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The Once and Future Kingdom — Part III: The Return of the Kingdom

Themed entertainment insider Vance Rest wraps up his highly acclaimed JHM series. In today’s installment, Vance explains how the Walt Disney Company could best use its characters and film library in order to win back the hearts and minds of the public.




Attention Feckless executives of today and Disney Resuscitate and Revitalize Team standing on the horizon: It’s this simple. Do not follow trends. Get the best people. Get the best out of them by trusting them. See Parts I and II for itemized lists of executive idiocy.

When you follow trends (which by the way, in the whole of human history- has never worked), you are telling the public (who, by the way, is NOT beneath you) that you do not trust the judgement of your Creatives. Treat them with the utmost respect.

If you don’t care about them and their work, then why should the public? This is the key that opens all the doors.

*THE SECRET TO DISNEY MAGIC*, the dying inner light that keeps people the world over returning to Disney films, parks and products when they have been shamelessly exploited by corporate stripminers for the last decade, is the image of the Sorcerer’s Workshop. Though evident since the company’s inception, this concept crystallized with the public with the arrival of the Sunday Night “Disneyland” TV Show. You are nothing if you do not have vibrant, quality, fearless shows, movies and parks. *BUT* more importantly you are NOT Disney if these shows, movies and parks are not created in a magical place.

The Disney Animators are mythic heroes. Eccentric artisans creating the world’s most strikingly resonant characters at a visionaries colony that we catch a few privilieged glimpses of on TV specials. And the euphoric dream of becoming one keeps scores of children up many a wonderous night.

And the Imagineers? The very word conjures up images of mad geniuses forging marvelous universes out of their boundless imaginations in a toy factory we are certain looks like Willy Wonka’s factory crossed with the Dream Port from the classic “Journey into Imagination.”

ASK YOURSELF WHY DISNEY INTERNET RUMOR, NEWS AND DISCUSSION CULTURE ERUPTED IN THE LAST 6 YEARS? People want to know that Disney is still creating. “Is there hope for the next project or will it be a disappointment like the ones that came before it?” Enter the retro/vintage sites like and “widen your world”. Places that cry out “Hey, remember good Disney?”

And with that, all the tumblers fall into place and the vault unlocks. This is the primer. With this you can begin to rebuild the name and idea of Disney.



A 3 PART code book to the American Imagination



For 10 years now, Disney has put a “Have Nice Day” face on their repellant greed. Given the state of the world where we have leaders who don’t seem capable of leading, people feel vulnerable… alone. And historically, these are the times when the Storytellers of the world earn their keep. HONESTY IS REASSURING.

So — if Disney executives were actually looking to forge an honest relationship with the public — that would mean that they’d no longer be allowed to stick fingers in their ears and shout things like “WE NEVER MADE A FILM CALLED ‘TREASURE PLANET’ (we made a write-off called that, though). EVERYONE LOVES DCA! IF YOU DON’T, YOU JUST DON’T UNDERSTAND IT! AND THE WALT DISNEY COMPANY HAS ALWAYS BEEN AT WAR WITH EURASIA!” It doesn’t play, people. You just look like condescending liars who think the public is simple. And it’s the kind of Amateur Hour trash that people who’d declare “Treasure Planet” a failure an hour *before* it came out would do.

Total Honesty, anathema in business today, must be your native tongue. Be out there. Put a very personal face on everything. Let FDR’s FIRESIDE CHATS be your guide. ‘Well, that didn’t work. Let’s try this…’

MEA CULPA is the first order of buisness. We know it wasn’t the fault of those who are rebuilding, but you are the CUSTODIANS of DISNEY MAGIC now and it is a necessity for beginning with a Tabula Rasa.

DCA, Disney Studios Paris, the shameful treatment of the artists at Feature and Imagineering, a decade of stripmining and avarice instead of innovation, every piece of crap on ABC, spending a billion dollars on the rights to the “Mighty Morphin Power Rangers” while firing already underpaid artists left and right… You’re sorry not because you did it. You’re sorry that it happened under the banner of Walt’s company.

Provide further shock and awe for the public by pulling the curtain back on what things done in the last 10 years *really* are. Wash the transgressions of the past regime away by DE-RATIONALIZING ALL THAT WAS RATIONALIZED, SPUN and CLOAKED IN LIES.

