Marketing magic

By SHARON STEEL  |  August 15, 2007

“You can see from the way they’ve exploited the High School Musical franchise that there are few stones left unturned,” says Kim Masters, who has covered Disney for Slate, Vanity Fair, and NPR. “They seem to be pretty enterprising about coming up with ways to exploit the properties that they have. As a business writer, I have to somewhat admire it. As a parent, I’m somewhat afraid of it.”

But now that the corporate course for Disney’s foreseeable future has been set, it would piss off quite a few suits if one of their new living, breathing talents did anything to taint the franchise. Because that wouldn’t be magical at all.

The kids aren’t all right
Since Disney projects such a goody-two-shoes image, catching the company with its little red shorts down has always been an incredibly satisfying diversion for peck-happy culture vultures. Examples include everything from costumed Disney theme-park characters humping each other in raunchy YouTube videos to scholarly books by media experts that point out the ways in which Disney turns people into zombie consumption freaks. And it makes sense, especially considering the exquisite elegance of Disney’s split-personality — this idea that a company long obsessed with the veneer of its own innocence and whitewashed, family-friendly, primary-color, entertainment-pushing reality is actually just a profit-hungry monster with dollar signs for eyes.

So while Disney can keep its animated adolescents frozen as straight-edge prudes, and roll out a massive product line for every new storyline, its real-life cast of characters can’t be trusted to carry on the fantasy forever. Britney Spears, Justin Timberlake, Christina Aguilera — all former second-generation Mouseketeers — dragged their careers through the Page Six fishwrap before they were purged of a nostalgic association with a certain cartoon mouse.

Remember Britney and Justin before they were Britney and Justin? The two of them met on the set of the Disney Channel’s 1990s revival of The Mickey Mouse Club, a children’s variety show they starred in alongside Aguilera, JC Chasez (who went on to join *NSYNC with Timberlake), Ryan Gosling (The Notebook), Keri Russell (Felicity), and some now-unknowns. Spears opened for *NSYNC on her first tour. When she and Timberlake became an official item, Spears set about tarnishing what was left of her pseudo-good-girl/corn-fed/country-hot image. Here’s the abridged version: the video for “. . . Baby One More Time”; an admission that she and Timberlake had done the nasty; a random elopement with an old friend, followed soon thereafter by an annulment; and the unfortunate Kevin Federline years. Consider the Fed-Ex affiliation the official death-knell for her lingering associations with Disney, though Spears clearly doesn’t share the same feelings about the company that they probably do for her — she was rumored to have wanted to take her now ex-husband Federline to Disney World to celebrate their divorce.

Aguilera’s sweet-to-nasty transition started with Stripped and ended with her shockingly steady marriage to music exec Jordan Bratman. Which still doesn’t mean any Disney employee could ignore the fact that, in the “Dirrty” video, she was mud-wrestling half-naked amidst various fetish displays of dirrty-ness. For all of its hand-drawn, heaving cartoon bosoms, Disney manufactures meaningful memories, not strip-teases. X-Tina was nothing if not consistent about her re-issued persona — she even took a carousel-horse/stripper-pole with her on tour.

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