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Why Disney didn't "release the hounds" on Hamas' Mickey Mouse & Shijingshan Amusement Park

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Why Disney didn't "release the hounds" on Hamas' Mickey Mouse & Shijingshan Amusement Park

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For "Simpsons" fans, it's one of those moments that always brings a smile.

Some character shows up unexpectedly at C. Montgomery Burns' front door. The bitter old billionaire listens politely for a moment or two. Then Burns turns to his flunkie, Waylon Smithers and says: "Release the hounds." And then this pack of vicious attack dogs suddenly appears and chases the uninvited visitor off of Burns' front steps.

And the Walt Disney Company ... It used to do that. A lot. When Disney officials saw something that they didn't like (EX: Someone using the corporation's copywritten property without permission), they'd then "release the hounds." As is: Sic the Mouse's infamously aggressively legal department on the offenders.

Of course, this tactic would sometimes backfire. Take -- for example -- that time back in the Summer of 1989 when Disney's lawyers sued a trio of daycare centers in Hallandale, FL. You see, the owner of these daycare centers had had some murals painted which featured Disney characters. And Mickey's attorneys argued that this was trademark infringement. Which is why they wanted the company's characters removed from the walls of these daycare centers ASAP.

Of course, what the Mouse's lawyers hadn't anticipated was that this lawsuit would eventually result in an awful lot of bad publicity for the Walt Disney Company. With many newspapers & television stations around the country running stories about how the all-powerful Disney corporation was picking on these three tiny daycare centers.

And what really didn't help this situation is that Universal Studios (Sensing a great opportunity to promote its soon-to-be-opened Orlando operation) immediately swooped in and offered to send its own artists to this trio of Disney-sued daycare centers. Where they then painted new murals featuring characters that would soon be entertaining guests who'd visit Universal Studios Florida.

The upside is ... Disney executives actually learned a lot from this daycare debacle. They learned that sometimes -- when it comes to protecting the company's copywritten material -- the best thing to do is little or nothing at all.

Photo courtesy of Google Images

Take -- for example -- how the company has been handling that Mickey Mouse clone that's been appearing on Al-Aqsa TV, that television station that's run by Hamas. During his appearance on the "Tomorrow's Pioneers" program, this character (which is obviously a rip-off of Disney's corporate symbol) has been urging Palestinian children to help " ... liberate Jerusalem, God willing, liberate Iraq, God willing, and liberate all the countries of the Muslims invaded by the murderers."

Obviously, this is not the sort of message that the Walt Disney Company wants Mickey Mouse associated with. But rather than "releasing the hounds" on Hamas, Mouse House officials opted to take a more thoughtful, measured approach to this problem.

As Disney CEO Bob Iger explained yesterday during his appearance yesterday at the Disneyland Hotel, where he spoke at the Society of Business Editors and Writers' annual conference:

"We were appalled by the use of our character to disseminate that kind of message. I think anytime any group seeks to exploit children in that manner, it's despicable. (But) We didn't mobilize our forces and seek to either have the clip taken down or to make any broad public statement about it. I just didn't think it would have any effect.

I think it should have been obvious how the company felt about the subject. We simply made the decision that we would not either create or prolong a public discourse on the subject by making a loud public statement."

Instead of siccing its own legal department on Hamas, what Disney did was let the court of public opinion do all of the heavy lifting for it. And given that there was almost universal condemnation of Farfour (I.E. The name that this Mickey clone went by) and Al-Aqsa's attempt to use this character to indoctrinate Palestinian children, "Tomorrow's Pioneers" was recently pulled off the air "for review" by the Palestinian Information Office. Which has since admitted that Al-Aqsa's use of this Disney rip-off in its effort to educate Palestinian youth about the on-going struggle with Israel may have been a "mistaken approach."

Mind you, 'way behind the scenes, far away from the public eye, Disney representatives did quietly meet with Palestinian officials to express their concerns about Farfour and "Tomorrow's Pioneers." But in the end, Disney exerted no real pressure (legal or otherwise) on the Palestinian government. It just let the public do that for them.

The Mouse took a similar approach to Shijingshan Amusement Park. You know, that Chinese theme park that's been all over the news lately ? Mostly because it seems to be filled with employees who were wearing costumes that were obvious knock-offs of well-known Disney characters like Donald Duck and Minnie Mouse.

 Photo courtesy of Google Images

So even though Disney had Shijingshan absolutely dead to rights (I mean, this park even had a banner over its entrance that read: “Hong Kong Disneyland is too far away. Come to Shijingshan instead"), Mickey didn't "release the hounds" here either. Rather, itjust let the international press shame Shijingshan's owners into making the necessary changes at that theme park. And sure enough, late last week, video began circulating that showed workmen taking sleg-hammers to paper mache statues of classic Disney characters like Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella.

