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A special “Lucky Rabbit” edition of Why For

Jim Hill’s back with even more answers to your Disney-related questions. This time around, Jim talks about what reportedly really caused the Oswald acquisition deal to happen, Pleasure Island’s original line-up of nightclubs and the current status of “Toy Story III”

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First up, Peter R. checks in with an interesting bit of news:

Never would think I would be sending you a questions concerning Monday Night Football, but I guess with ESPN being a jewel in the Disney Sports Crown anything is possible.

What is this that I heard that Al Micheals was “traded” to NBC for Oswald the Rabbit? Could it be that Oswald has indeed come home to Disney after all?!?!?!?

Dear Peter R.

Yep. This story is true. You can read about all the particulars here.

But what I find fascinating is what isn’t turning up in any of the official press accounts about the Al Michaels / Oswald the Lucky Rabbit trade. To be specific, how Bob Iger initially got interested in reacquiring this character. More importantly, what Bob plans to do with Oswald now that Disney’s got him back.

The story that I’ve heard from a number of Disney insiders is that it was actually an article that ran on Jerry Beck & Amid Amidi’s excellent Cartoon Brew website back in January of 2005 that reportedly put Oswald the Lucky Rabbit on Iger’s radar. You see, Jerry & Amid had just done a story about how Oswald merchandise was (for some inexplicable reason) suddenly selling like hotcakes in Japan. And Bob — while doing his standard every morning routine of trolling-around-the-Internet-while-strolling-on-his-treadmill — allegedly just filed this factoid away.

Later that same morning, once he actually got into work, Iger supposedly began making inquiries about Oswald. As he tried to find out A) Who now really held the rights to this classic Disney cartoon character and B) what the licensing rights to the lucky rabbit might actually be worth in today’s marketplace. Bob’s staffers eventually got back to their boss with all the necessary info (I.E. That Universal still held the rights to Oswald. More importantly, that there was some seriously unrealized marketing potential in this classic Disney cartoon character). And then Iger just tucked that info away in his pocket … and waited.

Copyright Disney Enterprises LLC

Mind you, Bob did reportedly make a few folks aware that he eventually intended to reacquire Oswald. In March of 2005, after Iger was officially named as the Walt Disney Company’s CEO-to-be, he supposedly spoke with Diane Disney Miller. According to the AP article, Ms. Miller recalled that their conversation went something like this:

“When Bob was named CEO, he told me he wanted to bring Oswald back to Disney, and I appreciate that he is a man of his word.”

Mind you, Iger still had to wait for just the right opportunity to present itself. When Universal really needed something that Disney had. So that Bob could then horse-trade for the rights to the Oswald the Lucky Rabbit. Get the character back at a fairly affordable price. And this opportunity finally emerged with this Al Michaels trade.

“So now that Oswald’s officially back home at Disney, what does Iger actually intend to do with this character?,” you ask. Well, you may be surprised by what Bob’s got up his sleeve. You see, it’s not what all you animation fans think is going to happen (I.E. That now we’re going to get a “Disney Treasures” DVD that finally collects all of Walt’s versions of the “Oswald the Lucky Rabbit” silent cartoons).

Oh, sure. That product (Or a product like that) will eventually make its way to the marketplace. Perhaps in late 2007 or early 2008. But as for Oswald’s first gig as a newly reacquired Disney character … Well, this lucky rabbit is about to go hi-tech.

To explain: Given that Oswald-related merchandise is still very popular in Japan, Disney’s reportedly looking into creating some brand-new animation of this classic cartoon character as he appeared back in the 1920s. So that this lucky rabbit can then make appearances on cellular phones and/or on other handheld devices.

I don’t know about you guys. But there are numerous aspects of this Disney-reacquires-Oswald story that I just find to be very pleasing . The fact that it was Jerry Beck’s website that supposedly initially brought the Lucky Rabbit to Bob Iger’s attention. Meaning that — because of the efforts of this noted animation historian — a classic Disney cartoon character from the silent era is now being brought back from the brink of obscurity.

Copyright Disney Enterprises LLC

Or — better yet — that this film star of the 1920s is now going to be reborn as a hot commodity in 2006. As a classic cartoon character who will cavort on cell phones in Japan. I mean, you couldn’t really make up a story that has bends & twists like this.

But as for Bob Iger … This particular reacquisition does give us a lot more insight into the way Disney’s new CEO actually operates. The way he really views the Disney Company. More importantly, the corporation’s future.

