Contrasting Disney Merchandise: Right and Wrong

Merchandise is one of the recurring themes here on the Animation Anomaly for the simple reason that it plays such a large role in making the technique profitable for so many people. (You can get away without it, but that’s a topic for another day.) The Walt Disney Company has a long and fruitful history of merchandise stretching all the way back to the early days of Mickey Mouse. Things have changed over the years though, and while the youth remains an ever important part of the Disney merchandise empire, the company has become ever more adroit at exploiting market segments that you’d never thought possible. Here’s a look at two competing lines of Disney merchandise that illustrate just how disparate the company can be.

The Wrong Way – Walt Disney Signature Pens

Let’s be honest, these aren’t quite as tacky as the ‘vintage’ office furniture that was bandied about a few years ago or even the line of wedding dresses the company offers, but it isn’t far off. Yes, that’s right, you can be the proud owner of a Disney pen! These however, are no ordinary pens that you can buy at any Wal-Mart. Nope, these are something else entirely. These, are the Walt Disney Signature [geddit?] collection. Behold!

The Sleeping Beauty

The Sleeping Beauty WDS collection
The Sleeping Beauty WDS collection

The Fantasia

The Fantasia WDS Collection
The Fantasia WDS Collection

And The Executive

The Executive WDS Collection
The Executive WDS Collection

The collection is being offered by noted manufacturer Monteverde. They’re a respected company and they make many fine products, but why, for the sake of all that is sane, would they offer products like these?

Who are these targeted at? What purpose do they serve? And what do they do for the Disney brand and the animation on which they are based? Well, the simple answers are that they are aimed at people with more money than sense (we’ll get to the details in a bit), they serve no purpose other than to endow the Disney brand with a sense of false caché, of vintage style that it never really had in the first place and that they don’t do anything for the films on which they are based.

The proof? The pen’s average cost is in and around the $300 mark, topping out at almost $2,300 for a three-piece limited-edition collection. That’s not to say they aren’t good pens, they are, but the price premium over the regular pens on which they are best makes them a laughable purchase.

These are pens that are designed to appeal to folks who think that they are buying into a genuine image (of Walt or otherwise) that doesn’t really exist. It’s deceptive and of course, the films (and Walt Disney himself) don’t benefit in any way at all. One could argue that such merchandise actually debases all three because pens have next to nothing to do with any of them. A tenuous connection could be made to Walt himself if you could prove that he actually used the same pen.

That is not the case, however, and these lines come off as Disney simply looking for the easy buck. They are exploiting fans rather than engaging in genuine business with them.

So now that you’ve seen the crappy Disney merchandise, let’s look at a much better effort.

The Right Way – Mickey Mouse Moleskine Notebooks

Via: Moleskine
Via: Moleskine

Although only a special edition, the Mickey Mouse Moleskine notebook represents a much better Disney merchandise strategy. Setting aside the fact the cost factor (they’re certainly a lot less than the pens that could be used to write in them), there are far more concrete reasons for Disney to market these.

First of all, the product they are based on is a perfect match. Moleskine notebooks are something that no budding artist, writer or erstwhile creative would be seen without. The company has made a tidy business out of its products’ artistic history and even ensures that every notebook comes with a history of the same. Plenty of  artists’ blogs are replete with scans from their journal and notebook pages.

Right, so the base product has merit, what about the Disney side of things? Well, it’s Mickey Mouse (everyone loves Mickey), but perhaps most importantly, it isn’t just his face slapped on the cover, instead it’s what Disney includes on the inside: instructions on how to draw Mickey.

Via: Moleskine
Via: Moleskine

Now they aren’t very comprehensive instructions but that’s not up for debate here. The point is that unlike the pens, these Moleskine books are aimed at people who might actually have an interest in something relevant to Disney; namely drawing/sketching/illustration, you name it. It might even be possible that such notebooks might draw people in who might not otherwise have thought of themselves as artists. That is a far-fetched notion, but it’s not entirely impossible either. Can you really see the pens encouraging people to start writing?

In other words, these notebooks are much more relevant to Disney fans. They are appealing, and although they are a premium product, that is something that most fans will be willing to pay for. Unlike the premium of the pens, which is massive, the premium for the notebooks is minimal, but the extra value that fans see is enormous.

Conclusion

So if you’re in any doubt (and I hope that you are not), ask yourself the question: Which product would you buy if cost was irrelevant? Would you really want a pen that has little connections to what its based on, or would you rather have something that at least makes a serious attempt to be true to its origins?

I know which one I would choose. Submit your answer with a comment below!

