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Disney's Year in Review
Another year draws to a close, and we stare across the celebratory bridge towards the next.
It was a very historical year for Disney, and may yet prove to be all the more so as the years go by - only time will tell.
When the year started, Disney owned the World Champions of Major League Baseball, but soon they would be sold. Disney also seemed to be moving towards a reduction of the Disney Stores, too, possibly signaling and retreat to the corporation's core businesses - theme parks/resorts, films/home video, and television.
Mickey and Minnie turned 75 years old, and the Company turned 80.
The Company had a record year at the box office with films such as "Finding Nemo", "Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl", and "Freaky Friday" bringing in unprecedented totals. "Finding Nemo", a "3-D/CGI" film from Pixar surpassed the draw of "The Lion King", the highest-grossing "2-D/traditional animation" film of all time, the work of Walt Disney Feature Animation. "Pirates of the Caribbean" proved that films inspired by theme park attractions don't have to be bad, and may turn into a franchise. The film was given a premier like none other at Disneyland Park.
"Brother Bear" hit the theaters to a lack of buzz, and in another blow to traditional animation, Feature Animation operations in Florida were shut down. Finally, faced with being forced out, Roy Disney resigned his position with the corporation and with the Board of Directors and launched and external fight for the soul of Disney.
Disney continued to promote its ABC Television Network programming through events at Walt Disney World Resort and Disneyland Resort. ABC had been lagging in ratings, and was trying to build itself up again by anchoring a comeback with the returning sitcom "8 Simple Rules for Dating My Teenage Daughter". However, after filming just three episodes of the second season, series lead star John Ritter died instantly and unexpectedly.
An ABC-themed restaurant at California Adventure was replaced with Playhouse Disney - Live on Stage!, which premiered along with the replacement in Disneyland Park for the Country Bear Playhouse - The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh. Publicity surrounding the opening of the attractions was somewhat muted by current events. Earlier in the year, a musical show based on "Aladdin" opened in the Hyperion Theater.
Mission: Space finally opened in Epcot, coming a long way from old Disney attractions that convinced you that were traveling in space by presenting the premise that you are training to travel in space. Mickey's Philharmagic debuted in the Magic Kingdom. Lucky the Dinosaur walked around interacting with guests, and at Disney's California Adventure park, the X Games Xperience offered thrills.
Construction walls went up for a Buzz Lightyear attraction in Tomorrowland at Disneyland Park and Alien Encounter closed in order to transition to Stitch Encounter in Tomorrowland at Walt Disney World Resort.
Things certainly didn't always go smoothly. Smoke and ashes from California's wildfires blanketed the Resort. Disneyland Park's Space Mountain attraction was abruptly put into refurbishment for a 2005 "re-launch". Later, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad was the site of tragedy, as a fatal accident of an unprecedented nature raised questions about theme park attraction safety.
With Paul Pressler, Cynthia Harriss, and many other executives having left Walt Disney Parks & Resorts and Disneyland Resort, the way was cleared for the likes of Jay Rasulo, Matt Ouimet, and Greg Emmer to examine Disneyland Resort and bring back some traditional-style "Disneyland is different" thinking. In just a few short weeks, changes are apparent to both cast members and guests.
As for the competition, AOL TimeWarner decided to drop the "AOL" from the corporate name, and rumors have surfaced that the company may buy MGM. Universal was bought by General Electric to be merged with NBC. Thousands of acres once earmarked to expand Universal Florida into a true rival to Walt Disney World Resort were recently dumped from the plan.
The Walt Disney Concert Hall finally opened as an expansion to the Los Angeles County Music Center. Built in part with funding from members of the Disney families and The Walt Disney Company, but not operated by Disney, the new architectural wonder is discussed in detail in a previous edition of this column.
Finally, there were prominent people in the world of Disney that passed away, including David Mumford and Leon Janzen. Both chronicled and preserved Disneyland history through publications, but Mumford was also an Imagineer, popular speaker, and a walking encyclopedia of Disney facts and trivia. Folks like us, who like to read and write about Disney, were devastated by the loss of these two friendly people, but their spirits live on in the work they've left behind, in the homes, hearts, and minds of people all over the world.
Yes, when we look back we can see both the ups and the downs. We don't yet know everything that awaits us in the year ahead, though we know a few things. Disneyland Park will get a new musical stage show featuring Snow White, and Disney's California Adventure will open a modified version of the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror.
When we look back a year from now, what kind of year will we see? There's only one way to find out...
-- Ken Pellman
Ken Pellman has been avidly following all things Disney since the early 1980s, and has been a Disneyland annual passholder and cast member. Learn more about Ken at http://www.Pellman.net and reach him directly at Kenversations[at]flash[dot]net.
Kenversations is most often posted during the second and fourth week of each month.
The views, opinions and comments of Ken Pellman, and all of our columnists, are not necessarily those of LaughingPlace.com or any of its employees or advertisers. All speculation and rumors about the future of the Walt Disney Company are just that - speculation and rumors - and should be treated as such.
--Posted December 30, 2003
©2003 Ken Pellman, all rights reserved. Licensed to LaughingPlace.com.