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, animated film, feature-length movie, TV series, 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". 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 many Disney animated films. 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 1970s and early 1980s. 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 and Minnie 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 tradition was well-established by that point. Hidden Mickeys (as well as other Disney characters like Minnie Mouse) 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.
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 1,000 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 any reported Mickey sightings.
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 taken off air due to copyrights and then reaired late in 2011.