A good example of just such a flagrant rationalization that needs de-mystified would be, “See, Animal Kingdom’s Dino-Rama is only *themed* to those seedy, road side rip-off stands that Walt crusaded against. It’s not *actually* tawdry crap transparently masquerading as a cornerstone of your incredibly expensive immersive storytelling dream vacation.”

Tell people what these things really are, why good artists (and architects with delusions of grandeur) were forced to build them, and you’ll begin to make headway with the hearts of the people. Remember, people know when you’re doing quality things for them. Folks have a sixth sense about “special.”

Follow this with announcements for crazy exciting NEW PROJECTS and SPRAWLING RE-IMAGININGs of the many many existing entertainments not worthy of the name Disney. *We’ll get to the specifics of these plans a little later.* Talk a lot about the FUTURE in a hopeful, energizing way … then blow people’s minds by actually delivering on it.

But these things take time, so follow that with announcements for what you’re going to do in the meantime. NOTE: these are not Quick-Fixes, which we know are fiction. The purpose of these is to REMIND PEOPLE OF WHAT THEY ONCE LOVED ABOUT DISNEY.


Want to really win back the hearts and minds of the public? Well, you can start by launching a 6 month FILM FESTIVAL. Every week (when the release of a new Walt Disney Pictures film isn’t already schedued), another Disney Classic debuts in your neighborhood theater. Strike a deal with theater chains so that Tickets to this Disney film festival are sold at a reduced rate, with EVERY SINGLE PENNY going to CHILDREN’S CHARITIES (Pediatric AIDS Foundation, Children of 9/11 Victims, Give Kids the World, Make A Wish, etc).

Then empty the vaults. Show beloved classic Animated Features and the ones that didn’t get the chance they deserved in their initial run, as well as a smattering of the best live action films (“20,000 Leagues Under the Sea,” “Mary Poppins,” “Bedknobs and Broomsticks,” “Pete’s Dragon,” “Who Framed Roger Rabbit,” “The Rocketeer,” “Pirates of the Carribean: The Curse of the Black Pearl,” etc) over the duration of the Festival.

Make this Film Festival much more than just some Mouse-based movie marathon. It must be a CELEBRATION of DISNEY MAGIC (in much the same way that the “Star Wars” Special Edition Releases were in 1997). Donate prizes to help theaters hold costume contests tailored to each week’s film. Plan Games, show Vintage Trailers before the film. Those advertisement slide presentations that are shown before every movie? Instead, have the theaters hold Disney Trivia contests and/or have them play Making-Of anecdotes that are geared to that week’s release.

Advertise this Festival through the corporation’s already extensive network of media outlets — I.E. ABC, Disney Channel, Toon Disney,, and always make a point of teasing the next week’s release prior to screening that week’s film.

A six month long program like that — particularly one that would play up the fact that the Walt Disney Company isn’t making dime one off of this film series. That all the monies raised are going straight to charity — would go an awfully long way toward turning around the public’s perception of the Mouse.


It is oddly perfect that the ludicrously thick higher-ups recently moved the “Disney Sunday Night Movie” to Saturday night, since moving this program back to its traditional Sunday night spot will allow you to RELAUNCH THE CLASSIC WONDERFUL WORLD OF DISNEY franchise. Only in a bigger, grander way than Disney’s current management team has ever dreamed of doing.

Picture an all new weekly 2 ½ hour block of Disney programming that’s modeled after Cartoon Network’s inspired “Adult Swim” line-up, but one with greater variety and approachability. This new Sunday show would be comprised of…

a MOVIE ( a Disney favorite old or new OR a worthy classic from another studio [“Star Wars,” “Indiana Jones,” “The Wizard of Oz,” “Harry Potter,” etc.]) OR (once a month) TWO ORIGINAL ONE-HOUR SERIALS (each consisting of 6 Chapters [beginning with, say, the “Discovery Bay Chronicles]) Peppered with INTERSTITIAL SHORTS, perhaps 1 Classic Cartoon, played each week along with one of the following… 1 New Cartoon featuring the Fab 5.

And this new Fab 5 Cartoon … It should not be one of those awkward “Mouse Works” cartoons produced by an assembly line of child labor in the Grand Duchy of St. Sally Struthers. These new toons should display the kind of all-out production values that made Disney what it once stood for. Again, people can tell what’s special, that something of quality was created for them.

