Scoring a segment such that the music punctuates the physical motions occurring. This is a technical term coined in the early days of animation, though the practice of synchronizing actions to the rhythm of the music goes back much earlier.
This is not the same as a Leitmotif, which is a particular theme tied to a character, object, or idea. It is also not the same as the use of music to express emotions. It only counts as Mickey Mousing if the music is timed to - and usually similar in contour to - the actions on screen.
In a slapstick cartoon, this can be used as a complete substitute for the normal sound effects. In live action this is more commonly used alongside the normal sound effects, making it seem like a choreographed dance. In either case the effect is usually comedic, whether this was intentional or not, which is why the term is often used as a pejorative in film scoring circles.
While it was prevalent in the early days of animation due to how efficient it was for the animators to time the animation to, it soon became derided as cliché and corny, and its usage decreased considerably in the following years. That said, it's certainly not a Discredited Trope—there are still some modern cartoonists who still use this, such as Genndy Tartakovsky (who loves timing his cartoons to tempos) and Danny Antonucci. Feature animated films still make some use of it, but it's limited to musical sequences, like the ones seen in Rio.
See also Mime-and-Music-Only Cartoon, Musical Chores, Standard Snippet, Theme Music Power-Up, Record Needle Scratch. Compare Variable Mix. May be used in conjunction with Left the Background Music On.
Anime and Manga
- This is actually a very rare practice in anime, where shows almost exclusively rely on a library of tracks composed for the show and thrown in where appropriate. Thus it is very glaringly obvious (and audibly jarring) in Anime that's given an entirely new music track when it's dubbed, especially those handled by 4Kids! Entertainment. Then end result gives the show a Tom-and-Jerry-trapped-in-the-eighties feel. This is usually done to save money, but also to remove potential gaps in the original music caused by cuts and edits.
- Justified with the "Both Of You Dance Like You Want To Win" attack in Neon Genesis Evangelion. Shinji and Asuka must fight an Angel that splits in two and can only be killed by destroying both pieces simultaneously. It's decided the best way to do this is to have them perform an attack choreographed to the rhythm of a piece of music.
- Blue Submarine No. 6 does this. Repeat with me: naval battles punctuated with bossanova.
- The FUNimation dub of Dragonball Z did this at times.
- Spirited Away has this when Chihiro is making her way down the rickety stairs to the boiler room.
- Kimba the White Lion has its moments.
- Nu Pogodi synchronizes the action with its eclectic soundtrack.
- The absurdly famous "Knife" cue from Psycho is kind of a funny aversion, compounded with Beam Me Up, Scotty. If you watch the scene carefully, the music is NOT Mickey Mousing. However when people mimic the scene by making a stabbing motion and singing "Reent! Reent! Reent! Reent!" they will synchronize it.
- In The Great Dictator Charlie Chaplin shaves a customer in perfect synchronisation with the 5th Hungarian Dance See here.
- Impressively, he also did it in one take.
- 2001: A Space Odyssey used this for several extended scenes, including spacecraft in flight. The music wasn't actually written for the film, so they simply chose the most accurate piece to use for the individual sequence.
- The score as we know it was originally just used by Kubrick as make-shift editing music, so he'd have something to work with. It turned out he liked it so much he threw the entire original score, which had already been written and recorded, out of the window. (And this may have been his plan all along: Also Sprach Zarathustra, in particular, is suspiciously thematically appropriate.)
- When auto-docking with a space station in the game Elite, it plays "On the Beautiful Blue Danube", in reference to 2001: A Space Odyssey. (Not all of the versions of Elite do this, though.)
- Still with Kubrick, in A Clockwork Orange the overture to "La Gazza Ladra" is used in two places, and apart from heralding bouts of the old ultraviolence, in at least one of them (the fight of Alex and his droogs against a rival gang in an abandoned theatre) the music goes together with the tremendously violent action in the screen.
- Used in The Blues Brothers when the eponymous duo are trying to sneak into the performance, with the band playing "Minnie the Moocher" as the music (although being heavily musically inclined, the two are doing it on purpose).
- Also used much earlier during the "SCMODS" sequence.
