The famous Disney pantheon of characters—Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, Goofy, Pluto, and so on—have never really needed to shill for non-Disney products, because, let’s face it, for cartoon characters, they’re all richer than God. But, once, very briefly, this wasn’t the case: Disney characters went out and hustled making commercials for companies, including the lovable underdog of American carmakers, AMC.
Even back in the 1950s Disney was considered way too good and big to be bothered with anything as pedestrian as television, let alone commercials, which, let’s face it, are pretty vulgar things, and unfit for his Royal Mouse.
Even though it was beneath Disney status, back in the early-mid 1950s Walt Disney found himself needing a hell of a lot of money for a pretty big project: Disneyland. That need is what led to the unusual circumstance of Disney characters in animated commercials.
Of course, Walt couldn’t really debase himself and his empire like that, so a secretly-related but technically unrelated company was made to produce the commercials, and that company could use real Disney characters in those commercials.
One of Disney’s big clients for these commercials was AMC, who produced Hudson and Nash cars in the era. Here’s a commercial for Hudson featuring Mickey Mouse and co:
Holy crap, look at that. Mickey’s shilling for Hudson. I mean, who could blame him, with those Deep Coil springs?
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Donald got into the act, too:
And there’s more: Pinocchio...
...Alice, whom you may know from Wonderland:
One interesting thing to note is the style of the commercials, which was much more stylized and of-the-era than what traditional Disney animators produced. Look at the Mickey in these commercials, compared to a conventional, movie-Mickey of the era:
That’s quite different, and it’s fascinating to see Mickey rendered in a more mid-century Googie style. Of course, this departure wasn’t universally popular, and may have led to the eventual ending of the commercial division.
According to Amid Amidi’s book Cartoon Modern,
“There was a little kid that used to write to Walt telling him to stay away from modern art because it’s Communistic. So when the commercial came on, he got a letter from this kid, a little malcontent sitting somewhere, and he wrote, “I’m disappointed Walt. I never thought you’d succumb. What happened to you?” and Walt went crazy. He stormed down there and outlawed using any of the Disney characters in the commercials...spelling the end of the unit.”
So, according to that, it seems like some kid who felt a different-looking Mickey felt like Communism, and Walt believed him? And as a result of what this kid thought, eliminated a money-making enterprise for his company? Is that how you run a company?
I mean, look at Disney now, so, I guess the lesson here is always take advice from random kids freaked out about communist influences on cartoon mice.