These new Fab 5 Cartoons should be produced by small TEAMS of ANIMATORS and STORY FOLK. Studio personnel who would stay with these rolling projects, allowing them to hone their skills in much the same way that animation greats like Tex Avery, Chuck Jones, and Bob McKimson did in their time.

More importantly, these new Fab 5 cartoons need to be… FUNNY. Not that sort of mind-numbing, bland, SHRUG humor that washes shows like “House of Mouse” and its analogs in white-hot TEPIDITY. Mind you, that doesn’t mean going adult or toilet with the humor, as many have so often thought while trying to do this. Disney’s cartoon characters should be purveyors of the elegantly silly. Think “Princess Bride,” “The Fairly Oddparents,” “The Emperor’s New Groove,” “The Muppet Movie” or the startlingly hilarious “Dave the Barbarian.”

Another short subject-related project that I’d like to see Disney’s animators tackle (as part of this new Sunday Night “Wonderful World of Disney” program) would be:

1 New Cartoon featuring Characters from the COLOSSAL Disney family. These will add much needed TEXTURE, and much, much needed DIVERSITY to the Disney tapestry.

Way too often, the *only* Disney that people see is Mickey (who is now relegated to appearing on GAP T-shirts and Wal-Mart jewlery), and the characters from “The Little Mermaid,” “Beauty and the Beast,” “The Lion King” and “Aladdin” (especially the Princesses).

Focusing all your attention (read: merchandising) on just a few characters not only squanders your vast resources but also ruins what was special about those over-exposed few. The quick buck comes at the detriment of IRREPARABLY WEAKENING your greatest resources.

Now, this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have shorts featuring characters from “The Little Mermaid” and guys like Timon and Pumbaa as part of the relaunched Sunday Night “Wonderful World of Disney” program. But they must be part of a mix of cartoons featuring other characters on adventures like:

“Brother Bear”‘s Rutt and Tuke wind up in a Nature Documentary and think they’re being followed by Spies in “From Rutt With Love” or “Die Another Eh?” A short that features the characters from “The Emperor’s New Groove.” Perhaps while helping to balance the kingdom’s accounting ledgers, Pacha accidently gives Emperor Kuzco the idea to launch a sure-fire-flop musical: “Springtime for Yzma” (choreographed by Kronk). Or how about a piece that mixes stop motion with traditional animation. Where “Nightmare Before Christmas”‘s Jack Skellington tumbles into the World of Valentine’s Day, and then decides that he wants play Cupid. Which wreaks havoc on the Disney Classics as Jack’s meddling causes all the wrong folks to fall in love (EX: John Smith and Grandmother Willow). And I can’t have been the only one who’s wanted to see a cartoon VH1 Behind the Music retrospective of Toot, Whistle, Plunk and Boom in the spirit of This is Spinal Tap.

Humphrey the Bear and Ranger J. Audubon Woodlore, Carl Barks’ “Duck Tales” crew, Hades, Pain and Panic from “Hercules” … there are scores of Disney characters whose potential isn’t even close to being realized.

As to the host of this new Sunday Night “Wonderful World of Disney” … No more CEOs who can’t make eye contact, who seem uncomfortable before the camera (or in their own skin, for that matter) please. This time around, let’s have this weekly Disney Party hosted by Mickey and the gang.

Only — from here on — Mickey and Co. should have *actual* personalities. For far too long, these core characters have had their lives dictated by gutless executives and greedy merchandise-peddlers. Which is why the Mouse is now so harmless and homogenized that his personality has all the charm of dry white bread after it’s been dipped in water.

That’s not Mickey Mouse. Mickey’s the energetic little guy who has to keep the whole show moving. Think of him being more along the lines of Rob Petrie from the old “Dick Van Dyke” show. The good-hearted but fallible leader of a colorful group of characters. Only — instead of matching wits with Buddy Surrell, Sally Rogers, Mel Cooley, Alan Brady, Laura Petry and little Richie — Mickey’s the good natured slob who’s trying to keep all 2 ½ hours of the “Wonderful World of Disney” programming block running smoothly … Often in spite of Goofy, Daisy, Pluto, Donald and Minnie.

“So you’re saying that the new ‘Wonderful World of Disney’ show should be just like ‘House of Mouse?’ ” NO! Don’t get me wrong, the Host Segments of that animated series are clever, but Mickey and the gang are still bland. It’s the use of Disney film characters — some characters we haven’t seen for DECADES — that make that show.

