Posted by: Mark Nielsen | March 29, 2008

The Rant at the End of the Disney Pooh-niverse

Gray say "No" to Winnie the Pooh diaper rash ointment!

Gray say “No” to Winnie the Pooh diaper rash ointment!

You are receiving this message because you requested occasional updates, special offers and other information from the Walt Disney Company family of businesses.

Did I? I don’t remember requesting such a thing? And why would I? I already have so many Disney products flying across my radar screen each week, without requesting additional pokes and prods to fill my house, my brain, and my life with still more of them. Products like this, my son’s toothbrush:

Pooh Electric Toothbrush by Oral B

And while we’re at it, why do you get to call your 800-armed octopus of a corporation, your monstrosity of cross-marketing and soul-sucking cute-ification, your dumbed-down diabolical destroyer of imagination and tradition — why do you get to call all that a FAMILY OF BUSINESSES?!!! It’s an insult to the word family! Get thee behind me, Mickey!!!

Ah. It’s good to finally get that out. I’ve been sitting on this rant all week, trying to stay positive and complimentary, maybe just snarky enough to amuse, but not so much as to offend younger and more sensitive middle-class suburbanite consumers of all things Pooh and/or Disney. But it’s ON now, people! The gloves are OFF! The Disney-verse is going down! AW YEEEAAAAHH!!!

(Whoops. Sorry about all the shouting. I guess I was watching too much idiotic WWE wrestling last night on The CW Network with my nephew… speaking of too much cross-marketing. I’ll tone it down and smarten it up from now on.)

I clicked through on the above email to DisneyShopping.com, only to find that my man Pooh doesn’t even rate a logo or a special marketing program on the front page. WTF?On the other hand, I’m not sure if that’s good or bad, given the whole guilt-by-association thing.

Among the character-based lines of products at DisneyShopping.com’s front page, here’s the current list: Mickey & Friends, Disney Princess, Disney Fairies (What?! –who, other than sexy little Tinkerbell, would that include? the fat old Fairy Godmother from Cinderella? I doubt it!), Cars, Pirates of the Carribean, Toy Story (that old , worn-out franchise?), High School Musical and, of course, Hannah Montana –or as I like to call her, Mileyanna Montanadana. [Rest in peace, Gilda Radner. We still love you.]

What, no Shaggy D.A.? No Snow White, the hot chick who put Disney on the American map? And, sadly, no Pooh. Not on the front page, anyway. Let’s see how far I have to drill down to find my son’s toothbrush, or some other Pooh product. First Basement: Home & Collectibles. Nope. Sub-basement: Disney for Bathrooms. Nah… Ah, here we go: the Pooh Singing Toothbrush Holder! Or should I say the “My Friends Tigger & Pooh” Singing Toothbrush Holder.

If you haven’t heard about the “My Friends Tigger and Pooh” show yet, then you don’t have a 3-6 year-old who watches Playhouse Disney every morning. I can barely contain my contempt for the creators of this latest addition to the wide-ranging Poohsney franchise. (The show runs at 7:30am CST, every day.)

First of all: where do they get off giving Tigger top billing over Pooh?! He wasn’t even introduced until the second novel. Not to mention: how dare they kick Christopher Robin to the curb like this? The addition of a little American girl (with the androgynous name of Darby) is not a bad idea in itself. But why not make her a friend of Christopher, maybe give these insulated, uneducated American toddlers a glimplse of some culture other than their own? Because that’s not the Disney way, that’s why! Everything’s got to be Americanized, cutesied-up, and updated to include the latest trends. Today’s Tigger & Pooh episode, for example, puts Pooh on an electric scooter. Could anything be more contrary to the spirit of A.A. Milne’s original Hundred Acre Wood?

But the modern marvel/monster that is Disney has gotten their grubby little hands into every corner of American culture, and there appears no way to stop their imperialistic aggression. Their cross-marketing, which really started in 1955 with the Disneyland theme park in California, has now crossed over to various other travel options like Disney Cruises. Then there’s Radio Disney, home video like the Baby Einstein product line, several cable channels, dozens of internet sites, video games (through Buena Vista Interactive), the sports galaxy (via their ESPN and ABC sister companies),  book publishing (through Hyperion), music recording (they own Miley Cyrus, Hillary Duff, Rascal Flatts, the Indigo Girls [huh?], and –OMG! Queen? The Mouse owns my beloved Queen? Take me now, Lord!), Broadway and traveling shows (can you say Lion King? or Disney Princesses on Ice? [yes, with a twist of lemon, please]), and the inevitable network and syndicated television shows (e.g. Regis & Kelly, and Scrubs — which appears on NBC, not their own ABC network, oddly enough).

