Monday, November 9, 2009

Does this mouse look pissed? - He should be.

Here's a November headline from the New York Times - "After Mickey's Makeover, Less Mr. Nice Guy" (Brooks Barnes, 11.5.09). And you thought the New York Times couldn't shill their articles with the best of them.
Really guys? No more happy mouse?

First, in the interest of disclosure - that picture in the corner is a video game screen grab, and let's face it, video games can make Santa Claus look like a bastard. (Though nothing quite tops the "zombie elves" that populate the North Pole in Robert Zemeckis' The Polar Express - but as that topic always brings on a rant, we'll move on.) Just don't expect to be seeing a scowling Mickey beating up on Goofy in the theme parks or abandoning Pluto at the Toon Town pound.

If you've been paying attention, we've seen Mickey progress through the ages and much of it done under the watchful eyes of Walt and his "9 old men" master animators. Barnes tries to say that Disney may be concerned that their leading animated property is becoming more corporate logo than endearing comical pal. But isn't it true that Mickey's image on an annual report does for corporate Disney exactly what Mickey's face on juice container does for kids? It's not a corporate misstep that Mickey's very presence in everything to do with Disney business helps to remind Disney's investors and business partners that, as Walt is famously quoted to have said, "I only hope that we don't lose sight of one thing - that it was all started by a mouse".

Barnes goes on... "The effort to re-engineer Mickey is still in its early stages but it involves the top creative and marketing minds in the company, all the way up to Robert Iger, Disney's chief executive." And that "the project was given given new impetus this week with the announcement that... the company has received the blessing of the Chinese government to open a theme park in Shanghai...". Is Ms. Barnes suggesting that the look and feel of Mickey will be altered to make him more "marketable" to kids in China? The racist and politically incorrect jokes here could start an avalanche.

The idea that a Shanghai theme park should factor into a "re-engineering" of any cartoon character, let alone Mickey Mouse, is flat out silly. First of all, Disneyland Hong Kong's been around for years. Second, Ms. Barnes and anyone else who seriously thinks an evolving Mickey is anything more than keeping up with technology and the times, is ignoring the fact that Mickey is Mickey, an iconic image that is as much personality as yellow shoes and white gloves.

Barnes even suggests that "Disney executives are treading carefully, and trying to keep a low profile...". It's as if there's subterfuge afoot. Updating Mickey for video gaming, CGI animation and an expanding world audience where he needs to be both understood and unoffensive, seems more like obviously smart thinking and unavoidable growth. Even Mickey's youngest fans have grown more sophisticated, more connected and, somewhat amazingly, more technologically savvy. Staying relevant is good corporate governance.

Perhaps Ms. Barnes should relax and The New York Times should consider pumping up the fiber in their article ingredient list. How about this as a potential headline - "On the verge of a dying newspaper pandemic, the New York Times re-engineers its reporting to mimic 24 hour news TV and tabloids"?

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