Disney Interactive is making a move into sponsored content. They recently launched It’s a Small World: The Animated Series, an eight-episode group of Web shorts that is sponsored by language instruction company Rosetta Stone and their new children’s app Lingo Word Builder. To date the episodes have been presented on Disney.com, Disney’s YouTube channels, and across Disney’s connected TV apps.
“At Disney Interactive, we’re constantly looking for new ways to bring fans closer to the Disney characters and stories they love,” said Mark Walker, senior vice-president of Disney Interactive Entertainment. “With It’s A Small World: The Animated Series, we’re leveraging the interactive medium to bring a classic Disney experience to life for a whole new generation. Rosetta Stone is an excellent partner for us as we share a common goal to inspire children by producing compelling experiences on digital platforms.”
The sponsored content model has gained a lot of attention in online advertising over the past couple years, but it is hardly revolutionary for animation. In the 1950s and ’60s, the majority of animated TV characters like The Flintstones, Alvin and the Chipmunks, and Rocky & Bullwinkle were sponsored by corporate brands, and brand mascots would often be animated alongside the main cartoon stars. One of the biggest proponents of reviving the direct sponsorship model on the Internet was Ren & Stimpy creator John Kricfalusi who started pushing the idea as far back as the mid-1990s. It’s amusing to see Kricfalusi’s ideas followed to a tee nearly twenty years after the fact—and by Disney no less.
Besides the six internationally-flavored language-loving children who star in It’s a Small World, there’s also some unintentional branding going on, notably a hot air balloon that resembles Mr. Pringle and a bird who looks like Twitter’s corporate logo. Classic Disney characters also pop up in some of the episodes. Austin, Texas-based Powerhouse Animation handled production duties on the series. The shorts also feature original music by Richard Sherman, who was the co-composer of the ride’s original song “It’s a small world (after all)” that debuted at the 1964 New York World’s Fair.
Disney produced one episode explicity themed around its sponsor’s Rosetta Stone name, which can be seen below: