Disney Animation Sound Effects

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The Scottish Voice Behind Mickey Mouse

By Melissa Nickels

You don't know that you know his voice. But you know his voice. Jimmy Macdonald probably doesn't ring a bell. Does Mickey Mouse ring a bell? You know that voice right? Well, meet the Scottish-American who provided the voice of Mickey Mouse for over 30 years: John James Macdonald.

The Man Behind the Mouse

John James Macdonald was born on May 19, 1906 in Dundee, Scotland during the time of the jute industry (low-wage, harsh working conditions, but a time where Dundee contributed to, and was highly dependent on, the global market and economy). A month after his birth, his family moved to the United States in search of better opportunities. 

He grew up in Philadelphia, obtained an engineering degree and moved to California in 1927 for his first engineering job in Burbank.

But, it was Macdonald's tie to music that ultimately led him to his future. A drummer in various Jazz bands, Macdonald was performing on the Dollar Steamship Lines cruise when he first met Mr. Walt Disney. Disney ended up hiring his band to come to Disney Studios to record a soundtrack for a Mickey Mouse short film. Upon completion of the project, Disney hired him full-time to work in the newly created Sound Effects Department (1934).

Macdonald specialized in creating sound effects for various projects and often lent his voice for cartoon characters, such as Jaq, Gus and Bruno from Cinderella, Chip and Dale, Humphrey the Bear from The Sword in the Stone and Evinrude from The Rescuers; he yodeled and whistled for the Dwarfs in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, voiced Pluto's laugh and the circus train from Dumbo (among dozens of others).

His biggest project came in 1946 when Walt Disney personally asked him to take over the voice of Mickey Mouse. Macdonald's first project with his new role was in the short film, "Mickey and the Beanstalk" from Fun and Fancy Free. From then on, he voiced one of the most recognizable cartoon characters in history (if not the most) on every production until 1977.

Overtime, he also became known as a sound effects wizard, creating over 500 contraptions from scratch and building one of the largest sound effect libraries in the entire industry. "Jimmy would bring hundreds of gadgets - empty coconut shells, home-made contraptions and bedsprings. If he couldn't get a particular sound he wanted from one of the gizmos, Jimmy would do it with his mouth," said animator Xavier Atencio (quote from the 2009 The Scotsman article).

Jimmy Macdonald passed away in 1991, but his voice lives on. So the next time you're watching a Disney classic think about all the sounds you hear. When you're watching old Mickey Mouse films, think about the man behind the mouse. Because this is a man who changed the motion picture industry.


 

Watch this episode, featuring Jimmy Macdonald, which aired in 1984. It provides a visual insight into Macdonald's various sound creations.

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