Hey there. Hi there. Ho there. You're still as welcome as can be. A new, revitalized, multi-racial and Techni-colored "Mickey Mouse Club" premiers today at 3:30 p.m. on Channel 5 (WTTG) and in 50 other American cities. It seems fairly apparent from a look at the opening shows that the mouse whose name lights up the sky during the show's opening will once again be merrily ringing cash registers from coast to coast.
Of course, there aren't that many cash registers in use any more. They've been replaced by those blinking, beeping computers. And so, too, has the "Mickey Mouse Club March" that starts the program been reorchestrated for synthesizer and modified boogie beat. Let no one say that an old mouse cannot be taught new tricks.
What the Disney people are hoping is that the born-again mouse will build a new coalition of free-spending children and adults who will rush from their TV sets to stores that sell Disney-approved, club-related merchandise. Already more than 65 licensees have signed deals that will see store shelves stocked with new Mickey Mouse Club bubble bath, record albums, jewelry, shoes, ice cream, yo-yos and jammies.
In the vanguard of this onslaught is the show itself, and the show itself is pretty good, certainly better than the original 1955-1959 version that recently returned for a quick-buck return tour. Like the original, the new show is built around a tribe of dancing, singing, jumping-jack kids called Mouseketeers. The current crop of 12 was selected from 6,000 who auditioned. Not one of them had yet been born when the first Mickey Mouse Club went on the air.
The Mouseketeers are no longer members of an all-white club, which is a decided if obligatory improvement, and their mouse-ear hats have been stylized so as to be slightly less demeaning to their cute little heads. There are no visible adult authority figures on the show itself to drill them, march them in formation, and tell them what a good time they are having.
On a preview show aired yesterday by Channel 5 and other stations, the grand dame of Mouseketeerdom, Annette Funicello, could be seen passing the torch to a new generation. "It isn't always going to be easy," she told them solemnly. You could tell from the looks on their faces that these kids are aware of the seriousness of the challenge ahead.
After all, Mouske-millions are riding on this venture.
Anybody who wants to bother deploring the Disney merchandising phenomena can pick up his hat and talk into it until he is blue in the face. There is no longer any point in deploring this kind of thing. It is part of our national heritage. The Disney people and SFM Media Service Corp., which syndicates the show, are at least pouring lots of money into the program in the effort to get lots out of it. Once again, a lot of vintage Disney material will be interpolated into the show, but not as recklessly as in the ill-advised Disney TV flop, "The Mouse Factory."
And, unlike the original Mouse Club show, all of the new ones will be in frankly stunning color. Many of the Mouseketeer segments were produced on videotape and these are visually bright and buoyant.
While the new show is much more slickly produced than the old was, the Mouseketeers come across more as human beings and less as the puppets of a giant corporation. In addition, they are not so sappy and square as some of the members of the first Mouseketeer generation. Part of the fun of watching the first Mickey Mouse Club during the '50s was in ridiculing those Mouseketeers who came across as chumps.
Surprisingly, station managers around the country have been relatively slow to sign up for the show, partly because it is more expensive than the cheap old junk they can get away with airing and partly because of the recent flops of such syndicated programs as the tawdry "Howdy Doody Time."
And yet a station like Channel 5 in a market like Washington can stand to make as much as $750,000 a year off the program according to industry sources.
Once the bandwagon gets rolling, the new Mouse Club will undoubtedly pick up steam. It's a classy, lively and colorful half-hour. All of the merchandising tie-ins and built-in self promotion in the world wouldn't help - or so we may innocently like to believe - if the show at the center of all this were a bust. The new Mickey Mouse Club isn't.