Of course, in this particular situation, the Walt Disney Company had a number of reasons that it needed to tread lightly. For starters, it didn't want to embarrass senior Chinese officials. Given that the government of Shijingshan District had actually provided the funding for construction of this new theme park in Beijing's western suburbs.

And then there's the fact that Vice-Premier Wu Yi arrived in Washington yesterday to take part in a two day summit that -- among other issues -- is supposed to address China's on-going problems with intellectual property. As one unnamed Disney official explained it to me this past weekend:

"We didn't want to do anything that then might give the Chinese an excuse to call off that meeting. Sure, we probably lost a couple of hundred thousand dollars in collectable fees during that period when Shijingshan was using our trademarked characters to entertain guests at their theme park. But that's nothing compared to the billions that the Walt Disney Company loses annually because the Chinese government refuses to police the people who make & sell illegal copies of our movies, TV shows, CDs, DVDs and computer games.

That's the issue that we really need resolved, that we want Wu and his government to get behind. Not shutting down stupid little theme parks like Shijingshan. We need these guys to focus on the real problem. Which is China's horrible record when it comes to intellectual property."

Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Will Disney's now cautious & more thoughtful approach to sensitive issues like Hamas' Mickey Mouse clone and Shijingshan Amusement Park (Which -- it should be noted here -- is supposedly trickling down directly from Bob Iger's office) ultimately result in the company having better PR ? To be honest, the Mouse remains a very tempting target. Witness the Daily Show's recent decision to do a segment lampooning Disneyland's on-going battle with Anaheim officials.

Though, in that particular case, the Disneyland Resort did actually bring all of this bad press on itself because it has in fact "released the hounds." In that Disneyland did sue Anaheim back in February because that city wants to build 225 units of subsized housing right next door to where the Imagineers want to eventually build the Disneyland Resort's third theme park. Which is why there have been all of these negative articles about how Mickey has been throwing his weight around lately, doing whatever he has to in order to get Orange County officials to comply with the Walt Disney Company's wishes.

Me personally, I can't help but notice how bizarre it is that the Disney corporation now puts all of this care & thought into its international dealings ... Yet when it comes to the Disneyland Resort, the officials there tend to treat Anaheim's elected officials as if they were hourly employees at DCA. To be ordered about as Mickey sees fit.

Of course, the difference in attitude here may have a lot to do with the fact that the Middle East and Asia are places where Disney officials believe that their company's future now lies. That these are the last great untapped markets where hundreds of millions of new Disney fans can potentially be found. So great care must be taken so that Mickey doesn't blow these last golden opportunities.

Whereas when it comes to Orange County, California ... There's a feeling among some Disneyland officials that this particular market is verging on tapped out. Which is why it would probably be best for the company to concentrate its efforts on international expansion, rather than wasting its time & effort on trying to find new ways to make the people who live right next door to the Anaheim parks happy.

But what do you folks think ? Do you like that the Walt Disney Company is now taking a cautious, more thoughtful approach when it comes to all of its international dealings ? Even though this same sort of approach doesn't seem to apply to Anaheim ? Or is it now perhaps time to "release the hounds" on some of the Disneyland Resort's more-boneheaded officials ?

Your thoughts ?

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  • I think that Disney's management and PR department need to rethink their approach in their opposition to the proposed housing that the Anaheim City Council is pushing for.  While I think Disney and the other businesses have every right to and should defend the resort district, they have found themselves in what could become a very ugly PR nightmare.  There must be a way to protect the Anaheim Resort District and find a way to help provide affordable housing to lower income workers and their families.  This would be the best approach for all parties involved because it would show that everyone is working toward the same goal.  From a public relations standpoint, it seems better than suing the City of Anaheim.  That, to me, seems a bit "un-Disney-like".  

  • What ever gets the job done.

  • there are other reasonable solutions for building low income housing.  There is plenty of land outside the resort.

    the housing development within the resort has less to do with supplying low income housing and more of  city council women wanting to push her power around and then turning things around to get attention on her side right before a re-election.

  • "...wasting its time & effort on trying to find new ways to make the people who live right next door to the Anaheim parks happy."

    How anyone could say trying to improve the Disneyland resort is a "waste of time and effort" is beyond me.  For goodness sakes it's an American legacy.  Why we should focus on giving a better show and product in other countries than our own is ludacris.  There's plenty of money here in the US.  It's crazy that just about everything that comes out of the Tokyo Disneyland resort continues to top anything done in the states for decades.