- The original King Kong used this. It's most noticeable during the famous "taking off the dress scene", when Jack is climbing on rocks, and when the tribal chief walks (or rather, marches along to the soundtrack) down to greet the film crew.
- The Cat in the Hat movie. While attempting to get back the pet dog, Nevins, the two main protagonists attempt to sneak in, all the while the sound of their footsteps punctuated by the Cat playing on his whiskers. The children both look at him, and he replies "I thought the moment needed something."
- In Stardust, an absolutely epic fight scene is set to the Can-Can—as is Robert de Niro dancing around in drag.
- The pub jukebox left on Random in Shaun of the Dead. The protagonists beat up a zombie with pool cues in time with Queen's "Don't Stop Me Now".
- The film Black Narcissus was infamous for its Mickey Mousing, especially with its climactic scene on two nuns fighting on a cliff.
- The Court Jester - the final swordfighting scene when Danny Kaye's character gains Implausible Fencing Powers.
- Occurs in the first Spider-Man movie where Peter learns to wall-crawl.
- The "garden tool fight" in Hobgoblins, as pointed out by Crow:
Crow T. Robot: Their garden tools make little Casio sounds.
- Pretty much anything with Jerry Lewis in it incorporates this at some point or another.
- Serious examples do exist - one appears ten minutes into the 1932 film "The Most Dangerous Game" (based on the short story of the same name).
- In The Princess Bride, seen (heard?) during the famous "you killed my father" scene.
- And also during the chatty swordfight duel. The music stops every time a stroke is parried. The music and the dueling both stop to allow the characters to perform acrobatic feats and talk to one another.
- "Eye of the Tiger," written for Rocky III, was written for precisely this reason — the famous training scene had been filmed with "Another One Bites the Dust" in mind, but when they couldn't get Queen to let them use the song, they asked Survivor to write a song with a riff to match Rocky's punches.
- Featured in the ultra-cheesy Pyscho Cop Returns, making the film even funnier.
- The epic fight scene set to Lucia Di Lammermoor in The Fifth Element
- In Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest, three characters have a swordfight on top of a rolling water-wheel. The climax is set to the main theme of the series.
- In Orson Welles's preview cut of The Lady from Shanghai, he filled in the spots where music would later go with stock themes from the studio's library, which he thought worked quite well. However, the studio took the picture out of his hands and had an original score composed designed to punctuate the action. This enraged Welles, who dismissed it "a Looney Tunes score".
- In the original The Last House on the Left, a character is stabbed to death with a jarring electronic chord playing with each stab.
- In Tron, when Mega!Sark is walking outside the MCP's core, the four electronic beats are from Wendy Carlos' score.
- Used briefly in Dr. No, when Bond is crushing the tarantula. The music emphasizes his strikes.
- Also used in the The Fifth Element where the music comes from an in-universe opera and emphasizes Leeloo's strikes against the aliens. Seen here.
- Jim Henson's Oscar nominated experimental short Time Piece was about eight and a half minutes of this trope, where everything was done to a rhythm or musical beat.
- In Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, Lucas Lee's neck cracks are timed to the "Unversal Movies" opening.
- Johnny English Reborn. During the end credits English cooks a meal for his Love Interest to the strains of "In the Hall of the Mountain King".
- Two scenes in Hudson Hawk features two thieves robbing places while...dancing and singing. For them, it's a way to remain synchronized.
- Done very often in Latin American soap operas, where, for example, in a scene with dialogue against music with lyrics, speech and singing will alternate, resulting in a pretty neat scene.
- In a rare live action example, The Dick Van Dyke Show used it to great effect—but then, Dick Van Dyke is something of a walking cartoon when he wants to be.
- The '60s Batman TV series, along with many other cheesy movies of the decade, tended to feature obnoxious, brass-heavy music during fight scenes, which would provide a stinger chord for every punch that landed.
- In the Firefly episode "Safe," the semi-Celtic-style folk music River dances to in one scene happens to synch up beautifully to the fight scene occurring over with Mal and the crew.
- Malcolm in the Middle plays with this trope in the episode "Kicked Out," where the nephew of Francis' employers does this to Francis with a keyboard, which drives him crazy.
- Done during the Buffy the Vampire Slayer's silent episode, Hush, despite also having sound effects.