I mean, sure. Clearly the guy understood all the good publicity that would be generated by this story. “New Disney boss arranges for long lost character to finally come home.” Who wouldn’t love a story like that?

But there’s more to this reacquisition deal than just the nostalgia factor, people. Iger recognizes that the Walt Disney Company’s core strength actually lies in its stable of characters. That if this valuable resource is properly tended during the content-crazy era that we currently live in (I.E. Where characters can not only appear in movies or on television but also on DVDs, on the internet, in handheld games and/or cellular phones), that there are billions upon billions to be made for decades yet to come.

It is this very philosophy (I.E. That Disney needs a steady stream of characters with which to create content. Which can then be moved across a variety of platforms & pipelines in order to produce profits for the corporation) that allows Iger to justify the $7.4 billion the Walt Disney Company just spent in order to acquire Pixar Animation Studios. That — properly tended — the Pixar characters will make money for the Mouse House for “infinity and beyond.”

Well, I hate to be a spoilsport. I mean — as much as I enjoy this Mouse-reacquires-Rabbit story — I still think that Disney seriously over-paid for Pixar. More importantly, given the glut of CG films that we’re seeing in 2006, I can’t help but think that Steve Jobs may soon replace Mark Cuban (I.E. The web-based entrepreneur who sold broadcast.com to Yahoo for $5.7 billion literally weeks before the dotcom bubble burst) as the poster boy for “Knowing the exact right moment to sell.”

Anyway … While we’re talking about ways that the Walt Disney Company can make the most of the characters that the corporation currently has in its stable … I was wondering: Do you think that it would really kill those guys to find something for the Muppets to do? I mean, besides having Kermit & Miss Piggy appear in commercials for Pizza Hut and Ford.

Next up, Amy writes in to ask:

Dear Jim,

All of the talk surrounding Pleasure Island and it closing reminds me of when it was being built. I was a kid when the walls were errected next to the Empress Lilly and the “Village”. But for some reason I thought they were going to put a skating ring in Pleasure Island. I believe that’s what was written on the walls that described what was going to be there. Am I wrong? Do you have the original description for Pleasure Island?

Dear Amy —

Ask and ye shall receive. What follows is a somewhat abridged transcript of an official Walt Disney World press release from the Spring of 1989. Which attempted to explain to the world what exactly WDW’s Pleasure Island was supposed to be:

Nightlife in spotlight at Pleasure Island, a new Walt Disney World attraction

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — Mannequins dance, the “spirits” speak and guests rollerskate back to the future at Pleasure Island, a new themed nighttime entertainment complex rocking with music and high energy at Walt Disney World Village.

Six themed nightclubs, a dozen exciting shops and six innovative restaurants and food courts offer a new kind of nightlife experience starting this summer at the island complex inspired by fabled sailmaking magnate Merriweather Adam Pleasure.


Copyright 1988 The Walt Disney Company

In the Disney tradition of detailed theming, Disney “Imagineers” created this phenomenal waterfront neighborhood by first spinning the legend of Pleasure — an adventurous wag who moved to the island in the late 19th century to build his sailmaking empire during the rise of the leisure yachting business.

After disappearing at sea during a trip around the world, Pleasure’s island industrial complex fell into decay, according to the tall tale. Decades later, Disney Imagineers fashioned a nightlife paradise from more than 120,000 square feet of abandoned lots, warehouses and factories. The result: a fun-filled, themed entertainment park featuring comedy & magic, live dance bands, high-tech video entertainment and a rockin’ roller rink.


Copyright 1998 The Walt Disney Company

Guests can dance or rollerskate into the future at the XZFR Rockin’ RollerDrome (pronounced “zephyr”) — a novel, high-energy gathering place where revelers can take a dining break to refuel for more fun. The Imagineers’ answer to a rock ‘n’ roll encounter of a futuristic kind, the one-time wind tunnel and laboratory is said to have been used by Pleasure to develop a fantastic flying machine. Members of the club’s live band, the “Time Pilots,” take flight above the main dance floor in a Starpool vehicle that hovers beneath a giant “mothership.” Guests on rollerskates orbit the dance floor on a second-level roller rink.

At Mannequins Dance Palace, visitors are on center stage with mannequins — animated and live — that move to the beat of the theatrical world around them. Transformed from the remains of a cavernous warehouse once used to store Pleasure’s canvas and sewing machines, the nightclub brings the drama and the magic of the theater to a unique turntable dance floor surrounded by stage rigging, lights and catwalks.

