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New Delhi: Walt Disney Co.’s most iconic cartoon character is set to turn 90, but it continues to delight children across generations and cultures.

In India, Walt Disney is celebrating big, starting next month. With retail sales of 1,000 crore and 30 million products sold last year, Mickey Mouse makes up nearly a third of the US conglomerate’s consumer products business in India and is its largest character franchise.

That explains why the celebrations are led by a merchandise campaign, with around 30 licensees that will bring out collections centred around the nine-decade commemoration.

“Mickey exists in all our verticals including television, gaming and touring productions, but its popularity is most visible in consumer products," said Abhishek Maheshwari, country head, Disney India. He added that Mickey is also the company’s mascot and is probably the only Disney character that spans every category and age segment.

For the 90-year celebration, apparel brands such as ONLY, Vero Moda and Jack & Jones, carmaker Volkswagen and retail firm DLF Brands will bring out special collections until 18 November, Mickey Mouse’s birthday.

Maheshwari explained that Disney’s licensing model is quite well-established, where the intellectual property rights of the character are owned by the company and it works to co-create the design with brands, which then take care of the manufacturing and distribution and give Disney a revenue share. Overall, the Mickey franchise has 75-plus licensees on board.

“We have a fantastic relationship with Disney, which is a brand that can’t go unnoticed. Further, Mickey is a brand that does well round the year and is as strong today as it was 50 years ago," said Timmy Sarna, managing director, DLF Brands, which opened its first two Disney & Me stores in India in the National Capital Region earlier this year. DLF will bring out a specialized range of clothing and toys to mark the 90-year celebration starting mid-November.

Celebrations also include a marketing initiative called “Stay Fit With Mickey", as part of which Disney has reached out to 3,000 schools in Delhi, Mumbai and Bengaluru, besides audiences on social media, with an originally composed song and video featuring celebrities and influencers advocating physical fitness.

Disney believes Mickey is a versatile character that cuts across gender and generations and brings families together in a way nothing else can. It’s also the biggest symbol of Walt Disney Co. and everything the studio does is with that in mind. “It’s quite amazing how much the character has endured given how much the world has changed since 1928. The character attributes that Mickey stands for are very universal—optimism, fun, laughter, family, those never go out of style—and I think that has been one consistent thing with Mickey," Maheshwari said.

When it comes to the content and product, he added that the character caters differently to different segments, the art form for kids’ products such as toys or stationery are out there, unlike the subtle silhouettes or motifs used for a Mickey sari brought out in collaboration with designer Satya Paul. The intent, however, like its other businesses including movies and TV, is to keep the character relevant to a young, local audience. Next on the cards is a project called Indie Mickey, as part of which Disney will collaborate with an undisclosed clothing brand to bring out a collection inspired by indigenous Indian craft styles, coupled with Mickey motifs.

“There is no entertainment company other than Disney built so strongly around consumer products with content fuelling that business," said Jiggy George, founder of brand management and licensing firm Dream Theatre Group. “The beauty of the Disney brand is that it feeds off a strong global halo in every local market."

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