some of the highest-grossing Disney films at the global box office include:

  1. Avengers: Endgame (2019): Over $2.798 billion

  2. The Lion King (2019): Over $1.6 billion

  3. Frozen II (2019): Over $1.45 billion

  4. Incredibles 2 (2018): Over $1.24 billion

And to think, it all started with a mouse and a dream.

Oh, and what ever became of Oswald the Lucky Rabbit? 👇

After Disney's departure, Universal continued producing Oswald cartoons with a different animation team. However, Oswald's popularity eventually declined, and the character faded into relative obscurity over the following decades. Unlike Mickey Mouse, who became a timeless and iconic character, Oswald did not maintain the same level of cultural significance.

Looks like the good guys won in the end (a Hollywood ending).


From the ashes of Laugh-O-Gram Studio's failure and the loss of Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, Walt Disney bounced back by creating Mickey Mouse in 1928.

Mickey's debut in "Steamboat Willie," one of the first synchronized sound cartoons, was a massive success, propelling Disney into the forefront of animation.

This accidental invention marked the beginning of Mickey Mouse's iconic status and paved the way for the enduring success of The Walt Disney Company.

Some fun facts:

  • Mickey Mouse was the first animated character to receive a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. He was honored with the star on his 50th anniversary in 1978, recognizing his significant contributions to the entertainment industry.

  • Walt Disney provided the original voice for Mickey Mouse from 1928 to 1947. His distinctive high-pitched voice and cheerful personality became synonymous with the character, contributing to Mickey's enduring appeal.

  • Mickey Mouse gained iconic status with his role as the Sorcerer's Apprentice in the 1940 film "Fantasia." The image of Mickey in his wizard hat and robe has become one of the most recognizable and enduring symbols of Disney magic.

  • In 2010, Disney introduced the video game "Epic Mickey," featuring Mickey Mouse in a darker, more adventurous storyline. The game explored a forgotten world of retired and rejected Disney characters, adding a unique twist to Mickey's traditional image.

The lessons here:

  1. Resilience in the Face of Setbacks: Disney's resilience and determination were evident as he bounced back from various challenges, showcasing the importance of perseverance in pursuing creative endeavors.

  2. Adaptability and Innovation: The creation of Mickey Mouse was a result of Disney's ability to adapt to changing circumstances and innovate. Faced with the loss of Oswald, Disney embraced the challenge and introduced a new character that would revolutionize the animation industry.

  3. Turning Adversity into Opportunity: Instead of being defeated by the loss of Oswald, Disney used it as a catalyst for innovation, ultimately leading to the creation of a character that would become a global icon.

Your Happy Accidents

Check out this incredible story of from James Longley about how a chance encounter in a taxi led to him starting his successful energy business

…And Another Thing

They say your network is your net worth. Want to get better at networking? Check out these 4 tips 👇

Hey, Dennis Geelen here. Author of the Happy Accidents newsletter.

Are you looking to bet on yourself? Here're a few ways I can help:

If you're looking to start your own one person coaching or consulting business (like I did), here's a couple of resources that might help:

The Solopreneur Playbook This 90 minute video course brings you a 6 step playbook (and workbook) for finding your niche, packaging and selling your offer, and building your audience.

Having trouble establishing or gaining credibility as an expert in your niche?

The Author's Playbook Establish yourself as the credible expert by publishing a great book. This 90 minute course teaches you everything I've learned about writing, publishing, and marketing best-selling books.