Strange things can happen during an expedition into the unknown at the Adventurers Club, once a salubrious retreat for Pleasure’s affluent yachting clientele. Around every corner of this lavish, eccentric hideaway awaits a new surprise: In the mask room, the walls are “alive” with 150 authentic masks brought from Africa and the Far East. In the Treasure Room, guests are startled when the spirit of a beheaded adventurer speaks out.

The voice of “HyperActive” takes over at Videopolis East, a pulsing, high-tech teen club featuring 170 video screens and a colorful menu of non-alcoholic drinks. Doubling as a giant video game controlled by the artificial intelligence of “HyperActive,” the club introduces an exciting new concept: members of the teen crowd interact with the video screens to gain access to corners of the club where they control flashing lights and other atmospheric effects.


Copyright 1989 The Walt Disney Company

The flavor of the Southwest tempts visitors at the Neon Armadillo, where long-necked beer and sizzling fajitas are served to the tune of toe-tappin’ country-and-western bands. Formerly a greenhouse for exotic plants collected during Pleasure’s world travels, this spacious saloon features a balcony lookout and a hot tub packed with ice to keep the beer cold.

At the Comedy Warehouse, an improvisational comedy troupe ignites the laughter that fills the one-time power planet of Pleasure’s domain …

As you can see, Amy, Pleasure Island was loaded with unique clubs and experiences. At least back during this nighttime entertainment complex’s first summer of operation.

As to what became of the island’s roller rink … I’m told that that particular aspect of the XZFR Rockin’ RollerDrome didn’t even make it all the way through PI’s first summer. All it took was the first few patrons (Who — admittedly — had already had a few too many drinks at one or more of Pleasure Island’s other establishments) to strap on skates and then fall down and/or crash into some other skaters and then cause a few injuries … And Disney’s lawyers (terrified by the idea of a never-ending series of lawsuits that were directly attributable to XZFR and the allegedly unsafe operating conditions at that club) quickly ordered the roller rink aspect of this nightclub shut down.

Copyright 1989 The Walt Disney Company

I know of one die-hard Disney fan who was particularly upset when Pleasure Island finally shut the roller rink portion of XZFR’s Rockin’ RollerDrome down. Michael Jackson supposedly spent hours in the place during the Summer of 1989 (I.E. During the afternoon, when this PI nightclub wasn’t actually open to the public) blissfully skating around the second floor. According to what Pleasure Island vets tell me, Michael was devastated in 1990 when he returned to XZFR and learned that Disney’s lawyers no longer allowed anyone to skate inside that building.

Anywho … As I skate over to our last JHM reader letter for this week, Emaneul P. writes in to ask:

Hi Jim,

I was surfing the net when I ran into this article. It’s basically about (how) the suits at the Mouse House decided that Pixar is going to go ahead and do “Toy Story 3,” with Disney’s original story line. Pretty short article. I was wondering 1) is it true? and 2) what is the story behind this project being brought back to life?

I know you have your sources, so i’m sure you can tell us more than this measly article. I absolutely love “Toy Story 1” and “2,” so I’m stoked about this.

Your Thoughts?

Thanks,

Emanuel

Dear Emanuel —

Rest assured that — sometime in the next five years — the Walt Disney Company, through Pixar Animation Studios, will be producing and then releasing “Toy Story III.” The third and final installment of what’s-now-being-billed as the “Toy Story” trilogy.

However, when this film is finally made, it will not be the version of “Toy Story III” that Disney’s Circle Seven Studios had initially cooked up (I.E. Due to a malfunction with that entire line of toys, every Buzz Lightyear in the world has to be sent back to their factory in Tawain. Where all of these action figures will then be dissembled. Of course, Woody and the gang don’t find out about the dissembling part until after Buzz has actually been put in the mail. So now it’s up to Andy’s toys to try & get to Tawain ahead of Buzz. So that they can then stop their favorite space ranger from being dismantled). But — rather — the sequel story that John Lasseter and the late Joe Ranft came up with while they were still working on “Toy Story II.”

To be honest, Emanuel, there is very little public information out there about this particular version of “Toy Story III.” Other than to say that this proposed film supposedly features a story that’s built around Jessie. More importantly, that this film will end with all of the characters in a happy safe place. So that — as moviegoers exit the theater — they know that Woody, Buzz and the rest of the crew will indeed live happily ever after.

