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Straight from Disney's drawing board: The retro Mickey radio

Straight from Disney's drawing board: The retro Mickey radio

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When it comes to merchandise, the Mouse Factory churns out some pretty nice stuff, don't you think? Like all of those great limited edition pieces that the nice folks at DisneyDirect.com created for Disneyland's 50th. Those were cool, weren't they?

But sometimes -- no matter how cool an idea for a proposed Disney product might be -- it can still slip through the cracks. This is the story of one such product. Which (as of this moment) isn't actually in production. But -- with luck -- may one day be available for purchase.

Do you remember those Mickey Mouse phones that everyone had back in the 1970s? You know, the one with the retro-style Mickey? Where the Mouse -- in his red shorts and yellow shoes -- stood with one gloved hand on his stomach while the other hand held the receiver? Did you ever own one of those? Was it the phone with the rotary dial with gold trim? Yeah? Boy, now you're really dating yourself.

Anyway ... Those phones were a lot of fun. More to the point, they were very popular with Disneyana fans. Which is why -- about a decade ago -- a Disney designer (Let's call him Larry) got to thinking about those old phones. He wondered what other sorts of consumer products could be reworked in the style of those phones ... When Larry hit upon the idea of a radio.

Copyright, Disney Enteprises, Inc.

So this designer quickly roughed out a proposal of a Mickey Mouse-shaped radio. In which Mickey's ears were the speakers, the Mouse's tail was the cord and the buttons on his old shorts would be the radio's dials. Then Larry started talking to everybody within earshot about how cool a retro Mickey radio would be. People with Larry's departent would nod & smile in agreement, saying things like "That's a pretty good idea." But -- to be honest -- that's as far as this project got for a while.

Then one day, Larry shared his retro Mickey radio idea to another Disney designer (Let's call him Curly). Curly was so impressed with Larry's idea that he quickly sat down and drew a couple of sketches of what this product might look like.

Only -- instead of having Mickey stand up, just as he did with the phone -- Curly drew the Mouse in a seated position. Having Mickey lean on his arms like you do if you're sitting on the floor. And Larry & Curly are talking about these sketches when Moe (Yet another Disney designer) comes along, sees the art and decides that he too really loves this idea. Which is why he immediately volunteers to turn Curly's sketches into a turn-around.

Copyright, Disney Enterprises, Inc.

For those of you who don't know: A turn-around is something that you created when you're designing a three dimensional product. These drawings show the product from all sides so that everyone who works on this project can then know just what the finished version is supposed to look like.

Now these three stoog... um, designers ... were excited. They take this art and take it to their managers. Who -- in turn -- take this art to their managers. Who all nod their head in agreement, saying things like "This is a good idea," "This product will make the company some money" and "This has got to gte made."

But here's the interesting thing. After all that initial good buzz about the retro Mickey radio, the product never gets made.

To borrow a Jim Hill-ism, why for? Because ... Well, you have to remember that the Walt Disney Company isn't actually a manufacturer. So -- while the corporation's designers can come up with cool ideas like this retro Mickey radio -- Disney still then has to find a company who's actually willing to build this product.

And -- for something's that as ornate and elaborate as this retro Mickey radio is -- that means that a mold must be made. And a mold for something that's this size (around 18 inches high or so) requires thousands of dollars to create. More importantly, the assembly line work that would be required to manufacture a piece like this is specialized. So the number of companies that you can sell an idea like this to is limited.

And -- finally -- the most obvious reason that a product like this never actually makes it into production is ... Well ... People at Disney Consumer Products sometimes err on the side of caution. Which (I guess) I can understand. After all, no one wants to be the guy who championed a brand new product, only to have that product not sell.

Copyright, Disney Enterprises, Inc.

So take a good look at the illustrations that accompany this article. Then think long and hard.

I mean, sure, this retro Mickey radio looks cute. And -- what with you being a JHM reader and all -- you'd probably buy one of these.

But then ask yourself: Are there fifteen thousand other buyers out there on the planet? People who'd be willing to buy enough retro Mickey radios so that this new product could then recover its tooling & marketing costs and eventually make a profit?

Can you answer that question? I can't. Nor could Larry, Moe and Curly. Which is why this retro Mickey radio remains on Disney's drawing board.

Which is admittedly kind of maddening. By that I mean: Here's what looks to be a sure-fire idea for Disney Consumer Products. But because no one can be sure that it's really a sure-fire idea, the retro Mickey radio never actually made it into production.

But -- on the other hand -- were someone in power at the Walt Disney Company to actually see these drawings and think "Hey, that looks like a really cool consumer product" ... Maybe this 10-year retro Mickey radio idea might finally get another shot at moving from concept drawing to finished product.

But could that actually happen? One wonders -- what with the rise in popularity of satellite radio -- whether there now might actually be a market for a product like this? Something that stashes all of that cutting-edge technology inside of a friendly looking form?

All I can tell you guys is: Stay tuned. The retro Mickey radio story may not be over yet ...

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