Saturday, 5 March 2011

The Mechanical Kingdom at Sci-Fi Academy

Originally Posted on August 14, 2010

This past week, the official Disney Parks blog released photos from phase two of The Mechanical Kingdom. You may recall The Mechanical Kingdom and the minor conniption that occurred around it, which I discussed back in March. Apparently, despite the kvetching of Steampunks, the line of pins was popular enough to enjoy a return engagement at the 2011 Disney Pin Trading summer event.

The theme of the 2011 summer pin trading event at Disneyland has been announced as Sci-Fi Academy. The premise, adorned with some flashy futuristic-looking advertising, is that Mickey has been off collecting relics from the Science Fiction stories of the 19th century, Atomic Age, and the early days of computing up to today. The graphic representing the Victorian Era is a helmet from 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.

That would heartening except that, instead of actually focusing on Scientific Romances, it seems that they'll just be running with The Mechanical Kingdom. My biggest critique of the franchise when it was first conceived was,
When Disney is serious about doing a Scientific Romance, it's usually much prettier and more visually interesting than most of what passes for Steampunk aesthetics. The complainers could actually learn a thing or two from Disney... I guess the outcome of caring neither for the Victorian Era nor Science Fiction is this drab set of sepia-toned repetitions of Cyberpunk fashion. The Fab Five have definitely stooped to get the look down perfectly.

Mickey in brass goggles is entertaining enough, if for no other reason than his capacity to frustrate people who think that being Steampunk makes them alternative and cool. It is poor compensation, however, when they could have gone with the wide array of Disney's own genuine Scientific Romances. This is especially true with their adaptation of John Carter of Mars only two years away. A pin set of Disney's Sci-Fi vehicles - from the Nautilus and Hyperion to the Moonliner and Space Station X-1 to the Lightcycle and Recognizer - would be kind of fun. Nevertheless, the first concept art from Mike Sullivan has been released, pulling Chip and Dale into the lot.

For those not satisfied with only one form of Steampunk'd Disney collectible, there is something else to collect dust on your shelf alongside Beanie Babies and Pogs. Vinylmation is the latest fad stoked by Disney Trading's marketeers, consisting of blank figurines of Mickey Mouse printed up with various assorted designs. Considering that the entirety of Steampunk art is just painting things brass, this union is hideously appropriate. Vinylmation and Steampunk: two sucks that suck harder together.

God, it's just a lump of plastic with gears painted on it...

If you're really into it, you can even wear your love of Steampunk Vinylmation on your sleeve. The t-shirt is on sale at for $8.99US.

Update March 5, 2011

Tickets for the Sci-Fi Academy event went on sale on March 1st, and the announcement on Disney's official pin-trading site includes a link to the merchandise catalogue. For Mechanical Kingdom hounds, there is the set whose concept art is seen above, as well as a $100 statue of Steampunk Mickey with a bonus pin. There is also a neat set for the "Astro-Orbitor Through the Years" (which I could conceivably want since it fits my quasi-collection of pins to do with Disney's Vernian rides, but not to the tune of $45). Click here to see the listing.

Mechanical Kingdom pin set.

Mickey statue.


Marc Bridgham said...

I'm totally with you regarding what Disney COULD have done with the vintage or authentic "steampunk" vibe. Love the idea of pin sets of the vehicles. must admit to being worried about the design of JOhn Carter movie in this day and age but I'll keep my fingers crossed.

I don't know if the Vernesque version of Tomorrowland was popular but I loved it as a version of Steampunk before such a thing existed.

Seems to me we need a new name for this genre, eh?

Cory Gross said...

I manage to be pretty judicious with my terminology. My general preference is to use the authentic, obsolete language of the time, so I'll call them "Scientific Romances" instead of "Steampunk" or "Scientifiction" (a term invented by Hugo Gernsback) instead the laughable "Dieselpunk". I'm also not adverse to using the language found in actual literary criticism, so I'll use "Planetary Romance", "Imperial Romance" and "Edisonade" for their relevant genres. For modern stuff, I've been finding myself just using straight-up "Victorian Science Fiction" or VSF more and more lately.

When I make reference to "Steampunk", I am talking specifically of the current culture fad, it's costuming and the fiction derivative of its costuming. So when I speak of The Mechanical Kingdom being Steampunk as opposed to Disney's Scientific Romances, I mean exactly that it is Mickey and co. wearing identifiably Steampunk costumes as the whole content of the franchise. I guess there's a story attached to it, but like the rest of Steampunk, the "story" is a vehicle for the fashion. Had they gone the other route, I imagine it would have drawn more inspiration from the Scientific Romances that Disney has done and the "Mictorian" style suffusing much of Disney's aesthetics. And would have looked neater.

Unfortunately the 1998 makeover of Tomorrowland wasn't very popular. The most cogent reason I heard from a friend was that it's a cool look but just didn't fit for California. Paris yes, but not the Atomic Age Googie style of California. I never got to see it in its full glory firsthand, but I do have some thoughts about what I liked about the pictures I saw. I'll be drafting up that argument for next year's Disney theme month ^_^

Trading Pins said...

Any way we can see some pictures of the traindg pins? I'd love to see what you have!

Okie said...

So cool...I love the steampunk/sci-fi Disney stuff. Not all of it, but a lot of it is so much fun in a "I must have it" sort of way. :)

Okie said...

And I'm all for the interesting debate on the genre name but I feel far too underqualified to take part in the debate, so I'll just call them steampunk for now because that works for me. ;)

Thanks for keeping us abreast of these cool advances in sci-fi lovin' from Disney and others. :)