And let me repeat here: “Toy Story III” will be the last installment of the series. In spite of the fact that — in earlier press releases hyping Circle Seven Studios — Disney had previously talked up both “Toy Story III” (which was originally supposed to have been released theatrically in 2008) as well as “Toy Story IV” (No release date was ever announced for this proposed fourth part of the series) .. The folks at Pixar absolutely insist that this next movie will be the very last one to feature Andy’s toys.

As for a release date for “Toy Story III” … Given that this “Toy Story” follow-up is John Lasseter’s baby, and given that John’s hands are expected to be pretty full for the next 18 months or so … I don’t think that it’s very realistic to expect that Lasseter will be able to focus his full attention on this project anytime soon.

However, once Disney Feature Animation & Pixar Animation Studios are fully intergrated and John finally gets a handle on what’s really going on with WDI … Maybe then we’ll finally see some progress on “Toy Story III.”

If I were a betting man, Emaneul … I’d bet that we wouldn’t see this particular sequel before 2009 or 2010. But — then again — given that Lasseter actually has to fill that hole in Disney’s 2008 release schedule (You know? The one that he created by shutting down production of Circle Seven’s version of “Toy Story III”?) … Maybe John will fast-track his own version of “Toy Story III.”

Let me make a few phone calls and see what I can find out …

A FEW MOMENTS LATER … Okay. So far, I don’t have a whole lot on “Toy Story III.” Though I can confirm that the sequels that Disney had wanted for “Monsters, Inc.” and “Finding Nemo” have been cancelled. Though an “Incredibles” follow-up may still make it to the big screen.

Okay. That pretty much does it for this week here at JHM. You folks have a great weekend, okay? And we’ll see you all again right here, bright & early next Monday morning.

Jim Hill

Jim Hill is an entertainment writer who has specialized in covering The Walt Disney Company for nearly 40 years now. Over that time, he has interviewed hundreds of animators, actors, and Imagineers -- many of whom have shared behind-the-scenes stories with Mr. Hill about how the Mouse House really works. In addition to the 4000+ articles Jim has written for the Web, he also co-hosts a trio of popular podcasts: “Disney Dish with Len Testa,” “Fine Tooning with Drew Taylor” and “Marvel US Disney with Aaron Adams.” Mr. Hill makes his home in Southern New Hampshire with his lovely wife Nancy and two obnoxious cats, Ginger & Betty.

Jim Hill is an entertainment writer who has specialized in covering The Walt Disney Company for nearly 40 years now. Over that time, he has interviewed hundreds of animators, actors, and Imagineers -- many of whom have shared behind-the-scenes stories with Mr. Hill about how the Mouse House really works. In addition to the 4000+ articles Jim has written for the Web, he also co-hosts a trio of popular podcasts: “Disney Dish with Len Testa,” “Fine Tooning with Drew Taylor” and “Marvel US Disney with Aaron Adams.” Mr. Hill makes his home in Southern New Hampshire with his lovely wife Nancy and two obnoxious cats, Ginger & Betty.

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Seward Johnson bronzes add a surreal, artistic touch to NYC’s Garment District

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Greetings from NYC. Nancy and I drove down from New
Hampshire yesterday because we'll be checking out
Disney Consumer Products' annual Holiday Showcase later today.

Anyway … After checking into our hotel (i.e., The Paul.
Which is located down in NYC's NoMad district), we decided to grab some dinner.
Which is how we wound up at the Melt Shop.


Photo by Jim Hill

Which is this restaurant that only sells grilled cheese sandwiches.
This comfort food was delicious, but kind of on the heavy side.


Photo by Jim Hill

Which is why — given that it was a beautiful summer night
— we'd then try and walk off our meals. We started our stroll down by the Empire
State Building


Photo by Jim Hill

… and eventually wound up just below Times
Square
(right behind where the Waterford Crystal Times Square New
Year's Eve Ball
is kept).


Photo by Jim Hill

But you know what we discovered en route? Right in the heart
of Manhattan's Garment District
along Broadway between 36th and 41st? This incredibly cool series of life-like
and life-sized sculptures that Seward
Johnson has created
.


Photo by Jim Hill

And — yes — that is Abraham Lincoln (who seems to have
slipped out of WDW's Hall of Presidents when no one was looking and is now
leading tourists around Times Square). These 18 painted
bronze pieces (which were just installed late this past Sunday night / early
Monday morning) range from the surreal to the all-too-real.


