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A Hidden Mickey is a representation of Mickey Mouse that has been inserted subtly into the design of a ride, attraction, or other location in a Disney theme park, Disney properties, movie or other Disney product. The most common Hidden Mickey is a formation of three circles that may be perceived as the silhouette of the head and ears of Mickey Mouse, often referred to by Disney aficionados as a "Classic Mickey". Over time, the term Hidden Mickey has come to refer to a range of possibilities from a more complete representation of Mickey Mouse (such as Mickey mixed in with a crowd or in the background), or a representation of another character (such as the huge hidden Jafar at the Pangani Forest Exploration Trail in Africa in the Animal Kingdom). Hidden Mickeys are found in various Disney media, such as animated films, feature length movies, TV series, or the Disney theme parks. Mickeys may be painted, made up of objects (such as rocks, or three plates on a table), or be references such as someone wearing Mickey Mouse Club ears in a painting. Hidden Mickeys can take on many sizes and forms.
Hidden Mickeys are slipped into animation cels in many Disney animated classics. They are also hidden in architecture and attractions in Disney parks and resorts, and in studio buildings and many other Disney-related features.
The first published sighting of a Hidden Mickey was made by Arlen Miller, who wrote an article on Hidden Mickeys for WDW's Eyes and Ears (a Cast Member weekly publication) in 1989. The article listed Hidden Mickeys found in the Disney theme parks. Months later the author was contacted by Disney News for more information, and the resulting article made the news of Hidden Mickeys spread worldwide.
The history of Hidden Mickeys can be traced back to when the Imagineers were designing Epcot in the late 1970's and early 1980's. The Disney Company had decided that EPCOT Center would be a more adult park, including selling alcohol. As alcohol and Disney characters were deemed to be an improper combination, it was decided that none of the Disney characters, including Mickey Mouse, would ever be seen at EPCOT Center. To some of the Imagineers working on EPCOT Center, this was taken as a challenge. They started including hidden Mickey Mouse profiles into various design elements of that park. As the park began to grow guest comments led Disney to include the characters in EPCOT Center, but the fun had already began and a tradition was born! Hidden Mickeys (as well as other Disney characters) have become a staple of all theme park designs since. Because of the popularity of Hidden Mickeys, Imagineers are encouraged to place them in new construction even to this day.
Throughout the years, Hidden Mickeys spread in popularity as an underground, pop culture phenomenon. However, Disney management has yet to officially acknowledge their existence. The closest they have come to publicly doing so is offering the Hidden Mickey books for purchase within Disney stores.
As part of the Happiest Homecoming on Earth at Disneyland, the park had been decorated with 50 hidden Mickey 50 Ears, the official symbol of the 50th anniversary of Disneyland. The symbol is the traditional Mickey face and ears, but with a number 50 in the center.
According to the official Disney website, "we've hidden 'Mickey 50 Ears' icons throughout Disneyland park." They listed some hints on finding the symbols:
Before the 50th anniversary of Disneyland ended on September 30, 2006, the Hidden 50 Mickeys were gradually removed.
In the George Lopez episode "George Goes to Disneyland" there was a contest to see how many Hidden Mickeys a viewer could find. The winner won $10,015 and a trip to Disneyland. The episode was banned due to copyrights and then reaired late in 2011.
A true Hidden Mickey is one that is not meant to be seen immediately, and is usually placed purposefully by a Disney Imagineer or artist in a context that would not normally contain Mickey Mouse. When the shape of Mickey Mouse is used as an obvious part of the design, such as Mickey ears on the top of lampposts, it is considered decorative and sometimes referred to as a "decor Mickey." Additionally, formations of the iconic head and ears have been spotted in nature or even on animals, but they are also not Hidden Mickeys. The general rule is: "Not associated with Disney, not a Hidden Mickey."
Common locations for deliberate Hidden Mickeys include the Walt Disney Parks and Resorts, where they are most commonly found in attractions, stores, and decor around the environment. Although approximately 1000 Hidden Mickeys have been recorded, The Walt Disney Company has never compiled a complete list of all the "known" or "deliberate" Mickeys (whether created by an Imagineer or a Disney Cast Member), so there is no way to confirm or disprove every single Mickey sighting.