Disney Stuff - Vinylmations

by Chris Barry, contributing writer

Welcome back to Disney Stuff. There certainly seems to be a never-ending supply of Disney stuff to collect, accumulate and talk about. This time I’m going to talk about one of the latest rages sweeping the parks and the resorts. It’s something I wasn’t all that interested in when I first saw them. As a matter of fact I didn’t like them at all. A mere two years later and I’ll readily admit, I’ve jumped on the bandwagon, the Vinylmation bandwagon that is.

If you’ve been to a Disney park or resort in the last two years, you’ve no doubt seen these strange Mickey shaped figures displayed in plexiglass boxes in the gift shops. They come in a variety of styles and sizes and as many designs as you could possibly imagine with many more to come. They’ve become quite the sensation and are already a well established collectible on the second hand market.

Vinylmation has roots in a few places. Vinyl toys, sometimes referred to as designer toys, are a phenomenon out of Hong Kong spearheaded by artist Michael Lau in the late 90’s. Lau is an award-winning illustrator who turned his comic strip, Gardener, into a line of vinyl collectible toys and essentially fostered the medium of transferring graphic art onto vinyl action figures.

The other place that seems to serve as inspiration to Disney’s Vinylmation craze dates back to 2003. Most of you will remember the “Celebrate Mickey: 75 InspEARations” sculptures that toured the parks and North America in honor of Mickey’s 75th birthday. Disney commissioned celebrities, athletes and artists to use a 6-foot Mickey statue as their blank canvas. The results were quite impressive and after their cross-country tour the 75 Mickeys were auctioned off with proceeds for each individual piece going to a charity handpicked by its creator. Some of the designs were pretty straightforward like the one pictured below. Others were pretty out there and pushed the artistic limits and were very interesting.

The Mickey designed by Disney Legend and Davy Crockett star Fess Parker. Photo by Adrienne Vincent-Phoenix.

The idea of using a blank Mickey as a canvas must have stuck in someone’s head, because that’s essentially what Vinylmations are. Disney artists take a blank Mickey shaped vinyl toy and imprint them with their designs. They seem to be letting the artists be very free about the designs, especially in the Urban series. I would call some of the Urban designs unconventional, at the very least, especially by the usual Disney merchandise standards.

There are several series available now. Some have already been retired and more are on the way. The most common are Vinylmation Park, already up to series #4 with #5 soon to be released and the aforementioned Vinylmation Urban also waiting on series #5. There's been a Sports series as well as Cutesters, Holiday, Toy Story, Muppets, Animal Kingdom, and there’s a recent series called Big Eyes, which I find particularly bizarre. There has also been several special edition Vinylmations for events like the Epcot Flower and Garden Festival, the Walt Disney World marathon, anniversaries of attractions like the Haunted Mansion and Space Mountain, as well as exclusive Cast Member and Disney Passholder releases.

Most Vinylmations are packed in blind boxes, meaning you have no idea which one in the series you will get until you buy it and open it. Certain series are available in open boxes so there is no mystery involved. There is a collector card in each box which features a two dimensional representation of your figure and the artist’s name. Each series typically has 11 different figures and 1 surprise figure that is referred to as a “chaser.” These are the rare members of the series and are harder to come by. You can buy Vinylmations individually or Disney actually sells them in complete trays of 24 leaving plenty of extras. What will you do with all the extras, you say?

Following on the enormous popularity of Disney Pin Trading, Vinylmation trading is now available in many locations throughout the parks and resorts. If you see a small plexiglass case at the register of a gift shop with 3 Vinylmations figures in it, it means that the cast member at that station will trade with you.

A Vinylmation Trading station. Photo by Adrienne Vincent-Phoenix

There are also blank Vinylmations being sold. This enables the buyer to take their own path and create their own art on the blank figure canvas. One would think that this would mostly be a kid with a magic marker, but some of the custom Vinylmations out there on the Internet are truly amazing pieces of work. I've seen everything from Lilo and Stitch to The Teen Titans to The Dreamfinder to Garfield and Odie. There's even a Vinylmation Creation Station at D-Street in Downtown Disney. Here guests can buy their blank Vinylmation and get creative right there in the store.

