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Mickey Mans Up: Is It A Disney Trend?

03/18/2010 05:12 am 05:12:02 | Updated May 25, 2011

Disney, perhaps belatedly realizing that it needs to get a little edgier to appeal to today's kids, announced last week that they will be launching a new Nintendo game, "Epic Mickey," in Fall 2010, starring a meaner Mickey who will fight off evil doers threatening his forever home, Disneyland.

While this new development doesn't necessarily fit with the Disney mission "To Make People Happy," (a great mission, actually), I'm hopeful that it is part of a larger strategic shift that Disney is considering, where Disney dust is not sprinkled on everything they do.

And they could start at their subsidiary ABC. I called someone at ABC News the other day; he wasn't there so the operator took a message, ending the call with a syrupy "and you have a magical day, now". It wasn't in response to some impatience or sarcasm on my part - she meant it. Clearly, this was her standard goodbye, delivered in a folksy, southern lilt.

This seemed inappropriate. The morning news had been full of the shootings at army base Ft. Hood, reporters somberly recounting the harrowing details and morning show hosts dressed in their funereal best, behaving less annoyingly ebullient than normal.

Of course, it wasn't just the other day that ABC started having a magical day. I would imagine in started shortly after Disney bought it in 1995, a takeover that might've stirred some mousy grousing in the newsroom at first, but was apparently quelled soon after by the meteoric rise in the stock value. But a news station is not a place to carry through the Disney mission with a kind of "aural" branding.

It may be because I don't have kids but I've never been a huge Disney fan, except for a couple of years around 1964. I made my parents wait on line repeatedly so I could go on the "It's a Small World" ride at the World's Fair just one more time, pleeeze. It was my first exposure to foreign cultures in festive costumes, and may have provided me early inspiration to explore distant shores. Others were inspired to go to Epcot. But aside from Sunday nights and the Wonderful World of Disney, I was never interested in Mickey and his mates, or the Mickey Mouse Club - tween star machine, then and now - which I found to be, well, goofy. And to be seen in Mickey ears? I'd rather live on Pluto.

I actually did go to Epcot once, with a colleague. My employer was based in Orlando so I had to go there often, and let me tell you, you are guaranteed a flight with crying kids coming and going. Anyway, things were getting a little raucous at Epcot one Friday night. I saw a Belgian Waffle come flying our way and I said to my friend, "Donald, duck!" He did and it flew right by him, grazing a gondolier, just missing a guy in lederhosen, and finally landing on an unsuspecting couple from Iowa sitting in a Japanese tea house.

I never made it to Celebration (Disney's pre-fab Americana town) though I was horrified by the concept. They could do a Real Housewives of Celebration, a Stepford kind of thing, though maybe it's all normal now, just like a real town, with garbage collection strikes and listless kids hanging out at the strip mall 7-Eleven trying to get somebody legal to buy them beer.

I'm not sure why I've always had this jaded view about the Mouse House; maybe it was the hint of Big Brother about it, starting with the byzantine grooming codes for theme park staff. But I suppose I must admit, it does make a lot of people happy, if only for a little bit, and it's done a lot to help the reputation of mice, an unfairly maligned species.

So maybe I should put my cynicism aside and give it another chance. They do make some good movies sometimes. And really, we could all use a little fairy dust about now. Do they have an employment fairy? Why don't their Imagineers (yes, that's what they call their creative types) send in a few job creation ideas to Obama? Now that would be a good use of their creative talents.