Via my friend David Wahl, whose Mostly Forbidden Zone blog is one of my daily habits: A terrific animation of the classic Story and Song from the Haunted Mansion LP, created by his friend David Witt at Quasi-Interesting Paraphernalia Incorporated. I’ll never be able to look at the LP again without seeing these subtle movements in my periphery. Who knew an LP could be haunted?
Heh, heh. This is “Splat!”, by Jason Freeny. I’d wear this on a t-shirt to the Parks and by God I would have your scorn, because in my mind Mickey Mouse ceased to be interesting shortly after Walt Disney stopped voicing him. Cute? Sure. Friendly? You bet. Human? No. These days, I regard the Mouse as I do a Coke bottle—a masterwork of American design, whose contents are now too saccharine for my tastes.
It’s time for Mickey Mouse to go fishing or something (seems I once saw a cartoon in which he did just that), and allow Wall-E or Ariel or even that heart-faced nonstarter Duffy to be the face of the company for a while. I know Disney’s trying to make the Mouse more contemporary by stamping him into Kid Robot-like collectibles and mussing up his hair in video games, but they’re only strengthing the character as a commodity; they’re not making him any more human. (Confession: I own a few dozen Vinylmation figures. That’s less due to my affection for Mickey Mouse and more to my appreciation of these street art-like subversions of a popular form. I might have been tempted by miniature Coke bottles, similarly painted.) But when a Jason Freeny slams Mickey into a wall and rorschachs him, at least we’re made to recognize that the Mouse isn’t invincible—and we wonder how he’s going to get out of that nasty fix, just as audiences did when Walt was still speaking for him.
Modern-day Mickey Mouse shouldn’t be trapped in his own mythology, fighting the same, safe malevolence he’s been vanquishing these past fifty years or so; he should be fighting to keep Peg Leg Pete from foreclosing on his home, sluicing buckets of water out of his waterfront shack, pounding the pavement looking for work. That’s the kind of scrapper we need right now—a Mouse with real problems and the wit and savvy to beat them back.
I like to think that Disney will eventually get it. “Epic Mickey” underperformed badly not because the game was poorly-conceived (and I know that Broke Hoedown disagrees with me in this), but because we weren’t ready to take Mickey back as a living thing. Removed from the context of the original shorts—which Mickey has been for years—we don’t know who he is or what he wants. We know only that he’s good-looking and that he seems a nice enough guy, like Keanu Reeves. We’re going to need more than that if we’re going to accept him as an everyman. He has to face discrimination, stare down bullies, and have his 80-year childless courtship of Minnie Mouse savagely questioned by the punditocracy. He needs to overcome. I like to think that John Lasseter and Bob Iger know this, and are trying to think of the best way to pull it off.
If you ask me, the best way to get Mickey Mouse out of his lethargy is to smack him into a wall. Do horrible things to him, and let him figure out how to fix them. That’s Storytelling 101, right there … and it’s where the Mouse came from, so he’ll know his way around. Remember that Mickey Mouse’s first seafaring job wasn’t captaining a floating theme park; it was piloting a broken-down steamship, and only for a hot second before being sent to the galley to peel potatoes.
We’re only captains for moments in time, Mickey. Mostly we’re peeling ourselves off of brick walls, saying okay, so that happened. Now what?
A watershed event took place last week in the wonderful world of color: Nick Bertke, a.k.a. "Pogo," delivered two "Toy Story" mixes. If you're as yet unfamiliar with Pogo, here's what you need to know:
1. He assembles dreamy, hypnotic downbeat electronic dance tracks wholly from sampled sounds,
2. many of which come from Disney and Pixar films,
3. and he now has enough of those songs to assemble a full album —
4. much to the chagrin of Disney's legal department, which exists largely for two reasons: to settle theme park lawsuits out of court, and to support and defend Disney's increasingly creative attempts to rewrite copyright law.
As near as I can determine from the cheap seats, Pogo's last couple of mixes were commissioned by the Mouse to promote product (the DVD of "Up" and the theatrical release of "Toy Story 3"). What I don't know is if Disney actually paid him anything, or if that legal department is currently clearing Pogo's existing Disney tracks for proper release. As it now stands, the only way you can hear the songs listed below is in YouTube videos, or in low-quality MP3 downloads.
(There are three additional mixes based on "Alice," plus mixes based on "The Sword in the Stone" and non-Disney films like "The King and I" and "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone"; you can download many of them here.)
I would dearly love to have Pogo's Disney tracks on a properly-mastered CD (or LP, or in lossless downloads), but I'm fearful that it won't happen. Disney only seems to know that Pogo is good because many, many YouTube users have told them so. If Disney actually understood the vagaries of the Internet, Virtual Magic Kingdom would still be online and Go.com would never have happened.
Both parties stand to reap enormous benefits from these songs if they're properly released. Disney can throw a line to an audience segment that's too old to dress up like princesses and too young to feel the nostalgia that encourages spending. Pogo could put a fitting cap on this stage of his creative growth and move on (he's beginning to show an interest in remixing "the real world," as he recently did, to astonishing effect, with his mother and her "Gardyn"). And I'd be able to hear "Expialodocious" and "Toyz Noize" as the artist would probably like for them to be heard — at a sound quality that allows every bass sound to find its own level and every melodic syllable to roll off the ear naturally, without distortion.
