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A special "No nudes is good news" edition of Why For

Jim Hill

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A special "No nudes is good news" edition of Why For

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First up, Mark S. writes in to ask:

You've done a number of stories lately about the impact that Disney Consumer Products has on the types of movies that the studio produced. What I want to know is is this a recent phenomenon or has Disney always done business like this?

Mark S.

To be honest, the Walt Disney Company tends to be very tight-lipped when it comes to discussing how the studio and the consumer products arm of the corporation actually interact. The concern here seems to be that ... Well, if the public were to learn that Disney deliberately put certain characters and/or props into its motion pictures so that these items can then be turned into merchandise ... That information might turn off a certain segment of the toy-buying public.

So the information that I have about this practice is mostly anecdotal. Stories that individual studio staffers have told me over the years. Take -- for example -- this tale that one of the lead animators on "Pocahontas" once shared with me.

This gentleman distinctly recalls the day that a representative from Disney Consumer Products sat in on an early story session for this animated feature. Particularly the moment when this DCP suit suggested that it might be fun if there was a moment in the movie where Meeko the raccoon braided Pocahontas' long beautiful hair.

The story team agreed that this might be a fun bit of business for Meeko. Which is why this suit's suggestion was then folded in the film ...


Copyright 1995 The Walt Disney Company

Now where this gets interesting is that -- in the weeks prior to the theatrical release of "Pocahontas" -- Disney Consumer Products held a showcase on the Burbank lot. Where they revealed all of the toys that would be hitting store shelves just prior to this animated feature's June 1995 release. And what should this lead animator on the film spy but a "Pocahontas" Braided Beauty doll ...


Image Courtesy of eBay

... a toy from Mattel where Pocahontas' hair could actually be braided by Meeko the raccoon.

This experience left a really bad taste in a lot of animators mouths. Which is why -- when this same suit from Disney Consumer Products showed up for a story session on "Mulan" and asked if it would be possible if Mushu could brush his teeth at some point in the motion picture ... The animators were ready for him.

The crew working on "Mulan" then made a few discreet inquiries and discovered that DCP was (at that time) trying to cut a deal with Colgate-Palmolive. Which meant that the toothpaste that Disney Consumer Products wanted Mushu to use in this animated feature should be white-colored. Just like Colgate toothpaste.

Which is why the "Mulan" production team then conspired to make sure that the toothpaste that Mushu would use in "Mulan" would be blue-colored. Just like Crest. Which is a Procter & Gamble product.


Copyright 1998 The Walt Disney Company

The animators thought this move would be enough to torpedo DCP's plan to get in bed with CP. But what they hadn't counted on was -- once Colgate-Palmolive took a pass on a "Mulan" promotional deal -- Disney Consumer Products would then turn around and cut a deal with GlaxoSmithKline. The company that produces Aquafresh toothpaste ...


Image courtesy of eBay

Which is why the "Mulan" characters were then used to help sell that brand of toothpaste during the Summer of 1998.

Perhaps the most damning example of how closely Disney Consumer Products works with the studio in order to influence the sorts of films that the company makes comes from James B. Stewart's "Disney War" (Simon & Schuster, March 2006). Which -- in this passage -- describes a high level meeting that Stewart sat in on.

On June 11, 2003, (Michael) Eisner has invited me to a creative meeting of the feature animation team, led by (Thomas) Schumacher's replacement, David Stainton. Eisner usually attends these meetings ... On an easel are boards with upcoming release schedules. "Teacher's Pet" and "The Incredibles" for 2004, "Heffalump" for 2005.


Copyright 2005 Disney Enterprises, Inc.

Stainton notes that "Heffalump" is based on a Winnie-the-Pooh character. "We've never done a heffalump," he says. "Consumer products wants more characters."

Eisner nods. "Get consumer products behind this," he urges.


Images courtesy of Amazon.com

Which is why all of this Lumpy-the-Heffalump merchandise suddenly began turning up on store shelves last year.

So -- as you can see -- we're talking about a very close working relationship between Disney Consumer Products and the studio. Some might say too close. So one wonders if this is going to be one of those aspects that new WDFA heads John Lasseter & Ed Catmull will soon be looking into. Keeping those DCP suits away from the story people. So that they can then concentrate of producing the best possible stories for new motion pictures. Rather than looking for ways to squeeze additional toyetic characters & props into upcoming releases.

