Branding in Fandom: Moon and Mouse

Competition is often perceived as something negative. The concept of rivalry is intuitively counterproductive to a particular idea of co-operation. One of the biggest risks with turning something into a competition or a competitor is that it seems to automatically generate the labels of ‘winner’ and ‘loser’. And lets face it only one of them is desirable. When I was considering which big brands in fandom I should cover in this series there were two that instantly struck me. Both recognised worldwide. Both hugely successful – critically and commercially. Depending on your age… both also responsible for some of the most enchanting and wonderful films of our childhood (and maybe even adulthood). One old. One new.  Can you guess yet?

In the first corner, we have quite possibly one of the most famous brands in the world let alone in fandom – Disney. I mean really can you get much bigger and better than Disney? How many firsts does it have under its belt? Mickey Mouse in Steamboat Willie was the first cartoon with sound. Snow White was the first full length animation film. Disneyland was the first theme park of its kind. Pixar’s Toy Story was the first full length computer animation film. For decades, Disney has been setting the standard for telling stories through new mediums, has played a significant role in developing innovative technologies and has found new ways to allow fans to immerse themselves in the fictional worlds they have created. Disney is huge, I mean huge, with all sorts of ventures and companies fitting under its umbrella. It has even obtained an interest in one of the other big brands previously discussed in this series – Marvel. When it comes to branding in fandom, Disney is undeniably one of the biggest and strongest names in the marketplace.

However, as successful and well-known as Disney is, it is by no means the only significant player. There are many companies who have pitted themselves against Disney – willingly or otherwise but at the present time I think there is only one other possible brand which is deserving of the second corner. DreamWorks. In the past couple of decades (seriously has it really been that long?), the image of a boy sitting on a crescent moon has become a recognised icon of quality storytelling across the world. This is the company who offered up a fresh challenge to Disney not only in terms of the quality of their animation but also in respect of the stories they choose to tell. Who can ever forget what a game changer Shrek was? Not only was the animation stunning but it took a completely fresh approach to fairy tales, poked fun at all the clichés, dared to subvert the stereotypes and if I’m not mistaken even parodied a couple of very famous moments from Disney classics.

If you look further into the history and founding of DreamWorks, the two seem like even more natural rivals. One of DreamWorks’ founders is Jeffrey Katzenberg, a key figure in the Disney renaissance period, who helped set up DreamWorks after leaving Disney. It all appears to set the scene for an epic battle between old and new, a branding version of David and Goliath slugging it out with cinematic offerings instead of punches. Revenue, critical acclaim, commercial success, awards, artistic talent – it seems as though DreamWorks and Disney have been compared and measured against one another in every possible way.

But in doing so and by using the overly basic language of ‘winner’ versus ‘loser’, we may in fact be missing out on the value that they bring as competitors to first each other and then to their fans. I prefer to think of the relationship between DreamWorks and Disney as one resembling a boxing match, less war and more of a game. A game in which the other side keeps upping the standards and encourages you to perform better each time. One simply only has to look at recent computer animation to see how much it has improved from the ground-breaking Toy Story. No doubt the rivalry between DreamWorks and Disney has contributed to this, as neither company wants to be left behind. Equally, I would argue their competition encourages them to be ever more creative, more innovative and risk-taking when it comes to the stories they chose to share. After DreamWorks convinced us that an ogre could be a romantic lead, Disney’s Pixar took a grumpy, lonely old man and made him the lead in a fantastical adventure.

Other people can create all the charts they want detailing the number of box office hits that one company has over the other, how much the latest film made against their rival’s and no doubt those sort of statistics keep their respective company directors awake at night but I say if anyone comes out of this as a winner it’s the audience. As long as the technology, characterisation and stories continue to flourish then lets ring the bell and start the next round.

Red Hamilton (still has her Mickey Mouse teddy.)

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