Donald Duck Orange Juice???

image

I spotted these in a supermarket this morning. I’ve never seen or heard of it before, but apparently Donald Duck Orange Juice been around for a long time.

Surely a throwback to a simpler time in licensed marketing seeing as Disney’s current faces include the princesses, major characters from whichever film is the latest release and the child actors in their kidcoms.

All the same, it’s good to see that Donald Duck still has some kind of resonance with today’s kids.

What else could Disney have done with 4 Billion dollars?

By Dave Callan via The Guardian

OK, so by now we all know that Disney is coughing up just over $4 Billion for Lucasfilm with the entire amount (half in cash, half in Disney stock) going entirely to Mr. Lucas himself who wisely maintained ownership of the entire company. Much analysis has been done by this point with plenty of people falling on both sides of the “is it a good thing?” line. However, what isn’t being asked is what else could Disney have done with 4 Billion dollars? This post proposes a few ideas.

1. Release a LOT of films (or TV shows for that matter)

Four Billion dollars. That’s $4,000,000,000.00 or a heck of a lot of money. The most expensive film in the world cost not even a quarter of that and the vast majority cost only a fraction of that amount. When Disney bought Pixar a few years ago, the point was raised that for the $11 Billion they paid for that studio, they could have released a ton of films instead, with the theory going that however good Pixar was, Disney could have easily caught up with better products.

The same holds true now. Although studio accounting is notoriously murky, even a film like Toy Story 3 or Tangled, both rumoured to have cost in and around $300-350 million each, could have been made 11 times over what Disney just paid Lucas; all in the hope that the Star Wars franshise will pay dividends. The real question is, will it pay ones larger than releasing 11 films would? I’m going to say no.

Eleven chances at getting it right can be worth far more than that, especially given the potential for the films to live on after the original. Even if you had, say, three duds in there, that still leaves 8 potential Lion Kings, right? How much dough has that film brought in over the years? Oh sure, Star Wars does too, and likely will for some time to come, but that is just one idea/concept. If you go in a different direction each time, you discover many brilliant ideas you can build upon.

2. Expand the parks even further

Disney is the master of the theme park but even the company’s Imagineers have limits. Investing in the existing parks (or even a new one, say in South America) would go even further to bringing in the dough, but more importantly, the customers. Just think, an entire continent could be waiting to discover Walt’s dream. Would $4 Billion get a project started? It surely would, even in this day and age. You wouldn’t even have to create new content! The existing stuff that’s already paid for will do just fine (with some regional adjustments of course).

4. Give everybody in the company a raise.

I’m deadly serious. With about 156,000 employees, $4 Billion would be enough to give everyone a bonus of nearly $26,000. Heck even  just the cash they’re paying out could give everyone $13K in their back pocket. How do you think that would affect morale and productivity within the company? How about instead of a cash raise, they use the money to give perks to valued employees, maybe a day off for employee of the month or an extra week for employee of the year. Or give everyone a paid lunch break?

These are just a few of the ideas that employees could be rewarded and would all enhance their working lives. Do you think happier employees are more productive? You’d be right if you said yes, just look at DreamWorks; a studio that’s considered one of the best companies to work for in the entire country.

5. Make a Serious Effort to Transition the business model.

OK, a bit left of field with this one, but imagine the kind of experimentation that Disney could do with $4 Billion. Right now everyone and their cat is trying to figure out how to make internet/online content work and while some people are making progress, it’ll really take a big investment from an established company to truly crack the nut. Disney wouldn’t even have to spend the $4 Billion or maybe even half that to figure it out.

The studio has the content, it has people willing to pay for it, and it has the resources and brains to make something work. All it has to do is stump up the finance to get something great together. And before you say it, no, I’m not talking about Key Chest; I’m talking about a Hulu-like variant that will give consumers what they want. The money would cover the losses that would be likely during the initial phases of the project.

Just think, if Disney could get a decent platform together that is popular with customers, it could license it, share it and get everyone on board. It’s exactly how Microsoft steamrolled Apple. The latter wanted to control everything, the former was happy just to control that key that made it all work; and they made sure that they did. Disney could do the same, and make money in a similar manner by charging studios access to the audience.

Conclusion

The fact of the matter is, someone, somewhere within the Disney machine ran the numbers and algorithms and determined that Lucasfilm was good value for money. That’s really it at the end of the day. People will proclaim that it was a perfect merger that fits both brands, but at the end of the day, Disney is banking on Star Wars continuing to mint money for decades to come. Whether that will be the case is yet to be seen. What is known, is that will $4 Billion spent, Disney (and its shareholders) will be praying that it does, because spending that kind of money in one go is an awful lot like going all in at the poker table.