Mary H. then writes in to say:

I really enjoyed last Friday's "Why For" and your story about the bludging bishop. But I have to wonder: After this story got out there and that "Lion King" S-E-X story and "Aladdin" 's "All good teenagers take off your clothes" story got out there, didn't Disney executives start to get paranoid about what their animators and effects people were trying to sneak into the studio's films?

Mary H.

Indeed they did. In fact, the guys who worked on "Mulan" tell a great story about how paranoid Disney studio execs started to get in the mid-to-late 1990s. How many of you remember the skinny dipping scene from that movie?


Copyright 1998 The Walt Disney Company

Where Mulan had slipped away from camp to have a private bath. Only to have the Gang of Three come running down to the hill, ripping off their clothes ...


Copyright 1998 The Walt Disney Company

... and joining the woman-that-they-still-think-is-a-man for a late night nude swim.


Copyright 1998 The Walt Disney Company

Everyone at the studio agreed that this was a really funny scene. But -- even so -- Disney execs were so worried that some "naughty bits" might accidentally and/or deliberately wind up in the finished film that they insisted that the lead animators for these four characters -- Mark Henn, Broose Johnson & Aaron Blaise -- be the only ones to handle this scene.

That way, if any unsightly bulges were to pop up in this part of "Mulan" ...


Copyright 1998 The Walt Disney Company

... Well, the studio would then know who to fire.

Given that their jobs were on the line here, Mark, Broose & Aaron really toed the line while animating this section of the film. Which is why every lily pad is just where it needs to be ...


Copyright 1998 The Walt Disney Company

... and why the camera is always placed in just the right spot. More importantly, at just the right height.


Copyright 1998 The Walt Disney Company

So while this scene in "Mulan" may seem risque, it really isn't.

And finally, Lindsay-Lohan-Lover writes in to say:

I keep hearing that there's a Lindsay-related in-joke somewhere in "Chicken Little." Could you please tell where in the film this gag is?

Dear LLL,

To be honest, it's not much of a joke. To get the reference at all, you have to remember that distinctive poster that Walt Disney Pictures created for the theatrical release of "Herbie - Fully Loaded" ...


Copyright 2006 Disney Enterprises, Inc.

Mark Dindal & Randy Fullmer thought it might be fun if their November 2005 release riffed a bit on Disney's big release for the Summer of 2005. Which is why their movie-within-a-movie featured this poster ...


Copyright 2006 Disney Enterprise, Inc.

Unfortunately, given how few people actually saw "Herbie - Fully Loaded" while it was in theaters ... Very few people got the joke.

Mind you, that happened a lot on "Chicken Little." So many in-jokes (Like the one below. Which was part of the film's original storybook-themed opening sequence ...


Copyright 2006 Disney Enterprises, Inc.

... which was to have featured a brief cameo ...


Copyright 2006 Disney Enterprises, Inc.

... by a very stylized version of Donald Duck) ...


Copyright 2006 Disney Enterprises, Inc.

... wound up getting cut and/or watered down due to studio interference. Which is why it wasn't really all that big a surprise that the day after "Chicken Little" was released on DVD, Dindal & Fullmer exited Walt Disney Studios. Reportedly because they were tired of dealing with then-WDFA head, David Stainton.

Of course, now that Lasseter & Catmull are running the Mouse Factory, one wonders if the creative team behind "The Emperor's New Groove" will be invited back to Disney anytime soon. Though given that Dindal just signed to direct his first live-action film, "Sherlock's Secretary" ... It could be quite a while before Mark & Randy return to the Burbank lot.

Anyway ... That's it for this week. You folks have a great Columbus Day weekend, okay?

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  • (Notice how Jim comes within inches, but never -actually- steps over the line toward saying that there might be OTHER reasons why Dindal and Fullmer never work at Disney again...
    Oh, of course, it's because their live-action career's going so well!--And they might, if they could just get along with Lasseter!)   :)
  • I wanted Braided Beauty Pocahontas back when I was 10, and, although I had forgotten about it, I still want one.  At my grandparents' house, though, I had a poster with Meeko braiding Pocahontas' hair.  
    That was a great idea to have only those 3 animators animate that scene; but, people handled those pictures at a later time; we all know what happened to "The Rescuers" (i.e.- a recall because of a couple of frames that somehow got placed in the film).  

