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.
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.
For videogames where the player can cause Mickey Mousing, see Musical Gameplay.
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.
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.
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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. 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.
A quick example in the original OP of Genshiken, where gameplay footage of Guilty Gear Isuka is shown, with Sol performing a three-hit combo in time with the music.
It could be argued that all scores for operatic performances and ballets are this, by their very nature. But pieces of music that do not quite fit the description of "choreography" or "libretto" might include:-
Prokofief's Peter and the Wolf, the story of a young boy fighting off a big bad wolf, in which the various instrumental groups of the orchestra "voice" the characters and actions.
It wasn't by accident that Disney animated this note for note and added pictured to the "Mickey Mousing" instruments.
Britten's ''The Young Persons Guide to the Orchestra", where "Mickey Mousing" themes are used to characterise the instruments.
Tchaikovsky's "Romeo and Juliet" Mickey Mouses the principle themes of Shakespeare's play - the conflict between the two Houses, the fight scenes, the recurring love theme, the death of Juliet, et c.
Arguably, the 1812 Overture mickey mouses the story of the 1812 war with France.
Nu, Pogodi! synchronizes the action with its eclectic soundtrack.
During The Amazing Spiderman 2 Electro's Theme contains a lot of Dubstep, which usually cannot be heard by the characters in the movie themselves; however, during the final standoff between Spidey and Electro, the latter converts himself into his energy form and starts jumping between the coils of the power plant and punching Spidey in between. Everytime he switches from one coil to another, he makes them emit one tone at a time, creating a Tesla-coil rendition of "Itsy-Bitsy Spider". Spidey himself isn't particularly thrilled.
Spider-Man: I hate this song!
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.
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. During the chase, when their car crashes into a music store and then rolls out again, the sound of a drum falling over is synchronized with the music.
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 "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. Justified, since he always played a piece of dummy music whenever he was doing scenes on a set, so that he could use the tempo as a structure for his act, and then replace it with another song with a similar tempo in post-production. He said in a behind-the-scenes video of "The Day The Clown Cried" that he learned this from Charlie Chaplin, who said he never went on set without a violin or another instrument providing music to structure his own act.
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.
Also used the next time Cary Elwes got to go Flynning. During the climactic sword-fight in Robin Hood: Men in Tights, much of the action is synched with the music, including "parry, parry, thrust, thrust, *CLANG* Good!" Not so much the shadow-puppet bit though...
"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.
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.
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.
Firefly actually does this routinely due to its aversion of Space Is Noisy requiring something else to punctuate the otherwise silent action onscreen.
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.
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.
Mr Rogers Neighborhood often uses little piano twinkly-charm things to orchestrate Mr Rogers' movements when speaking to the audience.
This scene from Scrubs had JD listening to music with his earphones and notice that everyone else's movements sync up perfectly. At the end, Kelso even looks like he's singing along, as he's saying the same thing the singer is at the time.
Funny background sound effects and musical stings are synched-up with the movements and gestures of the characters in Lizzie McGuire in many scenes for comedic effect.
Blake's 7. This was planned for a scene where our heroes are captured and marched off by Federation mooks. In order to sync the actors to the martial music, the director had them march to the beat of a metronome. Unfortunately a practical joker on the set thought it would be funny to increase the rhythm so everyone had to march faster, making this impossible.
During the attract mode, The Addams Family will occassionally flip the lower flippers in tune to the finger-snapping of the Addams' Family theme.
The song "Now (It's Just The Gas)" in Little Shop of Horrors begins with chords that match the action of Orin struggling to remove his mask.
Cho Chang's introduction in A Very Potter Musical is timed to the music (especially the classic "Bitch, I ain't Cho Chang!"/"Racist sister!" exchange).
Games should only be included if their case of Mickey Mousing isn't Musical Gameplay.
Happens often in the Kirby series, most prevalently in 64: The Crystal Shard' 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 barely out of sync with the video.
The Moblins in The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker do this, the music usually beating in time with their footsteps.
The game also plays musical Stings whenever Link lands a blow on an enemy, with a slightly more elaborate one if it's a fatal blow.
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.
Odd World 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 Touhouseries, 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.
