Although I tend to stray from the topic of not preserving the magic as much as possible, a recent article by the Orange County Register has gotten the wheels in my head turning and I believe it’s time one seriously begins to ponder just where The Walt Disney Company is planning on taking its technology and just how far it’ll go to turn heads — articulated heads even.
The OC Register article takes a look at the new stage show at Disney California Adventure, Disney Dance Crew, in which Mickey Mouse performs on stage lip-syncing to track and blinking his eyes. While this is new technology for the Disneyland Resort, it’s not all that new for the company. What is new however is just how the articulated head is being used.
For the record, we are not talking about the recent Talking Mickey phenomenon that first reared his articulated head back in May (and then made a subsequent appearance during the World of Color premiere), this technology goes back a few years to early 2007 when the head (or rather, heads) made its appearance during the ‘Dream Along With Mickey’ show at Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom. Mickey, Minnie, Goofy and Donald all received the updates, which incidentally also force-transitioned Captain Hook and Mr. Smee into face characters (just for the show and via prosthetics) rather than update them as well. Since their debut, Walt Disney World has expanded the program to include an articulated head for Timon in Disney’s Animal Kingdom’s ‘Festival of the Lion King’ and has used them in other stage shows such as those during Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party.
Walt Disney World wasn’t the only one to cash in on the new technology, however. Disney Live! (which is operated by Feld Entertainment, best known for the ‘..On Ice’ series as well as a particular three-ring circus) introduced the articulated heads in its ‘Mickey’s Magic Show.’
Once the heads started showing up, however, there was an immediate (but not too overwhelming reaction) from the fan community – how does a parent reconcile Mickey talking on stage but keeping quiet (and mouth-open) during meet and greets? You can insert your own family-friendly personal excuse here but what makes the most recent change at the Disneyland Resort most compelling is that Mickey performs a meet and greet after the ‘Disney Dance Crew’ show. Only according to the OC Register, Mickey has a change of head before doing so.
This is why it’s important to note that this technology is not the Talking Mickey technology. Rather it’s a form of puppeteering in which the performers themselves make the Disney characters’ mouths open and eyes close based on finger gestures. The mechanics involved also produce an audible even when the character is at rest, so it doesn’t work for close interaction with guests (it also wouldn’t help that Mickey’s eyes would be closed while he signs autographs). So this of course begs the question: if Disney Parks is that comfortable with swapping ‘talking’ Mickey with silent Mickey that quickly without any fear of repercussion from small admirers, where does Disney draw the line between their responsibility for keeping the magic alive and a parent’s obligation to do it for them?