Don’t F&@# With the Mouse: Disney Schools Go After Customers Early

0 Comment

I don’t know, I guess there’s nothing wrong with Disney getting into the early education business in Shanghai. So why does this feel so wrong?

Mickey Mouse has a new job in China: teaching kids how to speak English at new schools owned by Walt Disney Co. popping up in this bustling city.

The company says the initiative is primarily about teaching language skills to children, not extending its brand in the world’s most populous nation. But from the oversize Mickey Mouse sculpture in the foyer to diction lessons starring Lilo and Stitch, the company’s flagship school here is filled with Disney references.

Classroom names recall Disney movies, such as “Andy’s Bedroom,” the setting of the “Toy Story” films. To hold the attention of children as young as two years old, there is the Disney Magic Theater, which combines functions of a computer, television and chalkboard and is the main teaching tool. (Wall Street Journal)

Like I said, creepy. Sounds like something out of an Aldous Huxley novel. The really weird part is that this article was in the Wall Street Journal and does not exactly painting a flattering portrait of Disney, one of the world’s biggest entertainment companies.

The claims of innocence by Disney execs are pretty funny, given the curriculum and how the schools are run.

“We never saw this as an effort to teach the Disney brand and Disney characters,” says Andy Mooney, chairman of Disney Consumer Products Worldwide. “We set out to teach Chinese kids English.”

Nonetheless, classroom and homework exercises introduce the kind of Disney books, TV shows and movies that China’s government otherwise tightly restricts. Students are introduced to as few as four words a week.

In class, a strong singing voice earns students “magic tokens” that are exchangeable into “reward gifts” like Disney pens and hats on display in the lobby. Students can also get Mickey Mouse book bags as well as bilingual books, flashcards and CDs that feature Disney characters, much of them otherwise unavailable in China.

Sounds like this is a great way to indoctrinate introduce kids to the wonder of Disney stuff. Great marketing plan, and if they can bring in “classroom materials” that would otherwise be unavailable to the kids on television or at the movies, even better.

The Mouse really doesn’t F&@# around. Those kids don’t stand a chance.

Legal aside: Contrary to the WSJ article, Disney cannot “own” real schools in China. I wonder how these operations are actually structured.

Either they are calling them some sort of training centers or they are simply licensing to a Chinese company. Either way, they need a local partner.

Too bad I don’t do work for Disney. The IP licensing and franchise work for these schools sounds like fun.

2 responses on “Don’t F&@# With the Mouse: Disney Schools Go After Customers Early

  1. Jim

    Creepy indeed. Back in the early 90s Eisner and Disney came up with Disney America, a theme park in northern VA that had the support of Govs. Wilder and Allen. Disney promised to do to defining events in AmHis what they’d done to fairy tales, which was gut them, watch them bleed out, then rewrite them all with happy endings. Opposition was intense and, obviously, it didn’t fly. (Imagine trying to repackage the Civil War outside DC in Manassas where Confederate flags still, privately, fly high.) Now it’s ‘language.’ Get them while they’re young with consumer English. Finding a local partner for that has been, I’m sure, quite easy.

    1. Stan Post author

      I remember that. Didn’t make the Disney empire look all that good, particularly when you take into account Walt’s questionable political leanings over the years.