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Hey, Disney: Set Pogo Free!

Last week, we received a somewhat unexpected gift from Perth, Australia: Nick Bertke, a.k.a. Pogo, delivered two of his unique musical and video constructions, these ones based on Disney/Pixar’s original “Toy Story.” Pogo had hinted that a “Toy Story” track was on its way just as soon as it cleared the weeds at LegalLand; he never mentioned that he had produced twins.

If you’re as yet unfamiliar with Pogo or his music, here’s what you need to know: He assembles dreamy, hypnotic downbeat electronic dance tracks wholly from sampled sounds, many of which come from Disney and Pixar films, and he now has enough of those songs to assemble a full album — much to the chagrin of Disney’s legal department. As near as I can tell, Disney Legal exists largely for three reasons: to settle theme park-based lawsuits out of court, to answer the plagiarism lawsuits that hit Burbank several days a week, and to support and defend Disney’s increasingly creative attempts to rewrite copyright law.

Pogo’s last couple of mixes were actually commissioned by the Mouse to promote product (the DVD of “Up” and the theatrical release of “Toy Story 3″). What I don’t know is if Disney actually paid him anything, or if that legal department is currently clearing Pogo’s existing Disney tracks for proper release. As it now stands, the only way you can hear the songs listed below is in YouTube videos, or in low-quality MP3 downloads.

“Upular”based on “Up”
“Expialodocious”based on “Mary Poppins”
“Alice”based on “Alice in Wonderland” (1951)
“Buzzwing”based on “Toy Story”

There are three additional mixes based on “Alice,” plus tracks based on “The Sword in the Stone” and non-Disney family films like “The King and I,” “Willy Wonka and The Chocolate Factory” and “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.” You can download many of them here.

I would dearly love to have Pogo’s Disney-based tracks on a properly-mastered CD (or even better, on an LP — or in lossless downloads), but I’m fearful that it won’t happen. Disney only seems to know that Pogo is good because many, many YouTube users have told them so. If Disney actually understood the vagaries of the Internet, their Virtual Magic Kingdom would still be online and Go.com would never have happened.

Both parties stand to reap enormous benefits from these songs if they’re properly released. Disney can throw a line to an audience segment that’s too old to dress up like princesses and too young to feel the nostalgia that encourages spending. Pogo could put a fitting cap on this stage of his creative growth and move on. (He’s beginning to show an interest in remixing “the real world,” as he recently did, to astonishing effect, with his mother and her “Gardyn”). And I’d be able to hear “Expialodocious” and “Toyz Noize” as the artist would probably like for them to be heard — at a sound quality that allows every bass sound to find its own level and every melodic syllable to roll off the ear naturally, without distortion.

So, if you’re out there, Disney Legal — and yours is probably the only division of the company that can actually admit to reading blogs without getting sued for lifting ideas, so howdy-do — I’d like for one of you to pass this wish list along to Robert Iger or one of his lieutenants just as soon as they get out of court:

Kindly give Nick “Pogo” Bertke whatever the hell he needs to make a full album of Disney/Pixar dance tracks, including but not limited to access to original audio masters and a bucketload of advance monies.

Please put yourselves — your resources, your legal will, your patience — in the service of the artist, and not vice-versa. I know you’re not accustomed to doing that; how else do you explain “Chicken Little?” Pogo has proven that he can create goodwill around your brand without your help; just imagine what he could do if he had it.

Admittedly, you’re getting better at this. In a recent blog entry, Pogo admitted that while working for a corporation was difficult at best, he was also grateful for the fact that the Mouse “is fixing a medal to my jacket instead of tacking a subpoena to my forehead.” Still, there’s a long way to go.

Have the record ready by Christmas. I have a number of friends who need to get it stuffed in their stockings, if you know what I mean and I think you do.

At the very least, clear the legalities around the existing tracks and put them on iTunes. “Some MP3s from the Mouse would certainly meet popular demand,” says Pogo on his blog, “but hey, even ‘Upular’ remains an ornament for who knows how much longer.” Does somebody over at Disney know Steve Jobs’ number?

Let the man get paid. The music that Pogo makes isn’t dependent on your product, but the continued reach of your product may prove dependent on him and others who are taking your existing, all-but-moribund works and investing them with new life through fair-use remixes.

Again, I quote from Pogo’s blog:

“This is how business and art collides… I’m not sure if I should be mixing them together. They’re two forces of very different natures. I didn’t wake up one day and think ‘Right, I’m going to start a track called Alice and it’s going to land several million views around the web.’ I sat down on my own time with my own enthusiasm, and happened to be in the right zone at the right time.”

Doing right by Pogo would not only make the artist feel like he’s done the right thing, but it would serve Disney’s fans, too — those of us who have taken your years-old intellectual properties and made them intellectual again. Imagine what could happen if your brand were allowed to spread of its own, natural volition. Imagine young, tech-savvy creatives animating their own Mickey Mouse films, or resurrecting characters and films that even you aren’t sure how to bring back.

If you work with Pogo instead of simply using him, you would acknowledge that your ownership of “Mary Poppins,” Mickey Mouse and Buzz Lightyear ends the second these charcters get into our hearts and transform into something too fantastic and wondrous for your marketing, branding and legal divisions to imagine. And as a nice little ancillary benefit, I’ll finally get my CD full of the year’s best downbeat techno tracks.

Geoff Carter

PHOTO COURTESY NICK BERTKE

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