LAKE BUENA VISTA — Johana Wynn spent more than $2,000 buying her first 200 Vinylmation figures, Walt Disney World’s latest contribution to the collectibles market.
“We don’t smoke or drink and our kids are grown up, so we’re entitled to one obsession,” explained the 41-year-old nurse from Okeechobee, whose devotion to everything Disney includes a 6-inch ankle tattoo of Ariel, the red-haired mermaid princess. “And Vinylmation figures are just so cute.”
Say hello to what the Mouse House thinks is the next big thing in its theme parks’ ever-expanding array of keepsakes. In less than two years, Vinylmation just topped one million units sold.
Each figure — priced at $10 for a 3-inch model, $40 for a 9-inch — comes molded in the identical silhouette of Mickey.
Then Disney artists deck him out in theme park icons or as characters ranging from Mr. Toad to Miss Piggy.
So far there are 315 models and at least that many more waiting to be hand-printed in batches of a few thousand each in Chinese factories.
Vinylmation is a clone of the Japanese monster and superhero vinyl figure craze popular among anime collectors since the early 1990s.
An Orlando core team of four artists designs new Vinylmation figures with help from handpicked freelancers.
Their work has spread to Disney resorts in Hong Kong, California, France and soon selected Disney Stores, including a new prototype that opens soon in Tampa’s International Plaza.
Disney merchants wanted more affordable art to lure the sticker-shocked into Disney World galleries, which are filled with commissioned Disney-themed art priced up to $16,000.
“We broadened the appeal of vinyl from 10- to 40-year-old males to all age groups,” said Donald Ferro, product development director.
For example, one of the first vinyl series called “girlie” internally within Disney debuted in pastels and characters targeted at women. Publicly, it’s called Cutester.
Disney has plowed the licensed products field for a long time. Walt Disney himself first licensed Mickey Mouse’s image for a writing paper tablet in 1929, a year after Steamboat Willie, his squeaky-voiced rodent’s first hit cartoon.
Since then Walt Disney Co.’s lineup ballooned into the world’s largest stable of licensed consumer products with sales of $27 billion in 2009, enough to provide the entertainment giant with $2.4 billion in royalty and related revenue.
Sales were flat during the recession, but perked up in the quarter that ended July 10 to 21 percent higher than the same quarter of 2007.