Walt Disney opening up his theme park
||Would Walt be
happy with today's Walt Disney Company?
A hypothetical take on
Walt's possible reactions to today's Disney Company.
||As I am wont to do, I'd like to
start off tonight with a disclaimer: much of what we're going
to say today is likely to be personal opinion, maybe hearsay,
and maybe just plain extrapolation. Walt is gone, and the very
nature of the question - would he be happy with the company
today? - is really just a matter of perspective.
Or is it? I have a definite answer to the
question: Walt would *not* be happy with the Company if he
were resurrected yesterday. But if Walt had never died and
simply retired or toned down his responsibilities, it turns
out I think he would be pleased.
|The great game of
"what if" is lawn darts for historians; strangely
fun but it doesn't really serve any purpose. This will
definitely be an exercise in personal opinion and will
probably reflect our respective views of Walt more than his
views of the current state of the company.
I think that, overall, Walt
would be happy with the company as it now exists.
This would be true if for no reason than that he wouldn't
really care about any of the departments not directly related
to creative content.
||An interesting point, and I agree
with most of your assessment. But really, creative content
includes more than just the theme parks and animated movies.
Is ABC really what Walt would have wanted? NASCAR on ESPN? A
money-losing, "me-too" venture into cruise line
I hate to be predictable
about it, but I think Walt would be happy with some things and
livid about others. First, I think he'd be happy about the
revival of animation. Some of the films in the last decade or
so (The Lion King, Beauty and the Beast, The Little Mermaid) rank
right up there with his classics. Let me ask you your
thoughts on animation before I get too carried away.
|Oh, I think he
would be happy with it. I think Beauty in the Beast, in
particular, represented and presented everything Disney. But
we need to remember that by the time of his death Walt had
pretty much moved on from animation into other pursuits.
As to how he would have felt
about NASCAR on ESPN, I don't think he would have cared too
much as long as it didn't interfere with the things he wanted
done. I do think he would have agreed completely with the
idea behind the ABC/Capital Cities purchase. Walt, more than
anyone, understood the value of TV in cross-selling Disney
One thing we need to keep in
mind is that, while he was not as naive a businessman as sometimes
portrayed, he was always willing to live with whatever
business model it took to get his projects done. Those details
he left to Roy.
||Great points. Indeed, Walt was
performing synergy long before the term itself was even
But something else you mention here is
critical: Walt did always want to do new things, and push the
boundaries. In this respect, I'd actually think Walt would be
displeased with the way some things have evolved. Disneyland
is more or less the same experience now. Splash Mountain,
though fun, is not really a new concept. The California
Indiana Jones ride is the closest to a brave new technology
we've seen post-Walt, in my opinion.
What has Disney done since Walt died? In a
nutshell, it stagnated at first, then it expanded by cloning
itself. The additional parks (MGM Studios, Animal Kingdom) are
copies of things other people have done. Ditto the cruise
line. I agree the ABC purchase he would agree with, but
honestly, Disney has not been very groundbreaking about new
television shows. ABC was in last place until Regis'
Millionaire show, and this was imported from England.
I don't think that is particularly fair to the current
company. One advantage that Walt had is that he (until late in
life) only had to innovate on a single front. Walt's
development was in many ways very linear.
The fact that
Walt was constantly innovating (and for most of his life had
only one product line with which to innovate) has created an
expectation in most people that everything Disney does will be
innovative, and this just isn't possible when they have their
fingers in so many pies.
It may not
have been successful, but I do think that Disney's attempt at
a family cruise experience was very innovative for the
industry. Direct marketing of the studios products through the
Disney Stores was innovative at its time. In animation,
Dinosaur was technologically innovative if not
I think Walt
would actually appreciate the unusually high level (for a
corporation) of innovation that goes on at Disney these days.
||I only half agree that Disney is
an innovative company. I think that Disney innovates
"within the box," to appropriate a New Economy term.
True innovation is thinking outside the box, and taking real
You're quite right to point out that the
company is not so nimble as it used to be. I consider the very
diversified nature of the company to be a drawback. The real
innovators these days are companies who take chances - like
DreamWorks (founded by the guy who brought us the three great
Disney movies mentioned above), or Steve Wynn, who is
basically responsible for the modern Vegas.
It's no coincidence that Vegas looks
Disneyfied these days. Wynn does it better than Disney does,
if you ask me. I recently had a conversation with an Imagineer
who told me that Wynn frankly reminds him of Walt, with his
visionary scope and innovative thinking.
has Dreamworks done that is so innovative? They've made some
good movies (and considering the mediocre quality of their
animated efforts, you have to wonder how much credit
Katzenberg deserves for Disney's successes), but nothing that blows me away.
"new" Vegas is an abomination. Putting a roller
coaster on a casino is the equivalent of Joe Camel, training
the next generation. (Though you shouldn't take me wrong, I loved the
But we are
straying here. I'd like to bring up a situation where I think
Walt would disapprove but would be wrong. I don't think Walt
would approve of the current live action films being produced
by various Disney labels (other than Disney itself). But if
Disney hadn't moved away from 100% G ratings then the company
probably would not have survived the early 80s.
||You mean the Miramax label?
Movies about gay priests and the like? No argument there. It
reminds me of my original point (and you were right that we
were straying); namely, that Walt would be less likely to be
annoyed if he lived through the years 1966-2000. I think he
would have changed with the times, as you might suspect.
The problem with a topic such as ours is
that we're basically plopping a 1966 man into 2000. As the
Disney company changes and adapts to the constantly evolving
culture, it becomes increasingly far from the frozen-in-time
morality and "stance toward innovation" promoted
wasn't necessarily speaking of Miramax (do most people even
realize that Miramax is a Disney company?) but I think that
Touchstone has even gone way beyond anything Walt would have
approved (even if he had lived through to today).
He may have
approved of Bringing Out the Dead as art, but not
as a Disney movie. And I have to assume that he would have
considered Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo as the sin
against mankind that it is. But that said, production of
movies that would have been unacceptable to Walt represents
a line of revenue that the company just could not
||For the most part, it sounds like
we're agreeing. I do think Walt would be more displeased than
you do, apparently, and I base that on the company's track
record of expansion.
I get the feeling that Walt's method of
creativity and innovation was not to be confused with simple
expansion. He refused to do Snow White or 3 Little Pig
sequels, yet the market is inundated with Disney sequels
Walt agreed to do another theme park only
because it would be the "wienie" attracting people
to his "City of Tomorrow".
ironic part being that EPCOT as he imagined it would never
||I consider it significant that
most of the Imagineers from Walt's day have expressed varying
degrees of disagreement with the company's direction since
Eisner took over. That has to say something!
|Yes, it says that they are upset
that Imagineering is no longer the center of the Disney
And the Imagineers are probably correct.
With Walt around, the parks would have a stronger history of
Remember, though, just about everything that we
like about WDW was designed and created without Walt's
Every great movie since 1970 was done without Walt (and
MANY bad movies were done WITH Walt)
The new park going in at Tokyo Disneyland is
looking very good without Walt.
I'm not saying that every move Disney has
made in the last 34 years has been good, but the Disney
batting average over that time is definitely exceptional,
whether Walt would approve or not.
want your feedback! Join the debate by mailing us both. Just click here.
Alex and Kevin debate current events and
review Disney books.
column is about opinions; unfortunately, we don't know
any important Disney insiders so they are just our
opinions. We are bringing this column to you as two
ordinary Disney fans, much like yourself. We hope you
enjoy and respond.