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A Stroll Down Disney Memory Lane

A Stroll Down Disney Memory Lane

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You know, as a writer, it's kind of frustrating. You stay away from the Internet for approximately a month (Sorry about that, gang) and all you hear about is this bad, very bad and even worse news about your "laughing place" (AKA the Walt Disney Company).

I mean, think about it. Just over the past month or so, the Walt Disney Company has been hammered by all of these truly awful headlines:

An outbreak of flu aboard the Disney cruise line forced the company to cancel at least one cruise as well as spend days disinfecting the boats.

United Airlines went bankrupt. Which -- given that the Walt Disney Company is one of this airline's larger corporate customers -- means that the Mouse may be out upwards of a $100 million now.

"Treasure Planet" inexplicably tanked at the box office. Costing a reported $140 million, it now seems unlikely that Disney's latest feature length cartoon will recover more than a third of its projected production and promotion costs.

The on-going drama with Disney's board of directors. With particular emphasis on the unseemly spectacle of Disney CEO Michael Eisner brawling with Roy Disney and Stanley Gold, the two men who were instrumental in bringing Eisner on board at the Mouse House back in 1984.

EuroDisney reporting a bigger than expected (for some, anyway ;-)) loss of 30 million Euros due to "special costs linked to the opening of the second gate." (Yeah. Right. As if the Mouse wouldn't take into account the costs involved with opening a brand new theme park. This is just fancy accountant talk for "We were really surprised that the public didn't respond favourably to Disney Studios Paris.")

And -- perhaps the weirdest Disney-related moment of the past few weeks (don't ask me why I'm including this in the list) -- pop star Michael Jackson telling a court that, just like Walt Disney, he was blessed by God with a talent for creating family entertainment but found himself in business skills.

As you can see, as a long time Disney fan, it's been kind of difficult for me to watch the Walt Disney Company get tripped up by all these troubles.

If I were a pessimistic person, with no knowledge of the history of the Walt Disney Company and/or what this corporation is capable of, it might be easy to give up hope now. To believe that the company that Uncle Walt (and his brother Roy) had built up has little chance of staying afloat in this sea of troubles. But then, thinking back to years past (As well as reading between the lines when it comes to all the news and rumours that are swirling around the company), I can still find reasons to hope.

You see, you and I both know that the Walt Disney Company is capable of producing great and wondrous things. Movies like "The Lion King." Attractions like Disneyland's "Temple of the Forbidden Eye."

But it's important to remember that, as wonderful as the finished products may have been, the creative process involved in the actual creation of this particular movie and attraction were (according to those folks who actually survived the production of "The Lion King" and the "Indiana Jones Adventure") nothing short of hellish. There are animators who still cringe whenever someone brings up the story meltdown "The Lion King" underwent midway through production. And given the almost 10 years of constant struggle that was involved with coming up with a workable design for an "Indiana Jones" attraction ... there are Imagineers who still twitch whenever someone even mentions the name "Temple of the Forbidden Eye."

So -- out of great struggle and strife -- the Walt Disney Company usually (eventually) delivers something absolutely amazing. So -- given all the troubles that this corporation has been going through lately -- I just have to assume that something truly wonderful lies just beyond the horizon. Another killer attraction, perhaps ("Mission: Space" and its simulated zero G)? Or a flat out wonderful film (There's been some awfully good buzz lately about Disney's "Bears" movie. How this made-mostly-in-Florida animated film could be the next "Lion King").

Which is why -- when thinking about the Mouse -- I always try to stay somewhat optimistic. Always holding onto the hope that -- no matter how bleak things may seem -- "Like a bolt out of the blue," fate WILL step in and see the Walt Disney Company through.

So -- with the hope that better times DO lie ahead for the Mouse House -- I ask: What's your first and/or favorite memory of a Disney theme park or movie?

For me, my first memories of a Disney theme park -- still quite vivid in my mind -- dates back to 1984. I'm six years old and I'm coming out from under the train's station in Town Square. There's a parade going on -- a giant Jiminy Cricket with his badge stands on a float, waving to the crowd. Cinderella's castle is rising in the distance. The next thing I know, I'm flying over the rooftops of London aboard a tiny pirate ship (Time and geography don't mean much to the six year old mind).