- Unusual example from Your Show of Shows: Sid Caesar and Nanette Fabray playing a married couple arguing to the tune of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony. Watch it here.
- Done once in Two and A Half Men, with Charlie behind the piano, slowly but surely driving poor Allen insane.
- The absolutely classic Morecambe and Wise Breakfast sketch.
- Often the music in Jeeves and Wooster, particularly during Bertie's schemes, would complement the action quite well.
- Spoofed in The Facts of Life: The episode, a parody of slasher/horror films, features Tootie sneaking through the house, with pizzicato strings accompanying her every step. Finally she gets fed up and yells at the music conductor: "Do you MIND? I'm TRYING TO SNEAK UP ON SOMEONE!"
- A favorite comedic device of Ernie Kovacs was having musical interludes in which mundane objects would move in time to the music. E.g. his "Kitchen Symphony".
- Used many times in Kamen Rider Hibiki, set to anything from a fight scene to a bike-ride through town.
- In every episode of The Monkees, slapstick gags are punctuated by the music.
- Mister Rogers' Neighborhood often uses little piano twinkly-charm things to orchestrate Mr Rogers' movements when speaking to the audience.
Games should only be included if their case of Mickey Mousing isn't Musical Gameplay.
- Happens often in the Kirby series, most notably in 64: The Crystal Shard's cutscenes. Super Star Ultra attempted it in places, but in several occasions, most jarringly in the cutscene that occurs wherein you find Nova, the music is just baaaarely out of sync with the video.
- The Moblins in Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker do this, the music usually beating in time with their footsteps.
- In the Sly Cooper series, sneaking up on an enemy would shift the music volume down and play a series of single notes in time with each step the player took.
- Epic Mickey, naturally. Bonus points for the player to do it themselves whenever you make Mickey sneak and a little musical dun plays with every sneaking step.
- The "Record of the Graylands Incident" in Vagrant Story, which serves as the opening sequence of the game, punctuates dramatic events with musical cues, from Ashley's first appearance in the game to Sydney's wyvern D'Tok crashing through the chapel's ceiling.
- Sheep, Dog And Wolf, a PS 1 puzzle-platformer based on Looney Toons, let you do this whenever you sneaked around.
- Oddworld does this in games featuring Abe, with a dramatic drumbeat whenever he starts chanting.
- Banjo-Kazooie does it at the beginning of the game with the Nintendo 64 logo walking across the screen. For the X-Box Live Arcade version, however, it was removed for obvious reasons, so we just get Mickey Mousing without visual accompaniment. No, really.
- In the Touhou series, various events and bosses are partially scripted to coincide with the music:
- One of Kogasa Tatara's appearances coincides with the sound of Youkai giggling in Undefined Fantastic Object.
- Hina's first appearance in Mountain of Faith is timed to coincide with 0:20 of her stage theme, when the tone of the music changes,
- Some other boss spellcards are timed to match the tempo of their leitmotifs very well. Special mention to Yuyuko's finale, which goes into a guitar solo as the whole pattern explodes around you.
- Other bosses aren't assured to match up as well depending on how quickly the player defeats them, but a straightforward kill keeping decent pace will often see things line up suspiciously well. This happens as early in the series as Yuki filling the screen with red right as the percussion drops off, or as recent as Miko going up in a technicolor blaze as the music peaks.
- Perfect Cherry Blossom stage 4 has shifts to coincide with Lily White's appearance (which is also when the background starts to turn white) and the pause at the end of the stage before the boss battle.
- Actually, it loops when stage scroll stops and Reimu/Marisa/Sakuya approaches the gate to Netherworld, just before the boss battle. The effect of music returning to the slow pace at that moment is epic, to say the least.
- In fact, many stages are scripted to exactly correspond to the music, to the extent where the game will throws out bonus enemies for you to destroy if you kill the midboss quickly, and sometimes skip midboss patterns if you kill them too slowly, all in attempts to perfectly synchronize the stages with their themes (assuming your game isn't running slowly for some reason, that is).
- Inverted in New Super Mario Bros.: The Goombas and Koopa Troopas, as well as the powerups, interact with the music.
- Also, in New Super Mario Bros. Wii, Yoshi when he stands still and a player is not riding on him.
