Daily Figment 04 – The Disney War

Both of the following quotes are from The Disney War by James Stewart.

We have no obligation to make art. We have no obligation to make history. We have no obligation to make a statement. But to make money, it is often important to make history, to make art, or to make some significant statement…. In order to make money, we must always make entertaining movies, and if we make entertaining movies, at times we will reliably make history, art, a statement, or all three. We may even win awards…. We cannot expect numerous hits, but if every film has an original and imaginative concept, then we can be confident that something will break through.

-Michael Eisner, 1982??? in a written memo discussing the success of Raiders of the Lost Ark in 1981, Disney War, page 32

In the notoriously fickle business of moviemaking, twenty-seven of Disney’s first thirty-three films under the Eisner/Wells/Katzenberg regime had been profitable, including nineteen in a row. Disney seemed to have discovered a foolproof formula for hit movies, something that had eluded even the greatest of filmmakers.

-James Stewart in Disney War, page 108

So, what happened to Disney’s streak of hits after the late 90’s? The loss of Katzenberg? The stunning and unrecoverable loss of Frank Wells?

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6 thoughts on “Daily Figment 04 – The Disney War

  1. What I rarely ever see is the discussion that what could’ve changed is the taste of the viewing public.

    Your formula only works as long as the people watching the movies haven’t changed.

    We, the consumer, are the most unpredictable variable in the equation

  2. Ray, I agree. That is why I question the traditional animation strategy they are pursuing again. Maybe I and others like me will appreciate the idea of the older style animation, but after my kids saw Finding Nemo, traditional animation is like B&W.
    If you have not read Disney War yet, you should. It’s amazing how Eisner ignored his own philosophy that made him successful and let the suits take over. After Katzenberg left Disney to help form SKG, the next head of live action Eisner brought in started talking about making BIG EVENT movies, which flew directly in the face of his own manifesto (see today’s Daily Figment quote).
    It seems like Eisner had a year that really jilted him into a suit mentality (1994). Think about it, first Wells dies tragically, then he has a heart attack and bypass surgery, and then Katzenberg leaves. The next few Disney hits were pipelined by Katzenberg BEFORE he left for SKG.
    The ABC deal was really the saving grace and at the time was the 2nd largest merger in history (behind RJR Nabisco).

    Eisner did a lot for Disney and Disney fans everywhere, but for goodness sakes, when the dollar signs allow you to let your relationship with Pixar go bye-bye, it’s time to go.

    As much as it pains me to say it, it will happen to Iger someday as well (unless he listens to George and I)!!!!!

  3. Ray + Andrew = hitting the nail on the head
    What a joy to read astute, reasoned commentary that takes many factors into account. (…as opposed to the usual chatboards…) Eisner did save Disney…and then almost lost it again. (Here’s hoping Iger reads what your two have to say.) Sadly, the majority wants the McNuggets “Transformers” has to offer instead of the fine meal served up by “Ratatouille.” Still, quality will win out in the long run.
    I think we’re witnessing the Disney company’s 3rd wave with Lassiter and his creative team. Personally, I believe the future looks good for Disney.

  4. As far as animated movies go…

    My three year old son and my 62 year old dad both loved Ratatouille. They both laughed out loud, which my dad doesn’t usually do in a movie theater.

    Even though my son loves the movies created by Pixar, he still asks to watch The Three Caballeros, our classic Mickey cartoons and Peter Pan.

    Don’t even get me started on the Miyazaki films (Spirited Away and My Neighbor Totoro still get tons of play in our house).

    I still wonder at the state Disney would be in if Wells had lived.

  5. pstjr, what an interesting way to put it….’Eisner did save Disney…and then almost lost it again.’ I could not have said it more succinctly.

    That is the crazy, almost indescribable feeling I had while reading Disney War. I have never admired and been disgusted by someone so much at the same time. I still cannot figure out where the meter sits between manipulative genius and lucky idiot. There are passages that paint him as both. On the initial readthrough, the first section of the book made me want to be Eisner because of his amazing ‘luck’, but continue reading and you get the feeling that if Goofy was the CEO during the Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, and Lion King tenure, he would be viewed as the saviour of Disney as well.
    Anyways, I have concluded that I love/hate Eisner.
    Besides, what would have a year like 1994 done to someone like me? I envision long nights crying myself to sleep in a closet somewhere, praying for a meteor to hit soon.
    Fair enough?

  6. I agree, Andrew. When he was good he was very very good…but when he was bad he was horrid…to borrow a line from an old nursery verse. I just think his turn to the dark side was human nature writ large…when you or I get a bit angry it’s usually when we make the mistake of attempting to garner more control and less rational thought. Take a guy who runs a multinational corporation with millions of people and billions of dollars and simply magnify the fear of “I’m losing my grip on everything.” Still, I’m glad he’s gone and Iger was masterful enough to stay quiet until he firmly held the reins.

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