Saturday, March 17, 2012
More of Oswald the Rabbit in the New DCA?
Most fans of Disney history know that before there was a Mickey Mouse, Walt Disney had a character an animated character named Oswald the Lucky Rabbit (who actually has something of a resemblance to Mickey Mouse). Back in the early Hollywood days, Walt and Oswald had two pretty good years together before they went their separate ways - Walt off to create Mickey and Oswald became property of another studio where he languished in obscurity and trivia for decades. Before Disney reacquired the rights to Oswald a few years back (more on that later), Oswald's last owners were NBC-Universal (and whoever their parent company was at the time).
For the last few years, Disney has been trying to market an Oswald presence in their parks. Oswald hasn't been marketed in the over-the-top sledgehammer way they have been trying to market Duffy the Bear for instance. Oswald's marketing has been more subtle with a more limited selection of clothing and other merchandise made available in selected gift and retail shops. Oswald's marketing also seems to be based of the more chic, trendy, vintage type rather based on a mass appeal. I actually saw one of celebrity chef and Food Network star Bobby Flay's female sidekicks wear a distressed looking Oswald T-Shirt on one of his Throwdown shows - again, trendy and chic. Indeed, Oswald may be a character that's just not for everybody. He isn't so much cute and cuddly as much as he appears to be a bit of a wise guy with a mischievous look of "here comes trouble" in his eye.
Come this June, beyond the turnstiles of Disney California Adventure, we are supposed to enter Buena Vista Street, the Carthay Circle Theater hub, and Hollywoodland of the early 1920's. This is supposedly the world Walt stepped into when he got off that first train ride west with a suitcase fully of dreams and ideas. And Oswald was one of his first. Will Disney and DCA play it that way? I tend to doubt it other that maybe a bigger selection of Oswald merchandise in the Buena Vista Street retail stores. You see, whether Disneyland or DCA, the Mouse is still king. A new statue of a young Walt Disney will grace the entrance of the new DCA. It will not be Oswald at his side but an early incarnation of Mickey Mouse. It's all about the ears and there's money in those ears.
I love this story. I'm a football fan as well as a Disney fan. Legendary play by play man Al Michaels was the major voice for big sporting events for ABC television including Monday Night Football. As they have a tendency to do, Disney acquired both ABC and the ESPN sports network in an effort to expand their media empire (especially for ESPN, the advertising revenue is almost like gold). Al wanted continue to do Monday Night Football when Disney decided to move it from ABC over to the more revenue lucrative ESPN. He signed a brand new contract with Disney to continue on with MNF.
Enter NBC and the NFL. When the NFL wanted to expand their NFL coverage even more on Sundays now going well into the night, NBC happily volunteered and came up with the large the sum of money needed for the rights to broadcast what is now Sunday Night Football. NBC also had a couple of aces up their sleeve with the signing another sports legend in coach John Madden to be the color analyst on their signature football game. They also had another old pro in Bob Costas to do the pregame, lead-in, and half time shows for SNF. But NBC also wanted a world class play by play man and the man they wanted was Al Michaels even with his brand new Disney/ESPN contract. Even though the Monday Night Football was moving to ESPN, Al enjoyed his long standing relationship with Disney and ABC and now ESPN all now one and the same. But even Al began to have his doubts and began thinking about Sunday Night Football with John Madden and Bob Costas. Talk about high profile.
So Al, through his people I'm sure, let Disney know he wanted out of his brand new contract with ESPN. With a girth of sports personalities available to ESPN, Disney really didn't have an issue with Al leaving but with a contract, the question was "What can we get from NBC in exchange of Al Michaels?" The answer of course was Oswald the Lucky Rabbit who was property of NBC-Universal. So in a world of football trades, and baseball trades, and basketball trades where athlete is exchanged for athelete, Al Michaels was traded for a cartoon rabbit who was long ago created by Walt Disney.
I heard Al Michaels on a radio interview a year or two after he started his Sunday Night Football gig bristle at the question about being essentially traded for a cartoon rabbit. I'm sure his ego is a large one. He was quick to point out that there were other properties and considerations between Disney and NBC in brokering the deal that brought him to his new network but all that is conveniently forgotten. It is much more fun to think about how a sports play by play guy got traded for an cartoon rabbit. The bizarre world of Hollywood.