Come on everybody and Mousercise, Mickey's Mousercise!
In the early '80s, a seemingly unstoppable wave of exercise-based entertainment swept through households worldwide. Disney rode that wave with a memorable bit of music and television, aptly branded as Mousercise. This innovative concept integrated beloved Disney characters into an energetic fusion of music, movement, and health guidance.
It all started in 1982 when the album Mousercise burst onto the scene, featuring a selection of upbeat songs paired with aerobic dance routines led by none other than Mickey Mouse and his entourage. Helmed by producer Michael Stewart and arranged by Billy Meyers, Mousercise fit nicely into Disney's more "modern" pop music-inspired albums. It began with the earlier disco-inspired Mickey Mouse Disco in 1979 and would continue with Mickey Mouse Splashdance in 1983.
However, Mousercise was exceptional and not only did it eventually make the jump to the small screen, but it also found popularity in Japan, albeit in a trimmed-down format. It gained enough fans for a re-release on CD in 1995. That digital release gave the tracks longevity and ensured its enduring influence.
The album had 9 tracks and came with a booklet demonstrating how you should mousercise to each song. Each track is a gem.
"I Wanna Be Like You II"
"Get The Money (Uncle Scrooge's Money)"
"Ducks Dance, Too"
"Step in Time"
"Tweedledee and Tweedledum"
"Keep on Tryin'"
If you were curious, how to do the exercise routine for the title track. Fire up the “Mousercise Medley”, and follow along with this wonderful illustration featuring Mickey Mouse. The best move? The Tummy Slap.
I couldn’t get enough of the album. It had catchy tunes, featured some of my favorite characters, and was an excuse to jump, run, and crawl around the living room. The record was a hit with me and my friends, and was how I was introduced to the product, but it was just the start of the mouse-fueled health push by Disney.
The album was a phenomenon and Disney decided to take it on tour. To do so, they hired Miss Hawaii USA 1981 and fourth runner-up in the Miss USA 1981, Teri Ann Linn as their “Miss Mousercise.” Linn would make television appearances and travel across the country doing exercise demonstrations using the routines included with the album. During her tenure, she would make a national splash for the House of Mouse when she brought Mousercise to Johnny Carson's Tonight Show in 1982.
While Linn’s appearances on network television made more people aware of the album, for many, memories of Mousercise are tied to cable television. The music and exercises routines made the leap from audio to video when, in 1983, the album inspired a fun television series for the still-new Disney Channel.
This colorful and novel show, debuted on April 18 and anchored the channel's morning lineup, captivating viewers with its infectious enthusiasm for health, exercise, and Disney characters. I was lucky enough to be an early Disney Channel subscriber, often finding myself moving around in front of our living room TV while my older sisters rolled their eyes and got ready to start their day.
Airing at 7 AM in my area, although time would vary by market, and set within the cheerful environs of the Mickey Mouse Health Club. The show featured the enthusiastic Kellyn Plasschaert guiding Mickey and an ensemble of Disney characters alongside a group of eager young "Mousercisers" through a series of exercises. Kellyn's workouts varied from aerobics to imaginative movements, keeping the sessions engaging for viewers of all ages. To keep young people like myself interested, they would also throw in clips from classic Disney animation.
Accompanied by a companion named Steve (Steve Stark), Kellyn led workouts set to the music of the original album tracks, Disney classics, and contemporary hits. This expansion of the music was the first step that took the show beyond the album.
It also wove in educational segments, such as "Do You Know?" hosted by Steve, which provided valuable insights into physical well-being and safety. Steve would also appear in playful skits with characters like Goofy.
For a new type of Disney show, it really was the total package for the nascent channel. Using old material mixed with the new format, the show seamlessly oscillated between energizing routines, educational snippets, and interactive storytelling segments that encouraged viewers to embrace healthy habits—all while featuring animated and costumed versions of my favorite Disney characters.
Exercise videos found success when made available on home video through the growing popularity of VHS. Disney wisely expanded its reach beyond the small screen, releasing a home video version of Mousercise in 1985. This wasn't just an edited version of the series; instead, it showcased Kellyn, Mickey, and an older group of kids, maintaining the message of exercise while reinforcing essential health tips.
According to D23, they produced only 60 episodes of the show and broadcast them for over a decade. As I got older, I would see them in the morning and assumed they were new episodes, but they were reruns. It makes sense that I might make that mistake, though; exercise is an evergreen subject, and as a genre, its "look" aged slowly. I still think they could have made more episodes. With its quality production values and familiar characters, this show could have gone on forever.
However, with changes in broadcasting and programming, Mousercise eventually departed from The Disney Channel. In 1997, commercial breaks were introduced, signaling a shift in the channel's dynamic as it moved from premium to a basic cable channel. At this point, the show’s format and style didn’t fit the overhauled network.
Presently, despite being well-remembered, there haven't been definitive plans for a DVD release or inclusion on the Disney+ streaming platform, leaving fans nostalgic for its spirited routines and silly lessons in wellness.
Sadly, in 2009 Kellyn Plasschaert passed away. Her television career high point was Mousercise, but she also appeared in Simon & Simon and Alfred Hitchcock Presents. Steve Stark has gone on to become an award-winning TV producer and studio executive. Recent works he has produced include: Fargo, Wednesday, and The Handmaid’s Tale.
Mousercise is an interesting moment in Disney entertainment. As the company entered the '80s, it felt like a new spirit was taking hold, embracing the exercise trend that was exploding. The way they reused the material is a great demonstration of synergy. Why just have a record when you can have a TV show based on the record and a home video based on the show?
As health and wellness continue to grow, it baffles me that Mousercise still hasn't gotten a re-release or a reboot. It feels like a missed opportunity. Well, at least I still have my tape and can find episodes of the show and the home video release online. That will help keep me in shape until Disney's Mousercise II finally sees the light of day.
Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to go find Uncle Scrooge's Money.
Thanks for reading The Retroist! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support my work.