    I don't understand the controversy behind this:
    ""Stainton notes that "Heffalump" is based on a Winnie-the-Pooh character. "We've never done a heffalump," he says. "Consumer products wants more characters."
    Eisner nods. "Get consumer products behind this," he urges."

    It's not like Disney Consumer Products came up with the idea to make a movie featuring a Heffalump; obviously Disney makes toys for their films.  Obviously, the 100 Acre Wood gang are big sellers.  Obviously Lumpy is cute.  Why wouldn't they make toys?  If someone could clear this up for me, that'd be swell.

    Great edition of "Why For", Jim (as always)!!!
    You have a great Columbus Day weekend, too!!!
  • I remember another specific note that was on the "midnight swim" scene in Mulan. On the layout drawing of that shot where Ling is doing the backstroke, an executive (Tom Schumacher, if memory serves) hand-wrote the directive "no stem on lily pad!"
  • I recall at the time of "Mulan"'s release that there were a number of products in the Disney Stores featuring her pup, "Little Brother". Considering what a throwaway character he was and given that he only appeared for less than a minute in the film, this seemed to me to also be a pretty blatant example of Consumer Products "wagging the dog" so to speak.

    Regarding the absence of full-frontal naughty bits in Mulan's skinny-dipping scene, I actually applaud that decision, though not for prudish reasons alone. Fact is, it's just FUNNIER when you don't see anything. It puts me in mind of that classic sequence from "A Shot in the Dark", where Peter Sellers in his Inspector Clouseau role has to disrobe to chase down the lovely Elke Sommer in a nudist camp. Donning a borrowed guitar out of modesty, he makes his way through the camp full of happy nudists, each one with his or her naughty bits cleverly obscured by foreground foliage, beach balls or eclipsed by other nudists shown from the back, waist up. It's brilliantly staged and all the more entertaining because of what it leaves to the imagination.

    As for animator's in-jokes, I've said it before and I'll say it again - I don't like them. "Hidden" character or prop cameos from other films only produce a cheap laugh at best and momentarily take the viewer out of the story at hand, running the risk of jeopardizing the sincerity of the storytelling in the long run. My opinion anyway.
  • Ponsonby Britt said:
    "It puts me in mind of that classic sequence from "A Shot in the Dark", where Peter Sellers in his Inspector Clouseau role has to disrobe to chase down the lovely Elke Sommer in a nudist camp. Donning a borrowed guitar out of modesty, he makes his way through the camp full of happy nudists, each one with his or her naughty bits cleverly obscured by foreground foliage, beach balls or eclipsed by other nudists shown from the back, waist up. It's brilliantly staged and all the more entertaining because of what it leaves to the imagination."

    That's a great scene in a great film ... Austin Powers heavily borrowed from this sequence at the end of the first film with similar hilarious results.
  • OK, just so I've got it . . . an executive suggested that Meeko braid Pocahontas's hair, the creatives thought it was a good idea, and then when the product came out, it was considered some kind of "pollution" of the movie?

    If that's really the case, then the polarization of "creative vs. suit" has really gotten out of hand.  The poor simpleton story team hornswoggled by the wicked accountaineer?  Puh-leeze.  Ever hear of a win-win situation?  It was a good bit in the movie, it was a good thing for consumer products, where's the problem?  The toy companies are not evil!

    >>"Hidden" character or prop cameos from other films only produce a cheap laugh at best and momentarily take the viewer out of the story at hand<<

    Too bad there weren't more of them in "Home on the Range."

    >>naughty bits cleverly obscured by foreground foliage, beach balls or eclipsed by other nudists shown from the back, waist up.<<

    In the anime "Urusei Yatsura," there's a legendary scene containing several buck-naked male characters bounding around a bathhouse.  At first it appears that the problem areas are being obscured by black dots, but as the scene progresses it becomes obvious that each black dot is at the end of a pole being wielded by a dressed-in-black kabuki stagehand!  In an animation genre known for cheapness, they doubled the number of characters on screen and created a layout and staging nightmare for themselves, but the result was one of the funniest things I've ever seen.  Those kabuki guys were good, too . . . never made a single mistake.
  • Toy manufacturers need lead time too. (I saw that on a bumpersticker) Santa's magic only works once a year. For everything else there's Mattel's minions scattered throughout Asia - and they need some time to work.

