Legacy Content

Mission: Space Merchandise
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by Lee MacDonald and Lindsay Cave
August 12, 2003
Lee and Lindsay look at the Mission: Space Merchandise that's been released at Walt Disney World.

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Selling Space?

There are so many stories that perpetuate the myth surrounding Michael Eisner’s arrival at the struggling Walt Disney Company in 1984, that they are simply too numerous to recount. However, I do have a particular favourite that Judson Green told me many years ago, whilst he was still charge on Walt Disney Attractions (now Parks & Resorts).

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Space Mickey welcomes guests to the store
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Eisner decided to visit Walt Disney World for the first time, only months after his installation in Burbank. He was particularly interested in EPCOT Center, that had debuted just two years prior as the largest, most expensive and complex theme park ever developed. He was amazed at the architectural detail of the Future World pavilions and the sheer scale on which they were built. He rode every ride and spent a great deal of time being a tourist in the second WDW park. Prior to leaving, he visited the Centorium store in Communicore East. Michael was amazed at how poor the merchandise was. There was little available for children and too much of the fare had a “museum-quality? to it, in that it was overly serious and did not inspire vacationers to want to buy any of it. On his return to his hotel, he called the local WDW merchandise team to ask why the goods were so unimpressive. The response was that the designers found it very difficult to conceive ideas based on the educational themes of EPCOT. Michael probed further, asking why he saw no Disney characters in the park and none on the merchandise. After a significant pause, the manager replied defensively, “Mickey and the gang belong only in the Magic Kingdom?.

This was one of the first Eisner changes at WDW. He quickly installed Mickey, Goofy, Donald, Pluto, Minnie and Chip ‘n’ Dale in Future World, (usually as space explorers in their ‘70s-style Tomorrowland costumes) and asked for more family- and kid-friendly merchandise based on the animation legacy of the company and that of its newest cult success, Figment.

Today, those themes continue to shifty millions of items of apparel at all of the four WDW parks. Often the development of a new theme park or E-ticket will see two distinct ranges, that of the Fab Five for the youth and an upscale design for the adults. Occasionally, the Fab Five creep into the over-18s designs. At the Grand Opening of Disney’s Animal Kingdom in April 1998, the park was awash with Mickey and the gang visiting the park (like Mickey and Donald on Countdown to Extinction) and the unique artistic talent of Clive Kay and his pictorial depictions of the Tree of Life. The unveiling of the Tower of Terror in the mid-nineties saw the gothic HTH logo appearing on adult items such as bathrobes and a frightened Mickey standing in front of an opened elevator car for the kids. The latter was such a success (in its first season, this store was the highest grossing on WDW property) that the animated designs soon appeared on the adult clothing. Even today, the Tower merchandise range is the most expansive and successful of all WDW attractions.

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