Turning Disney stores into mini-Disney Worlds

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Can't afford to take the kids on a Disney World vacation this year? No problem. Soon, you'll be able to give them a Disney experience at the local mall -- for free.

As The New York Times reported today, Disney -- heeding the recommendations of Steve Jobs, whom it consulted -- will completely overhaul its retail stores over the next five years, upgrading them from toy stores to interactive arcades.

The proposed additions include movie theaters and karaoke contests, and the company is considering doing away with the "Disney Store" name and rebranding their retail spaces as "Imagination Parks."

At a time when many retailers are struggling just to keep their heads above water, Disney's refurbishment campaign might seem excessive at best and foolish at worst. But the truth is, the makeover is a long time coming.

Disney launched its retail stores in 1987, at a time when kids' interaction with the brand was limited to visits to Disney World or Disneyland and viewings of each year's blowout animated feature. That was before the days of Pixar blockbusters and Disney Channel megastars.

The plans for "Imagination Park" call for CGI-like Lucite trees and satellite live feeds of Disney Channel characters -- which means the shops will finally be in sync with Disney's modern identity. And that today's kids, whose eyes might have glossed over the towers of plush Mickey dolls in the window, will likely start dragging their parents into the store.
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