A lobby group's annual list of the most dangerous toys in America has a strange name at the top this year: squeaky-clean Mickey Mouse.
Two products licensed by Burbank-based Walt Disney Co.--a Mickey Mouse play tent and a Mickey Snug-Ums sleeping bag--were listed as "potentially dangerous" on the 16th annual holiday toy evaluation published by the consumer affairs committee of the Americans for Democratic Action. The reason? They are not flame retardant.
Disney officials in Burbank, who carefully guard Mickey's image at all times, said they were surprised by Mickey's first-ever poor showing in the ADA tests and said they are re-evaluating the two products.
Disney Chairman Michael D. Eisner was out of town and not available for comment. Paul Presser, Disney vice president for licensing, said the review could lead the company to support the ADA's efforts to increase flammability standards for children's products.
"Maybe it takes something like this to get flammability standards like those for children's sleep wear," Presser said. "We'll certainly consider supporting such efforts. . . . There isn't any amount of money that anyone can pay us to take the risk of harming Mickey's credibility."
Presser said Disney licensing officials had approved the two products before they could be sold. The companies that make the two products said the items meet all federal product-safety standards.
Nevertheless, ADA Consumer Affairs Chairman Ann Brown said the ADA committee believes that such everyday children's products as play tents and sleeping bags should use only flame retardant materials.
"No child should ever play in something flammable," Brown said. She said the ADA committee used its annual holiday toy list to highlight its belief that the federal Consumer Product Safety Commission should treat play tents and sleeping bags similarly to children's sleepwear, which already must be made from flame retardant materials.
"The most dangerous toys and children's items we could find this year are flammable," Brown said. In addition to the Disney-licensed products, the ADA committee listed a Fisher-Price play tent, a Coca Cola-licensed sleeping bag and a Pillow People sleeping bag.
Brown ignited the Fisher-Price tent at a news conference this week held in the atrium of the Children's Hospital National Medical Center in Washington. However, she said fire officials refused to allow the Mickey Mouse tent to be burned because the "playhouse ignites with a whoosh and emits an acrid smoke."
The two companies manufacturing the offending products said they felt their products had been singled out by the ADA because they use a hallowed American icon that would attract the public's attention.
"Disney is highly visible and gets a lot of media attention. It was hardly a random sampling," said Robert Lipsig, president of ERO Industries Inc. of Morton Grove, Ill., which makes the $30 Snug-Ums sleeping bag.
Tess Carolyn, general counsel for Intex Recreation Corp. of Long Beach, said her company has been making vinyl play tents for seven years without arousing the ire of consumer groups.
Although ADA's Brown denied that the Disney products were singled out, Valerie Folkes, a professor of marketing at USC, said consumer groups often focus on attention-getting item to get the greatest impact for their messages.
"Well-known and trusted brands do make the point more effectively," Folkes said. "They let the consumers know that if they can go up in smoke, lesser quality products will too."