Mickey Mouse steals the soul of Gotham City

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The Independent Online
The people of Manhattan are used to parades and the myriad disruptions they create, not least to traffic flow. If it is not President Clinton swanning through, it is a march for one of this city's ethnic communities - the Irish, say, or Puerto Ricans. Tonight though, the gridlock comes by courtesy of the mouse called Mickey.

No fewer than 30 city blocks will be closed off for most of today in preparation for a street extravaganza tonight that will be for the benefit this time of a corporation - Disney. To some, it is an event that will mark the final triumph by Mickey over Gotham's very soul.

The occasion is the opening tonight of Disney's latest animation feature film, Hercules. Starting at 9.15 pm, the electric cavalcade which signals the end of the day in Disneyland and Disneyworld will wend its brightly- lit way from 42nd Street and north up 5th Avenue.

For maximum effect, Disney is requiring that the route be plunged in darkness. Its representatives have visited no less than 5,000 businesses along the way and begged them to turn off all their office lights for the evening. The city has obliged too - as the floats pass by each block, street lights in the area will be automatically extinguished.

To allay security fears, the city is also deploying 2,000 police officers to join the spectators in lining the route. Manhattan will not only be the most blinding place on the planet tonight it is also likely to be the safest.

This does not come free; Disney is contributing $500,000 to New York to allay the cost of all these contingencies. The company is even providing additional barricades. Eight miles of them will be needed and the city does not have enough of its own.

Mickey's conquest of the Apple has been swift and overwhelming. Disney has been the linchpin of the makeover of Times Square from a nexus of sleaze to a veritable symbol of family values. It has refurbished the historic Amsterdam Theatre on 42nd Street and opened a giant Disney store alongside it. And in 1995, it commandeered the Great Lawn in Central Park for the premiere of Pocahontas.

For those who despair of the incursion, tonight's show is the last straw. "It symbolises the triumph of a certain kind of bland suburban culture," remarked William Dobbs, a lawyer who has been trying to combat the wholesale ejection of the sex industry from Times Square. "This is yet another example of the government deciding what kind of culture New Yorkers should see."

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