Performers dressed as Minnie Mouse, Tigger and others danced and pranced as footage from Snow White, Dumbo, Beauty and the Beast and other Disney films played on a massive back-drop, according to images shown on state TV.
The inclusion of characters popular in the West – particularly from the United States, North Korea’s sworn “imperialist” 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 Korea’s ally China.
This appears to be the first time Disney characters have been included in a major performance, though they have been popular among children for several years. Backpacks, pencil cases and pyjamas 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 publicise it on state TV.
It was unclear whether the Disney characters were officially licensed. US sanctions prohibit the import of North Korean goods to the United States, but do not ban the sale of American consumer products in North Korea unless they involve officials or companies on the US Treasury Department’s sanctions blacklist.
The performance was staged on 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 from his father and grandfather by easing restrictions on Western culture, said Koh Yu-hwan, a North Korean studies professor based in Seoul, South Korea.
Kim, who is in his late 20s, has sought to project an image of youth, vitality and modernity.
Early yesterday, he led top officials in paying their respects to his grandfather, North Korea founder Kim Il-sung, at the mausoleum where he lies in state. Kim died 18 years ago.
Earlier in the year, a quintet of North Korean accordionists became a YouTube sensation for their arrangement of Take on Me, a pop song by the Norwegian band a-ha.
The unusual Disney show came as South Korea’s central bank estimated that the economy in the North grew by 0.8 per cent in 2011 – only the second time in the past six years the closed economy has expanded.
Despite the rare economic growth, per-capita income in the country with a 24.3 million population stood at just 1.334 million South Korean won, or less than £775 when converted into the latest value of the South Korean currency, the Bank of Korea in Seoul said.