Interview: “Mickey Mouse Funhouse” Supervising Director Phil Weinstein Talks Season 2 Surprises, Easter Eggs, and Guest Stars

Mickey Mouse will celebrate his 94th birthday on November 18th, but fans can begin to celebrate early with the Season 2 premiere of Mickey Mouse Funhouse on November 4th on Disney Junior and the DisneyNow app. In celebration of the second season of the hit musical series, I had the honor of speaking with executive producer and supervising director Phil Weinstein about what kind of fun Mickey and his pals will get into in these new episodes, how the show honors the legacy of not Mickey Mouse and The Walt Disney Company, and the incredible weight of keeping a character on the heels of a 100th anniversary feel forever young.



Benji: Congratulations on the success of Mickey Mouse Funhouse. What has the show's success meant to you?

Phil: It's just nice that it's part of this legacy of Mickey Mouse and that we can not only carry on the tradition of Mickey but also in the preschool world, a continuation of that version of Mickey that all started with Mickey Mouse Clubhouse. So it's just pretty wonderful.

Benji: Season 2 is going to premiere a few days before Mickey’s birthday on November 18th. It won’t just be preschoolers celebrating, but Mickey Mouse fans of all ages. What are you most excited for fans to see in Season 2?

Phil: I'll give you something for the grownups because not a lot of people know about this, but I'll tell you about it. There's a lot of legacy DNA in this show that a lot of folks don't know about. I won't give you all of them, but I'll give you some of them. So if you're a grownup and you're watching this show, obviously there's a lot of hidden Mickeys in the design of the art. So you can see them in the clouds and in the bushes and in the ground, that kind of stuff. That's a reflection of what happens at theme parks. But also, there's a ton of stuff in there that's really all about legendary animators, The Nine Old Men and the early Imagineers. In the very beginning of my career, before I was at Disney, my wife was lucky enough to work in a division of Disney called The Art Additions. And she was Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston's liaison. They had retired and they were doing the second publishing of their book, The Illusion of Life. We became very friendly with them and were very fortunate to get to know them, and we would go to their homes. Frank and Ollie lived next door to each other in real life. And Frank had a dog, and his dog's name was Teddy. And that's where the name of Teddy the doghouse comes from that's in the show, the funny little doghouse toy.

Benji: That's really cool.

Phil: Yeah, there's a lot of other stuff like that in there. I don't know if I should give it all away, but if you really pay attention, you'll see there are things that call back to iconic Disney. The topiary. If you walk around Sleeping Beauty Castle in Disneyland, you'll see the square trees, that kind of stuff. That's all from the parks.

Benji: Wow. That Eyvind Earle-style tree.

Phil: 100%. You got it.

Benji: That's really cool. Season 1 was known for attracting some great guest stars, including famed Disney fan John Stamos as Captain Salty Bones. What was it like working with somebody who was probably pretty excited to be working alongside The Sensational 6?

Phil: Well, we were excited to meet him. He's obviously a big star, and I think he may have been even more excited to work with the voice talent behind Mickey and Minnie and Daisy and that whole gang. He was just over the moon about that stuff. And during the recording sessions, all the in-between time was talking about … For example, he wanted to know about the design of Mickey Mouse. And he told us about how he famously bought, I think, the letter D from the Disneyland sign. So all the conversation in between the recording session was about all the Disney nerdy stuff any other Disney fan would talk about. It was really a pleasure. He's really, really into it.

Benji: I’ve heard there will be guest stars in Season 2. Can you talk a little bit about what fans can expect?

Phil: Well, we’ve got John Stamos’ Big Shot costar Yvette Nicole Brown. If you know that show,they were kind of frienemies. And so there was a female pirate in the show, and we thought, "Well, who better to cast against John Samos as Salty Bones?" Playing that same type of role in Funhouse was to give Yvette the role. So that's why she was cast in that part. And they're perfect together. We've got Alice Lee from Zoe's Extraordinary Playlist and that show is all about imagination, so there's that fantasy play element. What’s cool about the second season is that when the gang goes to the adventure doors, we start going to some real places. For example, the characters go to Mexico City and learn about Day of the Dead, and they also travel to Korea, where they meet Alice Lee's character and learn about the Korean holiday Lunar New Year. It's very cool. These are really delightful, cute stories. But also you learn a little something about the world.

Benji: That sounds like a challenge, to represent a different culture while making sure the message is digestible to a young audience.

Phil: You really hit the nail on the head because oftentimes the stories will be pitched with a lot of information that would be wonderful for a grownup, but it's over the head for a really young audience. So we have to find ways to simplify the language so they understand the intent of the holiday. For example, Day of the Dead is really a celebration honoring the ones you've lost. Little kids maybe don't understand that in depth, but through the art direction and some simpler language, they get the idea that it's a celebration of life. So that's the way we approach it. They all start with a lot more language that would be more appropriate for an older audience. And then through a series of revisions on the scripts and things, we find a way to deliver that stuff to a young audience and get the feeling without the heavy language that would be too much for a young one.

Benji: Mickey Mouse Funhouse is also known for its fun songs, written by Disney Junior legend Beau Black and Lauren Hopkins. How important is music to the series?