- In Sonic Unleashed, specifically in "The First Night" cutscene around 1:25. Please pay no mind to Dan Green crying.
- Ikaruga mickey-mouses its music to the scripted events of the levels.
- The most impressive of which is that if you play your tennis properly, the final boss dies exactly at the end of the musical phrase.
- Tigger does this in Piglet's Big Game, essentially making two areas of the game Metal Gear Solid with Mickey Mousing.
- Sort of at the end of Team Fortress 2 "Meet the Spy"; you can hear his stabs in time with the theme music!
- Halo does this several times. In 343 Guilty Spark, a Scare Chord in the soundtrack is timed to play when a corpse falls through the door during the Pvt. Jenkins cutscene. A certain percussion hit plays when the Athens Station explodes in Halo 2, and another scare chord is used when MC rides the bomb out of the Cairo. During the final Escape Sequence in Halo 3, the music segues to the final phrase exactly when you make the jump to the ship.
- In the Dark Side Ending of The Force Unleashed II, the music matches with the lightsaber clashes.
- In the Thunder Plains of Final Fantasy X, the lightning strikes in time with the music.
- An extremely noticable trait in Hellsinker.
- The final boss of Ristar has a soundtrack that starts off slow and ominous while he sits in the background and throws minions at you and makes some preliminary attacks—if you make decent time on this phase, it builds and gets faster while he tries to suck you into a black hole, and then turns into chaotic, fast-paced jazz right as he starts warping all over the place and dropping lightning on your head.
- The Famicom puzzle game Banana plays extra notes over the main theme whenever the mole character is moved around. 
- A fun Flash animation example: Shoo Fly.
- Another example found in the Flash Tarboy. The eponymous hero is creeping along in a dark storage facility, tracked by an insect-like robot. Their footsteps and actions mesh with the song pefectly, and are even sound coded.
- An easter egg at the end of an episode of Teen Girl Squad syncs up dialogue in time with the background theme:
I miss video games.
- A stick figure animation by the name of Breaking Rust has Mickey Mousing sprinkled over the course of the fight, matching attacks to the lyrics of The Rocket Summer's Break It Out.
- Numerous animations by Youtube user Cyriak feature plenty of Mickey Mousing alongside stacks and stacks of horrific imagery and Soundtrack Dissonance. Click at your own risk.
- Named after the extensive usage of this in the Classic Disney Shorts.
- Carl Stalling's work for Warner Brothers (which included many of the classic shorts) deserves some kind of special award. Particularly notable in that the music makes no attempt at coherence on a purely musical level: it's just a disjointed series of glissandos, pizzicatos, runs, and stingers designed to match the action.
- Every episode of most cartoons with any sort of budget. For example, Animaniacs, Freakazoid!, House of Mouse, you name it.
- Common in The Fairly OddParents, so much so that in one episode, Timmy wished for all noise to be removed from the world. The Mickey Mousing was used as a sort of thematic replacement for all other sounds.
- Subverted/parodied twice in Family Guy. In "The Story on Page One", Peter provides his own Mickey Mousing while sneaking around. In one of the segments in "Family Guy Viewer Request Episode #1", he asks a genie for his own personal soundtrack, and the music does this (being light and breezy when he's skipping, turning into a Sexophone when he and Lois are about to get intimate).
- Stewie also gets a job following fat guys around with a tuba, playing in time with their steps.
- Also parodied in The Emperors New Groove, when Kronk provides his own theme music.
- Done a lot in Ed, Edd 'n' Eddy. They played with this in one scene of the episode "Brother, Can You Spare An Ed?", where Edd provided Mickey Mousing on his pedal-steel guitar until Eddy told him to knock it off.
- The classic opening sequence for Batman: The Animated Series was composed entirely of the serious version of this. Done so well that you don't realize that the jet engine of the Batmobile turning on is actually a cymbal roll.
- You also didn't notice that it didn't actually name the show. It was just that awesome.
- The BBC/EBU series The Animals of Farthing Wood did this extensively. Not only did it play for every single animal in the show, but every animal had its own particular variation, from the whistle-tune of Whistler to the high-end xylophone of the rodents.
