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When Licensing Goes Wrong

Posted by on May 4, 2010

The birth of the Lawsuit Evasion Dept. at Disney Studios

In 1931, a young entrepreneur was stuck with about a thousand pencil boxes that he couldn’t sell. He realized that what they needed were a design that made people want to buy them, something unique, recognizable. The entrepreneur approached a nearby animation studio and asked if they would grant him the right to use one of their characters. The animator he discussed the idea with was none other than Walt Disney and the character in question was none other than Mickey Mouse. This was a big success for everyone involved. By 1933, the Disney brothers hired Herman Kamen to be the overseer of the studio’s licensing. By 1935, Kamen had Mickey Mouse’s image on thousands of products and the studio had a great source of income to help fund their projects. Profit without any work! Brilliant!

To this day, Disney continues to make billions from licensing, while other companies manufacture and sell.

So, as Disney grew larger (the company, not the man), it was inevitable that some ideas that may have seemed great on paper just seem, well, odd choices.

In 1933, the world was enchanted with the Silly Symphony The Three Little Pigs. Kids left the theater whistling Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf. For some reason, some handy pottery maker was standing outside the theater, saw these kids and thought, ‘Kids leave a movie theater whistling this song…what do they do next? I got it!’ Apparently, it was believed that kids, after seeing a Disney cartoon at the local movie palace, would naturally head home for a relaxing smoke. Hence, the maybe-not-as-popular-as-everyone-had-hoped Three Little Pigs ashtray.

Smoke ‘em Up, Johnny!

When Snow White was released in 1938, children and grown ups alike flocked to the theater. Some of these adults, for whatever diabolical reason, thought that perhaps Snow White could aid them in their solidification of gender stereotypes. Sure, Snow White was happy at the end of the film after meeting a handsome prince, but when was she happy during the rest of the film? Hmmm… Oh, right! When she was doing housework! So, with Snow White as the face of the burgeoning future disgruntled and frigid housewives of tomorrow, products were created to make housework, not a chore, but something to, well, whistle while doing. Do it fast, however, so as not to upset the men folk.

"Ironing, it’s not a chore any more!”

Sure, Donald Duck was loud. This guy yelled and cursed in undecipherable words almost non-stop. But, hey, people loved him, anyway. So, it made sense to put his face on just as many products as Mickey, right? Now, while this idea was harmless in its conception, the design left a little to be desired. This design seems like a nightmare scenario Donald Duck might have experienced while spending a short sentence in the nearby maximum security prison. Or is it just me?

"Shove it in your mouth! Take it, Duck! Keep it there until it’s ready to come out! You got me?!”

When you think of Goofy, you naturally think clumsy, awkward, not too bright, but lovable and harmless. ‘What if’, someone somewhere thought at some point, ‘what if Goofy could cut stuff?’ So, was born the Goofy scissors because even if you cut yourself, it’s still kind of funny because, well, it’s Goofy. Can’t laugh and cry at the same time, right?

"Garsh, sorry I cut off your finger tips, Susie. Maybe you need some Mickey Mouse bandages.”

Finally, sometimes a product can look good on paper, look good in the design process and, who knows, maybe even look good during production BUT some designs insist on going horribly wrong, no matter how innocent the approach may have been. For example, what if kids got to ride on Donald Duck’s belly while he rocks them back and forth? Sounds fun, right? Looks fun, ri… Ohhhh, this doesn’t look good, at all….

“Um, Mommy, even I know there is something horribly wrong about this ride and I’m 7!”

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