Wanderlust…

The International Reporting (and Life) Adventures of Vivian Salama

It’s a Small World

Posted by vmsalama on March 1, 2005

After a short absence, the world’s most recognizable cartoon character comes home. Nahdat Misr’s successful re-release of Mickey proves the mouse has massive potential for growth in the Arab world

By Vivian Salama

Business Today Egypt

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I recently attended a dinner party with some Cairene friends. Naela, an NGO director, was moving to Sweden with her family, and we had all gathered to bid her farewell. As the evening progressed, Naela casually mentioned how she wished there were a way to get her favorite Arabic comic book, Mickey (or Meekee, as it’s pronounced) while abroad. Suddenly, talk of politics and society took a radical turn as everyone around the table discovered a shared love of the magazine.

Hours later, guests were still overcome by teary-eyed laughter as they reminisced about their favorite weekly adventures of Mickey, Batoot (Donald Duck) and Bondock (Goofy).

Having grown up in the United States, I can sing along to old songs from the Mickey Mouse Club and even name the original Mouseketeers. I’ve seen Mickey’s debut film, the 1928 black-and-white Steamboat Willy, more times than I can count, but what I witnessed that night was unlike anything I have ever seen in America, the birthplace of Mickey Mouse and friends.

However popular the Disney characters are in the United States, they occupy a unique position in Egypt’s collective memory: Mickey is one of the few childhood memories common to virtually all Egyptians living today. Tastes in music, movies, art and politics have changed over the years, but Mickey remains largely unchanged, retaining the same nationwide allure as it had when it was first introduced more than 40 years ago.

The characters’ international appeal is equally strong: Last October, Mickey and friends topped Forbes magazine’s list of top grossing cartoon characters worldwide, earning Disney some $5.8 billion per year. (See sidebar.) It’s no wonder: with three theme parks, more than 100 feature films, hundreds of books, thousands of magazines and a face recognizable to virtually anyone, anywhere, the Mickey Mouse franchise shows no signs of dimming.

 Still, Mickey has suffered through a few rough spells during his sojourn in Egypt, most recently in early 2003 when, without warning, the weekly pastime of tens of thousands of readers came to an abrupt end. Disney had decided not to renew its Arab-world licensing agreement with Egyptian publisher Dar Al-Hilal, citing quality issues and a lack of “creative plans” to take the franchise forward.

A friend was gone, and no one knew when or if he would make a comeback. Fans didn’t take the news sitting down. Disney was bombarded by letters from readers throughout the region demanding the return of their favorite characters. (more…)

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