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Mickey Mouse takes N. Korean stage in show

Published: Sunday, July 8 2012 10:05 p.m. MDT

North Koreans visit the statues of late leaders Kim Il Sung, left, and Kim Jong Il, right, on Sunday, July 8, 2012, on Mansu Hill in Pyongyang, North Korea, to pay tribute to Kim Il Sung on the 18th anniversary of the former North Korean leader's death.  (AP Photo/Kim Kwang Hyon) (Associated Press) North Koreans visit the statues of late leaders Kim Il Sung, left, and Kim Jong Il, right, on Sunday, July 8, 2012, on Mansu Hill in Pyongyang, North Korea, to pay tribute to Kim Il Sung on the 18th anniversary of the former North Korean leader's death. (AP Photo/Kim Kwang Hyon) (Associated Press)

PYONGYANG, North Korea — Mickey Mouse and Winnie the Pooh took the stage in North Korea during a concert for new leader Kim Jong Un, in an unusual performance featuring Disney characters.

Performers dressed as Minnie Mouse, Tigger and others danced and pranced as footage from "Snow White," "Dumbo," "Beauty and the Beast" and other Disney movies played on a massive backdrop, according to still photos shown on state TV.

The inclusion of characters popular in the West — particularly from the United States, North Korea's wartime enemy — is a notable change in direction for performances in Pyongyang. Actors and actresses also showed off new wardrobes, including strapless gowns and little black dresses.

In recent years, performances such as the "Arirang" mass games featured performers dressed as panda bears in homage to North Korean ally China.

North Koreans bow in front of a statue of Kim Il Sung on the 18th anniversary of the late North Korea founder's death on Sunday, July 8, 2012, at Mansu Hill in Pyongyang, North Korea.  (AP Photo/Kim Kwang Hyon) (Associated Press) North Koreans bow in front of a statue of Kim Il Sung on the 18th anniversary of the late North Korea founder's death on Sunday, July 8, 2012, at Mansu Hill in Pyongyang, North Korea. (AP Photo/Kim Kwang Hyon) (Associated Press)

This appears to be the first time Disney characters have been included in a major performance, though Winnie the Pooh and Mickey Mouse have been popular among children for several years. Backpacks, pencil cases and pajamas imported from China often feature Disney characters, and stories such as "Dumbo" have been translated into Korean for North Korean schoolchildren. However, it is unusual to make such images a central part of a North Korean performance and to publicize it on state TV.

Zenia Mucha, chief spokesperson for The Walt Disney Co., said the use of Disney characters in the North Korean performance was not authorized by the U.S. entertainment company.

"This was not licensed or authorized by The Walt Disney Company," Mucha told the AP by telephone on Sunday.

U.S. sanctions prohibit the import of North Korean goods to the United States, but do not ban the sales of American consumer products in North Korea unless they involve officials or companies on the U.S. Treasury Department's sanctions blacklist.

In this image made off North Korea's KRT video footage, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, second from right, watches performances by North Korea's new Moranbong band in Pyongyang, North Korea, Friday, July 6, 2012. Mickey Mouse and Winnie the Pooh took the stage during the concert for Kim in an unusual performance featuring Disney characters in North Korea. (AP Photo/KRT)  (Associated Press) In this image made off North Korea's KRT video footage, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, second from right, watches performances by North Korea's new Moranbong band in Pyongyang, North Korea, Friday, July 6, 2012. Mickey Mouse and Winnie the Pooh took the stage during the concert for Kim in an unusual performance featuring Disney characters in North Korea. (AP Photo/KRT) (Associated Press)

The performance was staged Friday by the Moranbong band, which was making its debut after being assembled by Kim himself, the state-run Korean Central News Agency said.

Kim, who took power after his father, longtime leader Kim Jong Il, died in December, has a "grandiose plan to bring about a dramatic turn in the field of literature and arts this year," KCNA said.

The dispatch made no mention of Disney characters, but said the concert included the traditional folk tune "Arirang" as well as a number of upbeat foreign songs.

Featuring Disney characters signals that Kim may be seeking to carve out a different image than his father and grandfather by easing restrictions on Western culture, said Koh Yu-hwan, a North Korean studies professor based in Seoul, South Korea.

North Korea's new Moranbong band and performers dressed as America's cartoon characters perform in Pyongyang on Friday.       (Associated Press) North Korea's new Moranbong band and performers dressed as America's cartoon characters perform in Pyongyang on Friday. (Associated Press)

Kim, who is in his late 20s, has sought to project an image of youth, vitality and modernity.

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