Hey Disneyland, Where is the API Character Merch?

Originally published on September 15, 2016

I was in Disneyland a week ago, just for a mini getaway. It was very convenient timing, as it was just after the 60th anniversary celebration officially ended, their Halloween decorations were just going up, and it was just after Labor Day.

Generally speaking I had a fun time. I went on a lot of rides, I ate some good food, and I bought some merch from the various shops around; in particular, the contagiously collectable Disney pins.

When looking for Disney merch, one is inclined to find anything from their favorite movies. For me, a few of my favorite movies include MULAN, LILO & STITCH, and BIG HERO 6; all of which are also the movies to have the only Asian/Pacific Islander characters in the Disney brand (not counting Pixar’s Russell from UP and Sanjay from SANJAY’S SUPER TEAM).

Honestly, it was a struggle to find anything from any of the three films, and looking back on the experience now, I’m wondering why that is the case.

Let’s begin with Mulan; the one who made “perform a heroic act” a way for a female character to become a Disney Princess. She’s certainly a favorite of mine, as she defies the odds as a woman for her time, becomes a kick-ass soldier, and saves her country.

Despite being branded as a Disney Princess, I rarely saw her on merchandise that had images of the other princesses. It made for a very bizarre appearance in instances like those. There were also no T-shirts, no phone cases, no lanyards, nothing of the sort with Mulan. As far as pins go, this is the only one I could find of her:

I find it odd that this is the only existing pin of her, especially since a) she never once wore that outfit in the movie and b) most of the movie is her dressed in a soldier’s uniform. How come there are no pins of her disguised as Ping?

On top of that, I saw a number of little girls dressed as the various Disney Princesses, and not once did I see one dressed as Mulan. I don’t know about anyone else, but just like her absence from images of the other princesses, there’s something off about that sight – something a little unsettling even.

Then there’s LILO & STITCH. Set on the Hawaiian island of Kauai, the movie tells of a young girl who adopts a runaway alien experiment, and how family extends beyond those who are related by blood.

Finding merch for the movie was a little easier, but it mainly came in the form of various ways of selling Stitch; in plush forms, lanyards, hats, etc. There was rarely anything with Lilo, for the only thing I found with her was as one of these two pins:

The same can go for BIG HERO 6 as well; Disney’s first animated adaptation of a Marvel comic, as a young robotics prodigy and his plushy healthcare companion create a team of tech-savvy superheroes. There was a lot of merch with Baymax featured (including a basket of Baymax plushes that, ironically, was nowhere in sight when I traveled to Disneyland last year). The only time I saw anything with Hiro was, again, a part of these companion pins of him and Baymax:

Look, I get that Stitch and Baymax are cute and cuddly in their own ways, and therefore make perfect candidates for merch. I also like the companion pins of Lilo and Stitch as well as Hiro and Baymax, for one without the other is like eating a peanut butter sandwich without the jelly. But the Disney company needs to understand that as the worldwide media brand it is, it has a responsibility to abide by, especially to the kids.

MULAN, LILO & STITCH, and BIG HERO 6 are the only Disney films to feature API characters, and so it’s very important to celebrate them by any means necessary. That’s why I want to see more merch with Mulan not just as a member of the Disney Princess club, but also as the great warrior she is seen as in the movie. I want to see something of Lilo that celebrates her unashamed individuality and lovable quirks. I hope to eventually see more products of Hiro that highlights him as the brilliant young robotics genius he is.

I’m wary of these observations, especially with Moana of the upcoming title film as the next character to join the Disney API character club. With a gradual shift in the diversity department underway in the media landscape, I hope to see merch of her not only as the movie nears its release, but also years after that.

Let’s see some improvements, Disneyland! In this instance, more is better!

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