Mickey and Minne should be Nick and Nora Charles (with less alcoholism, of course). Mickey needs to be Cary Grant from “Bringing Up Baby,” clever and resourceful but at wit’s end and too focused to see the hilarious big-picture. Minnie should be Rosalind Russel, Mickey’s fast-talking “His Girl Friday.” Daisy should be Judy Holiday from “Born Yesterday,” earnest and sweetly naiive. So on and so forth (of course I think Pooh should be Sidney Greenstreet from The Maltese Falcon, but I digress…).

And a quick, but PIVOTAL point about the CG Mickey currently being floated by the fools in charge. Beyond the fundamental idiocy of trying to take the *LINE SINEW* of a hand-drawn character and translate that to the *SURFACES* of CGI, it says to people that Mickey was dated, archaic and in need of “updating.” No, Mickey just needs something to do. This TREND-FOLLOWING CG b.s. just will make Mickey a DAIRY PRODUCT. I.E. Limit this classic character’s shelf life.

An important thing to stress here: The Classic Disney Characters are not “brand opportunities” to be “leveraged.” The public has loved these characters for decades. So the people who run the Walt Disney Company should have equal affection for Mickey and Co. and do everything they can to keep these characters vital and in the mainstream. And — NO !? — you don’t do that by slapping Mickey’s likeness on t-shirts that you sell at the Gap. But — rather — by placing him carefully in stories that suit him. That are genuinely entertaining. That make people think — just as they did back in the early 1930s — “That Mickey Mouse. He’s one funny guy.”

You see what I’m saying here? Change Mickey back from being a corporate symbol to a symbol of fun.

Speaking of Mickey … Leave it to the clueless drones who currently run the Mouse House to view the technology behind “My Pal Mickey” and think: “This would be a great device to use to tell knock-knock jokes as well as reveal when the 3 o’*** parade is running.”

Me? I look at the “My Pal Mickey” technology and think … Why not create a toy that would put the animatronic capabilities of Teddy Ruxpin to shame (an easy-as-hell thing to do today)? This new innovention could play games along with your child as they visit the Web Site, interact with trivia, stories and games during the relaunched Sunday Night “Wonderful World of Disney” show, offer “MST3K” type commentary about new Disney films as they play in your DVDs player.

More importantly, if you’re planning to return to the theme parks, your “My Pal Mickey” could begin the immersive Storytelling long before you begin your next WDW vacation. And I’m not talking about this talking plush helping you get dining reservations (Though it could probably do that through the Web Site). I’m talking about the Disneyland/Disney World equivalent of a hologram of Princess Leia appearing and saying “Help me Billy and Mandy Fitzgibbons, you’re my only hope.”

This is where I see Disney Interactive playing a huge role in the future of all things Disney: By helping guests get that first taste of Disney magic long before they set foot back on Disney property. Imagine — if you will — what it would be like if — just after you booked your next vacation at a Disney Resort — the STORIES you will experience on that trip BEGAN ACTIVELY SEEKING YOU OUT.

EX: A mysterious letter (postmarked from 1887) arrives at your home, bearing the wax seal of eccentric inventor Jason Chandler- who invites you and your family to come visit him at the Dreamers Colony of Discovery Bay.

Remember in “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade,” when Dr. Henry Jones Sr. sent Indy the Grail Diary to get it as far away from himself as possible? Other pre-trip *Interactivities* could include receiving a package from Captain Nemo that asks you to keep an ancient (very “Secret Garden” -looking) KEY as far away from Vulcania as possible. As your trip draws nearer, the key begins to glow from within, brighter and BRIGHTER as the clock ticks away.

And when you arrive at your Disney Hotel Room. The Key is waiting for you. What secret does this Key unlock? That is the realm of the reborn Imagineering.

Speaking of Indiana Jones …When Michael and Frank arrived in 1984, their first instincts were right on the money. Since Disney seemed to have lost the way to tell truly compelling Stories, it was then important that the Mouse Works quickly partner with the most unbelievably REVOLUTIONARY CREATIVE MINDS walking the earth. So that Eisner and Wells could quickly jumpstart the Mouse Factory.

