June 22, 2014

Disney and Mattel: Highly Similar Fairy Tale Franchises for Tweens, By Nora Stasio, Fairy Tale News Reporter

t's not a new thing--other companies try to "out-Disney" Disney all the time. You can't go to the kids' section of any department store without finding dozens of knock-off Disney princess toys. Scroll  around on Netflix, or hit up the DVD rack at an electronics shop, and you'll see a number of films that resemble Disney classics, but have a cleverly-almost-the-same-but-slightly-different title. Such products are usually just different enough to avoid copyright infringement, and most of them are not the best quality, so Disney doesn't seem to get upset about it. Why should they? They're rich enough to buy out any and all of those copycat companies, if they really wanted to.
But I've encountered something recently that I find quite interesting. Could it be possible that the "Great and Powerful" Walt Disney Company decided to co-opt an idea for a franchise that Mattel already came up with?
Let me make my case here.
"Ever After High" is Mattel's line of fairy-tale-themed dolls and toys which also has a cartoon web-series and a number of books to go along with it. If you haven't seen these dolls yet, I'll admit, I think their designs are quite beautiful. The web series.... is just okay, in my opinion. The plot lines and scripts could be a lot better, but of course, the show is aimed at a tween audience, and not someone like me.
The premise is pretty clever, albeit a bit confusing. All of the characters in the series are supposed to represent the offspring, daughters as well as sons, of the most well-known fairy tale characters. Here's a summary from the official wikia:
"Once upon a High School, in a land beyond imagination, comes the tale of Ever After High. Where spellbinding students are destined (or not) to follow in the footsteps of their fairy tale parents. Ever After High is a high school that prepares the teenage children of fairy tale figures for the day they'll take their parents' place and keep their stories alive.
But one student, Raven Queen, does not want to follow in her mother's villainous path. What if she wants to choose her own Happily Ever After, and how will it affect other students' destinies, like the Royal leader Apple White?"
So basically, the offspring of these famous heroes and heroines are destined to relive their parent's stories, and by doing so, these stories remain, "alive" somehow. But if a student decides she doesn't like where her parent's destiny went, she can go "rebel," and attempt to write her own ending to a new story. However, doing so could cause the "death" of the original story, which has important consequences, which I must say, I don't really understand. It seems a sort of vague and loose concept, but an interesting one.
So, what does all of this have to do with Disney? Here's the synopsis for Disney Channel's upcoming made-for-TV film, Descendants:
"In a present day idyllic kingdom, the benevolent teen-aged son of the King and Queen (Beast and Belle from Disney’s iconic Beauty and the Beast) is poised to take the throne.  His first proclamation: offer a chance of redemption to the trouble-making offspring of Cruella De Vil, Maleficent, The Evil Queen and Jafar, who have been imprisoned on a forbidden island with all the other villains, sidekicks, evil step-mothers and step-sisters.
These villainous descendants are allowed into the kingdom to attend prep school alongside the offspring of iconic Disney heroes. However, the evil teens face a dilemma: Should they follow in their nefarious parents’ footsteps and help all the villains regain power or embrace their innate goodness and save the kingdom?"
Is it just me, or does that sound eerily similar to the premise of "Ever After High?"
So do you think this is a blatant copycat case, or merely a coincidence?
The "Ever After High" franchise debuted in 2013, and the Disney Channel film should be coming out in 2015. Both companies are aiming to appeal to tweens entering high school who have an interest in fairy tales. Maybe they just so happened to come up with the same concept..... at basically the same time? 
You be the judge. Is Disney possibly "ripping-off" Mattel's idea? If so, are you surprised? Would you have expected more from them? Weigh in with your comments below!
Bio: Nora writes, "I have been a lover of creative writing and fairy tales for basically my entire life! I recently graduated Cum Laude from Rutgers where I completed a minor in English, with a focus in Creative Writing and Shakespeare (I majored in Psychology)."

1 comment

  1. In this case, the two do sound awfully similar. However, as for the whole "fairy tale high school" trope, this is just the tip of the iceberg. The whole "special school" idea has always been a well of children's pop culture concepts (school for superheroes, school for monsters, school for wizards, etc). However, it's only recently that it's been turned toward fairy tales. In addition to "Descendants" and "Ever After High", there's also "Fairy Tale High", which is a doll line based on the idea of teenage fairy tale icons at a performing arts school. Then there's The School for Good and Evil, a book by Soman Chainani, which is actually rather good (I don't want to give anything away). Then there's a cartoon called "Teenage Fairy Tale Dropouts" about three misfit fairy tale descendants trying to make it through high school. Of all five of them, Ever After High, Descendants and The School for Good and Evil seem to have the strongest thematic and conceptual teeth.

    Anyway, as for the question, this isn't the first time Disney's copied anything. Disney is really good at reading trends and responding accordingly. Their animation rebirth owes a lot to cribbing the style of Andrew Lloyd Weber. Also, there's a reason that titles like "Enchanted", "Tangled" "Frozen" and "Brave" sound a lot like "Wicked". Descendants is just a case where Disney hasn't been as good at covering its tracks.