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Steve Jobs, Walt Disney, Jim Henson and the matter of time

Steve Jobs, Walt Disney, Jim Henson and the matter of time

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The three men were engaged in a spirited conversation when I took a seat directly behind them. This was a screening room at the Walt Disney Studio and we were there to get a look at a new animated feature film being produced by Pixar Animation Studios. In front of me and to my right was the Vice Chairman, Roy Edward Disney and to my left was animation veteran and Disney Legend Joe Grant. Seated in between the two of them was the guy who owned the fledgling animation company. His name was Steve Jobs.

I made this quick sketch of a healthy Steve Jobs
while working on Toy Story 2 at Pixar in 1998

I'm sure Steve had already read most if not all the books on Walt Disney. However here was the opportunity to speak with two men who actually knew and worked with the Old Maestro himself. We had at least eight minutes or so before the screening would begin, so Steve Jobs took this time to dig as much information as possible out of these two Disney veterans. "Why did Walt Disney do that," he inquired, "and what was the motivation behind that decision?" Each answer only prompted another question, and Jobs probed deeper and deeper. It became clear he wanted to know everything about Walt Disney and his decision-making process. Plus, he was able to get his answers firsthand from the two men who probably knew Disney better than most.

The partnership between The Walt Disney Company and Pixar Animation Studios was no accident. No one knew that better than Steve Jobs. Though this was in the early days of the relationship it was already apparent these two creative companies would blend their talent and technology to build great products and would thrive in the market place. It was all a matter of time.

The years that followed were significant and tremendous value was added to both companies. Pixar Animations Studios wowed the film community by producing a string of hit animated motion pictures and the Disney Studios continued their expansion in the world of entertainment that included theme parks, cruise ships as well as other media. Though the partnership sometimes suffered under Disney CEO Michael Eisner's constraints, a truce was finally reached and Jobs sold Pixar to Disney for a fair sum of money. However, the story doesn't end here and Steve Jobs did not walk away after Disney's acquisition. Steve Jobs took a seat on Disney's Board of Directors and continued to consult with the Company. It was no coincidence that Disney, Pixar Animation Studios and Apple were beginning to come together. I'm convinced that Steve Jobs had a plan, and that plan was yet to be realized.

It would appear that Apple had no difficulty selling whatever Steve announced

In the last year of his life, Walt Disney confided to his son-in-law Ron Miller that  he had only one request. Fifteen more years would probably be enough to accomplish the things the Old Maestro had on his mind. Walt seemed convinced it would take at least that long, and those years were needed to bring his dreams to fruition. Sadly, Walt Disney passed away in December of that same year. We can only wonder what would have been accomplished at the Disney Company had Walt managed to regain his health. Such was not to be for Disney, nor was it for Steve Jobs. As Apple continued to move in the direction of becoming less a technology company and more of a consumer entertainment company I have no doubt that Steve Jobs, much like Walt, had a vision for the future. Clearly, the vision included Apple, Pixar and Disney.

I was told by Disney insiders that the former Apple Chairman and CEO attended a meeting here at the Disney studio only weeks ago. It was fairly well known that Jobs was consulting with Disney especially in the area of consumer products. I can't help but wonder what else he was up to. As I related earlier, Steve Jobs, much like Jim Henson, was a perfect fit for the Disney Company. Sadly, that was another special relationship cut short by Henson's unexpected passing. The lesson we've all learned from this is that all men, even great ones, can suddenly be taken away.

With the loss of Steve Jobs last week I can't help but look back on that special screening at the Walt Disney Studio so many years ago. I still remember all the questions Steve asked about Walt Disney and I remember his insatiable curiosity about the Old Maestro of animation. What was Steve up to, I wondered? After success with Apple and Pixar, could he possibly have had his sights on another large media company? Perhaps not, but I can't help but wonder what might have happened if he did.

A much thinner, gaunt Steve Jobs introducing the iPad just a few years ago.
He was still a great salesman

Did you enjoy the time that you spent with Floyd Norman today? Well, if you'd like to learn more about the many amazing & amusing adventures that this Disney Legend has had over the course of the 40+ years that he's worked in the animation industry, then you definitely want to check out some of the books which Mr. Norman has written.

Floyd's most recent effort - "Disk Drive: Animated Humor in the Digital Age" - is available for purchase through blurb.com. While Mr. Norman's original collection of cartoons and stories -- "Faster! Cheaper! The Flip Side of the Art of Animation" - is still for sale over at John Cawley's Cataroo. And if you still haven't had your fill of Floyd, feel free to move on over to Mr. Fun. Which is where Mr. Norman posts his musings when he's not writing for JHM.

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  • I don't think you'll find too many Jobs fans among the people that knew him.

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  • As Apple continued to move in the direction of becoming less a technology company and more of a consumer entertainment company I have no doubt that Steve Jobs, much like Walt, had a vision for the future. Clearly, the vision included Apple, Pixar and Disney.

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