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Disney vs. Warner Brothers - The Watchtower of Destruction: The Ferrett's Journal
August 11th, 2010
09:53 am

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Disney vs. Warner Brothers
Why does Mickey have a world-class theme park to himself, while Bugs has a crappy set of rides stuffed in the corner of Six Flags? Bugs Bunny has better cartoons and is funnier... And I think that's his downfall.

Disney works because Mickey, Goofy, and Donald are inexpressibly bland.

Who is Mickey Mouse? A nervous laugh and a nebulous good nature. Donald Duck is irascible. Goofy's, well, goofy. But each of those character traits are so vague that they could be almost anything. And because of that, you can put Mickey in just about any situation and people will buy it. Mickey as an efficient orchestral conductor? Sure. An inept sorceror's apprentice? Sure. A noble knight? Absolutely. Mickey's such an empty bag of nothing that he's nothing more than the air to inflate any suit you choose.

Don't believe me? Try putting Bugs in all of those situations. He's got such a personality that he wouldn't want to be an orchestra conductor (but is a mean one when threatened), would be a more competent apprentice than the wizard (or gets into trouble when he starts fooling around), and would make a terrible knight. The mind rebels at seeing Bugs in certain positions, because you know who Bugs is. (This is why "Duck Amuck" is a classic, but "Rabbit Rampage" is not.)

(There are limits, of course - every comedic character mutates to fit the punchline. I ran into that a lot on Home on the Strange, when Tom's personality changed depending on what laugh was needed. Still, as a comedic entity who needs to be squeezed into various situations, Bugs is startlingly well-defined.)

Mickey? Whatever. He can be anything because at his core, he's nothing. The central Disney stable of characters aren't characters, but ill-defined traits. And when they're given firm characterization, they don't really make it into the stable - Scrooge McDuck has more character than Mickey, Goofy, and Donald put together, but you don't see him at Disney. You can't slap Scrooge's face onto Pirates of the Caribbean and sell it.

Disney works as a bunch of cartoons because Mickey's a nobody.

But it's more than that - it's the whole competing culture of the two companies. At Disney, the genius always started at the top - Walt was a visionary, full of ideas, and almost all of Disney's great ideas can be traced directly to Walt himself. As such, the entire company revolved around management having good ideas, and the company leading.

Warner Brothers' funniest moments came when they were rebelling against management's stupid ideas.

You know the cartoons where Bugs fights a bull in the ring? Started because management declared flatly that bullfights weren't funny, and nothing could make them so. Daffy Duck's lisp? Done to make fun of Leon Schlesinger, their inept manager. Everything good Warner Brothers has done has come because management was either ignoring the animators, or - more often - because the animators looked management straight in the eye and said, "No. You're wrong."

So why would we ever expect poor, beleaguered Warner Brothers to be able to put together a good theme park? They never really understood what made their cartoons funny, and their theme park attempts were as inept as their attempts to create cartoons. Even now, Disney grows and Warner struggles to revive Bugs. And that's a damn dirty shame.

(43 shouts of denial | Tell me I'm full of it)

Comments
 
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From:elissa_carey
Date:August 11th, 2010 02:05 pm (UTC)
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Actually, I think it's even simpler than that: Disney's business and marketing sense is savvy and rapacious.
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From:jfargo
Date:August 11th, 2010 02:13 pm (UTC)
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I don't have anything to add but wanted to say that I think you're very much right on the nose with your analysis.
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From:sacramentalist
Date:August 11th, 2010 02:16 pm (UTC)
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You make great points.

Yeah, WB characters are too subversive and anti-establishment. They would be more appropriate in a park where they can blow shit up.
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From:polymorphism
Date:August 11th, 2010 05:01 pm (UTC)
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HOLY FUCK I WANT TO GO TO SPLODEY PARK
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From:darksumomo
Date:August 11th, 2010 02:18 pm (UTC)
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I think Warner Brothers is more interested in the properties they acquired from DC via Ted Turner than in the ones they created themselves. Hell, they're more interested in spoofing the properties they acquired from Hanna-Barbera via Ted Turner, too.
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From:radiumhead
Date:August 11th, 2010 02:28 pm (UTC)
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Mickey doesnt work as anything-i saw a drawing someone did of him as Wolverine (vs Donald as the Hulk)-i was just like, um, no.

Even for a cartoon its a ridiculous idea.
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From:darthparadox
Date:August 11th, 2010 05:31 pm (UTC)
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I think "anything" here is referring to roles, not specific people. Mickey doesn't work as Wolverine because Wolverine has a very specific personality - but you can put him in a cape and mask and pass him off as a bland, generic superhero without a problem. Mickey doesn't work as, say, Tesla because Tesla was quirky and neurotic - but you can put him in a lab coat and pretend he's a scientist working on vaguely defined experiments, and there you go!
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From:lots42
Date:August 11th, 2010 02:52 pm (UTC)
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I heard Sylvester was basically mocking one of the management drones. You couldn'g get away with that today.
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From:lawchicky
Date:August 11th, 2010 02:59 pm (UTC)
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I won't disagree with your explanation of the cartoon characters' traits, but I don't think that's the main reason for Disney having grown so much more substantially than Warner Bros. Disney grew at an alarming pace due to the visionaries and risk takers who were involved in the organization. Walt had a long standing dream of building a theme park and was extraordinarily talented in conveying his visions, not only with his own commentary, but through the use of talented artists, architects and businessmen who had their own glimpses into these imaginary worlds. Disney became an empire, expanding itself into movies, television, theme parks, etc., and while the cartoon characters may have played it safe, the business structure did not.
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From:edgehopper
Date:August 11th, 2010 03:09 pm (UTC)
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What she said--Disney built theme parks because Disney wanted to build theme parks; Warner Brothers never did. It has less to do with the characters than with the management and their vision.