  • Jim, you're answering your own question here.

    In the Shijingshan situation, Disney was willing to "overlook" the situation in order to stop a bigger problem - billions of dollars of lost revenue from pirated videos.  Disney got exactly what it wanted - the characters are coming down, and they still have talks for their lost revenue.

    In the "Tomorrow's Pioneers" TV situation, any aggressive attempt to remove the Farfour character would have given Hamas more fuel for their anti-western campaign - probably prolonging the character's use.  Public opinion killed it quickly and efficiently; again, exactly what Disney wanted.

    But in the case of the subsidized housing, Disney has to kill the project NOW.  Once groundbreaking occurs, or worse yet actual construction begins, it isn't Disney vs. Orange County - it's Disney vs. low income families.  It's a battle they can't win, so they need to avert it before it begins - this is Disneyland's only possibility for expansion.  Again, what's best for Disney.

    It's great to have a Disney CEO that actually thinks rather than reacts - Eisner doubtless would have pulled out the hammer in all three cases, and Disney would be paying through the nose in damage control.

  • I kinda agree with you that Disney should be looking to the US first, since it's where it's based, Sageoftime, but I suppose they got tired of being constantly hit on the head for no real reason. I mean, nowadays your country has been famous for making huge deals out of very little. So in Disney's mind, why try to bend over backwards to please a crowd that will constantly try to find something to nitpick about when they have the rest of the world eager and open to receive them? I mean, lots of countries would love to be able to host a Disney park of some kind, since it's so difficult to get a visa and actually go visit Disneyland and Walt Disney World.

  • I think this is a good, new approach to PR issues. I don't agree with MKCustodial though, that they're based in the US doesn't say they have to tend to the American crowd first. If they would, they would be overlooking a lot of potential in international territories. The whole Disney vs. Orange County deal is ugly, but does Disney have more right to building "something" there in the "near future", than Anaheim has to build actual housing NOW. I mean, if Disney had solid plans, that were actually in a well-thought-about state, fine, but they don't yet. I'm for Disney getting the property, but not if they are planning to do "something" in the "near future".

    Oh, and I never really understood the whole daycare stuff. Besides those three daycare centers, I bet thousands of other daycare centers, kindergarten schools, etc. around the world also use Disney characters without having a license agreement for it. And isn't it kinda like free advertisement for the whole company? (Also, begin brainwashing (in other words, having Disney characters EVERYWHERE) people young, so that they will love Disney their whole lives!! :P)

  • Perhaps the deeper issue here is that Walt Disney's art and personality were deeply rooted in uniquely American cultural values, and his parks are a product of that.  We all like to think that those values are "universal", and can be marketed around the word.  But they aren't, especially in places where Disney is looking to grow, like the ME and China.  So in situations where in the past they would defend themselves domestically, they are now willing to stay quiet for the sake of furture foreign profits.  The danger is that practicing "soft diplomacy" with people whose values are contrary to yours is historically more likely to corrupt you than convert them...

  • Jim was not complete in his coverage of the Save Our Anaheim Resort v. Anaheim issue. The developer isn't just building 225 units of "affordable" housing - they're building 1500 units of which 225 are "affordable" (and almost 85% are "what the market will bear"). And this is in the area of a mobile home park which will be removed to build the new housing (and there are more than 225 spaces in the mobile home park). Which is a net loss.

    Also it should be remembered that the area was zoned as Resort area by agreement with the city in 1994, which set standards for the area to support tourism - which provided over 50% of the tax revenue for the city. Most of the negative press is being fostered by the developer, with misleading letters and brochures. Supporters of the SOAR petition have been harrassed by supporters of the developer.

    The real question is how does the city benefit by losing part of the resort area to a developer not based in Anaheim, and with no interest in improving infrastructure around this housing plan. Keeping the Resort area zoned as Resort is supported by a substantial majority of the Anaheim Chamber of Commerce, the Mayor of Anaheim and another council member. The vote was 3 to 2 in favor of the developer, not a rousing majority...

    Just so people know the facts...

  • I have been reading JHM for a while.  I appreciate a lot of the articles.  This one however is a stretch.  

    You cannot compare the legal or political climates of the Palestinian authority (and Hamas) and China to the US.  You have 3 distinctly different climates.

    Palestine and Hamas are engaged in a "Holy" war and Disney lawyers would have absolutely no effect.  

    China - you had the answer in your story.  The problem is not 1 park or a couple of hundred thousand dollars it is climate of piracy that seems to be encouraged by the government in many ways.  Again, Disney lawyers would have little effect.

