Legacy Content

Reliving Fond Memories: DisneyWar
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by David Mink (archives)
October 17, 2005
Taking a bit of a departure, David looks back at the popular book DisneyWar.

Between the Mind's Eye and the Bottom Line

This book should be in your library

War! No, this isn’t between the Sith and the Jedi over the soul of the Galaxy, though there would be a lot of people who see the parallels. This tale isn’t the Galaxy far far away; this is the story of a vast business enterprise whose grease is imagination and canny business sense.

As Emperor Palpatine warned, unless the Jedi are wiped out the Empire would have civil war without end. As long as a member of the Disney family sits on the board of directors, Darth Eisner will not have a clear and easy way of taking this beloved company and transform it into greedy children’s soul eater.

Okay, enough of the dramatics (Though it is fun, right?).

I have just finished reading “Disney War? (Simon & Shuster, 2005) and it is quite good. It covers the history of the Disney Company for the last 25 years, from the arrival of Michael Eisner, Frank Wells and Jeffrey Katzenberg onto the Disney Main Lot, to the board room mutiny that resulted in Eisner’s loss of his chairmanship and his decision to step down from his position as Emp…er…CEO of the Walt Disney Company in 2006. It is in-depth, weighing in at 534 pages of text with many more of notes, photos and sources.

The author, James B Stewart, is very fair with the subject matter. He had unprecedented access to Eisner and the inner workings of the company. He is already a Pulitzer Prize winning author (Den of Thieves, about the stock market and insider trading in the 1980’s) as well as an editor for the Wall Street Journal, so this is no overheated Kitty Kelly gossip fest. Stewart doesn’t engage in the usual tricks of the modern media to manipulate and subvert. He is not cherry-picking his facts to steer you to his conclusions. He is quite even handed, letting the events and the players speak for themselves. What forms is a sad and frustrating tale, indeed.

The author, James Stewart

As someone who has worked for Disney for an aggregate of 10 years, most of this book is no surprise. To fans haunting the various fan sites out there in Cyberspace, this book confirms the whispers and coffee counter conversations heard over the years. So let me start by saying this: Yes, everything you heard is true. The megalomania, narcissism, loss of mission, back stabbing, bad faith. Yes, it’s true. There are some things I don’t want to be right about: This is one of them.

Eisner emerges from the pages as a man who should have ruled the world, but his policies, capricious narcissism and just plain bad business decisions (some charge greed) eventually ruined what should have been a fine thing. He had been handed the keys to the kingdom by the prince himself, the nephew of Walt. But he blew it because of his lack of faith in the very product that made the company wealthy. This is a lot of “shoulding?.

For Disney fans, this is a healthy book. It should put the rocky history of the company of the last two decades into sharp relief. Here are the answers that have been plaguing the faithful for the last several years. Why does the current management do what it does? Why did the quality of the theme parks go into the toilet? What happened to the animation department? Could someone please explain how Disney’s California Adventure happened?

To be fair, there is plenty Eisner should be proud of. The success of the 1980’s and early 1990’s was no accident. It was the result of Team Disney’s canny exploitation of the then-new video market to bring the Disney classics to a whole new market. Katzenberg and Roy Disney reinvigorated the animation, which had grown stale and lost. Katzenberg’s decision to bring on the musical team of Howard Ashman and Alan Menken was nothing short of miraculous, putting fresh ideas and energy into the moribund animation unit. Disney conquered cable with the Disney Channel. The Disney stores took company product out of the exclusive parks and put them in a mall near you. The idea of a cruise line seemed far fetched, but the gamble paid off big time. Then, from the laboratories of the computer experimental lab, the company Pixar grew on the scene from a scrappy side project to an imaginative juggernaut, single-handedly carrying on the Disney tradition with spectacular results. The company’s success fueled great expansion in all directions, including a television network. The stock soared, and the stockholders as well as fans were content.

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