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The Mouse Watch Interview with J.J. Gilbert aka Disney’s Jason Lethcoe

Got a problem with RATS (the Rogue Animal Thieves Society)? Never fear – this is a job for the Mouse Watch.

The Mouse Watch tells the story of Bernie Skampersky; a small, young, brave mouse who tries everything to catch the attention of famed mouse inventor Gadget Hackwrench and be welcomed into the Mouse Watch: a group of elite, crime-solving, tech-savvy agents. Her mission to prove herself as being anything but small compliments the Watch’s mission: to save the world.

Who better to bring to life a Disney story described as “Mission Impossible meets ‘Mice in Black’” than Disney veteran Jason Lethcoe? 

Lethcoe, who published The Mouse Watch under his pseudonym J.J. Gilbert, has worked in Hollywood for most of his life as a director, animator, producer, and storyboard artist for companies such as the Walt Disney Studios. So, not only is J.J. a talented novelist, he is also the animator of his very own characters – check out this very cool 6-second animation of Bernie on  Gilbert’s website.

J.J. notes: “My books have to be about themes that I strongly believe in or I can’t find the conviction and will power to write them.” Thus, The Mouse Watch is about more than just cheese and fighting crime. We would love to hear your thoughts on the messages featured in this action-packed middle grade adventure story once you, too, have joined (or at least read about) the Watch. 

In the meantime, check out our chat with J.J. below about mouse facts, history, Tabasco sauce, technology and the importance of ‘keeping time.’

J.J., thanks for chatting with us at The Disney Blog!

Sure thing! Happy to be here.

We had so much fun joining the Mouse Watch with your protagonist, Bernie Skampersky. You mentioned in the foreword that Bernie herself sat down and filled you in on these adventures. How did she manage to find time away from the Watch? 

One of the many great things about Gadget Hackwrench is that she gives her agents a little time off after an especially dangerous mission.  Bernie had just finished an amazing adventure at the North Pole and because she wanted to thaw out a little, it meant that I was lucky to get a chance to sit down with her and talk all about how she came to join the Watch. (I also think the promise of a warm, melty, toasted cheese sandwich helped a bit too.)

You are a jack of many trades, with experience as a director, animator, producer, storyboard artist and author. How has animation informed or influenced your writing, if at all? 

Animation has taught me everything about storytelling. Many readers comment that my books read like animated films and I guess that’s because it was where I had my training. I wrote the Mouse Watch series under my J.J. Gilbert pseudonym, but all of my animation experience and other books are under Jason Lethcoe, (in case your readers would be curious about some of the projects I’ve worked on. You won’t find J.J. Gilbert in any movie credits that I know of.)  

Having been a classically trained animator also has allowed me the ability to illustrate the characters. Sometimes, I’ll animate a character so that I better know their mannerisms and expressions. It really helps me get to know them when they’re moving about. They look and feel alive!

I love that! That is a unique approach to storytelling, because not all writers can write and draw!

Tell us about the very beginnings of The Mouse Watch. Where did it all start? Has this big adventure story driven by tiny heroes been in development for a long time or did it manifest quickly?

I had just finished writing the Tales From Adventureland series and was thinking about Disney heritage and how much it meant to me personally. Mickey Mouse popped into my mind and I remembered how I’d bought my Dad a Mickey Mouse watch shortly after I first started working for Disney.  I guess the words, “Mouse Watch” triggered something and my first thought was, “What if all the Disney mice had some kind of secret society? Was Mickey a part of it? Did Walt know about it? What about Bernard and Bianca from the Rescuers, were they part of it?”  

One thing led to another and, after spending hours watching classic Disney movies and T.V. shows that had the studio’s most famous mice in them, the Mouse Watch was born. 

The Mouse Watch has been described as ‘Mission Impossible meets Mice in Black’. How do you describe it?

That’s a really great way of putting it!  For me, The Mouse Watch would be best described as a group of tiny guardian angels that are constantly watching over us.  They keep the world safe in all kinds of secret ways we never notice. 

In some ways, mouse life parallels human life in The Mouse Watch. History subjects or ‘Mouse Tales’ at school, for example. The story mentions key events in mouse history, including liberation from the Cat King – lead by Martha Beadyeyes – in 1776 and even Winston Churchill keeping a secret cadre of mice employed as code breakers. Tell us about the creative process behind these fun parallels and the comparisons between human and mouse life. How did you pick and choose what was important to develop the story versus what was clever but did not really drive the story forward?

Haha! That’s always hard to do!  Sometimes I’d get so excited about a bit of mouse history that I’d go down a rabbit hole, fleshing out entire storylines about the great mice that influenced the Mouse Watch’s beginnings. I have enough material to write dozens of books! It seems like there are so many exciting stories to be told when considering that many of the historical events we take for granted actually had a Mouse Watch’s perspective and influence going on at the same time.

The Interview with J.J. Gilbert continues on page 2!

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