“He’s Not a Duck,” Says This 1997 Maui Mallard Ad, “He’s a Swat Team with Feathers”

I always love looking at magazine ads from the 1990s. From the absurd to the shocking — to the the absolutely way-too-saucy, these ads are often a portal into an entirely different world.

The ad for Maui Mallard in Cold Shadow I posted below (which I discovered in the January, 1997 issue of Ultra Game Players) isn’t as salacious, offensive, or ridiculous as the ads I’ve linked in the paragraph above, but it still gets the job done in a way that’s bursting with 1990s energy.

Maui Mallard in Cold Shadow Magazine Ad

See, in the 1990s, there was this weird idea that everything needed to be edgy. It doesn’t matter what it was, executives in North America wanted it to have an edge, even when “edge” made very little sense.

Here’s an example: A few years back, I spoke with Michael Berlyn, creator of Bubsy, who told me a bit about the projects he was pitching in a post-Bubsy 3D world. One pitch hw was working on was a new IP called Sparky and Bolt. Berlyn told me:

I pitched it to Sega, and Sega said, “Not enough edge. Have Sparky be a punk with an attitude, and have Bolt be some sort of nasty cat or something.” And I said, “You’re missing the point.” And I guess I was the one missing the point, because they turned it down.

You can see this trend of “edginess” showing up a lot in the 1990s, from Sonic’s ‘tude to the very existence of the word Xtreme to EGM‘s response to having published a URL for a nude Lara Croft webpage.

Edge was cool in the 1990s, and Donald Duck was anything but edgy, thought the executives at Disney — at least, according to an interview with Patrick J Collins, sound designer for Maui Mallard.

So I guess I can see the decision-making that led up to this ad being published. Still, I find it kind of hilarious that Disney — The House of Mouse, for crying out loud — thought that one of their most beloved characters needed an edgier version to remain relevant, despite having been relevant nonstop for more than half a century at that point. This is Donald freaking Duck, not some new arrival on the Disney scene.

Maui Mallard in Cold Shadow

And I kind of feel like Disney was shooting itself in the foot here. I mean, people genuinely care about legacy Disney characters. If Disney acts ashamed of Donald Duck, then people start feeling self-conscious that they care about the character in a self-fulfilling cycle of shame and embarrassment. But if Disney can just pridefully and gleefully be the freaking Disney that people used to love (before they became an evil corporation), then we can all enjoy how great a character like Donald Duck actually is.

Donald Duck is a working-class American, the son of Scottish immigrants, with a hot temper and a big heart. He’s one of the more complex and versatile characters in Disney’s early character roster, and one who’s beloved around the world. I’m pretty sure he has all the edge he needs.

Apparently, the 1997 version of Disney didn’t think so, so they took his name off the box and called him “a SWAT team with feathers.” Considering Maui Mallard doesn’t have much of a legacy — and Donald Duck very much still does — I don’t think that worked out the way Disney thought it would.

Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Would love your thoughts, please comment.x