A Comparison of Merida and Rapunzel

Guess which one scares me more?

It struck me there just last week that we’ve seen two major princess movies from the Disney umbrella in the last few years, although despite claims that we’ll see no more, one is already well under way. So I thought it would be a good idea to take a look at the two already released to see just how different, or similar they are. The two in question are of course Merida from Pixar’s Brave and Rapunzel from Walt Disney’s Tangled.

For starters, they’re both teenagers. Yes, every adults favourite people to hate and for good reason. Teenagers tend to be obnoxious, whiny, annoying, conniving, rude, clumsy and above all, rebellious. Both Rapunzel and Merida imbue all these qualities ans more in their respective films. Merida directly disobeys her mother as does Rapunzel.

Both seem to have issues with issues with the life that is set out for them. Merida as a wife to an eejit and Rapunzel as an everlasting source of life for Mother Goethal. Neither is satisfied and both disobey the requisite adult. However, that is where the similarity ends, as Merida dashes off into the woods, her mother is fully aware that she has left. Rapunzel, in contrast, sneakily knows that her mother is gone and is more than willing to head off without her knowledge. Rapunzel is clearly the fuller character in this case.

Both characters coincidentally have wild hair, but whereas Rapunzel’s is a plot device, Merida’s is more of a set piece that is played up multiple times throughout the film. It’s fair to say that while Rapunzel’s hair adds to her character, Merida’s can’t help but distract the viewer, as was the case when it was highlighted in just about every single review of the film.

Both princesses are strong female characters 9the kind we all know and love) but Merida is undoubtedly the lesser of the two. The reasons here are complicated, but the long and winding gestation and execution of Brave are probably the root cause. In Tangled, Rapunzel’s character evolves throughout the film. She has to learn to trust Flynn Rider Eugene Fitzherbet (a good ol’ Irish surname there) and only by going through her experiences does she learn the truth about her past.

Merida on the other hand is very much presented as is. Yes, she does learn a lesson in the course of the film, but that doesn’t change her character. She’s still fundamentally the same person at the beginning as she is at the end. We learn (comparatively) little about her. A rather disappointing state of affairs given the wonderful setup we’re given (ancient Scotland and all that).

The princesses approach to love is also drastically different. Rapunzel is more than happy to comply with the established Disney norms; Merida, not so much. It should be noted that neither approach is right or wrong but in Tangled, love is clearly meant to imply marriage whereas in Brave, marriage does not necessarily imply love; an important distinction but one that tends to go against the formula for princess movies.

Overall, both are likeable character that despite their teenage label have mass appeal beyond the kids. It’s curious how different the two characters are despite Pixar’s attempt to make Brave a different kind of film. In the end though, we should be grateful that both films give the characters enough room for them to come into their own.

 

How Much Do You Know About Roy O. Disney?

Via: The LA Times

Everyone and their dog is familiar with Walt Disney. Those with a passion for animation will be intimately familiar with the man known as The Old Maestro and how he almost single-handedly made animation into something much more than a short, gag-based form of entertainment. Of course, most of those folks will also be familiar that Walt was not alone in his efforts because guiding him all the way was his older brother, Roy.

However, Roy was very much the quieter brother, silently working behind the scenes running Walt Disney Productions and managing the cash that allowed Walt to fulfill his dreams. But how much do you really know about him? To be honest, I was fairly shocked about how little I knew.

Via: Good Reads

Thanksfully, Bob Thomas (who wrote the biography on Walt) wrote a book back in the 1990s (through the Disney-owned Hyperion publishing house) that looks at everything from Roy’s perspective. Entitled ‘Building a Company: Roy O. Disney and the Creation of an Entertainment Empire‘, it catalouges how the Disney company was founded and grew under his guidance and steely determination.

Although it focuses primarily on the history of the company, the book does contain more details about Roy than it does Walt, with much revealed about Roy’s habits and mannerisms. It would appear that as conservative and restrained as Roy was at work, he was just as jovial and fun-loving as his brother.

Furthermore, the book goes into quite a bit of detail when it comes to the company’s finances and the pressures that Roy faced during the war years and 1950s when Walt embarked on Disneyland. Nothing gets too technical (thankfully) but the gist of the struggles the company faced over the years is evident, and the book doesn’t shy away from the abrasive relationship the two brothers could have at times.

The only weak point in the book is the infamous strike, which is dispensed within two pages and glosses over the root causes and the subtle changes that occurred thereafter. Seeing as this is an official publication, that is not entirely surprising, but you would think that at this point in time, it would be irrelevant.

