Written by Joe Lane
Published: July 8, 2005 at 5:18 PM
In May 2003, Disney Imagineering introduced Pal Mickey to the Walt Disney World Resort. The 10 1/2-inch plush Mickey Mouse was created to serve as a sort of personal tour guide and a source of entertainment for the kids. But does the mouse do its job well? Is it really worth your time (and more importantly, your money)?
Sometimes, the only way for writers to find out about something like Pal Mickey is to shell out the cash and see for themselves, first hand, what the average Guest will experience.
I purchased my Pal Mickey earlier this year, just in time for "The Happiest Celebration On Earth." To mark the occasion, the latest incarnation of Pal Mickey is now dressed in a tuxedo. The original plush only sported the red shorts that Mickey has become famous for wearing.
Two years ago, Pal Mickey was available on a rental basis of about $8 per day, with a $60 deposit/purchase price. Since then, the rental option has been phased out and the price for a brand new Pal Mickey has jumped up to $65 dollars. Along with the tux, the new version comes with a few new games, new songs, and speaks louder than before.
Pal Mickey also comes with an entirely useless lanyard and a belt clip that has been reworked since the original clip design failed to keep Mickey properly attached. You can't say Disney isn't trying to improve their products.
On one level, Pal Mickey is a toy for the kids. By squeezing his hands or tummy, Mickey can tells jokes, sings songs or play games--remarkable entertainment value while waiting in the queue or for a show to begin.
But unlike similar interactive toys, Pal Mickey is designed to help guide Guests around Disney parks. Using wireless technology, Pal Mickey picks up signals from infrared transmitters placed all over the Walt Disney World Resort. He then shakes and laughs, indicating he has something to say, and when the owner squeezes Mickey's hand, the mouse then proceeds to talk about a particular attraction or show, parade times or Disney trivia.
That might sound cool to you, and it is--when it works right. There are times where you'll spend hours walking the parks, not hearing Mickey say anything at all. When he does say something, it's usually relevant information, unless he wants to tell you a joke or just say how much fun he's having.
Pal Mickey, continues to play games and tell jokes long after you leave the resort and take him home. Whenever you return to the parks, Mickey is designed to automatically update with all the new information, so you'll never hear any old news.
For all the usefulness, Pal Mickey has his shortcomings. If you need specific information on a show time or character meet-and-greet location, such information is usually volunteered by Mickey. You can't just ask him where to find your favorite Disney character, nor can you get the wait time for a specific attraction. You merely have to be in the right place at the right time to pick up the signal. It's one-way communication, and it's not always helpful.
Sometimes, what Mickey has to say is completely incorrect. During the start of our day at Disney-MGM Studios, my Pal Mickey told me the Disney Stars and Motor Cars parade was starting in about an hour when, in fact, the parade was five hours away!
But the talking plush is not without its special touches. Upon leaving Muppet*Vision 3-D, Mickey shook and laughed, then commented on how the Muppets sure knew how to "bring down the house." It's part of the good, old fashioned Disney magic. You're not just carrying around some plush doll with some sophisticated radio technology--Mickey Mouse was sitting in that theater with you watching the show. He sometimes comments after riding other attractions. Sometimes he won't.
Then there are times when Mickey will activate just to tell you how much he loves being your friend. I know, I know, I hear you all laughing, but when you get through the kitchiness of it all, it's an awfully cute way to make a young child's day to know that a toy they love loves them back.
… seriously, guys, stop laughing.
Mickey is also quick to note that water is his natural enemy, and too be sure to keep him dry on water rides like Kali River Rapids or to stay away from the water play areas found throughout the parks.
There are hidden benefits for Disney, something that has been discussed on TPI before. A computer mainframe at WDW picks up each transmission from each Pal Mickey to derive traffic patterns of Guests at Disney parks.
It's no surprise that people may be a little unnerved that they could theoretically be tracked by their Pal Mickey. It also coincides with Destination Disney, the customer tracking device/Guest personalization experience that has been in the works for three years now. For some paranoid individuals, it's an invasion of privacy. A type of Big Brother, or Big Mickey, as it were.
So should you buy a Pal Mickey on your next trip to WDW? That depends on whether you've got a young child you feel will appreciate the simple games and songs. Mickey's park trivia isn't as extensive as that of the trivia given on official park tours, so as a cheap tour guide, Pal Mickey doesn't quite fit the bill.
In the end, Pal Mickey is a fun novelty toy, with his buyers solely the parents of eager children, Disneyana fans and independent journalists that Disney PR refuses to cooperate with.
For more in depth information on the things Pal Mickey talks about, check out the official Pal Mickey page on the Disney website.