All ears: Oswald hats a hit at Disney parks
Nov 08, 2012 (Orlando Sentinel - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --
For its latest merchandising sensation, Disney has called on a character older than Mickey Mouse.
Theme-park guests now can sport hats that are tributes to Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, an early creation of Walt Disney dating back to 1927. They are modeled on the traditional Mouseketeer cap -- a black beanie with Mickey-inspired ears -- but with long, tall, upright ears. It's as if Goofy's ears are reaching skyward, but they are, of course, rabbit ears, mimicking the ones of the animated Oswald.
The retro feel is "something that's hot in the marketplace," says Steven Miller, merchandise communications manager for Disney. It's a vibe that the company has explored in many ways, including the re-introduction of merchandise themed to its vintage Orange Bird character at Magic Kingdom this year.
Although Oswald has appeared on Disney pins, dolls and T-shirts, the ear hat started off as a giveaway in support of the Epic Mickey 2 video game at the E3 expo in Los Angeles in June.
"Fans went crazy for them," Miller says. "It tied in really well with the game." Oswald appear in both the original Epic Mickey game and Epic Mickey: The Power of Two, which will be released Nov. 18. That may explain why teenagers at the theme parks are so drawn to the rabbit hats.
"It's difficult to say why people gravitate to the ears other than they're just fun," Miller says.
In recent years, Disney has re-imagined the basic ear hats to salute other characters such as Tinker Bell and Dumbo the Flying Elephant or attractions such as the Tower of Terror at Disney's Hollywood Studios.
For decades, Walt Disney Co. did not own the rights to the Oswald character. It was created for Universal Studios by Walt and co-creater Ub Iwerks. The rabbit -- which shares obvious physical qualities with Mickey -- lived on in many cartoons.
In 2006, Disney chief Bob Iger engineered a swap with NBC Universal that famously included, among other assets, sportscaster Al Michaels and Oswald the Lucky Rabbit.
"It's one of those things that gives a nod to the heritage of our company, and it's something fun that's tied to current technology," Miller says.
The popularity of the hats has made them a rare commodity at Disney World parks. Initial orders sold quickly, Miller says, and the company held a number of them for Festival of the Masters, an open-air art show at Downtown Disney that runs Friday through Saturday. Oswald hats will be available in limited numbers there, but more are on the way, Miller says. The hats normally sell for $16.95.
Oswald also appears as a figure in a Vinylmation series featuring black-and-white characters that debuts Friday. He already has a store that opened in the rebooted Disney California Adventure theme park this summer. And next year, look for him on more shirts, iPhone covers and collectibles, Miller says.
"Anytime we create something that's unique, that's found at the parks and you can't really find anyplace else, that's a big appeal," Miller says.
DBevil@Tribune.com or 407-420-5477
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