Coming away from ‘Building A Company’, my appreciation for Roy is much higher than it was beforehand. He was much more than just the ‘numbers man’, he was an essential part of the company and very much the yin to Walt’s yang. Without him, it is highly unlikely that the Disney Company would even exist today as a separate operation. Indeed it’s just as likely that it wouldn’t have made it past Snow White!

I would highly recommend picking up a copy if even just for a casual read.

7 Key Takeaways From Katzenberg’s “Thoughts On Our Business” Letter

You may already be familiar with the topic of this post; an internal memo written by Jeffrey Katzenberg back in1991 while he was still at Disney. In it, he analyses the movie business as it was then with particular emphasis on how it relates to Disney and their way of doing things. Have things changed much in the past 20 years? Nope, not one bit. Here are 7 key takeaways from that letter and why they are more relevant than ever.

1. The Blockbuster Mentality – The idea that you want a film to get a big bang right out of the gate. Katzenberg ins’t in favour of it, yet every studio continues to do it.

2. People will continue to go to the cinema provided they are given the right incentives to do so – This is too often lost on the owners and studios who think people go to the cinema just to see the latest releases.

3. “The Floor” – A concept that he discusses in regards to blockbuster films that are calculated to make a certain gross based on the content and whose in it. No doubt John Carter had a floor that was used to justify its expense, but as that very film proves, floors are a concept and nothing more.

4. Being big today means little if anything – Katzenberg talks a lot about the film Dick Tracey. Apparently it was big at the time and made a decent amount of money, but have you ever seen it? I haven’t, I doubt most people today remember it very well. It goes to show that a film that makes a quick buck will be just that, whereas a film that stutters out of the gate, like Alice in Wonderland (the 1950s Disney version) can last a long time and bring in almost 100% profit for decades to come.

5. Kids movies aren’t just for kids – Sadly there are still too many people, both inside and outside the industry who believe this.

6. Marketing & Testing – I’ll let the direct quote speak for itself:

There is an unfortunate tendency to think that when a film does great, it’s because it’s a great film. But when it does poorly, it’s because of poor marketing. While this logic is convenient, it can be empirically disproven.

7. Rules – Discipline is all important to maintaining your success.

Rebecca Hains Discovers Disney Princess…Flowers???

Yes, these are entirely real, believe it or not. Media studies professor and author, Rebecca Hains, came across them at her local Home Depot recently. Kinda reminds you of the Disney Princess grapes I stumbled across at the grocery store last year, don’t they? Rebecca’s written a great post about on these seeds which you should all read (as well as the comments).

While her post does a great job of analysing how such merchandise is bad for kids and parents, I can’t help but conclude that it is bad for the Disney company also. How is that, you say? Surely they are simply getting a cut and/or fee from the licensing rights and nothing more. Why should they care about it any further than that?

Well, because it’s a sign that they’re failing to care for their characters. The Disney Princess brand is a faux collection of said characters who supposedly represent the best in female traits. Now you could argue about that until the cows come home, but what’s more important is that each of the princesses is only a good fit for her particular context. In other words, the film they appear in.

The Disney Princess brand takes that context completely away, and instead mashes the characters together in a manner that attempts to blend them all into a singular idea of what good female characters should be like; read: princesses. This would be OK if it was for a once-off thing or a singular celebration of the characters, but branding them in such a manner (and licensing them to everyone under the sun) only serves to devalue the characters themselves, and worse, the films they originally appeared in.

The original films are masterpieces, they evoke they very best in art and character. These seeds and the grapes which precede them do not. They are a cheap attempt to imbue otherwise unexciting products with some sort of luster, and while even the humblest of grape can make the finest wine, a grape is still a grape, no matter which character is on the packaging or how superb the film she appeared in is.

Unfortunately, it would appear that the brand is making big bucks for Disney and shows no sign of abating.

 

 

 

Why Disney + Threadless = Happy Fans

Via: Threadless

The other week, Cartoon Brew featured a post about a competition then being held over at online clothing site, Threadless. The gist of it is that people were asked to submit their design for a new Donald Duck T-shirt with the winners having their design made into an actual article of fashion.

This is a great idea, but there seems to have been little discussion about the significance of such a competition. Beyond simply crowdsourcing a design.

Professional designers may decry the blatant use of free labour in order to obtain a design but that is overlooking the many benefits there are to be gained by both sides.

First of all, it’s proof that Donald still has many, many fans, and that they’re willing to use their talents for his benefit. Through 12 pages of designs, there are a few bad apples, but the vast majority are something that I would love to wear (see the three examples, this post)

Secondly, the official sanction from Disney is good in that the winner is (or rather ought to be) guaranteed a fair deal for their work. OK, so it’s not like they were commissioned in the traditional way, but the winner should be adequately compensated for their work. While everyone else is out of luck, they at least have used an opportunity to stretch their skills and can still use their design in another place.