Well, 2004 (to me, anyway) seems to be 1984. The current management of the Walt Disney Company has allowed so many of the very best Storytellers to slip through its fingers. Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, Jim Henson and company, and now add John Lassetter and the wonder boys (& gals) of PIXAR to the list. Rebuilding Disney today will require even bolder foresight with regard to Creative Partnerships. SO SEEK THEM OUT NOW.

“Who should Disney be seeking out now?” You ask. This generation’s Lucases, Spielbergs and Hensons. For example — There is a film, debuting this summer, that is generating so much buzz, that it borders on a PHENOMENON before it even hits theaters. Its teaser trailer draws more gasps and applause than the blockbuster films it precedes, and its internet campaign is the new standard by which all other entertainment marketing will be judged. The mesmerizing title of this break-through storytelling event: “SKY CAPTAIN AND THE WORLD OF TOMORROW.”

Kerry Conran, the first-time writer/ director (who also wrote the program that makes this miraculous film possible) just graduated from CAL Arts. The concept for this film, its landmark technology, and the reel that sent every Hollywood power-player diving for the phone were his Final Project at CAL Arts. The Disney of days-gone-by wouldn’t have let Kerry graduate without signing him to a longterm contract.

Yes, it’s a real shame that Disney wasn’t on the ball enough to recognize this collosal talent while he was at CAL Arts. But all’s not lost yet. Conran’s electrifying vision is just the sort of thing that the Imagineers could harness and turn into extraordinary theme park entertainment. Imagine (provided — of course — that Mickey’s lawyers can acquire the rights) Disneyland’s Tomorrowland re-Imagined as the WORLD of TOMORROW. Which would save the Jules Verne-ian texture and palette for Discovery Bay (Which would not only make a great new land, but could also serve as the basis for an INCREDIBLE theme park. Think about it. Who’d miss DCA?).

The colossal flying fortress from SKY CAPTAIN AND THE WORLD OF TOMORROW is a tailor-made jumping off-point for adventures that would boggle the mind (and it would also look pretty stunning docked in Tomorrowland). And the titanic rampaging ROBOTS (a few of which we are given a glimpse of in the teaser) would be perfect for a nighttime spectacular in the skies above Tomorrowland. And given the Autonomous figure technology (Lucky the Dino), the GPS vehicle technology (Tokyo’s Hunny Hunt), and the untapped possibilities of the KUKA robotic arm- there’s no reason why the giant ROBOTS couldn’t pick World of Tomorrow L-Train vehicles up off the People Mover Track and use them to deflect the fire of the Heroic Sky Captain and his Flying Legion.

And the hypnotic realm of this Hugh Feriss-esque Metropolis would not begin to scratch the surface of the possibilities of this world. That piece of land currently used for Autopia (which could easily be moved when re-themed for John Lassetter’s CARS), and the Submarine Lagoon (which would underutilize the FINDING NEMO characters) would make a nice spot for the EPIC adventures of MONSTER ISLAND (also from Sky Captain…). Not to mention that it would finally create a transition between Fantasyland and Tomorrowland.

All these possibilities and scores of others open up, if you find the right Creative Partners.

In short, the Walt Disney Company’s future looks bright. But the right people will not have the chance to act if the deceitful clowns at the helm are not dethroned post haste. Remember, in Lord of the Rings: Return of the King, when Denethor succumbed to madness and, shrieking in cowardice, he abandoned his people to burn himself alive with his son Faramir at his feet? Michael’s not compiling a market report on the prices of lighter fluid anymore, he’s asking people for a light.

Folks, the Disney Artists, Imagineers, Animators and the Creatives of the World at large NEED YOU. The Disney cannon is filled with tales of little guys moving whole mountains when they stand up for what’s right. Your STORYTELLERS ARE DYING! Honor them by fighting for them.

Prove yourself worthy of the gifts the Disney Creatives have given you and generations of children the world over.

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



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
(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

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

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. 

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



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

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
" 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
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
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?

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



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
(especially this summer, when
the Happiest Place on Earth
is celebrating its 60th anniversary), he looks & dresses like this.

Copyright Disney Enterprises,
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

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
's "World of Color:
" 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.

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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

"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.' "

Copyright Disney Enterprises,
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.

Copyright Disney
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

Copyright Disney Enterprises,
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.

Copyright Disney Enterprises,
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?

Copyright Lucasfilm / Disney
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

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