Phil: Beau is an unbelievably talented person and we're so lucky to have him on the show. Because he's so talented and can seem to handle anything, whenever a script comes in, we're always searching Spotify to challenge him with a different style of music because we know he can handle it. He always delivers no matter whether it's a country western tune like Mickey sang in the first season or something that leans more into… I don't want to spoil anything, but something that swings completely the other direction with kind of a hard rock sort of thing. He always nails it, but I don't know how he does it. He's just magic, he's amazing.

Benji: You're creating new stories for Mickey Mouse, who has been around for nearly 95 years. How do you approach being true to those characters while also not letting it limit your storytelling?

Phil: Well, the main group of characters – Mickey, Minnie, Daisy, Donald, Goofy, Pluto – everybody understands those personalities at their core. You just sort of know. If I say, what's Mickey like to you, what would you say?

Benji: Friendly?

Phil: He's earnest. Yeah, he's always positive. He's always upbeat. And what about Donald?

Benji: Cranky.

Phil: He's always a little bit cranky. Minnie and Daisy, I always think of them as almost like Lucy and Ethel from I love Lucy. That's kind of my takeaway. And so when you keep that in mind, that informs the conversation that's going to happen. And then we allow for them to have a little more range of emotions. So Mickey can get a little bit annoyed and Donald can be very pleasant, but you stay within the boundaries of the core understanding of who they are. What happens all the time is we'll see a line and we'll go, "That's more like a Goofy line than a Daisy line," so we'll swap it. It's something you sort of feel.

Benji: The Sensational 6 sort of become the Stupendous 7 with the addition of Funny the Funhouse. What was your approach to creating this added character and how do you keep him interesting?

Phil: The main thing about Funny is that we wanted to make sure that Funny is not a grownup. Funny's not a teacher. Funny's not a parent. Funny is a pal. Funny is a peer. He's an avatar. So he will travel on adventures with the gang and help them on their adventure, but doesn't explain things in the way a teacher would, occasionally filling in some missing information, but just is another pal on the trip, a buddy. We always try to keep that in mind and make sure that funny doesn't drift off into it. You don't want to feel like the teacher is telling you something.

Benji: You’ve taken the characters to some pretty incredible destinations. Do you have a favorite from the series so far?

Phil: There's an episode that's coming in Season 2 where we get to learn about dreams. In this episode, Goofy doesn't want to go to sleep because he's afraid of his dreams. And so we actually go to a dream world, we go to Goofy's dream world and wait 'til you see that. And his dream world is made of versions of places we've already been in this series, but a dream version of them. And that is really beautiful and magical and not scary.

Benji: It was recently Halloween and I had a pair of trick-or-treaters at my door dressed as Mickey Mouse and Funny the Funhouse. The boy had a little cardboard house and his face was poking through it. You’re not just creating a show, you’re expanding the legacy of the most recognized character in the world and being the first exposure to Mickey Mouse for an entire generation. Do you ever take a step back and feel the weight of that?

Phil: We're really lucky. We have a big organization with a lot of eyes on these things that help us with the guardrails to make sure we don't veer off course tonally. We have an amazing crew and staff and artists on the production, but also there are other groups at Disney that help us on that front. Sometimes you forget because you're just doing it day in and day out. But when I notice it is when we go to a recording session and we'll bring in a guest actor, and sometimes they're a star, like a big star, and we're all a little bit nervous meeting them and talking. And then sometimes they'll be reading a line and the line might be right before or right after a Mickey line, and so in order to help them, we'll play that Mickey line so they can hear it in their headphones before they do their part. And I've seen a couple of moments where the actor has to take a moment, they just can't believe they're performing with Mickey Mouse and that's always those moments that remind me he's a pretty big deal around the world. So we try to honor his legacy without messing it up.

Benji: Well, I suppose it’s about time for a “Stretch Break.” I appreciate you taking the time to talk to me and all the work you and your team have done to keep Mickey alive and well for a new generation.

Phil: Thank you so much.

Season 2 of Mickey Mouse Funhouse premiers Friday, November 4th at 11/10c on Disney Channel and Disney Junior. New episodes also stream the day they air on DisneyNow. A new batch of episodes will be added to Disney+ in the near future. For now, here’s a look at the adventures coming up this month.

“The Enchanted Tea Party!/Unhappy Campers” – Friday, November 4th at 11/10c on Disney Channel and Disney Junior

  • “The Enchanted Tea Party!” – Mickey, Minnie and friends go to the Enchanted Rainforest to have a tea party.
  • “Unhappy Campers” – After disturbing a raccoon at a campsite, Mickey and the gang learn the importance of respecting others’ space.

“Heroes Clean Up!/Dino Duck!” – Friday, November 11th at 7/6c on Disney Channel and 11:30/10:30c on Disney Junior

  • “Heroes Clean Up!” – Mickey, Minnie and friends must stop the Weasels from making a mess of Herotropolis.
  • “Dino Duck!” – Daisy thinks Donald has been cheating at their games in order to eat lunch sooner.

“Finding Treasure!/Witchy Worries” – Friday, November 18th at 11/10c on Disney Channel and 11:30/10:30c on Disney Junior

  • “Finding Treasure!” – Captain Salty Bones needs Mickey and his pals to help him find his beloved lost dog, Treasure. John Stamos (Disney+’s “Big Shot”) recurs as legendary pirate Captain Salty Bones.
  • “Witchy Worries” – Mickey and the gang go in search of a woodsman who disappeared in the Land of Myth.

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