Are you a fan of little plastic collectible figures, gambling and went to the Disney Parks in the late 2000’s and early 2010’s? If you fit that VERY specific description, Disney Theme Park Merchandise and Disney Store has the product for you! Back in a simpler time, Disney introduced the world to Vinylmation. Little plastic figures of Mickey Mouse designed to represent different things like theme park attractions, characters outside Mickey, characters that are Mickey, holidays, whatever half of the Disney Store releases were at the end of the line (we’ll get to that later), and anything Disney could possibly put on a vinyl Mickey figure that ranged from 1.5 to 9 inches. To this date there were more than 500 different Vinylmation figures officially released by Disney. So the big question remains, why do you not see a major release for these anymore?
Vinylmation was released in November of 2008 with the release of Park Series 1. It had a collection of 11 great designed common figures and the first and the most valuable of all the Chasers (figures that you have a 1/24 chance of getting), the Red Mickey Balloon. It was great! People loved it and Disney made more sets of Park and introduced new lines like Holiday, Urban, Animation, Muppets. If there was a property, Disney made a figure of it. And even if there wasn’t a property, Disney still made it. Want a steampunk version of Mickey? No, too bad, Disney made it. Want to see animals as superheroes? No, they made it. Like billiards and wanted Mickey shaped billiard balls? Guess what they made?
By 2012, Disney started to really increase production and generated more variety of sets, had boxes to trade duplicate Vinylmations in every shop, came out with multiple sets in a month and made a new Mickey mold that had a flatter face and allowed for greater amounts of detail in the designs. Sets that used this new mold that became some of the hardest sets to complete because they kept selling out included Haunted Mansion 1 and 2, Marvel 1 and Gravity Falls. However these are the outliers as at this point, most Vinylmation was relegated to ending up in the outlet stores. So the question remains with Vinylmation: how did something that made Disney so much money tank so hard? Well here is what I think/know.
1. Over Saturation
This should come as no big surprise, but when you release a collectible series, it is best let people be able to breathe and recoup some money before telling them, “Go buy this other new set.” There were months where there were 5 new set releases with 3 other single figure sets. And these figures ranged in price from $10 to $15 depending on the franchise or if it was limited edition. Disney simply flooded the market with sets that had maybe one or four figures that everyone wanted and the rest of them were flooded into trading boxes. That was until…
2. The Removal of Trading Boxes
One of the big selling points of Vinylmation was trading in park to swap out figures that you already had or did not want for a chance to get something else. Now sometimes there would be a chaser or variant in these trade boxes (usually put in there by a kid who didn’t like/know what they had). But most of the time there were the same 5 figures in every box. I once physically saw a woman who wanted to trade and when she saw the figures she randomly got from the trade box complained, “There is never anything good in there,” and the figure she was going to trade was one that she chose from the trading box. So the trade boxes usually had the same few figures in them at all times that no one wanted and it took time from cast members to trade. And unlike pin trading where you can see the pin and make a quick decision, most people aren’t going to be quick to decide with a random box of numbers. More time taken away from the cast members to help out other guests. It was only a matter of time before they went away.
3. Ugly/Unwanted Figures
Tying into reason one, most of the figures released late in the lifespan were horrible and no one wanted them. And the biggest offender in this was the Disney Store. Below is a list of some Disney Store sets that made no sense to make:
- Extreme Wrestlers
- Zooper Heroes
- High School
- Nursery Rhymes
- Non Descriptive Robots that came with mismatched pieces and you had to find other robots that had the matching pieces
All of these figures as well as some of the once popular sets were running out of ideas in what to put in as a figure (see Park series 6 using a lifeboat from Disney Cruise Line as a figure)
4. The Fanbase/Scalpers
So this is usually the number one killer of any collectible, the fanbase and scalpers. Both sets are guilty of buying multiples of the same item with the idea or using it for trade later on or selling it at an inflated price later on. Even if the item wasn’t good, it was Vinylmation so it was going to sell out. So this chain of events gave way to Disney seeing these buying trends and assuming that they were going to sell out every time no matter how insane the figure. But when scalpers buy things and they can’t sell them on eBay, they will return them and eventually stop buying. Which is what happened.
5. Return on Investment and Stocking Space
With slumping sales, mediocre sets and an over saturation in how much was being produced compared to what was sold, the return on investment for this line was not meeting the goals. There is a lot that went into making the figures from a design and production stand point. Compare it to something like trading pins which are cheap to make but sell fairly quickly and take up virtually no room in a stockroom, the ROI on them is amazingly great. Whereas Vinylmation takes up a lot of room in the stockroom and on a shelf and costs more to make compared to what it was selling for. But there was an even bigger factor in:
6. The Rise of Funko and Fall of Blind Boxes
This was the trend that marked the death of Vinylmation and most blind box collectible as a whole (though it does still exist to a certain extent but not as prevelent). In the 2010’s, here comes a brand new collectible figure line called Funko Pops! that specializes in creating plastic figures of pop culture icons and characters with their own signature design, the piercing black eyes. And what if I told you that they were cheaper to buy than most other blind box trading collectible, was bigger and you knew exactly what you were getting. We you, like most other people did, switched over from blind boxes and Vinylmation over to Funko. The line also had Disney characters to start with after DC characters. So Disney was competing with another company and the other guy was better at selling a plastic Mickey figure than Disney. Sure Vinylmation was more detailed, but Funko had the appeal of being cheaper and more widely accessible by being sold anywhere. Though some of the trends from Vinylmation are being repeated by Funko, so we’ll see how long they last.
Disney could not compete and slowly started reducing the amount of Vinylmation sets released each year. Disney would also try to use the Park Starz line, breaking the Vinylmation mold and having highly designed characters not in the Mickey mold and being sold in tins. And while these sets did sell, it could not save the line. And the last set, The Last Jedi, came out with the movie with no fan fare.
Vinylmation was an interesting experiment for Disney merchandise. It tried to combine the trading and collectible nature of Pin Trading with the thrill of not knowing what you would get. In the end, it boiled down to over saturation, lack luster sets and a change in the collectible market place that ultimately lead to the end of Vinylmation. You can go on eBay and still find some Vinylmations that were expensive but now go for a few dollars. It was fun while it lasted, but the Vinylmation hunt is over. And now we can continue to complain about people buying too many Funkos instead of too many Vinylmations.