Friday, February 15, 2008

From the Archives


I've been a wee bit slack on the posting this month. It's not that I haven't been doing anything.....just nothing worth posting. This is a quick painting I did a couple of years ago one afternoon in my garage of some ornaments I was given sometime late in the last Millenium at a long forgotten Disney function.

Oils & Photoshop

If you're in the reading mood....I also found an old write up I did about Disney's struggle to get Mickey Mouse back into profitability as a character. At the time, we couldn't sell much of anything domestically from a product standpoint with him as the focus. This was in 2002, before the recent Disney Channel hit "Mickey Mouse Club House" was a gleam in anyone's eye mind you....



The Trouble With Mickey Mouse:
PORTRAIT OF AN AGING CULTURAL ICON
A Heady and Quasi-intellectual Analysis by Jim Valeri


Whether you choose to look at him as a 74-year-old actor, entertainer, comedian or a 74-year-old brand, icon, or cultural symbol, the fact of the matter is that the trouble with Mickey Mouse is that the world has changed drastically and he hasn’t.

“That’s not a problem, that’s a strength”, some may protest. I wouldn’t disagree. If the quandary set before us were not how to keep this character a lucrative licensing vehicle, I wouldn’t disagree at all. In fact, I would celebrate as we always have, the fact that one monumental aspect of Walt Disney’s (the man and the company) heritage is that in Mickey Mouse, we have the most recognizable brand icons in the world, an icon that is inexorably woven into the fabric of America and her image to the entire planet. No small feat there. It’s no coincidence that MM’s appeal is still strong in established and burgeoning democratic or capitalist populations in Europe, Asia, and South America. Nor is it surprising that there is still demand in the U.S. for products bearing his image in areas heavily trafficked by foreign tourists. Beyond that, his appeal in the States is largely sentimental and limited to Baby Boomers.

The challenge set before us is first of all then to decide whether we as a company will be content to let Mickey stay perpetually the American ambassador for creativity, freedom, opportunity, and good natured values, or whether we will launch a concerted effort to liquidate this presumed asset into tangible profit for the here and now. . It could be argued that the former is in many ways far more valuable to the company than the aspiration to reap greater royalties from Mickey’s brand strength. If we decide to do nothing and let Mickey run his course and retire into the collector and specialty market, there is nothing to apologize for. We simply must accept the fact that Mickey has entered the twilight years of his brand strength and revenue potential. Even Superman had to succumb to this fate.

But one thing seems clear, in order to make Mickey profitable and relevant to a new generation of consumers, we must utterly re-invent him. We must do violence to his sacred historical context. Mickey’s character has suffered from the inevitable ravages of years of suppressive personality buffering that eroded him into a smiling, vacuous, but entirely palatable corporate logo on stationary.

It was not so from the beginning. Mickey entered the then primordial cartoon world as a mischievous, whacky, tolerably irreverent, but resourceful underdog. As a comic strip and as an animated character, he displayed a range of personality that was much broader but at times less than politically correct. At times he would laugh at the misfortune of others, engage in occasional practical jokes, and even appear in black face ala’ Al Jolson. His falsetto voice and costume were novel by 1930’s standards, but entirely alien to modern sensibilities. Attempts have been made in the past to update his costume and facial features, (can anyone forget the Don Johnson-esque ‘80’s garb that Mickey donned at one time?), he gained eyeballs, lost his tail, and dropped some weight, but for the most part the changes were superficial and incremental.

If we are going to actually embark on the dangerous journey of making Mickey Mouse a salable contemporary character, we need to shift his paradigm completely. This will require the intestinal fortitude of key company officers. Otherwise, he’ll just continue to be a revamped version of his old self. He’ll be a has-been actor with a face-lift and some new duds pathetically attempting to seem young and in the mind of the consumer as Mickey goes…..so goes Disney.

So the first question isn’t “what do we do to make Mickey relevant?” the first question actually is “do we dare make Mickey relevant?” and if so, are we prepared to do so with the reckless abandon necessary make the world stand up and take notice?

If the answer to the second question is yes, then here are some suggestions: Warning! The following ideas may be considered radical, outrageous, and even sacrilegious. If you experience lightheadedness, nausea or dizziness, stop reading and consult a physician immediately.

Retire Mickey and then re-introduce him and the rest of the gang as a born again 3D computer animated character with a new look and a new attitude (introduce other new characters as well). The world will either love and embrace him or they will hate him and demand the old Mickey they had heretofore taken for granted. Either way, we win. (The classic Coke ploy)
(where are my residuals?)

• Keep him basically the same visually but reveal him as a self aware, aging corporate icon who shows up every day at the Team Disney building and gripes about how “Walt would have done it.” We see him out of uniform, unshaven, unpretentious. Out of the public eye, his voice is deeper; his steamboat is now a 50-foot yacht. The idea here is that if Disney pokes fun at Disney, we beat our critics to the punch. If we acknowledge his irrelevance, he becomes relevant again.

• M.I.C. (Mickey In Cognito) Maybe we find out that that Mickey’s real occupation is an ageless super hero or tough as nails James Bond-like character that has been posing as a high profile (and thus beyond suspicion) celebrity cartoon character for 75 years. We learn how he was crucial to 20th century historical events like the end of the cold war and the invention of television. Only Pluto is aware and then only because he can’t talk.

These suggestions, while obviously not the only solutions, are in my opinion, good examples of just what kind of thinking must take place in order to get our beloved mascot back on the road toward profitability.