Disney in North Korea?

By Kathryn Sommers

Actors garbed in Disney character suits performed for new North Korean leader Kim Jong Un on Friday.  The unprecedented, albeit unauthorized, performance of Western characters has led to much discussion by the press. Is this a sign of loosening tensions in U.S.-North Korean relations or, rather, part of the new leader’s attempt to build a people-friendly image in the media?

The performance included Winnie the Pooh, Tigger, and Minnie Mouse dancing around on a stage back-dropped with screens flashing scenes from classic Disney movies such as SNOW WHITE, DUMBO, and BEAUTY AND THE BEAST.  The performance marks the first showing of Western characters in North Korea.  The performance was also shown on state television.

Though North Korea had been exposed to many Disney characters on school supplies imported from China and from various Disney storybooks translated to Korean, the partly televised performance marks the first government showcase of American characters and ideas.  The performance marked another first by introducing a new wardrobe of costuming, including strapless gowns and “little black dresses” (Portland Press Herald).

Kim Jung Un does have a “grandiose plan to bring about a dramatic turn in the field of literature and arts this year” (TIME). But it is as of yet unclear whether the revival of the arts will spark a turn away from communist regime, or remain tightly in the control of state censorship, as in present-day China. Equally uncertain is whether Kim Jung Un’s policies will result in real changes for the long-oppressed people of North Korea or are part of an appearance-only shift to garner support in the Western media and mask ongoing state control.

Recent media has shown Kim in an unbuttoned tunic with a white vest underneath, a much more relaxed picture than his stately and formal father.  Kim has also gone into towns and investigated the upkeep of roads and gardens, even chastising officials for having “below-zero spirit of serving the people” (BBC). Whether this is part of a public image campaign or expresses a real shift in North Korean internal and foreign policy is yet to be determined.

The fact remains that the Disney performance constitutes a state-mandated copyright violation, as the performance was unauthorized by the Walt Disney Company.

  • Source:  The Portland Press Herald, BBC News, NPR, TIME, 7/9/12.