Photo by Jim Hill

Some of these pieces look like typical New Yorkers. Like the
business woman planning out her day …


Photo by Jim Hill

… the postman delivering the mail …


Photo by Jim Hill

… the hot dog vendor working at his cart …


Photo by Jim Hill


Photo by Jim Hill

… the street musician playing for tourists …


Photo by Jim Hill

Not to mention the tourists themselves.


Photo by Jim Hill

But right alongside the bronze businessmen …


Photo by Jim Hill

… and the tired grandmother hauling her groceries home …


Photo by Jim Hill

… there were also statues representing people who were
from out-of-town …


Photo by Jim Hill

… or — for that matter — out-of-time.


Photo by Jim Hill

These were the Seward Johnson pieces that genuinely beguiled. Famous impressionist paintings brought to life in three dimensions.


Note the out-of-period water bottle that some tourist left
behind. Photo by Jim Hill 

Some of them so lifelike that you actually had to pause for
a moment (especially as day gave way to night in the city) and say to yourself
"Is that one of the bronzes? Or just someone pretending to be one of these
bronzes?"

Mind you, for those of you who aren't big fans of the
impressionists …


Photo by Jim Hill

… there's also an array of American icons. Among them
Marilyn Monroe …


Photo by Jim Hill

… and that farmer couple from Grant Wood's "American
Gothic."


Photo by Jim Hill

But for those of you who know your NYC history, it's hard to
beat that piece which recreates Alfred Eisenstaedt's famous photograph of V-J Day in Times Square.


Photo by Jim Hill

By the way, a 25-foot-tall version of this particular Seward
Johnson piece ( which — FYI — is entitled "Embracing Peace") will actually
be placed in Times Square for a few days on or around  August 14th to commemorate the 70th
anniversary of Victory Over Japan Day (V-J Day).


Photo by Jim Hill

By the way, if you'd like to check these Seward Johnson bronzes in
person (which — it should be noted — are part of the part of the Garment
District Alliance
's new public art offering) — you'd best schedule a trip to
the City sometime over the next three months. For these pieces will only be on
display now through September 15th. 

Jim Hill

Jim Hill is an entertainment writer who has specialized in covering The Walt Disney Company for nearly 40 years now. Over that time, he has interviewed hundreds of animators, actors, and Imagineers -- many of whom have shared behind-the-scenes stories with Mr. Hill about how the Mouse House really works. In addition to the 4000+ articles Jim has written for the Web, he also co-hosts a trio of popular podcasts: “Disney Dish with Len Testa,” “Fine Tooning with Drew Taylor” and “Marvel US Disney with Aaron Adams.” Mr. Hill makes his home in Southern New Hampshire with his lovely wife Nancy and two obnoxious cats, Ginger & Betty.

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Wondering what you should “Boldly Go” see at the movies next year? The 2015 Licensing Expo offers you some clues

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Greeting from the 2015 Licensing Expo, which is being held
at the Mandalay Bay
Convention Center in Las
Vegas.


Photo by Jim Hill

I have to admit that I enjoy covering the Licensing Expo.
Mostly becomes it allows bloggers & entertainment writers like myself to
get a peek over the horizon. Scope out some of the major motion pictures &
TV shows that today's vertically integrated entertainment conglomerates
(Remember when these companies used to be called movie studios?) will be
sending our way over the next two years or so.


Photo by Jim Hill

Take — for example — all of "The Secret Life of
Pets
" banners that greeted Expo attendees as they made their way to the
show floor today. I actually got to see some footage from this new Illumination
Entertainment
production (which will hit theaters on July 8, 2016) the last time I was in Vegas. Which
was for CinemaCon back in April. And the five or so minutes of film that I viewed
suggested that "The Secret Life of Pets" will be a really funny
animated feature.


Photo by Jim Hill

Mind you, Universal Pictures wanted to make sure that Expo
attendees remembered that there was another Illumination Entertainment production
coming-to-a-theater-near-them before "The Secret Life of Pets" (And
that's "Minions," the "Despicable Me" prequel. Which
premieres at the Annecy International Animated Film Festival next week but
won't be screened stateside 'til July 10th of this year). Which is why they had
three minions who were made entirely out of LEGOS loitering out in the lobby.


Photo by Jim Hill

And Warner Bros. — because they wanted "Batman v
Superman: Dawn of Justice
" to start trending on Twitter today — brought
the Batmobile to Las Vegas.


