North Koreans visit the statues of late leaders Kim Il Sung, left, and Kim Jong Il, right, on Sunday, July 8, 2012, on Mansu Hill in Pyongyang, North Korea, to pay tribute to Kim Il Sung on the 18th anniversary of the former North Korean leader's death. (AP Photo/Kim Kwang Hyon)
PYONGYANG, North Korea (AP) — Mickey Mouse and Winnie the Pooh took the stage in North Korea during a concert for new leader Kim Jong Un in an unusual performance featuring Disney characters.
Performers dressed as some of America's most memorable cartoon characters danced and pranced as footage from "Snow White," ''Dumbo," ''Beauty and the Beast" and other popular Disney movies played on a massive backdrop, according to still photos shown on state TV Saturday.
The inclusion of characters popular in the West — particularly from the United States, North Korea's wartime enemy — is a notable change in direction for performance arts in Pyongyang.
In recent years, performances such as the "Arirang" mass games featured performers dressed as panda bears in homage to North Korean ally China.
This appears to be the first time Disney characters have been included in a major performance, though Winnie the Pooh and Mickey Mouse have been popular among children for several years. Backpacks, pencil cases and pajamas 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 publicize it on state TV.
The performance was staged Friday by the new 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 than his father and grandfather by easing restrictions on Western culture, said Koh Yu-hwan, a North Korea 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 Sunday, he led top officials in paying their respects to his late grandfather, North Korea founder Kim Il Sung, at the mausoleum where he lies in state. Kim died 18 years ago Sunday.
Earlier in the year, a quintet of accordionists became a YouTube sensation for their arrangement of "Take on Me," a pop song by the Swedish band A-ha.
North Korea and the United States remain in a technical state of war because they signed a truce, not a peace treaty, after three years of fighting in 1953. The foes do not have diplomatic relations.
Associated Press writers Jean H. Lee and Hyung-jin Kim contributed to this report from Seoul, South Korea.