Over the last month, Disney’s wholesome family image has been attacked by opponents of under-age drinking.
The house of Mickey Mouse was planning to sell a French chardonnay through retail giant Costco to support the launch of its new cartoon feature film called Ratatouille.
But with Californian wine makers fermenting the discontent, the company has abandoned the marketing strategy.
The animated feature tells the story of a young rat named Remy, living within the walls of a famous Paris bistro, who wishes to become a chef, but is hindered by his family’s scepticism and the rat-despising staff and patrons. The California Wine Institute, a San Francisco trade group representing 950 wineries, complained to Disney because the Ratatouille label, with Remy holding a rat-sized glass of wine, appeared to violate the spirit of the code of advertising standards that all institute members must follow. The code bans the use of any advertising that might appeal to people below the legal drinking age by using photos of very young models or cartoon characters.
Nancy Light, an institute spokeswoman, told the LA Times that as well as being in touch with Disney the Institute voiced its concerns with the attorneys-general of various states.
That may explain why regulators at the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control said last week that they had opened an investigation into whether the Disney-Costco wine marketing program might have violated state liquor laws.
According to the LA Times report, Disney spokesman Gary Foster said, “We’ve been getting a trickle of inquiries and complaints.”
He accused the California Wine Institute of being relentless in trying to make this an issue because the wine chosen to carry the Ratatouille name was French.
“But the entire movie,” said Foster, “is based on a French restaurant and French food and wine.”
Foster said Disney cancelled the wine deal to avoid a possible internet-fuelled controversy about under-age drinking. Costco agreed with the withdrawal of the product.
Not that the withdrawal of the wine with its cuddly Disney style rat on the label will do much to limit under-age drinking.
According to an interesting survey of the drinking habits of young Americans, wine hardly rates as a source of alcohol.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) analysed 2005 Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS) data from Arkansas, Nebraska, New Mexico, and Wyoming and found wine was the least prevalent type of alcohol usually consumed in all four states, ranging from 1.6% in Arkansas and Wyoming to 3.1% in New Mexico.
The authors suggested several factors might play a role in students choosing liquor more than other types of alcoholic beverages. First, high school students have a high prevalence of binge drinking, which can lead to acute intoxication; liquor might facilitate this outcome because of the higher ethanol concentration.
Second, liquor can be combined with other beverages such as soft drinks, possibly making concealment easier and providing a flavour that is more acceptable to younger drinkers.
These same factors also might cause youths to unintentionally drink more alcohol and drink it in a shorter period, increasing the risk for alcohol-related effects (eg alcohol poisoning).