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MousePlanet Mailbag for April 8, 2004

We receive considerable feedback regarding our site. Although we cannot publish them all, the following may be of interest to our readers. Mark was apparently hording his mountain of reader comments, until we gave him a little nudge. Today's mailbag is stuffed full of feedback for Mark.

Feedback for Mark Goldhaber

Stan writes:

Thanks for including my wild idea of the Steve Burke/John Lasseter combo in your latest commentary… someone actually reads these comments (but then I forgot to put my name/e-mail address in the fields to take credit for it ha-ha ) Suggestion for Roy Disney is for him to outline a general plan and persons to succeed Eisner; I'm sure he's thought of this already, but I'm guessing that some shareholders thought they were really choosing between Eisner and the unknown, and the unknown was more frightening, hence not a higher no-confidence vote as he would have anticipated. A rosier-looking replacement plan would do wonders for swaying public opinion instead of just “Eisner needs to go.”

Hi Stan – Thanks for writing back (and for including your name and e-mail address this time). The Burke/Lasseter combo is indeed intriguing, though another reader pointed out a potential problem with it -- Burke may be predisposed to agree to the Comcast merger. As Roy and Stan pointed out in their press conference, naming names could put people in jeopardy with their current employers with no guarantee that the Disney job will ever happen. Good thought though.

Marilyn Unruh writes:

Thank you for helping to keep the campaign of Roy Disney and Stan Gold going. I found just standing in line for the Save Disney meeting such an exciting experience. Talking to all the people near me in line and hearing what they had to say was an enjoyable education. People who came from all over with one common goal. And then to hear the presentation from Roy and Stan - I am so glad I was one of the last group of people admitted into the meeting.

Then I had the pleasure of sitting three rows behind Roy Disney and his family at the stockholders' meeting. That was another education in itself. I found the Disney presentation quite interesting. Sometimes we were told about how many units were shipped (not sold), or comparing income in the third quarter as compared to the first quarter, then another person compared increases in income over eight or so years. I wish I had taken notes. Just to keep track of the varied time frames that were used to give the most favorable presentation.

I, too, had thought about Michael Eisner would/will be with the Comcast offer. I did not come up with the same scenario as you did but what I thought was not what I consider to be in the best interests of the Disney Company but would be in the best interests for Michael Eisner and his millions in stock options.

Thanks for all the time and effort you put into your Web site. I do enjoy reading what you have to say and want you to know how much your work is appreciated. Your Web site helps to keep the Disney passion going - when we are away from the park.

Hi Marilyn – Thanks for writing! I have a feeling that the news is going to be slow for a while. I think that you'll see things get very quiet after the meeting with the six retirement funds and the Disney board. (Though apparently, they're not going to get the full board, just some to be named later.) It will be interesting to see what leaks out.

Ted writes:

Hello, Mark I just wanted to write to you to say thanks. I really enjoy your articles, especially the article “What next.” I wish that Eisner would step down and let someone else take over for a while. He has done some good but also he has left us all wondering what's next? Since he has taken over, the company has been on a a roller coaster ride. I go to Disneyland a lot and I see a lot of rides closed down just sitting there with nothing in store for them. They closed down the Rocket Rods and the track is just sitting there. The submarine ride closed down and has not be replaced. I think they should have at least had something to replace the rides instead of just letting them sit there.

My father was an Imagineer at W.E.D. back in the '70s and '80s and he said that the company has gone downhill since then. Look what happened on Big Thunder back in September 2003, I mean back when he was working there that would keep the rides better maintained. Now cutting costs is more important that maintenance upkeep. Unless something is done soon another tragedy will happen. Anyways i just wanted to say keep up the good work.

Hi Ted – Yep, Rocket Rods were doomed by budget cuts during design (cutting the banking of turns, leading to destruction of brakes as well as a stop-and-start ride), while the subs were doomed by budget cuts during operation. Tomorrowland looks pretty pitiful at the moment. I'm hoping that, in light of the California Division of Occupational Safety report, and now that Matt Ouimet has replaced Cynthia Harriss, things will pick up a bit at Disneyland. We'll just have to wait and see.