Another example from UFO is stage 5, where some enemies appear with their sound effects, contributing to the melody.
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, or Raiko's soundtrack dropping away into a thunderous drum solo during her two most difficult attacks and the final phase of her finale.
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.
This is itself a take on the third stage of Story of Eastern Wonderland back on the PC-98. Near the end of the level, you go over a cliff, the enemies all clear out at once, and the music dramatically drops off back into its quiet intro...and goes back into its buildup when you see the boss.
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).
In New Super Mario Bros.: The Goombas and Koopa Troopas, among other enemies, as well as the powerups, interact with the music. Whenever there is a "wah-wah", all of the enemies will stop and do a half-step.
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 the mission 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. You can easily keep track of your progress throughout the stage just from the music; if anything, it's easier to gauge distance that way than by the on-screen time counter.
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. 
Done occasionally in Rayman Origins. Most noticeable in the treasure chase stages in which the levels seem to be partially based around the music.
Each world in Rayman Legends features a "Musical Level," in which jumps, attacks, item pickups, and other in-game events are synchronized with the background music.
Kid Icarus: Uprising does this in the flight sections during gameplay, as the music syncs to dialogue, changes in atmosphere, and the beginning and end of the level.
In Conkers Bad Fur Day, the battle against The Great Mighty Poo is a crass, childish, and elaborately scripted setpiece of the game, set to the Poo's ridiculous opera music. His weak point is exposed when he opens his mouth to sing harmony with the BGM's bridge.
The GameCube logo would appear as a series of squares unraveling into a stylized G/cube, each square laid down would produce a note and once completed the logo would "hop" landing with a final note. As seen here.
Elite Beat Agents does this twice in cutscenes. First with the dogs barking at the start of of Canned Heat, and later with the screams for help at the start of Without a Fight
Monkey Island 2: LeChuck's Revenge does this using the iMuse music system in several places. Just to name a few, there's Guybrush swinging his rope and pillars crumbling in time to drums, LeChuck stabbing Guybrush with a voodoo doll to some riffs, among other things.
In Pokémon Mystery Dungeon, If you try to rush through important cutscenes, the text on screen will actually slow down to keep pace with the music.
The day/night cycle in Bravely Default will adjust as necessary to line up with the melodic transitions of the overworld theme. Night falls as the music backs off to an oboe, and the orchestra and pipe chorus come back for sunrise.
In Valiant Hearts, when Anna drives taxi through war zone, the car movement synchronized to the tune of the Can-Can.
Performing an Ultra Combo in the 2013 Killer Instinct will cause the music to cut out and start playing notes for each hit.
Reasonably common. Another good example would be The Nut Job. Word of God confirms that a certain scene in Katan has arrows simply because the artist heard appropriate sounds in the music used.
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.
Special mention goes to one scene in "The Three Little Pigs", where the music is provided diegetically by the brick-builder pig on his piano. The way he does it to mock the Wolf's attempts to get in borders on parody.
A lot of cartoons tend to use the same staccato strings (often called "Mysterioso Pizzicato") when a character tiptoes.
Carl Stalling's work for Warner Bros. (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.
Not to mention: before that he composed the music for most of the early Mickey Mouse shorts (although not the very first), making Carl Stalling some sort of meta trope codifier.
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 Mail #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.
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.
So awesome that Kevin Conroy and Mark Hammill forgot they were supposed to be recording lines during playback and spent a few seconds wondering why the vocal track wasn't working.
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.
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 Woody Woodpecker cartoon "Convict Concerto" also made use of the Second Hungarian Rhapsody.
The "Hungarian Dances" are some of the most popular pieces used, especially in Looney Tunes: Pigs in a Polka
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.
In "The Super Speedy Cider Squeezy 6000", the eponymous machine's sounds match up with the music.
Used extensively in Kung Fu Panda 2 (fittingly enough) during the fight scene in the musicians' village.
Marilyn Manson's music video for his song "Antichrist Superstar" (which is just a video of a live performance), manages to have a living being falling straight into the Uncanny Valley by moving like a badly controlled puppet, as he jerks harshly to the guitar. It's somewhat unnerving.
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.
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.
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.
Andrew Hussie of Homestuckinverts 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.