So, if you're out there, Disney Legal — and yours is probably the only division of the company that can actually admit to reading the blogs without getting sued for lifting ideas, so howdy-do — I'd like for one of you to pass this wish list along to Robert Iger or one of his lieutenants just as soon as they get out of court:
Kindly give Nick "Pogo" Bertke whatever the hell he needs to make a full album of Disney/Pixar dance tracks, including but not limited to access to original audio masters and a bucketload of advance monies.
Please put yourselves — your resources, your legal will, your patience — in the service of the artist, and not vice-versa. I know you're not accustomed to doing that; how else do you explain "Chicken Little?" Pogo has proven that he can create goodwill around your brand without your help; just imagine what he could do if he had it.
Have the record ready by Christmas. I have a number of friends who need to get it stuffed in their stockings, if you know what I mean and I think you do.
At the very least, clear the legalities around the existing tracks and put them on iTunes. Does somebody over there know Steve Jobs' number?
Let the man get paid. The music that Pogo makes isn't dependent on your product, but the continued reach of your product may prove dependent on him and others who are taking your existing, all-but-moribund works and investing them with new life through fair-use remixes. Set a precedent for the future by acknowledging that you don’t own "Mary Poppins," Mickey Mouse or Buzz Lightyear once they get into our hearts and transform into something else — something too fantastic and wondrous for your marketing, branding and legal divisions to imagine.
AUTHOR’S NOTE, 12/02/11: Shortly after this piece was written, Pogo found a way to offer nearly all his Disney tracks without running afoul of copyright law: a pay-what-you-like system. If you’re so inclined, you could download “Toyz Noize” and many others here and pay nothing at all. But do give Pogo something, so he can keep up this great work.
By now we’ve all heard that Disney is buying Marvel Entertainment, home to two dozen popular superhero characters and three thousand near-anonymous dregs. My Facebook friends list is awash in the blood of comic book geeks slitting their wrists in anticipation of the inevitable Wolverine/Bambi team-up.
Here’s what I think will happen to Marvel’s properties under Disney’s cape: next to nothing.
To my mind, the purchase of Marvel is one of the few missteps the Mouse has made under Bob Iger’s reign. Disney isn’t getting a hell of a lot for its money. The theme park rights to the characters will continue to be held by Universal. And the movie properties that Disney could use to keep Bruckheimer on the lot — Spider-Man, X-Men, Fantastic Four, Hulk, Iron Man—will remain the properties of Sony, Fox and Paramount well into the forseeable future. (According to Variety, Fox’s deal allows them to keep the film rights to Fantastic, X-Men, Daredevil and Silver Surfer in perpetuity, just as long as they keep making the films. For Disney’s purposes, that means forever.)
Buying Marvel was an audacious move on Disney’s part — if you can’t lure the Comic Con geeks to your tweenaged-girl fairyland, just buy ’em. But it may not have been the right one. Superhero films are big-money gambles — you can’t make one for under $150 million and if it doesn’t make half that money back in its opening weekend, you won’t see profit for years, if at all. And Disney doesn’t have the big names to play with — I mean, they may be able to develop a Runaways franchise or get the publishing side to start up an Incredibles title, but I think that’s it and that’s all. Four billion dollars spent to wait out contracts and to see if Avi Arad and Jerry Bruckheimer will duke it out in Thunderdome.
I can think of ten ways off the top of my head that Disney could have spent that money to win tweenaged boys and geeks — ways that build on existing assets. Maybe I’m right; I’m probably not. Still, you can’t deny that these things would make you happy:
1. Remake Condorman with Sam Rockwell or Patton Oswalt. Only, y’know, better than the first time.
2. Revisit the Oz books. The two-decade-old Return to Oz is only now beginning to find its cult audience. Give the stories to Henson’s crew, to Tim Burton or to your own animators, front them $150 million and let ’em rip.
3. Lock down two more Tron films now. You’re going to have a Matrix-sized hit with Tron: Legacy, and probably a Rebooted and Revelations-sized critical and commercial dropoff with the sequels — but they will still make you a lot of money if you move fast.
4. Own your steampunk heritage. 20,000 Leagues! Island at the Top of the World! Atlantis! Fast-track these reboots and remakes while the goth kids are still wearing top hats and rust-colored leggings.
5. Put a billion into updating f–king EPCOT, already. Fill it with the cool hi-tech, geek-geared shizzy that appeals to readers of Wired. Every geek kid has geek parents that will fly halfway around the world to see the world of tomorrow.
6. Give Javier Grillo-Marxuach a deal and let him do something wonderful. You worked with him on The Middleman, a series that is now finding its audience on DVD. By the time he gets around to making a nice, cheap Middle-movie, the demand for it should be strong.
7. Bring back Duck Tales. Hew closer to the Carl Barks stories and cast Billy Connolly, the ne plus ultra of gruff but jocular Scotsmen, as the voice of Scrooge. I don’t know if that’ll bring the tween boys to the yard, but also, I don’t care. Bringing back Duck Tales is something Disney should already have done. ‘Cos I miss it, that’s why.
8. Make a movie based on Split Second, the car-chase video game you’re working up for the XBox 360. Stuff blows up!
9. The Disney Princesses: Teach them kung-fu and arm them with wrist-holstered blades and pistols.
10. You’ve got Nathan Fillion and Morena Baccarin on the lot working on Castle and V respectively. Marvel favorite Joss Whedon has worked with Disney on Atlantis and Toy Story. Do the math.