Aaron Wallace writes:

I read your article on what's next for the Disney company. Like everything at MousePlanet.com, I loved it. You raised the possibility of a behind-the-scenes deal between Eisner and Comcast in order to save Eisner. This intrigued me, because I've had a similar (perhaps even opposite) theory ever since this whole thing broke out. Perhaps Roy and Stanley cut the deal with Comcast to make a “fake” bid for the Disney company, having no intentions of actually buying it, in order to scare shareholders and Disney fans alike. If the reaction could be “Eisner's made this company susceptible to a take-over, it's his fault and we've got to get out of his mess,” then it would be an invaluable move for the Save Disney campaign. I think we saw a lot of that similar reaction, and the 43 percent may not have happened without it. What are your thoughts on the likelihood/feasibility of this theory? Interesting stuff. Anyways, keep up the good work at MousePlanet.com.

Hi Aaron – Many of us in the Internet community had tossed that scenario around, but (as I related in my story on the pre-meeting events) Roy and Stan denied having any contact with Comcast, which is why I did not consider it in my article. Of course, if their denials are false, you never know what could have happened. However, since so many are afraid of a takeover, there was a large vote of “don't get rid of Eisner or else Comcast will take that as a sign of weakness and move in.”

I guess we'll just have to wait to see how this plays out. Thanks for writing!

Dean Paul writes:

Mark,

I appreciated your comments and observations, especially about the Comcast timed bid and your thoughts on how Michael Eisner may have instigated it. But I always had a suspicion that Roy Disney instigated it. He and Stan were very quiet at the outset when the offer was made by Comcast, as if they were waiting to see what they had wrought. He could have very easily gone to Comcast and offered them some of the assets (ESPN and/or ABC) after Michael got ousted and his people got installed.

Keep up the good work.

Hi Dean – Many of us had a suspicion about the Save Disney team and Comcast, as well. However, if you read my column on the rally and press conference the day before the shareholder meeting (http://www.mouseplanet.com/dan/bm040303mg.htm), you'll see that I noted, “One new piece of information, quelling some Internet rumors, came when Gold specifically stated that they had had no contact with Comcast and had not discussed the bid with them.” I would think that, if they were to say that and it turned out that they did indeed have discussions, there might be SEC interest, as well. However, since they have definitively stated that they haven't had any discussions with Comcast, and Michael has said nothing on the subject other than the fact that he knew that the offer was coming before it was coming (and, with the board, prepared a response before the offer was actually made), I would tend to lean more in that direction.

Dean replies:

Mark, Thanks for your quick reply. I did read your column mentioned, but I guess the cynic in me (and I have been accused of this on more than 1 occasion) interpreted that line as “we have not had contact with Comcast or discussed the bid, since the offer was made.” Again, keep up the good work and thanks for your time.

Hi Dean – I'd have to go back and pull my tapes of the press conference, but I'm pretty sure that Stan said that they had not had any contact, period. If I get a chance, I'll let you know what I find. Or maybe that'll be fodder for another article. Thanks again for writing.

Vincent Randall writes:

I agree that building something that can show direct profits is going on here. And, certainly we (the folks that know more about Walt E. Disney than he did) understand that Walt mortgaged his homes to the hilt and did what he could each time he had a dream to realize. But, you made a great point in comparison to then and now; Imagine if every ride in Fantasyland had a gift shop? Think about that point. Disneyland was profitable without the gift shops. Why? Because the focus of the attractions was to create an experience. Something that had a story with a beginning, middle and an end. With attention paid to the purpose, the attractions made you want more, to keep feeling good. And, then you could shop.

