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Tuesday, March 15, 2005

The Second Coming of Michael?

Once Upon A Time, Disney was the stuff of family values baked in an envious corporate model that Adam Smith would relish. Through its messages in its films and animated shorts, to the very operation of its business, Walt Disney built a corporate citadel buttressed with conservative ideals. (Walt even testified at the House Committee for Un-American Activities). But how the pendulum has swung so far to the left can only be explained by one single factor – the hiring of Michael Eisner. Pause for a minute and let’s give credit where credit is due. Eisner saved Disney. When Michael took the reins in the early eighties, one full-length animated feature was produced and released. (100$ if anyone can name the sole movie of 1984 that was basically put on the shelves once it was debuted) Fast forward to 1995 and over one-hundred films were released or were in the works under several different movie labels. The Disney Cruise Line sailed and its Parks and Resorts were given a face-lift with an economic make-over the saved it from the likes of Ivan Boesky, Saul Steinberg and other corporate raiders licking their chops like Shenzi, Banzi and Ed ready to tear Simba apart in the Lion King. Speaking of which, there has not been a Lion King since, well, The Lion King and the string of box office smashes like Aladdin, Beauty and the Beast, and The Little Mermaid.

But at what price did that turn-around produce? The product that Disney has put out over the last ten years is nothing more than what happened to Disney before Eisner came on board: creative stagnation and sojourns into unrecognizable territory like Disney’s America – conceived and championed by Eric Foner and the rest of his ilk in the Fur Workers Union of America. And with over-valued stock that has been as likely to move as a Frenchman who lives next to a brothel, what you have is a company that has no sense of itself; a company that has purposely steered away from the very essence of its original success – family animated features especially since Disney lost its bread and butter, its feature animation operation in Florida. Add to this the acquisition and mismanagement of ABC, the closure of Disney Stores, and the bungled deal with Pixar Animation and the balance sheet tells a story of ever darkening skies over the Magic Kingdom.

Does anyone think that Iger is going to change any of this? From what has been communicated publicly, it looks like the new man at the easel is a sad shadow of the man named the most influential personality in show business since Orson Welles and his band of brothers at Mercury Productions. What is happening to Eisner is what happens to politicians who mismanage fixed assets in their districts. Here in Orlando, the closure of the Naval Training Center and the move of a VA Hospital to another district cost Bill McCullum his house seat. So it seems that the vote of no confidence for Eisner is the equivalent of an electorate bent on punishing its representative who had a bad string of luck.

The Disney Board has spoken. Eisner is out and Iger is in. For how long, no one knows. If he is the Quisling Roy Disney has made him out to be, Iger’s stay will be a short one. If Iger is the second coming of Michael, then Disney could be back to the years of twenty percent return on its stock and domination of the box offices of America.

Still, with all the problems Disney has, it’s still the strongest corporate brand on the planet and the most wonderful place for any family to visit.

Damn The Ticket Prices, We’re Going To Disney World!

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