April 18, 2004

Searching For Mickey

Can Disney Build a Better Mickey Mouse?

I have to say the image on Boingboing's link is downright brilliant. Take a look at it if you have a sec.

At issue is Mickey Mouse's image and how currently he's viewed. To me, Mickey is all about a brand. He's not appealing. He's been distilled into near invisibility.

I was a child, in the late 70s and early 80s, Mickey was all shiny and plastic, and never had anything to seperate him from any other shiny plastic toy. He was a non-violent, boring He-Man/GI Joe/Transformers equivelant.

Once I got older, I saw his older films, and understood some of his appeal... and saw how they killed him off. In his earliest films, Mickey was appealing because he wasn't "an everyguy". He fought back when people picked on him. He did things that were anti-social, wasn't a perfect character or a particularly good role model. That appealed to me, not because he was anti-social -- but because he had a personality.

At some point, Mickey became... a property. They polished him up, got rid of his personality traits. They tried to make him squeaky clean (pardon the pun.) Mickey became Barney-like in his roles, and became more baby faced. (For more details on the baby-faced thing, see Stephen Jay Gould's book "The Panda's Thumb", and the essay on the de-aging of Mickey's appearance over the years. )

Mickey is currently the image Disney wants to present to everyone, not a character. Frankly, I'm surprised that anyone had to write an article about this: Mickey isn't even there. He's a logo, not a cartoon. He has no appeal, he just a mark for what Disney owns.

But the obliviousness that Disney has to this is astounding. Check out this quote from the NYT article:

Underlying Mr. Spiegelman's suggestion is the idea that Mickey should be taken back from children: that his evolution from pig-nipple-tweaker to bland role model should be reversed. After all, Homer Simpson is loved by both kids and parents. Disney can't really afford to turn its figurehead into a controversy, though. "I don't feel the need to present Mickey in a new way," [Andy Mooney, chairman of the consumer products division for Disney] said. "In fact, I would say that, with all that's going on in the world, people would prefer Mickey to be this standard bearer for everything that's positive and good in life rather than go back to the presentation that Walt originally did for adults."

Ahem... Mr. Mooney? The kids don't care about Mickey. Even when I was a kid, and I collected Mickey items, I did it because I wanted to be a cartoonist and thought I should.. but I knew enough to keep it a secret, and didn't think of him as a role model. If that's a good role model -- to be a corporate shill, to be so bland as to be practically non-existant -- I'll give my kids every bad role model I can find before they get Mickitized.

Posted by Ted Stevko at April 18, 2004 01:00 AM | TrackBack