And it was as fun to discover a memento in a shop. Not like today. And, while that is the case, I find the closing of the shops early at the Magic Kingdom to be testimony of nothing more than Eisner's disdain for spending money on hourly cast members. It all comes circle. Because of the outlandish growth, the two major sources of revenue generation are being bled of cash, to keep the underperforming divisions alive. And, as I mentioned before, the theme parks and the movies are not to be tinkered around with. They must be kept sacred. And, the obvious lack of concern for what should be the life blood of the company makes me sick.

Hi Vincent – I agree. It can probably be best summed up by Walt himself. “When they come here they're coming because of an integrity that we've established over the years. And they drive hundreds of miles. I feel a responsibility to the public.” Can you see Michael Eisner saying that and meaning it the same way as Walt? I can't.

David Stinson writes:

In response to the Mailbag and other coverage of the stockholders meeting and its aftermath, I see it as Michael Eisner mining the company of its innate value (animation, parks, etc.) to engineer the short-term profits that will guarantee a high yield for him upon his exit at the end of his contract (as he sees it). I do not think he is that interested at this point in what this short-term focus will do the company as a whole in the long term. He'll have had his 20 years and can take home the profits with little concern for the real aftermath of his reign. The various Disneys do seem understand this, which is why they want him out now.

Hi David – I think that the short-term vs. long-term issue is one of the cornerstones of the current dispute. How much of it is Eisner planning for his exit and how much is pandering to the day traders and other short-term shareholders is a question to be explored another day. However, it is pretty obvious that there is not much of a long-term plan for restoring value to the Disney name. Thanks for writing!

A Florida cast member writes:

Hi, Just a quick insight into the “tacky carnival rides at Animal Kingdom” - would you believe they are tacky on purpose? What needs to be better communicated is the story that goes with Dinoland. Supposedly, Chester and Hester owned the gas station near the fossil site. Rather than sell the land to the scientists, they decided to turn a quick buck themselves, converted the gas station to a gift store, and their original parking lot became the carnival. Once you know the story, the whole thing makes sense. Unfortunately, no one in the sections seems to be telling anyone the story. I didn't know either, until I started working there!

Hi! I know that the Chester and Hester carny land was themed to tackiness. My beef is that they themed it to tackiness in order to make the carny atmosphere seem more plausible. Just like the Paradise Pier games at Disney's California Adventure, the atmosphere was themed to incorporate booths to separate guests from even more money, showcase unimaginative rides (it's hard for me to call them “attractions” ), and make it seem like there's a reason to abandon imagination in designing the parks.

Of course, that's just my personal opinion.

Philip M. writes:

I know that many people criticize Roy Disney's “Save Disney” campaign as being vicious and unnecessary but I firmly believe that it is the only way to go and will back it all the way. I am only 15 years old and I have never really experienced Disney at its best. I believe that if we stick by Roy and support him all the way, he will win “Round 2” of the Save Disney fight. Can anyone honestly say that if Roy was in charge of the Walt Disney Company there would be so many complaints, cost-cutting and mere disappointments that the company is delivering at the moment?

Hi Philip – I agree that it would be in the company's (and the guests') best interests for Roy to force Michael out. However, we'll all have to hope that it does not turn into a Pyrrhic victory.

Tom Keaney writes:

Mark, What is the story behind Roy's own drubbing at a previous shareholder's meeting? Was this the beginning of Eisner beginning to out-maneuver Roy?

Hi Tom – First off, I really like your site. Unfortunately, I haven't been able to drop by in a while. I keep meaning to order a pack of the “100th” pins.

Anyway, you ask a very good question. Roy did indeed get a withhold vote of about 15 percent back in 1998, I believe. That was back when only a third of the board was up for election in any one year. That was the year when the whole Michael Ovitz debacle hit the fan. If you remember, after he and Michael Eisner had that falling out, Ovitz jumped with one of the largest golden parachutes ever known to mankind. The shareholders were rightfully ticked off, and had a huge withhold vote that year. Roy had the lowest withhold rate of any director up for election that year. I can only imagine what kind of withhold vote Eisner would have received. Of course the lawsuit related to the Ovitz hiring and firing continues to make its way through the court system. If the courts decide that the Disney board exhibited a blatant disregard for their fiduciary responsibilities, I wonder what remedy they will impose. Of course, as Jim Korkis would say, that's a story for another day.

