Phil Weinstein, Mickey Mouse Funhouse executive producer, talks to TV Kids about the whimsical new Disney Junior series and using Disney history for inspiration.
Mickey and his friends are adding a new member to the gang in the form of an enchanted talking playhouse named Funny in the aptly titled Disney Junior series Mickey Mouse Funhouse. Adventures abound for Mickey and the rest of the crew as Funny transports them to such whimsical worlds as the Kingdom of Majestica and Underwater Ocean World.
“The one thing we’re really proud of is that Funny is not a parent, Funny is not a teacher, Funny is Mickey’s pal,” says executive producer Phil Weinstein, who has worked on a number of Mickey Mouse series for Disney, including the Emmy Award-nominated Mickey and the Roadster Racers and Mickey Mouse Clubhouse. “They’re all friends together and they go on these adventures together. It’s a really sweet kind of friendship that carries the series, with this new character living with these classic, iconic characters.”
Weinstein put his experience on previous series that centered on Mickey to good use on Mickey Mouse Funhouse, honoring the character’s position as an animated icon while delivering fresh content for Disney Junior’s young viewers. “Mickey is such an important character for the studio and for Disney,” says Weinstein. “In terms of our world for Disney Junior, there’s a lot of stuff that goes into the storytelling. Social and emotional lessons about friendship and creativity and wish-fulfillment. Those kinds of learning things that you take away, those are things that I have a lot of experience with in Club House and Roadster Racers and Mixed-Up Adventures, things that exist in this world of our preschool audience.”
Funhouse, which serves as something of a continuation of the Disney Junior titles that came before, puts its own unique spin on the world. “For this new edition of Mickey, we wanted to be a little more magical, a little more whimsical, and kind of fall somewhere in between the worlds of Mixed-Up Adventures and Mickey Mouse Clubhouse,” explains Weinstein.
In order to achieve this, Weinstein took a look back through the annals of Mickey history—from animations to Magic Kingdom—for inspiration. “We looked at some of the great artists that inspired some of these early Disney movies, Eyvind Earle and Mary Blair, and we looked at the design of the Disney theme parks,” says Weinstein. “We really wanted to take some of that DNA that lives within Disney and lives in the imaginations of people around the world. We wanted to get that feeling into the show. We’re hoping that it has that. I think that we’ve achieved that. It feels magical.”
While inspiring their imaginations with magic, kids’ TV can also play a critical role in educating young ones about social and cultural matters, which Weinstein says is “what we’re all about.” Recalling a quote from the late Walt Disney himself, he adds, “He said he would rather someone watch one of his programs and be entertained and then hopefully come away and have learned something, rather than trying to teach something and hoping that you come away entertained.
“We sort of live with that philosophy, that we’re trying [to make something] that’s very entertaining, and we hope that the underlying message is a nice learning moment of social-emotional or wish-fulfillment or creativity. We want these to be fun delightful stories—and then you learn not to wander away or don’t judge a book by its cover, those kinds of big-theme things.”
The Mickey Mouse Funhouse prime-time special “Mickey the Brave!” premieres on Disney Junior on Friday, July 16. New episodes of the series debut on Disney Channel and Disney Junior on August 20.