Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Disney Has Found Its Eighth Dwarf

Once upon a time there were some miners named Grumpy, Happy, Sleepy, Sneezy, Bashful, and Doc, and, of course, Dopey. They were the Seven Dwarfs that helped to create the Disney Empire. They were short. They were industrious. They were male.

Today, Disney uses a new group of dwarfs to help fashion their empire. They don't have funny iconic names, but they do have eyes that see the obvious and ears that hear the sound of checks being written out to them.

Disney was one of the few animation studios that missed my talented demeanor and droopy-eyed approach to programming, especially boy-centric programming. Now it appears that that boat hasn't so much left me at the dock as sunk in the harbor. Us old diggers who rooted out transcendent ideas as if they were subterranean fungi are now as current as, let me see, Mr. Toad's Wild Ride or the 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea Submarine Voyage. A new breed of creative development executives now gallops across the company's TV landscape: the raging anthropologist and the wily psychologist. Their job: to find out where Disney's lost boys have gone.

The Toon Disney into Disney XD transformation is too complicated and messy to explain in a family friendly blog. I try to remain upbeat and entertaining throughout my writings here. Some news items simply set me down into my own inner space adventures. I'll let this article and this article act as an E ticket ride to bring the reader up to snuff.

I produced more methane reading this particular New York Times article than half the dairy herds in Wisconsin emit in a week. Maybe that's the reason I don't bring newspapers to social events. Apparently Disney TV can't attract boys to its live action and animation programming because… well that's what these new hunters and gathers have been called in to find out. Disney XD has lost its XY.

Disney owned the boys TV market at one time, with Davy Crockett and Zorro and Spin and Marty and The Hardy Boys; but that was so long ago most of America's Interstate Highways were still being numbered odd or even. Those programs were all action-packed, and adventure-oriented, with great characters, plenty of bonehead humor and storylines that made you wish you were part of the proceedings. I wonder if Walt Disney ever asked any of his subordinates to gather themselves up some focus groups to see how long a raccoon tail Davy Crockett's hat should have?

I was part of the Fox Kids team in the '90s that reinvented Saturday morning, developing programming that attracted both genders quite easily. We blew away the competition with Batman, X-Men, Spiderman, Goosebumps, and a re-versioned Beatlejuice. We created the fabled 6-17 demographic, the first time ever that a salesman could sell advertising to such a vast kid market skew. None of us were professional academics, brand consultants, marketing mavens, or long term strategic thinkers. We were rank and file executives who knew story, understood our audience, and most importantly, worked around equally talented writers, storyboard artists, directors, and voice talent. The only time I ever heard the word "focus" was at my ophthalmologist.

Yet now the Rosetta Stone for attracting boys is a ratty Black Sabbath tee shirt. Black Sabbath has been around longer than Stonehenge. I'm not following how Ozzy Osbourne biting off the head of a bat helps configure a show for Disney, but then I don't have a degree in marketing.

If Aaron Stone succeeds, it is not because he is a mediocre hoop player, but rather because he's a normal kid thrust into the role of a superhero – an example of wish fulfillment attractive to both genders. I'm still dreaming of being bitten by a radioactive spider, though lately the only things biting me are villainous creditors.

Forgive me, Lord, for I am about to sin, but I don't know any man who would ever utter something as blatantly moronic as this line: “Winning isn’t nearly as important to boys as Hollywood thinks.”

Really!!!!!Get back to me with various examples because my testosterone-fueled mind can't conjure up one.

Oh, and one other item from this insipid article merits some commentary:

You, the executive VP of Research at MTV: Don't rewrite history! What were you, two years-old when Fox Kids was handing the competition its lunch on barbed wire doilies? We wrote the history on revamping a day-part that was by that time deader than heaven on a Saturday night. You guys just added additional chapters to the logic already established.


  1. You made me laugh out loud....good summation, Sidney! And you're so right...we focused on story, and we also never underestimated our audience. By the way, ever consdier stand-up?


  2. In some ways, such foolishness parallels the music industry crash, no? - Attempting to replicate the intuitive successes of across-the-board talent with pedigreed junk science and wishful thinking.

    The lessons of the past will never be learned by those for whom remembering their morning repast would be a titanic struggle.


  3. I love Spin and Marty ...

  4. And Spin and Marty is now on DVD.

  5. We are in a time where entertainment has de-evolved into such soulless drivel. If there were a reality TV series to create cartoons and kids shows, that's what we'd be consuming. Being forced into the belief that catering to the lowest common denominator is the better than creating something to inspire dreams. In the same way that American Idol has ruined the music industry, and taken every ounce of passion and expression from all the songs on broadcast radio, Disney seeks to do the same by using Casino-tactics to lure young viewers. Homogenized, PC bulls**t that has no soul... no heart... and worst of all no truth. There's more honesty and good storytelling in a game of Halo2 or World of Warcraft than in any given episode of 'That's so Raven', or any of the over-produced songs of the radio-choked ballads of last year's American Idol winner(s). Perhaps I'm an idealist, but I, too, still dream of being bitten by a radioactive spider, or having a steadfast friend with a 'Yellow Jalopy' who'll help me solve mysteries. Wanting to be something more than what we are is the cornerstone of all the great stories that have appealed to boys AND grirls since before Aristotle decided to write down his thoughts on it. I guess I'll have to be lured into a fascination with artwork on the bottom of the next Disney XD hero's skateboard that's been clinically, sociologically and anthropologically approved.