To open with a philosophical topic, I give you a statement which appeared in the first issue of Steampunk Magazine, the Catastrophone Orchestra and Arts Collective:
Steampunk is a re-envisioning of the past with the hypertechnological perceptions of the present. Unfortunately, most so-called “steampunk” is simply dressed-up, recreationary nostalgia: the stifling tea-rooms of Victorian imperialists and faded maps of colonial hubris. This kind of sepia-toned yesteryear is more appropriate for Disney and suburban grandparents than it is for a vibrant and viable philosophy or culture.
Though the statement was most likely intended to be derogatory, it was visionary indeed, for this concept has now come to pass. I give you The Mechanical Kingdom, a collection of steampunk-ized Disney merchandise to entice collectors from a whole new market. (Or is that Disney-ized steampunk?)
Five limited-edition (2,500 made first-run) steampunked Disney character pins are now on sale at USA Disney World parks. There is also an available book that the creators penned to introduce people to what steampunk is, or rather explains the Disney version of it. “The Mechanical Kingdom” pin set was released in April 2010 at Walt Disney World and Disneyland Resort, and supposedly costs $195. The next steampunk pin set will be released at the Sci-Fi Academy event at Disneyland Resort in Summer 2011.
The Vinylmation Steampunk pocket watch will be packaged with a 3-inch figure that was inspired by the watch. The watch and figure combination will have an limited edition run of 750 and is scheduled for release in California and Florida in December 2010.
The above image shows prototype figures from the upcoming limited edition "Vinylmation Steampunk" set created by Disney Design Group Artist Mike Sullivan. This set will contain six figures and will be released in early 2011.
Some people say that these plastic items show that Disney does not care for either the Victorian Era or science fiction, but just wants to make some bucks. This may be true, but I would like to point out that over the years, Disney has included steampunk themes in their parks (20,000 Leagues Under the Sea exhibit and Wild West-themed Frontierland at Disneyland) and many of their movies have embraced the steampunk genre long before it became "popular" (Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, The Island at the Top of the World, Atlantis, and more). Disneyland Paris itself is a veritable pantheon of Vernian attractions, rides, and exhibits with a "what if" scientific bent. They have done more to bring steampunk to the masses than any other individual organization that I can name, even if they do make a killing doing so. Besides, there isn't exactly a local store where collectors can go to buy items that were really made in the Victorian era (in most places). Real remnants of the period are pretty rare. (That sounds like a topic for a future post... hmm.)
So, as ever, it comes down to what you enjoy. If little plastic figurines make you happy, then snap them up! If ya do not like them, then don't. Either way, Disney's efforts may benefit steampunk; the more people who learn of it, the longer we will all get to enjoy its' presence and influence. I hope you enjoy seeing these collectibles. Send pics if you buy one and modify it to make it more steampunk. *grin*