Updated: Mar 22, 2021
One of the reasons that Disney properties and licensed product work so well is how they tie different sources together to make something bigger and better. They call it “Synergy.”
One of the trips I made to Disney World was for a Disney Parks brainstorm (it’s a tough job, but someone has to do it!) It was a collaborative meeting with Disney Consumer Product licensing, Disney Parks Sales, Mattel Marketing, and I represented Mattel Design. It was in that meeting that I gained a better understanding of how Disney Parks merchandised their products and in particular toys. At the time, there was one large shop with most of the toys named the Disney Emporium. There a signed an agreement to make a much smaller Mattel Toy store not far away from it, but that had not opened yet. Eventually, even that was replaced when Mattel backed away (or was pushed) from its Mattel/Disney relationship, and a Hasbro Toy Store was added to replace the missing Mattel store.
In short, a successful product for Disney Parks was one they could sell at multiple locations around the park. The Disney Princess dolls were for sale in the Fantasyland, but that was about the only place besides the Emporium. Now that I understood this, and I was proposing new products, I tried to ideate toys that could be sold easily in various locations.
As mentioned in previous articles, the Disney Parks buyers, accepted two of the non-Disney Princess figures I presented: Davy Crocket and Pirates of the Caribbean. I proposed the pirate since I knew it had its own shop of pirate products at the exit of the ride and because it was one of my favorite rides.
Davy, was shown because the VHS tape was recently released, but he had a dual purpose. The original plan would have a figure for each land at Disney Land/Disney World. Davy would represent Frontier Land to be sold in the small shops there which mostly sold toy guns and coonskin caps. It was a natural fit.
For Adventure Land, my original plan was a native or a head hunter behind one of the big African warrior masks. It would have been very cool, and I could have made it happen with limited tooling. Unfortunately, the parks had been receiving negative mail about the natives so that idea was shot down fast. However, they were open to seeing a Jungle Cruise River Boat Pilot. While the ride is less engaging with antiquated audio-animatronics than Pirates or Haunted Mansion, it still has the best… I mean worst jokes per minute than any Disney ride, so it is always a must for me.
The costume for this figure was very simple. The pilot wore khaki shorts and a khaki shirt. He socks with boots and a leopard print scarf which matched well with the hat band on his fabric hat. Big Jim donated the boots. The head was the Prince from Cinderella which already had a Disney copy write on it.
For Tomorrow Land, I wanted a bit of a “blast from the past” and tried to leverage a blond bombshell with Tomorrowland Barbie.
She wore a silver metallic jumpsuit reminiscent of the original costumes that cast members used to wear for the Astro Jets. A few years back, Mattel released a futuristic Astronaut Barbie in metallic pinks but with a big bubble space helmet and high boots. If I used those, no one could stop the concept due to lower margins of having to tool new parts. The parts consisted of a ring to sit on the shoulders, two clear halves of the bubble helmet, two round connectors to hold the helmet closed, then a simple backpack that attached to the ring to hang down the back. Since the boots that came with that set looked like they belonged with Flash Gordon, I chose to use ski boots instead. Of course, those boots would need to be white pearl to match her white pearl belt and parts to her helmet/backpack. Her hair color was as platinum blonde as I could use to give a consistent futuristic look.
Although Fantasy Land had all the Disney Princesses, I proposed a more appropriate figure who has a ride in both parks: Peter Pan. We looked into used the tooling that existed from Skipper’s boyfriend but ultimately used a Ken body and put Tinkerbell in the smaller Skipper Body. Peter has a fabric shirt and fabric pants. His slippers are also fabric, and so is his belt with sheath. Big Jim came to the rescue again by allowing us to use his knife as Peter’s belt knife. With the little pins on the handle, it would also stay in Peter’s hands. To add more fun, we sculpted Peter’s hat onto his head and created a separate tool for a molded feather with a hook on it. By using that hook and a clear line of monofilament that came with Peter, you could slide him down the line to fly – not unlike the GI Joe Bulletman.
There was one other set of dolls that came from the brainstorm that are not 1/6th scale but are a good example of synergy and they have fun costumes – It’s a Small World. In case anyone just became annoyed with me as the song went off in their heads and will stay for a while, to do the research for these toys, I had to ride it about ten times to get all the reference photos I needed. Even my family refused to sit through it more than twice and sat out on benches rather than submit to the unending melodic assault. The ride is practically a doll show anyway and a favorite of very young children so it was an easy sell-in. Mattel had existing tooling from the Cherry Merry Muffin line that just needed some fun costumes.
The smart positioning part goes back to the question of “Where to sell the toys?” There are tons of countries portrayed in the ride, so how do you choose which to depict? I chose to use nationalities that were also represented in the World Showcase at Epcot Center so there would be a second park worth of locations for sale.
The original line, which also sold in Toys R Us, shipped with a Japanese girl in a kimono, a little senorita from Mexico, a blond girl in braids looking like Heidi from Germany, and Moroccan girl with sheer fabric an open midriff, a young girl in kente cloth from Nigeria to represent the small African outpost, and an America represented by a Native American girl.
The plan was to expand with a year two set to include: an Aleut girl from Canada, a cancan dancer from France, a red-haired boy in a highland kilt for Great Brittan, and a Polynesian Girl who does not have a pavilion in the World Showcase but has her own hotel.
Sadly, only the first six Small World dolls shipped along with Davy, the pirate, Peter, Wendy, and Tinkerbell, but it would have been a truly magical line.
What Disney ride or land would you want a figure from?