Photo by Jim Hill

Not to mention full-sized macquettes of Batman, Superman and
Wonder Woman. Just so conventioneers could then see what these DC superheroes
would actually look like in this eagerly anticipated, March 25, 2016 release.


Photo by Jim Hill

That's the thing that can sometimes be a wee bit frustrating
about the Licensing Expo. It's all about delayed gratification. You'll come
around a corner and see this 100 foot-long ad for "The Peanuts Movie"
and think "Hey, that looks great. I want to see that Blue Sky Studios production
right now." It's only then that you notice the fine print and realize that
"The Peanuts Movie" doesn't actually open in theaters 'til November
6th of this year.


Photo by Jim Hill

And fan of Blue Sky's "Ice Age" film franchise are in for an even
longer wait. Given that the latest installment in that top grossing series
doesn't arrive in theaters 'til July
15, 2016.


Photo by Jim Hill

Of course, if you're one of those people who needs immediate
gratification when it comes to your entertainment, there was stuff like that to
be found at this year's Licensing Expo. Take — for example — how the WWE
booth was actually shaped like a wrestling ring. Which — I'm guessing — meant
that if the executives of World Wrestling Entertainment, Inc. didn't like
the offer that you were making, they were then allowed to toss you out over the
top rope, Royal Rumble-style.


Photo by Jim Hill

I also have to admit that — as a longtime Star Trek fan —
it was cool to see the enormous Starship Enterprise that hung in place over the
CBS booth. Not to mention getting a glimpse of the official Star Trek 50th
Anniversary logo.


Photo by Jim Hill

I was also pleased to see lots of activity in The Jim Henson
Company booth. Which suggests that JHC has actually finally carved out a
post-Muppets identity for itself.


Photo by Jim Hill

Likewise for all of us who were getting a little concerned
about DreamWorks Animation (what with all the layoffs & write-downs &
projects that were put into turnaround or outright cancelled last year), it was
nice to see that booth bustling.


Photo by Jim Hill

Every so often, you'd come across some people who were
promoting a movie that you weren't entirely sure that you actually wanted to
see (EX: "Angry Birds," which Sony Pictures Entertainment / Columbia
Pictures
will be releasing to theaters on May 20, 2016). But then you remembered that Clay Kaytis
who's this hugely talented former Walt Disney Animation Studios animator — is
riding herd on "Angry Birds" with Fergal Reilly. And you'd think
"Well, if Clay's working on 'Angry Birds,' I'm sure this animated feature
will turn out fine."


Photo by Jim Hill

Mind you, there were reminders at this year's Licensing Expo
of great animated features that we're never going to get to see now. I still
can't believe — especially after that brilliant proof-of-concept footage
popped up online last year — that Sony execs decided not to go forward
with  production
of Genndy Tartakovsky's
"Popeye" movie.  But that's the
cruel thing about the entertainment business, folks. It will sometime break
your heart.


Photo by Jim Hill

And make no mistake about this. The Licensing Expo is all
about business. That point was clearly driven home at this year's show when —
as you walked through the doors of the Mandalay
Bay Convention Center
— the first thing that you saw was the Hasbros Booth. Which was this gleaming,
sleek two story-tall affair full of people who were negotiating deals &
signing contracts for all of the would-be summer blockbusters that have already
announced release dates for 2019 & beyond.


Photo by Jim Hill

"But what about The Walt Disney Company?," you
ask. "Weren't they represented on the show floor at this year's Licensing
Expo?" Not really, not. I mean, sure. There were a few companies there hyping
Disney-related products. Take — for example — the Disney Wikkeez people.


Photo by Jim Hill

I'm assuming that some Disney Consumer Products exec is
hoping that Wikkeez will eventually become the new Tsum Tsum. But to be blunt,
these little hard plastic figures don't seem to have the same huggable charm
that those stackable plush do. But I've been wrong before. So let's see what
happens with Disney Wikkeez once they start showing up on the shelves of the
Company's North American retail partners.


Photo by Jim Hill

And speaking of Disney's retail partners … They were
meeting with Mouse House executives behind closed doors one floor down from the
official show floor for this year's Licensing Expo.


Photo by Jim Hill

And the theme for this year's invitation-only Disney shindig? "Timeless
Stories" involving the Disney, Pixar, Marvel & Lucasfilm brands that
would then appeal to "tomorrow's consumer."