    US -  strict, established protections for Disney lawyers to enforce when needed.  Should they go after daycare centers?  Disney could probably be more creative and generate positive pr instead.  Anaheim; I don't know much about it, but I have a feeling if the same issue arose for one of their parks in another country it would be approached in whatever way would be deemed most effective for that legal and political climate.

    These 3

  • Another inteesting article, Jim! Only one thing I'd add: Disney also probably doesn't want to push hard on the issue of characters in the Being Shijingshan park too much because they don't want to take the chance of stepping on the toes of people they'll need to develop their parks in China.

    There have been rumors for a while that Disney's interested in building a park in Shanghai, and I wouldn't be surprised if they've considered developing a park closer to Beijing somewhere down the road. If they released the hounds against Beinjing Shijingshan - whihch is a government-owned operation - now, they might end up upsetting someone with connections to folks in the national government or in the regional governments for Beijing or Shanghai; that person might be tempted to make things difficult for the Company when they come calling to ask one of those governmental entities to pony up part of the costs of another Disney theme park.

  • Hey all. I agree with just about everything in today's article and what previous posts say. Except for Anaheim as I know little about it. Maybe I should say I know little about Disney's international relations and even less about Anaheim. I would like to put in my two cents about DCA in case there are any Disney executives reading this. As I have stated before, it's my personal opinion that DCA has a lot of room for improvement. I would put Disney money to work there before building a third park.

    I do like DCA as I like to root for the underdog LOL. It's a fine park. If it were built anywhere else in the nation it would be considered a World Class park. Building it right next to THE PARK that changed history wasn't a great idea.

  • Hate to break it to you, but Tomorrow's Pioneers ran last Friday in its usual time slot, this time with Al-Aqsa TV deputy director Hazem Al-Shawa'ari dishing out the propaganda as 'Uncle Hazem.'  

    Farfur (the spelling used on the PMW website) was also on the show.  He appeared in a skit about how he was forced to cheat on his test because, "the Jews destroyed our home, and when the Jews destroyed our home I couldn't find my notebooks."

    I won't go into all the messy details, but Al-Aqsa TV promised Palestinian Information Minister Mustafa Barghouti that they'd pull the show pending a review, then the broadcaster reneged on that promise in order to embarrass Barghouti.  As far as I understand, it's all part of the violent power struggle that's going on between Hamas and Fatah right now.

    BLATANT PLUG: You can read my take on it over here: http://international-animated-films.suite101.com/article.cfm/farfur_still_on_air

  • I am not sure where Jim got this particular information

    "Whereas when it comes to Orange County, California ... There's a feeling among some Disneyland officials that this particular market is verging on tapped out. Which is why it would probably be best for the company to concentrate its efforts on international expansion, rather than wasting its time & effort on trying to find new ways to make the people who live right next door to the Anaheim parks happy."

    but its totally wrong.  Many in disney have finally noticed the potential of the Disneyland resort.  He might be confusing the resorts but the one that has been seen as being close to tapped out is WDW.

    Many in upper managment feel that there is great potential in the growth of the Anaheim resort and that is the reason why Disney is being very straight forward about how it feels how the land around its parks will be used.

    Disney has four to five hotels in development, a large investment in expanding DTD and the addition of a possible third gate is yet again on everyones mind.  Lets also not forget the large plans for DCA's expansions.

    The only reason that disney has been more cautious about the situation with Hamas and asia is because of its international plans to keep developing in those nations.  Disney as we know has been in talks for future expansions and it is not the right time to focus bad publicity towards the Chinese government.  That does not mean that they just stood back and said or did nothing.  Disney is very protective of its trademarks.

    In regards to Hamas, the problems that could have occured if Disney tried to challange that would have been a complete PR nightmare and they made the right decision to just let it fade as quickly as it came.

  • I think Disney overreacted a little on the daycare situation which resulted in a lot of bad press. However DIsney needed to address the daycare situation. It comes across as big bad DIsney picking on little daycares, however how could Disney possibly allow these 3 daycares to use it's characters without licensing fees while charging thousands of other companies for their use.

    I don't understand why certain Anaheim city council members have decided that it is in the city's best interest to anger the city's single largest employer by reneging on the Resort deal. It really seems all about politics and very little to do with what is best for both parties. From what I read in another article, if these housing units are built instead of the hotels that Disney has planned, DIsney could be on the hook for several millions of dollars to help repay the bond that Anaheim floated to create the Resort. This bond was suppose to be paid back by hotel bed taxes, however the revenue from the taxes has fallen far short of it's estimates due to the lack of hotels being built.

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