The sometimes gruff welcome that the United States extends to its overseas visitors nowadays, made much worse by the newly rigorous visa and security restrictions imposed since the terrorist attacks of 2001, got a make-over yesterday courtesy of it best-known ambassador of jollity and joy, Mickey Mouse.
From now on, the nerves of international passengers queuing up at passport control at airports in Washington DC and Houston will be soothed – or otherwise – by a sappy seven-minute film made by the folks at Walt Disney showcasing all that is wonderful, scenic and nice about the land of the free.
It will be shown in the international arrivals halls of all major US airports as well as in visa-processing offices around the world. Major airlines will also be encouraged to show it on aircraft shortly before landing in the US.
While the no-dialogue video is packed with clichés of Uncle Sam – such as the inevitable shots of the Statue of Liberty, the Grand Canyon and Golden Gate Bridge – travellers who consider themselves allergic to all things Disney should not necessarily despair. Mickey and his gurgling-grating laugh are not featured in the film and Disney even resisted the temptation to use it as a vehicle to promote itself and its theme parks.
The idea for it was Disney's, however, stemming from the widely held perception that the US has become less hospitable to foreign tourists since 9/11 and statistics showing the US winning a declining share of overseas tourism. It deployed Frederico Tio, a veteran of Disney films such as Finding Nemo, to make the short film and then donated it to the US government free of charge.
The reviews are not yet in but Karen Hughes, a former adviser to President George Bush whose current job is to sell the US to a world that in recent years has become a lot less fond of it, seems delighted, asserting that the film will help in "creating a warm first impression, and first impressions are important".
It is not the first time that Mickey's pixie dust has been sprinkled on the flying public in America. Last month, Miami international airport revealed that in an attempt to improve customer service, it was sending all of its employees to the Disney Institute in Orlando for training in the art of the big smile and open hug.
"We thought it would be nice for people to be greeted by beautiful images that inspire them to explore America," Mr Tio said of his film. A Cuban immigrant himself who arrived in the US aged three, he focused not just on landmarks and landscapes but also on the country's ethnic diversity.
It was a project, he said, that took him and his assistants on an almost 15,000-mile trek through the US over 42 days. Characters featured in the final cut include an immigrant from Mexico tending to grapes in the Napa Valley, a former "lost boy" from Sudan brought to the US as a child and a Midwestern farmer.