When it comes to modern cartoons, it is the better defined Disney cartoons that have done better--when was the last time you saw Mickey in a cartoon? Scrooge was the heart of Ducktales, Baloo was the heart of Tailspin, and when Goofy was the star of Goof Troop, he took on a more defined father role to make it work. (If you look at the really old Disney cartoons, Goofy was never an independent character; he was an amusing "everyman" placeholder used in cartoons like "The Art of Skiing", "Victory Vehicles", and "How to Be a Sailor".) Donald had the most personality in those early cartoons, and his cartoons were Disney's best. There's a reason that all of Disney's WW2 propaganda films used Donald, not Mickey.
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From:wdomburg
Date:August 11th, 2010 03:03 pm (UTC)
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I can't help but think of an early Louis C.K. bit.
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From:gows
Date:August 11th, 2010 03:04 pm (UTC)
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Disney works as a bunch of cartoons because Mickey's a nobody.

. . . and therefore an Everyman?
From:sorcerer_mickey
Date:August 12th, 2010 05:15 pm (UTC)
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Yes! We watch Mickey in a variety of occupations (clock cleaner, orchestra conductor, band concert conductor, magician, fisherman, ghost chaser, etc.) and we see ourselves. Mickey overcomes adversity, officers of the law, laws of physics, and inept companions,. only to emerge essentially unscathed at cartoon's end; Mickey never fails.
We see ourselves as Mickey, but we want to hangout with Bugs as his sidekick, just as we would with any other Warner Bros. hero (Flynn, Bogart, Cagney, Powell, etc.)
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From:wyndhover
Date:August 11th, 2010 03:16 pm (UTC)
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...so, essentially, Micky and Bella Swan are the same.

Pardon me a moment while I go Keanu....

whoa.
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From:bart_calendar
Date:August 11th, 2010 03:24 pm (UTC)
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I thought the reason that Scrooge McDuck is so much better than any other Disney character is that he was completely written and drawn by Carl Barks and that the reason he's not used in much of anything is that the Barks estate retained some creative control (and also that the way Scrooge behaves doesn't fit with any other story narrative in the the Disney cannon. "Christmas For Shacktown," for example is brilliant, but goes against almost every Disney formula ever.)
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From:gows
Date:August 11th, 2010 03:47 pm (UTC)
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Also, totally unrelated but I'm not going to find your original post about the sauna championships: they have been called off due to an entrant's death.
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From:theferrett
Date:August 11th, 2010 04:10 pm (UTC)
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I saw that! I was very sad. But it does prove the dangerousness of the sport.
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From:xinamarie
Date:August 11th, 2010 04:05 pm (UTC)
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Disney was floundering for a while, too, but has been carried along by the success and vision of Pixar. Even the recent improvements to Disneyland and California Adventure (I can't speak for Disneyworld) are largely themed after Pixar characters and movies.

I think Six Flags' problem was that the tie with Warner Brothers was tacked as an afterthought, while Disneyland was designed with the characters virtually from the beginning. Apart from the kids area, the rest of the Warner Brothers "theme" was, as far as I could see, to play cartoons to the people waiting in line. Meanwhile Disney has elevated waiting in line to an art form, designing the enviroment around it to reflect and enhance the anticipation of the ride. At Six Flags, you just wait.
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From:xiphias
Date:August 11th, 2010 04:08 pm (UTC)
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Genius is almost impossible to duplicate. Mediocrity can be cranked out indefinitely. Therefore, a product based on mediocrity can last much, much longer than a product based on genius.

Every once in a while, you end up with something that keeps attracting genius to it -- heck, the Muppets are putting out pretty good material to this day. And they're owned by Disney

But I think that's the less-common case.
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From:zillah3
Date:August 11th, 2010 04:19 pm (UTC)
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I totally agree with you. I'd like to add that another reason that Mickey is on everything is also because for a long time he had no show of his own, so if he was going to be on the merchandise he had to co-opt something and make it his own. And you know Disney wants Mickey on the merch. Since the show he does have now is for preschoolers, I doubt that will stop anytime soon, if ever. (Since it's a series there does have to be some sort of personality for Mickey and friends, but preschoolers don't demand much of one.) If it weren't for the merch, he'd be drowning in the competition from his own studio, just like Bugs is.

My son's school runs the occasional "stay after school and watch a movie" fundraiser, and he is now in the grade that runs this. I am hoping to add a short or two to the beginning of the movies so they can be seen (and in their original context, no less). Even then, I'd put a Disney one before the G movie and a Warner before the PG.

My kids all like the Disney shorts, which is a rare thing considering the kids range from 4-9. Interestingly, they also all like the Pink Panther. Warner will come back soon, we had a bad experience when our son was 4- he tried to BE Bugs and got into a lot of trouble. He has seen them since, and still loves Bugs, but it's the Disney ones that get played in the car.
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