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Disney loves Australia

With a host of new merchandise lines hitting the market or scheduled for release here soon, Australia is set to contribute strongly to Disney’s global revenue.

“The Australian organisation is the benchmark for the whole of Disney consumer products,” consumer products chairman Andy Mooney, who visited Sydney last week for a “summit” of Disney’s Asia-Pacific offshoots, told The SundayTelegraph.

All is not well in the heart of Disney’s kingdom.

A power struggle involving mercurial chief executive Michael Eisner, former executives, shareholders and business associates has sapped corporate morale as the stock price stagnates.

The company has lost important partners, including Pixar, the animation studio responsible for hits such as Toy Story and Finding Nemo, whose output Disney distributed until last year.

Gone, too, are the Weinstein brothers, Harvey and Bob, co-founders and creative forces behind the Disney-owned film studio Miramax, which produced box-office hits such as Shakespeare In Love and The English Patient.

None of this seems to concern Mooney, who confidently predicts his division will soon post double-digit growth.

“In my world, life is pretty good because we’ve been growing nicely for coming on three years now,” he says.

Mooney attributes the general turn-around in his division’s fortunes to a shift in focus from “deal-making” – licensing Disney characters to outside firms that may be less concerned with quality and the longevity of the brand – back to in-house design.

“We’re designing and developing quality products that we can then share with our licensees,” he says.

Among them are Mickey Mouse DVDs, television sets and even a personal computer, complete with mouse-ear speakers.

Computer games, frozen meals and homewares are also rolling off the Disney production line.

Few markets for these new items are as promising as Australia, which consistently outperforms the US on Disney’s revenue-to-income “index” – its measure of sales on a GDP per capita basis.

Only Japan and the United Kingdom rank ahead of Australia on the index, thanks in part to the huge popularity here of Winnie the Pooh, who appears on everything from children’s clothing to a kitchen toaster.

Globally, however, the real Disney behemoth is Mickey Mouse.

He’s the corporate symbol and the source of a staggering $7.4 billion in revenue last financial year, despite having barely appeared on screen since the 1950s.

Mickey, who recently turned 75, has enjoyed a resurgence, a phenomenon Mooney ascribes to the popularity of kitsch and the appetite for symbols of innocence in a violent world.

“It comments on a generation looking back with fondness, as well as the desire to connect with something positive,” he says.