    Disney has advanced the science of character licensing since the dark days of the last century. When Snow White was originally released, the main tie-in book available for purchase contained preliminary character designs (thank goodness for collectors we have these wonderful Gustaf Tennegren drawings) and store shelves featured an inexplainable Dopey ventriloquist doll by Ideal (watch for it on Ebay.)

    I'm gonna go out on a limb and assume any animator working on Mulan realized Disney Co might be licensing some products at some point. It's better if the products make some sort of sense. Whichever toothpaste company ended up paying the licensing fee, I'm pretty confident Disney Co got the better end of the deal.
  • I agree wit h mawnck. Who cares if DCP wants the toothpaste to be a particular color so they can cut a deal with a toothpaste company?!?!! Merchandise helps with the overall costs of the movie and help to turn a "disappointment" into a "successful" movie. (remember Cars?)

    There isn't a movie made today that doesn't have some kind of product placement. In Demolition Man, the only restaurant in the future was Taco Bell. An obvious product placement, but one that provided some funny gags.

    I can see where this can get out of hand though. Like I've heard that Monsters Inc couldn't have been made by Disney because DCP would have tried to change the main characters to more "merchandise friendly" characters. (no one would buy a one eyed monster toy!)

  • There is nothing wrong with character merchandising per se. As Curmudgeon has stated, Disney has been involved with licensing all along since day one. However, it is one thing for merchandise to be created around what the characters do within the context of the story and then use that as inspiration for specific tie-ins, yet quite another to contrive things for inclusion in the film simply to then generate merchandise tie-ins. The example of Meeko braiding Pocahontas's hair doesn't bother me too much, as it is a cute visual gag that helps to show the sweet relationship between the two characters. On the other hand, I don't like the idea of contriving a blatantly anachronistic gag involving toothpaste in order to sign a deal with a specific licensee, as that smacks of product placement with the character seemingly endorsing the product. I think it's a very sticky issue and the integrity of the filmmakers should be allowed to trump the desires of the merchandisers whenever there is a conflict of interest or questionable purpose involved.
  • What I find ironic in all this is that no one has really mentioned the obvious ... why does it take DCP intervening for DFA to create marketable characters?

    In the old days, there was no need for DCP to raise a stink ... the movies were so great and the characters so memorable that the toys sold themselves. Not so in this day and age ... how many Home on the Range and Chicken Little plush toys do you think CP had to put on clearance or just plain chuck in the trash?

    I can't say as I blame them for trying to finagle a little something to work with. Feature Animation's track record has been nothing short of dismal lately, which is why they have to milk so much out of the little they have. That's what I blame for the "Who Wants to be a Millionaire Syndrome" they seem to have these days with "The Three P's" (pirates, princesses, and Pixar).

    They just can't create enough good, enduring characters anymore.
  • Oh, and I forgot to mention all the Atlantis and Treasure Planet toys that are probably still sitting around in a warehouse somewhere ...
  • I do remember one story (don't know how true) where CP might have tried to go too far with DFA.

    During th eproduction of "Aladdin" the question from CP was "Can't you make Jasmine's eyes blue?  Brown-eyed dolls don't sell."  It was carefully explained by the animators that Jasmine was Arabian.

    The eyes stayed brown, and the dolls sold VERY well, from what I heard.
  • jedited said:
    "Merchandise helps with the overall costs of the movie and help to turn a "disappointment" into a "successful" movie. (remember Cars?)"

    "Cars" did very well at the box office; Box Office Mojo says that the Production Budget was $120 million, and it has made, so far, worldwide, $447,566,632.  That's not a "disappointment".  

    WDWacky said:
    "how many Home on the Range and Chicken Little plush toys do you think CP had to put on clearance or just plain chuck in the trash?"
    I have HOTR & CL plushes... not "Atlantis" or "Treasure Planet" ones, though, but I would love to have them!!!  (especially Morph).  I'm not sure where to find out how much Disney has made off of merchandise from movies, but maybe marketing had something to do with the lack of sales, if there was a lack.


  • WOW! This article was just chock full of Disney insider goodness. You're right on the beam, Jim. Keep up the good work.
  • >>>That's not a "disappointment".

    Disappointment is a failure to meet expectations.  Cars did VERY well at the box office.  But the expectations of many were that it would have made even more.  Hence, for many in the industry (and probably within Disney) it was a disappointment.
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