Then of course there’s the old Disney standby: “family” and non-family feature-length theatrically-released movies. Among their current moviemaking divisions: the formerly quirky independent but now lame and dependent Miramax, the aging Touchstone, and the recently-merged Pixar (circa 2006, in a $7.5 billion deal).

In fact, let’s look at a very instructive USA Today quote from Apple/Pixar visionary and all-around sellout Steve Jobs about that big 2006 deal:

They chose to merge instead of renewing their production and distribution deal that expires in June because “no matter what kind of partnership we had, we’re still two separate, publicly traded companies,” Pixar CEO Steve Jobs says. “Sometimes that stuff just gets in the way of making the best films we could,” as well as using Pixar’s characters in Disney’s theme parks.

The “best films you could”, eh, Steve? Don’t kid yourself. It’s all about the cash now. You know it. I know it. We ALL know it. Don’t lie to us about making capitalist decisions without having to compromise your “art”. It’s about commerce, bud. Or, put another way, “It’s the economy, stupid!”

Which brings us back to Pooh. He’s just not a bankable movie or television star anymore. He’s still a serviceable profit center, like Mickey Mouse (who also has his own newish show, which features his well-known posse), and unlike those classic characters from Jungle Book or Monsters Inc. But he’s not a star. Not like Hannah “Manna-From-Heaven” Montana. Yet he’s Disney’s biggest single moneymaker, every year. Here’s the data, from Don Markstein’s terrific Toonopedia site:

The Walt Disney Company, which for several decades has been the principal benefactor of the wealth he generates, considers him its #1 cash cow — bigger, even, than Mickey Mouse himself, the company finally admitted in 1996. The silly old bear enriches Disney’s coffers by an estimated one billion dollars per year.

So how’s that being done with a now 82-year-old character? Licensing, my dear. For now the House of Mouse does with quantity what they used to do with quality, Pooh-wise. Which means they license the Pooh characters to hundreds of other companies, like for the Oral B toothbrush pictured above, or the Ambience brand Winnie the Pooh Children’s Lamp ($62-82), or this charming Graco stroller and baby carrier set (just $149.97 at Wal-Mart.com… but don’t you dare give Disney or Wal-Mart another nickel of your money. I will not stand for it! Not on MY watch!) .

There are plate and cup sets for the kitchen, the adult Eeyore Hoodie for Her (and scads of apparel and sleepwear for kids), Kellogg’s Pooh “Gone Fishing” fruit-flavored snacks (no vitamins allowed… the Pooh chewable vitamins are another company’s specialty), a large line of various infant gear called “Delightful Day” Pooh products, Hallmark cards, Hallmark party napkins and Hallmark collectible ornaments. Do they make a Hallmark Pooh samurai sword to cut my kid’s PB&J sandwich? Heck, I could be here all day, maybe all week, just listing all the companies with which Disney has licensing arrangements (and therefore most likely takes a percentage share of the profit, even though they don’t make the products themselves).

But I’m not gonna do that list. Why do their marketing and promotions work for them? A Waste of Our Valuable Time, as A.A. Milne would put it. For our own Edward Bear and his friends deserve better. Ernest H. Shephard — the artist who drew the original, floppier, less cutesy Classic Pooh –also deserves better. He and his estate probably deserve some of that Disney money, too. Though I’ll bet they probably do pretty well already, by licensing Shepard’s own artwork (which The Mouse does not own) for baby gear and other products. I know we had a diaper bag with Shep’s older Pooh characters on it when Graham was a baby. It was a piece of crap that started falling apart after a year of moderate-to-heavy use, but that’s a rant for another day.

Suffice it to say that we can’t go wrong by going out to pick up a copy of the two original Pooh books — or better yet, the four-book gift set of Milne’s Pooh books and children’s poetry. Don’t bother with all the later products, whether they are decent quality (like the first few Disney movies) or Chinese-made plastic pieces of crap (i.e. everything else). A Piglet plate? No, thank you. A plain plate, or maybe one with colorful stripes, will do just fine.

And put a biscuit and a smackerel of honey on it, if it’s not too much trouble.


Responses

  1. […] last entry in my Pooh series –an entry which is definitely the snarkiest and most political (click HERE to go There.)  In that one, I take on the Disney conglomerate mano a mano, proving once and for all who the […]


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