Wednesday, February 27, 2008

From the Mailroom - Too Many Anniversaries?

From the Mailroom this week, reader Marci Cameron made this inquiry regarding Disney's efforts in commemorating character anniversaries:

Mickey Mouse's 80th birthday is coming up this November 18th (the release of "Steamboat Willie") and it's got me curious. You see, Disney had a big celebration for him on his 60th, but they didn't make too big a deal for his 75th and most recently from what I've seen on the 'net, they didn't seem to care about Goofy's 75th birthday either. So, I was wondering, is Disney planning something big for Mickey's 80th birthday or don't they seem to care about characters' birthdays anymore?

Thanks for writing, Marci. Let's face it, Disney fans and enthusiasts love to celebrate. And they tend to be very disappointed when it appears that a notable birthday or anniversary will go unheralded. Last year's response by fans to an initial lack of recognition for EPCOT's 25th anniversary certainly bears that observation out. But while fans tend to perceive these celebrations as sincere and necessary commemorations of benchmarks in Disney history, from a company standpoint they have always been largely seen as the basis for marketing campaigns and consumer products initiatives. In that context, especially following Disneyland's recent Happiest Celebration on Earth, there are many individuals within Disney who feel that they may be overplaying the birthday/anniversary dynamic.

In that regard, most recent initiatives have been generally low key and typically limited to consumer products marketed to Disneyana collectors. Goofy's 75th Anniversary last year was marked by the release of a commemorative pin, a piece in the very high end Walt Disney Classic Collection of figurines, an art print by artist Randy Noble and little else.

In 2003, the focal point of the company's efforts in celebrating Mickey 75th Birthday was the Celebrate Mickey: 75 InspEARations event. The Walt Disney Company commissioned 75 notable individuals, among them celebrities, athletes, artists and corporate executives, to each custom design their very own Mickey Mouse statue. The statues were unveiled at Walt Disney World on November 18, 2003, Mickey's 75th birthday. The statues were subsequently taken on a cross-country tour lasting two years before ultimately being auctioned at Sotheby's in November of 2005, with proceeds going to charities selected by the individual designers.

The vast majority of 75th merchandise was directed at Disneyana collectors and took the form of limited edition pins, watches and figurines. The most mainstream item produced was likely the Mickey Mouse Monopoly game that featured a 75 Years brand logo. A few other products bore that same logo including playing cards and a trading cards set.

While the efforts put forth to celebrate Mickey's 75th were by no means minor, they paled in comparison to what transpired fifteen years earlier in 1988. The celebrations surrounding Mickey's 60th Birthday encompassed a marketing and promotional bonanza that was widespread and involved nearly every division of the Walt Disney Company. The company's consumer products division mounted a campaign that was comparable to efforts given to contemporary product juggernauts such as High School Musical and Hannah Montana. Mouse-related merchandise was displayed prominently in mass merchants such as Wal-Mart and Toys-R-Us, all featuring 60th Birthday branding. Anniversary specials aired on both network and cable channels, and year-long celebrations took place at both Disneyland and Walt Disney World. Most significant was the construction of Mickey's Birthdayland at Florida's Magic Kingdom, a new area that was centered completely around the anniversary celebration.

Mickey and Donald Duck both enjoyed 50th birthday commemorations in 1978 and 1984 respectively, but neither were of the magnitude of the 1988 festivities. One of the more memorable elements of Donald's 1984 birthday activities was the Walt Disney World parade that featured Donald, accompanied by fifty live ducks in party hats, all waddling down Main Street U.S.A. When Donald celebrated his 60th birthday in 1994, the only evidence of commemoration I was able to personally find was a number of products at the Disney Store, all featuring an exclusive 60 Years brand logo.

Character-based anniversary celebrations in fact stretch back all the way to the very early years of Mickey Mouse, when theater owners would hold birthday parties to draw young children to special weekend matinée showings.

As to Mickey's 80th Birthday that arrives this November 18th? So far we have seen a PEZ candy product featuring an 80 Years brand, but little else. Disney Parks executives have voiced an inclination to steer clear of anniversary-based marketing promotions, so any theme park related celebrations will likely range from low key to non-existent. In the dynamic of anniversary commemorations, eighty doesn't seem to have the glamor of a fifty, sixty or seventy-five mark. We may very well have to wait until Mickey's 2028 centennial for the next truly extensive and far reaching birthday celebration.

Images © Walt Disney Company


Craig Wheeler said...

I love the 60th logo. It always cracks me up how 1980's Mickey was in the 1980's. (does that make sense?) It is very easy to spot drawings from that time period, but I can't quite put my finger on why.

As for Mickey's Birthdayland...I was at the Magic Kingdom the day it opened (I was 7 at the time) and couldn't convince my parents to go check it out. The funny part in my mind is that I never really explored that area of the Magic Kingdom until 10 trips to the World later, this past September. That was always the thing at Disney World that I had never done.

Anonymous said...

Hey, Jeff, is there a chance that you might respond to my e-mail about the Disney/Muppets situation in your "From the Mailroom" column?

Jessica said...

Looks like there will be some recognition of the special year - new Disney Dollars were just unveiled with the theme being Mickey's 80th birthday. It's a nice change from the current Pirate and Princess overload that had been used last year. The artwork that they have used is gorgeous!