Via: ThreadlessHow many times do we see smaller (or even larger) studios encouraging and cajoling us into buying merchandise that they think we, as fans, want? Why not let use tell them what we want and let them sell it to us? (It’s a bit crazy I know, but right now that’s essentially what Hollywood does with its films).

Competitions like the Threadless one build good relationships between the studio and the fans by giving them a hand in the game and making them feel as if they are valued; a tactic that Adventure Time has done since it’s beginning to great success.

While care must naturally be taken, there is no reason why studios can’t interact more with their fans in this way, especially since the rise and ubiquitous use of the internet has broken down so many barriers to communication.

Fans have and will continue to be, the lifeblood of studios large and small, and the sooner we see closer collaboration between the two, the quicker both sides stand to benefit.

I'm sorry, but I find this one simply hilarious.

Via: Threadless

ReelGirl Sums Up What Pixar’s ‘Brave’ Really Signifies

The ReelGirl blog, written by Margot Magowan, recently featured a post that discusses Pixar’s upcoming film ‘Brave’ in the context of Pixar ‘firsts’; this case being their first lead female protagonist. Margot sums it up thusly:

Wow, a female hero is as rare and remarkable as a rat who can cook.

Which is basically the truth, strictly in terms of Pixar films.

Can this be held against Pixar? I’d say not. They’ve only released a relatively small number of films, and a good chunk of them were knocked out during just one lunch! It’s a natural progression that they would get around to doing a girl-centric film eventually. Besides, The Incredibles had an actual female hero in Elastigirl. OK, granted she wasn’t the lead, but she was effectively the co-lead and equal partner in the film.

I agree with Margot in that it is a tad unfair to be crowing about a film that is supposedly a ‘first’ and that also features something that should, and has, been a given in animated films for quite a while.

Grading the Disney Princess Magazine Covers Part 4

Continuing out look at a series of magazine covers featuring the Disney princesses as created by the Petite Tiaras tumblelog, (previously parts 1, 2 and 3), we’re onto the final post.

Tiana in Vanity Fair

Yet another one by Conde Nast, Vanity Fair describes itself as:

a cultural filter, igniting the global conversation about the people and ideas that matter most. With a dedication to journalistic excellence, brilliant photography, and powerful storytelling, Vanity Fair is the first choice and often the only choice for the world’s most influential and important audience. From print to the social stream, big screen to smartphone, Vanity Fair is the essential arbiter of our times.

So VF basically proclaims that it’s the best magazine in the world. End of story. Although is Tiana the right character to grace the cover?

Perhaps focusing in on the “igniting the conversation” part of the description, Tiana herself was stirring debate long before she made it to the big screen. Notable for being the first African-American “Disney Princess”, there was much debate about how the character would turn out, and whether it was simply corporate pandering for the sake of political correctness.

All that was dispersed when the film was released, and although it didn’t light the box office on fire, Tiana was praised as a character with much integrity.

Overall, it’s a B+

Rapunzel in Teen Vogue

Although we’ve already covered Vogue, Rapunzel gets a turn in Teen Vogue:

Influence Starts Here. This simple mandate sets Teen Vogue apart. Style-conscious girls everywhere know there’s only one source for relevant fashion, beauty, and entertainment news communicated in a sophisticated tone with the power of the Vogue brand.

Confused? It’s basically marketing speak for “hook ’em when they’re young”.

Compared to Snow White, Rapunzel makes a much more appropriate character for Vogue simply because she is much closer the typical teenager of today, and as a result fits right into Teen Vogue’s target demographic.

Right from the off, it’s clear that the pink is very apt, even if the film itself used lavender instead. All of the stories seem appropriate too.

Overall: A-

Megara in Marie Claire

This magazine bills itself as:

…a compelling media destination that combines provocative features and outstanding fashion to inspire every woman who wants to think smart and look amazing.

That’s probably a bit brief, but I did have to grab it from the Facebook page.

This is perhaps the blandest cover of the lot, but that’s because Megara a a character is quite unique from the others. She’s a bit of an anti-hero in many ways and that makes any “stories” that would be relevant to her not ideal to the front of a women’s magazine.

Other than that, I think style-wise, her own unique style is something that would probably better suited to Harper’s Bazaar or even Jalouse.

So point’s for effort, but ultimately, this cover gets a B- but only because Megara herself is a tricky character to place.