Devin Toohey

(University of Southern California)

It’s a Cute Old-World After All: the Kawaii Renaissance of Tokyo DisneySea


While cuteness in the Renaissance is a much more debatable concept, the cuteness of the Renaissance is far more tangible.  The poofy-frilly ruff-collars, the overly fancy manner of speaking, the quaintness of the Petrarchan narrative that at times stands in for 300 years of literature: all of these are indisputably adorable, and yet also – almost paradoxically – still summon up images of refinedness.  The pop culture of yesteryear is the high culture of today, yet somehow remains not fully digested.  Aspects of it remain in our “low” culture, not merely through adaptations, but through representations of the early modern period.  And, those representations are often cute.  I will look at some of the décor from the Tokyo DisneySea theme park, particularly the Mediterranean Harbor area, which reimagines the art and culture of the Renaissance through the lens of kawaii Disney characters.  Mickey and Minnie Mouse dress in early modern fashion in paintings inside a shop, and a statue of Donald Duck beseeches a balcony-occupying Daisy for love.  Tins of cookies and other sweets are even available at the Merchant of Venice Confections, proving even a “pound of flesh” and old-fashioned anti-Semitism can become cute with age, distance, and pixie-dust.  In my presentation, I will consider what drives us to rewrite the past as cute.  A celebration of Western culture seems like the obvious root at first, but that hypothesis is exactly what makes Tokyo DisneySea – a hybrid of east and west, the pinnacle of globalization and something that could only be in Japan – such a perfect place to investigate other possibilities.

(1)  Daisy as Petrarch’s Laura

Daisy as Petrarch's Laura

(2)  Petrarchan Donald

Petrarchan Donald

(3)  Early Modern Donald & Daisy

Early Modern Donald & Daisy

(4)  Early Modern Mickey & Minnie

Early Modern Mickey & Minnie