Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 1 October 2014

Mickey Mouse concert for new leader

North Korea's new Moranbong band and performers dressed as Disney characters perform in Pyongyang, North Korea (AP Photo/KRT)

Mickey Mouse and Winnie the Pooh took the stage in North Korea during a concert for new leader Kim Jong Un, in an unusual performance featuring Disney characters.

Performers dressed as Minnie Mouse, Tigger and others danced and pranced as footage from Snow White, Dumbo, Beauty and the Beast and other Disney movies played on a massive backdrop, according to still photos shown on state TV.

The inclusion of characters popular in the West - particularly from the United States, North Korea's war-time enemy - is a notable change in direction for performances in Pyongyang. Actors and actresses also showed off new wardrobes, including strapless gowns and little black dresses.

In recent years, performances such as the Arirang mass games featured performers dressed as pandas in homage to North Korean ally China.

This appears to be the first time Disney characters have been included in a major performance, though Winnie the Pooh and Mickey Mouse have been popular among children for several years. Backpacks, pencil cases and pyjamas imported from China often feature Disney characters, and stories such as Dumbo have been translated into Korean for North Korean schoolchildren. However, it is unusual to make such images a central part of a North Korean performance and to publicise it on state TV.

It was unclear whether the Disney characters were officially licensed. US sanctions prohibit the import of North Korean goods to the United States, but do not ban the sales of American consumer products in North Korea unless they involve officials or companies on the US Treasury Department's sanctions blacklist.

The performance was staged on Friday by the Moranbong band, which was making its debut after being assembled by Kim himself, the state-run Korean Central News Agency said.

Kim, who took power after his father, longtime leader Kim Jong Il, died in December, has a "grandiose plan to bring about a dramatic turn in the field of literature and arts this year," KCNA said.

The dispatch made no mention of Disney characters, but said the concert included the traditional folk tune Arirang as well as a number of upbeat foreign songs.

Featuring Disney characters signals that Kim may be seeking to carve out a different image than his father and grandfather by easing restrictions on Western culture, said Koh Yu-hwan, a North Korean studies professor based in Seoul, South Korea.

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