Gretchen Stewart writes:

What has happened to Carousel of Progress and the ride at Epcot where you could choose your background? We were there over Thanksgiving 2002 and the monorail driver guy said Eisner is trying to get rid of anything that Walt had to do with. He, at the very least needs to bring the “retro stuff” that everybody loves back.

Hi Gretchen – the Carousel of Progress has been in “seasonal” operation for at least a couple of years. However, during the Alien Encounter-to-Stitch's Great Escape rehab, the Carousel has been open daily and pulling in pretty good numbers, from what I hear. I believe that the other ride that you are referring to is Horizons, where you could choose your own ending—sea, space, or desert. Horizons closed in 1999, and was demolished to make way for Mission: Space. Horizons actually was conceived well after Walt's death, and opened almost 16 years after Walt passed away. Interestingly enough, earlier tonight I was working on a final edit of a two-part story about Horizons by George McGinnis, who was Project Show Designer for Horizons. The story will appear on the site later this month. I hope you enjoy it.

Matthew writes:

Hello, after reading all these comments I can't help but respond. I am a 23-year cast member who has seen it all (I thought). I understand how things work these days, but I do know what we are doing here (at least at WDW) What the rest of the Company is doing… your guess is as good as mine! But what really means something is that Roy, and all the Old School folks Know What Walt Wanted! Magic! Come here and forget! Come here and Relax! Come here and not worries. We make a lot of $ for us and investors… Where are the cast members who can see this? Ask Mike! He drove all the best people away, I have Leaders Who have no concept of (or ability) to see and or read this! I talk and react five nights a week with 1000 guests a night, I know there feelings and opinions, (and as an old school cast member) I know how to handle them (what they want, what they expect, what they need)! I won't give away the Keys… But I understand (old school) how it should be!

Hi Matthew – I agree that the attempt to squeeze every last dollar out of the company has resulted in money-focused decision making, and poor cast pay has resulted in a lesser pool to select new cast members from. When I heard a couple of years ago that Traditions had been cut from three or five days down to a half day, I was appalled. It seems like “suit 'em up and get 'em out there” is more important than “tell 'em why they're here and what we (and guests) expect from them.”

Susan Main writes:

Thanks so much for all the information in all of your articles. I am fairly new to Mouseplanet (can't believe it took me this long to find it!) and just love to read about all things Walt and Disney. I grew up on Disney and then became a cast member managing a Disney Store as soon as that became an available option for me. I managed a store for five years and soaked up all the Walt information I could, and your article even gave me some more insight — Thanks!

This is interesting—on one trip to the World I was picked up by Tiffany Town-car and my driver this time was an older gentlemen who actually had a construction company and had moved to Florida a long time ago to help build the World and met with Walt Disney quite a few times - he had some nice stories and it was a nice surprise welcome to Walt Disney World that trip! Anyway, have a Disney day and keep those Walt articles coming! (Don't you wish the rest of the world would just listen to Walt?!)

Hi Susan – Thanks for the kind words. Sometimes I wonder what Walt would have come up with if he had lived. If the original Epcot had been built, it might have changed the direction of urban development. Of course, Walt did make mistakes sometimes, but he usually managed to salvage some positives even out of the failures.

Heidi Schliem writes:

Hi Mark - I'm trying to obtain one fun fact about Walt Disney World in Orlando to write on a post card for some kindergartners. Lots of interesting adult reading that I did on the site from which I write but I bet you have a sniglet of information that the kids would find interesting about DW. Could I ask you to give me a one liner of fun history or who was the first character at Disney or something? Thank you very much.

