Mickey is a danger mouse in new game
This is Epic Mickey, a video game, whose dark undertones and tale of redemption, Disney hopes will intrigue teenagers as well as adults. While Disney executives vehemently denied any attempt to remake the company's mascot, the game is garnering buzz precisely because it appears to offer an edgier version of Mickey Mouse from the beloved (if harmless) corporate icon he's become over the past years (Mickey's been around since 1928).
"Part of the game's appeal is the fact that it delves into the Disney canon and brings back some of the more shadowy, less pristine aspects of the Disney mythos," said Scott Steinberg, a longtime game journalist and founder of TechSavvy - a video game consulting firm in Seattle.
"Disney is trying to take a family-friendly character, add a bit of suspense and darken the palette with the hope that gamers will see Mickey in a whole new light." In Epic Mickey, an early Disney creation Oswald the Lucky Rabbit rules Wasteland - a sad alternate universe of Disneyland. Its story-line picks up where Fantasia left off. In the 1940 movie, Mickey stumbles into a magician's lab, where he picks up a wand and conjures music by bringing life to the objects in the lab.
The game can be played only on the Nintendo Wii. IGN called Epic Mickey "One of the Wii's most anticipated games." Gamespot, another game review site, ranked it among the 15 likely most popular titles of last year.
Disney has made a practice of granting artistic licence to A-list directors and other top-flight creative types, who want to work with its classic characters - as was the case with director, Tim Burton and his stylised (through-the-looking-glass) interpretation of Alice in Wonderland.
Mickey Mouse, though, is arguably the most valuable (and venerable) asset in the company. The big cheese accounts for $6 billion annually in global sales of toys and other merchandise. He is a mainstay at the company's theme parks and cruise ships. Additionally, he and his longtime pals - Minnie Mouse, Donald and Daisy Duck, Pluto and Goofy - reach 140 million viewers around the globe, on the Disney Channel's Mickey Mouse Clubhouse.
"Game developer Warren Spector is absolutely playing with fire in trying to give Mickey a new dimension. It's a bold gamble for Disney," said Geoff Keighley, a longtime video game journalist and executive producer of MTV Network's GameTrailersTV. "Much like how Chris Nolan reinvented Batman, this could be a great chance for Disney to reboot Mickey in a way that appeals to gamers."
Only time will tell, but industry analyst Michael Pachter at Wedbush Securities estimated sales of Epic Mickey could reach one million, if Disney does a solid job of marketing Epic Mickey.
Unfortunately, the game already has one drawback - its graphics on the Wii look crude when stacked up against games developed for the more powerful Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3 consoles, Keighley said. "It's a shame, because the art and world for Epic Mickey is so dynamic and rich," Keighley said. "Can older kids see beyond that and view it as a legitimate game? The jury is still out on that."