There are currently three sizes of Vinylmation. The standard and most popular is the 3”. Certain series have 9” counterparts and there are 2 series of Vinylmation Jr.’s out there, which are 1.5" and double as key chains.

My kids have fell for them and I’ve begun to come around to them as well. Here are some of the Vinylmations that you’ll see around the Barry household. I've grouped them according to series. Some are mine. Some belong to the kids and my wife, though hesitant, has even gotten in on the action.

I don't go back as far as Park Series #1. We started after they were gone from the shelves.

Panda, Aquaramouse and Snow White's Adventure from Park Series #2. Photo by Chris Barry.

Toontown Trolley, Carousel and Animation from Park Series #3. Photo by Chris Barry.

Astro Orbiter, Disney Cruise Line Smokestack and Small World Leopard from Park Series #4. Photo by Chris Barry.

Sometimes the Urban series is just a little weird for us, but my daughter took a chance on Series 3 and really likes this dragon, which, for the Urban Series is pretty tame.

Little Dragon and his collector card from Urban Series #3. Photo by Chris Barry.

She also gave the Holiday Series a shot.

Easter Egg Bunny from Holiday Series #1. Photo by Chris Barry.

We brought this back for my daughter from our adult only trip last spring. I thought the tin was a nice touch.

Flower and Garden from the Event Series. Photo by Chris Barry.

There's a Walt Disney World Marathon somewhere in my wife's future, so I found a marathon Vinylmation on Disneyshopping.com.

WDW Marathon 2010 from the Event Series. Photo by Chris Barry.

Here's a handful of the Vinylmation Jr. Series #2 figures with their keychains off. My kids flipped for these on our trip last month.

A few of the Vinylmation Jr.'s.Photo by Chris Barry.

My daughter and I have bought several of the Vinylmation pins. They come in surprise packs, and we've scored some good ones over the last few trips.

A selection of Vinylmation pins. Photo by Chris Barry.

Like I said, at first I wasn't all that gung ho on these strange little figures. As I dug into them a little more, I realized that there was something cool about them. Much like Disney Pins, they are able to pay tribute to some of the lesser known characters and park icons. For example, it would be hard to find anything in a Disney park gift shop from The Black Cauldron, wouldn't it? Yet, there was a limited edition Black Cauldron Vinylmation set released this summer to celebrate the film's 25th anniversary. When I scratched the surface I realized that there were some serious Disney fans behind the scenes at Vinylmation and I can appreciate their choices. The Have a Laugh Series pays tribute to classic Disney shorts like Lonesome Ghosts and Mickey and the Seal. Mr. Toad was recently released as an Annual Passholder exclusive and the "chaser" in Park Series #4 was Colonel Critchlow Suchbench from the now defunct Adventurer's Club on Pleasure Island. A true Walt Disney World fan chose that one.

The Urban Series has gradually grown on me as well, more so because of the interesting art that has found its way onto some of the figures. It's untraditional and in some cases, very un-Disney, but I like the freedom that the artists seem to be given to express themselves. Give an artist a blank canvas, even one shaped like a small mouse, and the imagination kicks in. The future looks bright for Vinylmation. Expect to see a Star Wars series, as well as The Haunted Mansion, The Nightmare Before Christmas and continuations of the popular Park, Urban and Muppet series. I'm sure there will be some surprises thrown in there also.

Back in June, MousePlanet's own podcast, the MouseStation, had Steven Miller, Manager of Disney Trading as their guest and he spoke enthusiastically about Vinylmation ("Vinylmation? What's that?", June 10, 2010). Check it out if you're interested in hearing more about Vinylmation straight from the mouse's mouth.

For someone who finds themselves in a Disney park as often as I seem to, it's actually a refreshing thing to see something really different and unexpected on the shelves. Thanks Vinylmation, I really needed something else to collect.

Let me hear your thoughts on Vinylmation. Have you bought into it? Are you resisting? Has your significant other warned you not to start yet another collection? As always, I can't wait to hear your responses.

Thanks for reading and I'll see you next time with more of that great Disney Stuff.