Hi Heidi – I thought that I had the perfect angle on this —I asked my own kindergartner. Unfortunately, everything that he gave me would take up at least the whole postcard all by itself. So I guess I'm on my own on this one. Here are a few fun facts from the Walt Disney World Media Relations Web site that you can rework at will:

  • Walt Disney World guests consume more than 9.7 million burgers, 7.7 million hot dogs and almost 9.3 million pounds of french fries every year (enough fries to circle the world over three times, equivalent to over 8.5 million pounds!). And it takes 18.2 million packets and 1.7 million pounds of bulk ketchup to go along with the meals.

  • Over 2.6 million chocolate-covered Mickey Mouse ice cream bars are sold every year at Walt Disney World Resort.

  • 322,000 pounds of popcorn are popped every year at Walt Disney World Resort—that's 5 million bags of buttery kernels.

  • More than a million pounds of watermelon are served every year at Walt Disney World Resort.

  • Mickey Mouse himself has 175 different sets of duds ranging from a scuba suit to a tuxedo. Minnie Mouse's wardrobe contains some 200 outfits including everything from a cheerleader ensemble to evening gowns.

  • Walt Disney World Lost and Found is one busy place. Every day an average of 100 pairs of sunglasses are turned in at Magic Kingdom alone. There have been enough “shades” submitted each year in the Vacation Kingdom to outfit every resident of Sun City, Arizona; Sun City, California; and Sun City, Florida. Since 1971, an estimated 1.5 million pairs of glasses have found their way into the “lost” bin.

  • Walt Disney World Resort is home to Florida's two highest “mountains.” In Magic Kingdom, Big Thunder Mountain rises 197 feet above Frontierland. Space Mountain in Tomorrowland is 180 feet tall. (And Mount Everest for the Expedition: Everest being built at Disney's Animal Kingdom will top them both, at 199 feet.)

If you emptied the water from The Living Seas in Epcot into one-gallon milk jugs and laid them side by side they would stretch from here to New Orleans, Knoxville or Raleigh—540 miles. And the recipe for the artificial sea water called for 27 truckloads of sodium chloride or common table salt. I don't know if this is on the high side for your kindergarten class. My son would probably find them interesting, if he hadn't gone to bed between the time that I asked him and the time that I got these factoids from WDW. If you'd like more (or different types of) facts, let me know. Thanks for writing!

Barbara Kempen writes:

I would appreciate an answer to my question. Thank you for taking the time as I know you must receive so much e-mail. Always in years past I have been mailed the Disney resort postcards with the discounted rates. I haven't received one this year. Have they discontinued this? I'm wanting to plan a vacation in the next few months but don't know if I should wait for the postcard. Thanks again. Barbara Kempen

Hi Barbara – Disney usually sends out the postcards whenever they've got extra rooms that they want to fill. With occupancy running much higher than usual, they may be holding off sending out postcards until closer to the availability date. I'm not sure if they're going to send to everyone that got them before or not. Your best bet may be to make your reservation now to make sure that you have a room, and then add a discount code if they come out later. (Disney reservationists are very familiar with this practice.) In the meantime you can check over at MouseSavers.com for any new codes that may be released. Mary is usually the first one to post any new codes. We will frequently link over to her site in the weekly WDW Update at MousePlanet as new codes become available.

Good luck planning your trip!


Thoughts, questions, or comments? Contact Mark here.

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PREVIOUS MAILBAGS

2005

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• October: 1327

2004

• January: 8, 15, 22
• Febuary: 12, 19, 26
• March: 18, 25
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• May: 13, 20
• June: 3, 17, 24
• July: 1, 22, 29
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• September: 9, 23, 30
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2003

• November: 13
• September: 4, 18
• August: 21, 28
• July: 10, 17, 24, 31
• June: 12
• May: 22, 29
• April: 10, 24
• March: 6, 13, 27
• February: 13, 20
• January: 9, 16, 30

2002

• December: 5, 12, 19

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