Inside Move: Are Disney characters ready for rough ride?

'Kingdom' pulls Mouse's characters into Square pic

The child of the strangest marriage in the vidgame universe is aborning, with this week’s long-in-the-works release of Disney’s and Square’s “Kingdom Hearts.”

Disney has contributed more than 100 characters, from Bambi to Tarzan to “The Nightmare Before Christmas” ghouls, to the long-gestating project, delivering that seed of intellectual property to the creative mercies of Square, the Japanese kingpin behind such role-playing hits as “Final Fantasy.”

The long-asked question: Can East meet West in this “Kingdom” without laying an egg?

“Square characters differ wildly from Disney characters,” Disney Interactive VP Dan Winters acknowledges.

So do their demographics, which the companies hope is a good thing, allowing them to draw from each other’s fan bases for a monster hit.

But the four-year-old coupling has been challenging. Disney doesn’t want its wholesome characters getting too rough and tumble, even as they battle bad guys with the classically Square-ish lead character voiced by Haley Joel Osment.

Disney delicacy also affects how the game is marketed.

“They don’t like it if we use the word ‘attack’ too much,” one Square employee says.

“There are a lot of fights (in “Hearts”) for a Disney game,” Winters says. But characters “don’t die, they sort of disappear.”

Winters has high hopes for the hybrid. It’s already sold most of the 1 million units shipped in Japan.

And for this week’s U.S. release, Disney is making a big push. It held a movie-style premiere, taped the event for broadcast, and will cross-promote the game on its magazines and video releases.

Maybe a Square peg can fit in a Mouse hole after all.

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