Photo by Jim Hill

And just to sort of hammer home the idea that Disney is no
longer the Company which cornered the market when it comes to little girls
(i.e., its Disney Princess and Disney Fairies franchises), check out this
wall-sized Star Wars-related image that DCP put up just outside of one of its
many private meeting rooms. "See?," this carefully crafted photo
screams. "It isn't just little boys who want to wield the Force. Little
girls also want to grow up and be Lords of the Sith."


Photo by Jim Hill

One final, kind-of-ironic note: According to this banner,
Paramount Pictures will be releasing a movie called "Amusement Park"
to theaters sometime in 2017.  


Photo by Jim Hill

Well, given all the "Blackfish" -related issues
that have been dogged SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment over the past two years, I'm
just hoping that they'll still be in the amusement park business come 2017.

Your thoughts?

Jim Hill

Jim Hill is an entertainment writer who has specialized in covering The Walt Disney Company for nearly 40 years now. Over that time, he has interviewed hundreds of animators, actors, and Imagineers -- many of whom have shared behind-the-scenes stories with Mr. Hill about how the Mouse House really works. In addition to the 4000+ articles Jim has written for the Web, he also co-hosts a trio of popular podcasts: “Disney Dish with Len Testa,” “Fine Tooning with Drew Taylor” and “Marvel US Disney with Aaron Adams.” Mr. Hill makes his home in Southern New Hampshire with his lovely wife Nancy and two obnoxious cats, Ginger & Betty.

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It takes more than three circles to craft a Classic version of Mickey Mouse

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You know what Mickey Mouse looks like, right? Little guy,
big ears?

Truth be told, Disney's corporate symbol has a lot of
different looks. If Mickey's interacting with Guests at Disneyland
Park
(especially this summer, when
the Happiest Place on Earth
is celebrating its 60th anniversary), he looks & dresses like this.


Copyright Disney Enterprises,
Inc.
All rights reserved

Or when he's appearing in one of those Emmy Award-winning shorts that Disney
Television Animation has produced (EX: "Bronco Busted," which debuts
on the Disney Channel tonight at 8 p.m. ET / PT), Mickey is drawn in a such a
way that he looks hip, cool, edgy & retro all at the same time.


Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights
reserved

Looking ahead to 2017 now, when Disney Junior rolls out "Mickey and the
Roadster Racers
," this brand-new animated series will feature a sportier version
of Disney's corporate symbol. One that Mouse House managers hope will persuade
preschool boys to more fully embrace this now 86 year-old character.


Copyright Disney Enterprises,
Inc. All rights reserved

That's what most people don't realize about the Mouse. The
Walt Disney Company deliberately tailors Mickey's look, even his style of
movement, depending on what sort of project / production he's appearing in.

Take — for example — Disney
California Adventure
Park
's "World of Color:
Celebrate!
" Because Disney's main mouse would be co-hosting this new
nighttime lagoon show with ace emcee Neil Patrick Harris, Eric Goldberg really had
to step up Mickey's game. Which is why this master Disney animator created
several minutes of all-new Mouse animation which then showed that Mickey was
just as skilled a showman as Neil was.


Copyright Disney Enterprises,
Inc.
All rights reserved

Better yet, let's take a look at what the folks at Avalanche Studios just went
through as they attempted to create a Classic version of Mickey & Minnie.
One that would then allow this popular pair to become part of Disney Infinity
3.0.

"I won't lie to you. We were under a lot of pressure to
get the look of this particular version of Mickey — he's called Red Pants
Mickey around here — just right," said Jeff Bunker, the VP of Art
Development at Avalanche Studios, during a recent phone interview. "When
we brought Sorcerer Mickey into Disney Infinity 1.0 back in January of 2014,
that one was relatively easy because … Well, everyone knows what Mickey Mouse
looked like when he appeared in 'Fantasia.' "


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Inc. All rights reserved

"But this time around, we were being asked to design
THE Mickey & Minnie," Bunker continued. "And given that these Classic
Disney characters have been around in various different forms for the better
part of the last century … Well, which look was the right look?"

Which is why Jeff and his team at Avalanche Studios began watching hours &
hours of Mickey Mouse shorts. As they tried to get a handle on which look would
work best for these characters in Disney Infinity 3.0.