- Pixar's dialogue-free short Presto, that screened just before WALL-E in theaters, uses Mickey Mousing extensively, among other classic animation comedy tropes.
- This is sort of the point of Disney's Fantasia and Fantasia 2000, though it was actually done in reverse, with animation produced based on existing music.
- Likewise Disney's version of Peter and The Wolf in Make Mine Music.
- As were two episodes of Tom and Jerry and Looney Tunes which had Tom and Bugs Bunny, respectively, playing Liszt's Second Hungarian Rhapsody. The two are suspiciously similar, right down to Bugs having to contend with an annoying mouse living in his piano. Oh, and there's a Looney Tunes episode based on the Barber of Seville overture. Let's just say that WB and MGM's animation departments did a lot of it in general.
- The "Hungarian Dances" are some of the most popular pieces used, especially in Looney Tunes: 
- In the long-buried Disney film Song of the South, Mickey Mousing is rampant. However, special mention goes to Br'er Bear, whose inability to keep up with the Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah Leitmotif is a sign that he is The Ditz of the story.
- Ruby Gloom uses this up to a point, but it is particularly notable for the character Doom Kitty, whose every movement and action is punctuated by an appropriate violin chord. It's adorable.
- An episode of The Schnookums and Meat Funny Cartoon Show had the eponymous duo gaining super muscles, with their ever step being punctuated with an "AH" sound.
- Used all the time in My Little Pony Friendship Is Magic, mixed seamlessly with some Leitmotifs and music reflecting the mood or tone of a moment or action instead of the physical action.
- The album Suspended Animation by Fantomas could be described as "children's metal" and was written after Mike Patton realized that you can tell what's going on in a cartoon that's playing in another room simply by listening to the music.
- One very memorable piece of Demoscene music is an S3M file titled "Catch that goblin!!" by Skaven of the Future Crew. It's a perfect example of Mickey Mousing, even though there isn't any video footage to go with it. The piece sounds very cartoony, with the composer's selection of instruments and sound effects. It really does sound like it could have been taken from a cartoon, but it's actually all mixed in realtime by the computer.
- Taken to its logical conclusion, naturally, by this Flash animation set to it.
- The Demoscene in general takes Mickey Mousing very seriously. Watch some of the better demos, and you can see that the team responsible went to a lot of effort to synchronise the graphics to the music. When you consider that some of the routines used could be either very slow or fast, depending on the computer running the demo, the synchronisation is even more impressive.
- One of the most common examples of mickey mousing are found in music players themselves where there's usually a set of bars which expand on every beat.
- Technically, that's a Fourier Transform of the last fraction of a second of audio data, with the bar lengths corresponding to intensity of sound frequencies present in the audio.
- Happens almost unnervingly well in this YouTube video. Who knew The War of the Worlds synchronised so well with Yackety Sax?
- And similarly, there's this scene from No Country for Old Men, set to the theme from The Life Aquatic.
- This advertisement hangs a lampshade on the idea, by combining it with Sorry I Left the BGM On.
- A stand-up routine by Bill Bailey explains how scoring childrens cartoons is a low point for a session xylophone player.
"What's the mouse doing now, going up a hill? Right," * deedlydeedlydeedlydeedlydeedlydeedly ding!* "Oh, now it's coming back down," * doodlydoodlydoodlydoodlydoodlydoodly dum!* * sighs*
- Happens a lot in trailers for films with lots of action sequences, normally with bits from lots of different scenes. For example, a trailer for Scott Pilgrim vs. The World has cuts from a few of the 'boss battles' to the beat of 'Invaders Must Die' by Prodigy.
- Scott Pilgrim also Mickey Mouses the Universal Studios fanfare with Lucas Lee cricking his neck and skateboarding on set. It's more funny than it sounds.
- Used in this Goblins review.
- Andrew Hussie of Homestuck inverts this trope often. The music from the artists is composed ahead of time, then Andrew picks one piece and animates the Flash sequences to its beats and any Leitmotifs present. This is taken to its logical extreme in the Descend sequence, which matches every single leitmotif in the song with an appropriate piece of action.
- Done in the music video (but not the album version) for "Weird Al" Yankovic's "Fat." Lampshaded at one point when Al realizes it and starts doing random motions just to hear what sounds get made.