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Observations and Analysis of Disney in the News

News Commentary from July 31 - August 6

The Humorous Side of Disability

Alex Stroup

Promotional photo © Touchstone Pictures
Promotional photo Touchstone Pictures

I was standing in line for a movie the other night, when the guy in front of me turned around and started talking to me. I hate it when that happens. Anyway, what he had to say, in its entirety was this: "You know what's going to be funny? Bubble Boy, that's going to be a funny movie." I could only grunt an acknowledgement and hope he'd go away. I'd never heard of Bubble Boy. Then I got the treat of actually seeing the trailer just minutes later. Twice in one day I get to hear about this movie.

Then, when looking for a news piece to talk about, I stumble across last week's press release from the Immune Deficiency Foundation denouncing Disney's upcoming move, Bubble Boy. Three times in less than a day was enough for me; I figured I should comment on the brouhaha.

Bubble Boy looks to be your standard teen slapstick involving the fish out of water in search of love. In this case, the fish out of water is a young man (play by Jake Gyllenhaal) who has an immuno- deficiency disease requiring him to live in a plastic bubble. (John Travolta starred in a more dramatic take on this issue in 1976's The Boy in the Plastic Bubble). For some reason (love?) he needs to go somewhere, builds a mobile bubble suit, and spends the rest of the movie being hit by cars.

The fundamental concept of this movie is offensive. Wouldn't it be amusing if a dangerously ill person went on a road trip? Now, isn't that a funny idea? Now, I'm not saying Disney shouldn't be allowed to make this movie, but I do have to question the thought process that must have lead to its approval. Fortunately it is being released under the Touchstone label so as to avoid directly tainting the Disney name.

Usually I'm among the first to decry the "PC-ification" of our culture, but really, based on the trailer, there is no joke in this movie other that doesn't have the punchline "isn't this a funny disease?" That's vulgar, that's crass, and I agree with the IDF that it is needlessly cruel to those who live with the disease.

I wouldn't have seen the movie anyway, but I hope this piece will give a little more support to the Immune Deficiency Foundation's call for a boycott. If nothing else, the guy in front of me at the movies may reconsider the hilarity of the situation.


The Upside of a Downturn

Lani Teshima

A recent Orange County Register noted that both John Wayne Airport and Orange County travel agents are confirming the national trend of a slowdown in air travel this summer. Passenger traffic at John Wayne is down 4.2% for June of this year, an unpleasant sign in insecure times, when we should be hitting the peak summer season.

Well, Orange County travel agents aren't the only ones shaking in their shoes. When the economy takes a dip, the first thing many folks do is tighten up their own belts and stop spending their disposable income on stuff like vacations. Certainly, if you are worried about avoiding a job lay-off, putting all of your extra money into a savings account is probably looking a bit more attractive now than it did just a year ago.

If however, you are willing to spend a bit of money, you are in for a sweet treat! The airlines are getting really concerned, and are starting to behave in ways that may be familiar to those of us who have watched Disney try tactic after tactic to get more guests to visit Disney's California Adventure park -- the airlines have been lowering prices on its seats like you wouldn't believe.

How much of a discount?

I recently bought tickets on Delta Airlines for a trip to Orlando. Even on sale, I would have been happy to have found anything under $300. Well, I ended up paying a little over $300 -- about $330. You probably think I didn't get such a bargain airfare since I used a major airline, right? Wrong.

The $330 I paid for, for a trip to occur in early December, is for TWO round-trip tickets, not one. That's right, I only paid about $164 per round-trip ticket. I could barely believe my eyes when I saw that price.

Wait, there's more.

The friends with whom we are traveling are annual passholders at Walt Disney World. They were able to use their AP discount to book rooms for us at the on-property All-Star Music resort for a jaw-dropping $59 per night. Granted these are not your five-star, first-class chalets, but for less than $60 a night we are saving enough on accommodations alone to be able to pay for one multi-day admission ticket for WDW. Wow.

If you are willing to spend a little money for a vacation anyway, look around. You are bound to find some pretty serious discounts. This is turning into a consumer's smorgasbord.


The Pay-for-Play Myth

Alex Stroup

Michael Eisner (Chairman and CEO -The Walt Disney Company) at the premiere of "102 Dalmatians" Photo by Eric Charbonneau / Berliner Studio / BEI. (PRNewsFoto) (PR Newswire Photo Service)
Michael Eisner at the New York premiere of "102 Dalmatians" Photo by Eric Charbonneau / Berliner Studio / BEI. (PRNewsFoto) (PR Newswire Photo Service)

I've discussed this before, but the current economy is really showing us that pay- for- performance is mostly a myth. Among top executives, anyway. A recent Los Angeles Times article surveyed executive pay in comparison to corporate performance and some interesting results were returned.

Although almost half of the surveyed companies experienced declines in net income or posted a loss and 40% experienced reduced shareholder returns, only a quarter of CEOs experienced any reduction in their cash compensation. The most obvious example is Michael Eisner who saw his cash compensation rise from $750,000 in 1999 to $12.3 million in 2000; a period in which net earnings fell and Disney stock was outperformed by both its industry and the market as a whole.

So, how are the huge salaries and bonuses justified (to be fair, Eisner's salary is on the low side)? Accounting gimmickry is the answer. Increasingly the goals which must be achieved are tied to a companies pro forma results which essentially say "Hey! If you ignore all the one time expenses, then we did pretty well." Eisner received his bonus for meeting a goal in a new category: growth in adjusted net income; a measurement they have not publicly defined.

But all this misses the point. For as long as executive bonuses continue to be tied to purely internal goals, then executives will be able to justify large bonuses even when they haven't been doing a good job. Many would prefer that the shareholders were not Eisner's primary concern but they are; and as long as they are, the shareholders should demand that he only be rewarded when he does well for them.

Eisner's (and other executives') bonus should be tied, at least in part, to performance within the industry! Disney gained 20%? That's not so great if the rest of the industry gained 35%. Disney lost 8%? That's pretty good if the rest of the industry lost 15%. Until the proper benchmarks are selected, though, executive compensation will continue to spiral out of the bounds of imagination.



ABOUT THIS COLUMN

One of the lesser-known features of MousePlanet is our News headlines in our MousePad discussion forum, where we try to direct you to any important news stories about the entire Disney company.

One thing we can't provide in that resource is an idea as to how those stories, generally about very specific portions of the company, may fit into the larger Disney picture. Towards that end, the Reporter's Notebook provides brief comments on those recent stories that are of interest.

We welcome your questions and comments, but keep in mind that all submissions to the Reporter's Notebook become property of this Web site. They may be edited for length or style and in consideration of a family readership. Questions may also be quoted on other parts of the site.

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