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Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

"And we went all the way back to the very start of Mickey's career. We began
with 'Steamboat Willie' and then watched all of those black & white Mickey shorts
that Walt made back in the late 1920s & early 1930s. From there, we
transitioned to his Technicolor shorts. Which is when Mickey went from being
this pie-eyed, really feisty character to more of a well-behaved leading
man," Bunker recalled. "We then finished out our Mouse marathon by
watching all of those new Mickey shorts that Paul Rudish & his team have
been creating for Disney Television Animation. Those cartoons really recapture
a lot of the spirit and wild slapstick fun that Mickey's early, black &
white shorts had."

But given that the specific assignment that Avalanche Studios had been handed
was to create the most appealing looking, likeable version of Mickey Mouse
possible … In the end, Jeff and his team wound up borrowing bits & pieces
from a lot of different versions of the world's most famous mouse. So that
Classic Mickey would then look & move in a way that best fit the sort of
gameplay which people would soon be able to experience with Disney Infinity
3.0.


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Inc. All rights reserved

"That — in a lot of ways — was actually the toughest
part of the Classic Mickey design project. You have to remember that one of the
key creative conceits of  Disney Infinity
is that all the characters which appear in this game are toys," Bunker
stated. "Okay. So they're beautifully detailed, highly stylized toy
versions of beloved Disney, Pixar, Marvel & Lucasfilm characters. But
they're still supposed to be toys. So our Classic versions of Mickey &
Minnie have the same sort of thickness & sturdiness to them that toys have.
So that they'll then be able to fit right in with all of the rest of the
characters that Avalanche Studios had previously designed for Disney Infinity."

And then there was the matter of coming up with just the
right pose for Classic Mickey & Minnie. Which — to hear Jeff tell the
story — involved input from a lot of Disney upper management.


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Inc. All rights reserved

"Everyone within the Company seemed to have an opinion
about how Mickey & Minnie should be posed. More to the point, if you Google
Mickey, you then discover that there are literally thousands of poses out there
for these two. Though — truth be told — a lot of those kind of play off the
way Mickey poses when he's being Disney's corporate symbol," Bunker said.
"But what I was most concerned about was that Mickey's pose had to work
with Minnie's pose. Because we were bringing the Classic versions of these
characters up into Disney Infinity 3.0 at the exact same time. And we wanted to
make sure — especially for those fans who like to put their Disney Infinity
figures on display — that Mickey's pose would then complement Minnie.

Which is why Jeff & the crew at Avalanche Studios
decided — when it came to Classic Mickey & Minnie's pose — that they
should go all the way back to the beginning. Which is why these two Disney icons
are sculpted in such a way that it almost seems as though you're witnessing the
very first time Mickey set eyes on Minnie.


Copyright Disney Enterprises,
Inc. All rights reserved

"And what was really great about that was — as soon as
we began showing people within the Company this pose — everyone at Disney
quickly got on board with the idea. I mean, the Classic Mickey that we sculpted
for Disney Infinity 3.0 is clearly a very playful, spunky character. But at the
same time, he's obviously got eyes for Minnie," Bunker concluded. "So
in the end, we were able to come up with Classic versions of these characters
that will work well within the creative confines of Disney Infinity 3.0 but at
the same time please those Disney fans who just collect these figures because
they like the way the Disney Infinity characters look."

So now that this particular design project is over, does
Jeff regret that Mouse House upper management was so hands-on when it came to
making sure that the Classic versions of Mickey & Minnie were specifically
tailored to fit the look & style of gameplay found in Disney Infinity 3.0?


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Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

"To be blunt, we go through this every time we add a new character to the
game. The folks at Lucasfilm were just as hands-on when we were designing the
versions of Darth Vader and Yoda that will also soon be appearing in Disney
Infinity 3.0," Bunker laughed. "So in the end, if the character's
creators AND the fans are happy, then I'm happy."

This article was originally posted on the Huffington Post's Entertainment page on Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Jim Hill

Jim Hill is an entertainment writer who has specialized in covering The Walt Disney Company for nearly 40 years now. Over that time, he has interviewed hundreds of animators, actors, and Imagineers -- many of whom have shared behind-the-scenes stories with Mr. Hill about how the Mouse House really works. In addition to the 4000+ articles Jim has written for the Web, he also co-hosts a trio of popular podcasts: “Disney Dish with Len Testa,” “Fine Tooning with Drew Taylor” and “Marvel US Disney with Aaron Adams.” Mr. Hill makes his home in Southern New Hampshire with his lovely wife Nancy and two obnoxious cats, Ginger & Betty.

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