For some modern kids, Lightning McQueen, Princess Ariel and Buzz Lightyear are favorite Disney characters.
They’re from productions “Cars,” “The Little Mermaid” and “Toy Story.” Other boys and girls prefer old-school friends from the venerable animation studio. They’ll be looking for classic characters such as Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck on Wednesday when “Disney on Ice — 100 Years of Magic” begins a five-day, eight-show run at the Times Union Center in Albany.
Sixty-five Disney characters will be on skates.
Disney’s first string of characters includes Mickey, the animated, anthropomorphic mouse who made his first movie screen appearance in 1928’s “Steamboat Willie.” The friendly, high-pitched Mickey has since become the mascot — and chief symbol — for The Walt Disney Co.
Minnie Mouse, Mick’s longtime girlfriend, also appeared in the “Steamboat” short. The temperamental Donald Duck has been around since 1934. Jiminy Cricket, perhaps the world’s most famous cartoon bug, has been on pages and in projectors since 1940.
Disney on Ice: 100 Years of Magic
WHERE: Times Union Center, 51 S. Pearl St., Albany
WHEN: 7 p.m. Wednesday, Thursday and Friday; 11 a.m., 3 and 7 p.m. Saturday; and 1 and 5 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 22
HOW MUCH: $58, $43, $25. Opening night $25 tickets are $18
MORE INFO: www.timesunioncenter-albany.com
Tom Klein, chairman of animation at the Loyola Marymount University School of Film and Television in Los Angeles, Calif., can offer explanations for the characters’ longevity and popularity.
“I really think it’s the connection between generations,” he said. “I think that’s honestly why people love to take their kids to anything from a ‘Mickey Mouse on Ice’ show to seeing new versions of ‘Star Wars.’ For me, I have such a bond with my two boys because they love the new ‘Star Wars: Clone Wars’ franchise. I love being able to tell them I saw ‘Star Wars’ when it came out. It gives me a certain kind of cachet or cool.”
The same thing happens with the Disney classics. Klein said grandparents who remember watching the “Mickey Mouse Club” show on television during the 1950s are happy to see their childhood favorites still are relevant in 2013.
Klein said the Mickey character also has survived the ages because of his appearance.
“The two ears on the head — there’s just something graphically so interesting about that as a character,” Klein said. “As a character, he’s very neutral and is able to switch into the theme of whatever cartoon he’s in. I don’t know that people have the love for him as a character as much as they love what he represents. I think people love Donald because he’s such a strong and relatable character and he has flaws ... we can see something that’s a little more real and we emphasize with that.”
The Disney-Warner divide
Brother Gerry Molyneaux, a film professor at LaSalle University in Philadelphia, believes the Disney roster of warm and fuzzy characters contrasts with the Warner Brothers’ crew of more violent actors such as Bugs Bunny, Wile E. Coyote and Foghorn Leghorn. Molyneaux remembers a Bugs Bunny cartoon made during World War II, where the star rabbit passes out chocolate-covered hand grenades to enemy soldiers.
“That’s not the kind of humor you build theme parks around,” Molyneaux said. “So when Hollywood stopped making those expensive and wonderful cartoon, Disney turned to other avenues to continue his characters. On Sunday night, families gathered for the ‘Wonderful World of Disney,’ which was followed by the constant reminders provided by Disney parks, stores and ice shows. The Warners provided no such avenues to sustain Bugs, Elmer Fudd, Daffy Duck, Tweety, Sylvester and the Roadrunner, and kids today don’t know the cathartic fun they’re missing.”
Klein said the ice shows work because Disney managers often put the whole team on arena floors.
“I think Disney has been incredibly savvy to always mix the old with the new,” Klein said. “It’s smart generationally because it creates a comfort level for all the age groups, and for the younger viewers who are probably going to relate a little bit more to Buzz Lightyear, they get the comfort level of going back through the Disney princesses all the way back to the 1940s and seeing cartoon characters going back to the 1920s.
“They’re getting exposed to what is now getting close to a century’s worth of Disney characters. I think there’s something comforting about that and it creates such strong brand awareness.”
Klein said cartoon characters of the past — such as the Warner Brothers gang and Woody Woodpecker — have faded because they are not driven by studio marketing.
“Nobody does that better than Disney,” he said. “They make sure those characters never go away.”
Characters can make comebacks. Klein added that a Woody Woodpecker movie is in development for 2014. Other cartoons will turn up on television channels devoted to cartoons, DVDs and advertisements.
But Klein believes characters really come alive on movie screens. And the Disney holiday release “Frozen” features a new Mickey Mouse cartoon short — “Get a Horse!” — before the main attraction.
The film starts off with the old-fashioned black-and-white look before taking a colorful turn into 3-D.
“You really should see it,” Klein said. “It’s clever.”