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Arizona State enlists Disney to create a kinder, gentler Sparky

By Matt Hinton | Blogger


Disney's reimagination of the personifcation of evil from a fiery underworld. (ASU.edu)

Devils: They're scary. Even more so when they're more than six feet tall, wearing a perpetually fiendish grin and wielding an ever-present pitchfork. What child wouldn't be instantly traumatized by such a grim visage?

Or so reasoned Arizona State, which enlisted the Walt Disney Company -- yes, that Walt Disney Company -- to redesign its venerable Sun Devil mascot, Sparky, into something more palatable "to engage younger audiences." The result, officially introduced on Friday, is a sleeker, friendlier vision, complete with oversized, anime-inspired eyes and a less-threatening smile. The new Sparky will make his first public appearance at the Sun Devils' spring game, set for April 13, and will reportedly be "used in such formats as animation, comic books and children's books," as well as (of course) "featured on merchandise and apparel."


Sparky in his current form. (Getty Images)

Initial responses from Arizona State fans have included describing the new look as "an atrocity" and "a bad combo [of] Duke's mascot, Buzz Lightyear, and a Guy Fawkes mask," as well as advising fellow fans to "burn down the universe" in protest.

According to the university, the live mascot has been updated more than a dozen times since its first appearance in 1952, all of them based on the familiar cartoon devil created in 1946 by ASU alum Bert Anthony, a former Disney artist who allegedly (and probably apocryphally) modeled the devil's features after his old boss as retribution for being fired. The same grinning character has personified Sun Devil athletics without update for more than six decades, lending his quirky brand of satanic mischief to anything and everything Arizona State -- including the football helmets, which featured Anthony's original Sparky from 1980 until the most recent uniform overhaul in 2011. On paper, at least, the old Sparky is not going anywhere.

Of all possible incarnations of the Sun Devil mascot, it's hard to imagine anyone topping this one from 1977, unless it's this one from a few years before. In fact, when you consider the early, slacks-wearing Sparky from the 1960s, it's clear that things have only gone downhill over time. Alas, it's so hard to preserve the classics.

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