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Thursday, May 28, 2020
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In Market: Wait … this is a thing?

Robert Francis

rfrancis@bizpress.net

Have you ever seen something out of the corner of your eye and said to yourself, “No, surely not? I mean if I saw what I thought I saw, well that would be as likely as a global pandemic that threw the world into economic turmoil and made Zoom a new American fad like the Hula Hoop.”

Oh … yeah.

So, when I was on one of those rare times out of the house in the car and driving down a lightly trafficked Hulen Street, I noticed a bumper sticker on the back of a small vehicle. My brain registered what indeed the bumper sticker said, but my left brain – the reasonable, logical, vice president of membership at the Waco Chamber of Commerce side of the brain – said, “No way, dude.”

I did what any reasonable person does, I weaved through five lanes of traffic to get behind the car to read the sticker. After driving past a few people who suddenly decided to test their horns, I ended up behind my target. And yes, the bumper sticker said what I thought it said: “Disney Life” on top of words “Happy Wife.” All in Disney script, of course.

My brain began trying to make sense of the words I saw. And their cartoonish implications. Slowly I began to realize that I probably knew what it meant. And I wasn’t necessarily OK with that, but as Doris Day sings, “Que Sera Sera.”

I was one of those kids who watched Sunday’s Walt Disney’s Wide World of Color on Sunday nights (when we weren’t making that return trip to church anyway). I watched it, I should note, on a black and white television, but whatever, it still weaved its alluring magical spell. I badgered and badgered my parents to take us to Disneyland, all to no avail. That despite the fact that my father had family out there. We visited relatives every summer, but usually in Oklahoma. There was no Disneyland in Oklahoma, in case you’re wondering. Plenty of red dirt however, if that’s your thing.

Then, in 1962, Six Flags Over Texas opened and my arguments for a Disneyland trip were rendered null and void for all eternity. Six Flags was basically down the street, or the DFW Turnpike at any rate and it was just as good as that amusement park with Mickey, Donald and Snow White, etc. That, at least, according to my parents. I wasn’t sure. The Six Flags part seemed suspiciously like it was trying to teach us kids something. And there were no anthropomorphic mice or ducks that spit as they talked.

But most importantly to my parents, it was cheaper. So we kept our mouths zippered shut and rode that El Sombrero round and round pushing thoughts of Space Mountain back into our subconscious until we could eventually spill our guts to a counselor paid to listen to the whines of former spoiled brats.

At that time, Disney actually wasn’t in great shape. The classic cartoon films had faded into the past and big hits like Mary Poppins and 10,000 films with Dean Jones were few and far between. Besides, they were kids’ stuff and I eventually outgrew Disney and began consuming adult stuff like National Lampoon and Doonesbury.

That was my generation. My wife is a few years’ younger than I am and when she was growing up, Disney had its animated mouse droppings together. New animated films like The Rescuers and Winnie the Pooh hit the mark with the young ones and brought the Mouse House roaring – or squeaking – back.

Now, most entertainment entities that aim for children, adolescents or teenagers know that there is a new crop of potential customers coming of age every year. Look at heavy-metal music. When you’re a 15-year-old in high school worrying about every zit, drawing that Van Halen emblem on your notebook is pretty cool. A few years’ later? Not so much. It was time for some serious music, like Pink Floyd.

Disney though, somehow figured out how to not just entertain kids in the demo of their films, they also figured out how to keep those customers tuned into the Wonderful World of Color the rest of their lives. There are Disney cruises, Disney weddings, Disney corporate training, Disney marital aids … well that last one probably isn’t a branded product line, but the rest are all copyrighted, trademarked and backed by a Praetorian Guard of pedigreed lawyers that know why Goofy talks and Pluto doesn’t.

I asked my wife about “Disney Life Happy Wife.” She knows some of those people who live the Disney lifestyle. She knew immediately. She once went to a conference in Florida near Disney World and one of the women on the trip was all things Disney. She knew how to maximize their time at the theme park, avoid the long lines, what time to go where, etc. It was like having Sybil guiding Aeneas through the underworld. This woman knew where the mouse corpses were buried. She was part of the tribe of the mouse.

If you subscribe to the Disney Life Happy Wife model, it won’t be cheap. Those trips to the theme parks aren’t free and accessories like a diamond-studded mouse head on a gold chain may make a trip to the jeweler seem much more reasonable. But if it works, it’s not a Goofy choice.

This tribe of Disney Life people walk among us. And sometimes, they come out like vampires, but with mouse ears, not bloody teeth. It’s a small world after all. And it’s not too bad. After all, if we all obeyed the rules of the House of Mouse, we’d be better off. Those rules? “No smoking. No villainous schemes. And no guests eating other guests. “

We could all live by that.