Which brings me back to my point. Disney was coming out of its worst period ever back in 1984 ... yet look at all the great rides and movies that came directly on the heels of that awful time?

Attractions like "Splash Mountain," "Star Tours" and "Captain EO." Entire theme parks like Disney-MGM Studios, Euro Disneyland and Tokyo Disney Sea. Wonderful movies like "The Little Mermaid," "Beauty and the Beast" and "Aladdin."

This is why I think it's always important to hold out a little hope when talking about the Walt Disney Company. Sure, they've been missing the mark lately. Maybe there's been too much focus on the bottom line and not enough aiming for the stars. But this corporation has survived bad times before ... and this kid from Italy can't help but think that Disney will do it again.

An emotional piece, such as this, is always difficult to write. It has to be carefully balanced between what you feel, what you know, what you wish and what you have heard from reliable sources ... but -- if at least half of what I've been hearing lately comes to be -- I'm certain that the Walt Disney Company will eventually make a comeback.

At a time like this, it's important to remember that Disney has just successfully completed a very difficult operation. No, I'm not talking about the expansion of its theme park empire. But rather, the restructuring of all of the Mouse's partnership and sponsorship deals.

Visa, Microsoft, Nestle, HP, Hasbro (among many others) have filled Mickey's coffers with all sorts of gadgets and gizmos (and more importantly, money). All the tools necessary to re-invent the Disney theme park experience.

Jim -- in his recent JHM stories -- has laid out in great detail how Disney plans to use all of its sponsorship deals to help raise customer satisfaction levels through with its "Destination Disney" program. Microsoft is reportedly ponying up big bucks for Epcot's "Time Racers" attraction (a ground-breaking new ride system that's slated to be loaded into Spaceship Earth sometime in 2005). And Disneyland Resort Paris is close to closing a few "blitz deals" which should provide the financing necessary to add a whole new "land" for the beleaguered Disney Studios Paris theme park as well as a water ride to the Disneyland Paris' "Frontierland" area (And no, it's not "Splash Mountain." Audio animatronic figures will play a relatively minor role in this proposed ride. Expect plenty of special effects, though, in this adventurous attraction ... and that's all I can safely say about this attraction. At least for now.)

And yes, Walt Disney Feature Animation has stumbled badly these last couple of years. With the possible exceptions of "Mulan," "Tarzan" and "Lilo and Stitch," all of Disney's most recent animated films since "The Lion King" have under-performed at the box office. Only the computer animated movies that Pixar Animation Studios has been producing for Disney have proven to be really-for-real hits.

But lately, there's been some news about some promising new pictures coming from WDFA. Films like "Bears," "Home on the Range" and "Chicken Little" (a film by the same folks who did "the Emperor's New Groove" that I've been hearing really great things about). Plus a long overdue return to the realm of the fairy tale, with Glen Keane reportedly readying a feature length version of "Rapunzel."

It's news like this that gives me hopes that 2003 could be 1984 revisited. The raw ingredients of greatness are there. All the Walt Disney Company has to do is take those ingredients, cook them up right and serve them with some style. (Why am I suddenly so hungry?)

As I wrap up this heart driven (rather than head driven) piece, all I ask is that -- in this somewhat bleak time for the Walt Disney Company -- that you hang on tight to all the good memories that you may have about the Mouse. Whether it's the smile you got when you first saw *** Van *** dancing with those penguins in "Mary Poppins," or the overwhelming feeling you got as you floated into "It's a Small World' and encountered all of those singing dolls, or just a warm feeling that you get when you remember sitting in front of your television on Sunday night as Uncle Walt introduced another "Wonderful World of Color."

You see what I'm saying here? The Walt Disney Company was capable of great things in the past. Which is why I'm certain that Disney will rise above its current problems and bring us lots of magical entertainment for many years yet to come.

Do you have any stories that you'd like to share about your own "magical moments"? Events, things that you'd experienced that made you fall in love with the Mouse? If so, why not share them with other JHM readers by posting them over on the site's discussion boards?

For me -- this picture pretty much says it all.

Hugging Pooh!

That's it for now. Hope to see you all again soon, maybe cuddling a Disney character!

Andrea "MickeyFantasmic" Monti

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