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The View from Inside

The View from Inside

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Picture a tall, somewhat handsome and imposing man. A guy who automatically catches your eye whenever he enters a room because of his physical stature as well as his impressive charisma. This is the Disney CEO.

Wouldn't you love to really know what's going on inside of this guy's head? Find out what this CEO is really thinking at this incredibly difficult time in Disney Company history? Well, thanks to the nice folks over at Walt Disney Imagineering -- who agreed to let me borrow their Mighty Microscope earlier this afternoon -- you can.

Now please keep your hands and arms inside the Atomobile while I set the dial to "itsy bitsy" and ... we're inside. Right behind that giant forehead. And -- if you listen carefully -- you can hear ...

Yep, Disney's CEO is stressing. Big time. He's worried about what's happening with the corporation's stock price. He's wondering why the movers and shakers down on Wall Street just can't get behind the Disney company anymore. Why is it that all these guys -- and the press -- ever seem to talk about anymore is all the mistakes that the Mouse makes?

"I mean, can't these guys recognize all the great things that I've accomplished during my time here in the big chair?" the CEO sputters. "Like ... giving the go-ahead for Disney to build the most innovative and expensive theme park in the history of the industry."

"Or that new futuristic attraction for Epcot. The one that lets guests experience what it's like to journey into space," the CEO huffs. "That was a pretty daring choice too."

Sadly, no one's awarding Disney's CEO any points for doing daring stuff these days. Which is why the Mouse House's Big Cheese is beginning to feel an awful lot like Rodney Dangerfield; he can't "get no respect" these days. Not from the press. Not from Wall Street. Not even from Disney's own board of directors.

"I just don't get the credit that I'm due from those guys," Disney's CEO sighs. "I mean, I'm trying to be a visionary. See outside the box. Didn't I just allow the Imagineers to develop a brand new Magic Kingdom ... which we'd build on another continent?"

"Isn't that at least worth recognizing as some sound business thinking?" Disney's CEO continues. "I mean, Tokyo Disneyland has been such a huge success. It just makes sense for the corporation to build another theme park somewhere else on the globe. Don't I get any points for seeing how obvious that is?"

Glancing out the window of his corner office, Disney's CEO spies the Feature Animation building on the Burbank lot and thinks: "Maybe things would be different now if we just had a new hit feature length cartoon? I mean, audiences really seemed to go for that mermaid movie. But the one where the teenage boy searched for that treasure ... Yikes! And that dinosaur movie. I just don't know what happened with that movie. We tried every trick in the book to put realistic looking dinos up there on the big screen. But nobody seems to be buying it."

Disney's CEO look away from the window now, and sinks back into his big chair, deep in thought. "Maybe we really should listen to our critics," the Big Cheese muses. "Maybe the studio should go back to its roots and produce more fairy tales."

"But what about those folks who says that the future of movie making is in computer graphics?" Disney's CEO grumbles to himself. "Which is the right path that I should be putting this company on right now?"

Disney's CEO runs a hand through his thick head of hair as he ponder the Disney corporation's future ...

"Wait a minute, Andrea!" I hear you JHM readers saying. "How can Disney's CEO run a hand 'through his thick head of hair'? Isn't Michael Eisner rapidly balding?"

Who said I was talking about Michael Eisner?

Yeah. Sorry. I deliberately tried to trick you folks. The CEO that I am actually profiling in today's column isn't Eisner, but rather Ron Miller -- the guy who ran the Mouse Factory for the 17 months prior to Michael Eisner's arrival.

You see, Uncle Mike isn't the only Disney CEO to ever face trying times. Back in May 1983, when Disney Chairman Card Walker finally handed the reins of power over Ron Miller, Walt Disney Productions was facing one of its worst crises ever. Back then, the stock price was in the toilet. And greedy green-mailers like Saul Steinberg and Ivan Boesky were circling the corporation. Wondering what prices they could get if they succeeded in acquiring the Disney corporation, then broke the company up into smaller, more marketable units.

"Now wait a minute, Andrea," I can hear you saying. "How was I supposed to know you were actually talking about Ron Miller? I mean, you confused me by mentioning all that contemporary Disney stuff like Tokyo Disney Seas theme park, the 'Mission: Space' ride at Epcot, the movies 'Treasure Planet' and 'Dinosaur' ..."

No, actually, I didn't. If you carefully re-read that part the story and then think back to what the Walt Disney Company had been going through, been building and/or releasing in the early 1980s, you'll realize that:

That "... most innovative and expensive theme park in the history of the industry" was not Tokyo Disney Seas. But rather, Epcot Center. Opening in October 1982, this WDW expansion project -- which had originally been budgeted for $800 million -- ended up costing the corporation over a billion dollars to complete.

Or that "... new futuristic pavilion for Epcot. The one that lets guests experience what it's like to journey into space?" That's not "Mission: Space." But rather, "Century 3," the Future World pavilion that actually opened a year or so after EPCOT Center officially opened. Though this attraction would eventually be renamed "Horizons" prior to its grand opening, it still did take WDW guests on a ride to a simulated space station. Giving them a brief glimpse of what future astronauts might see.

And that reference to "... I allowed the Imagineers to develop a brand new Magic Kingdom ... which we'd build on another continent" was NOT talking about Hong Kong Disneyland. But rather, Euro Disneyland. Or -- as that resort's know today -- Disneyland Paris.

You see, few people release that -- in the early 1980s -- Jim Cora and *** Nunis were making regular trips to the Disney executive suite in Burbank, in a desperate to convince the suits there that the time was really ripe for Walt Disney Productions to build a theme park in Europe. Card Walker kept pooh-poohing the idea. Whereas Ron Miller ... well, given the aggressive way that Asia had embraced Tokyo Disneyland, Ron reportedly felt that the time was finally right for the Mouse to start drawing up some plans for a European invasion. Which is why Miller finally gave the Imagineers the go ahead to start developing a Disney theme park for Europe in late 1983.

As for that "mermaid movie" that I mention in the article. That wasn't "The Little Mermaid," but rather, Touchstone Picture's 1984 release, "Splash."

The "... movie where the teenage boy searched for that treasure." Again, that wasn't young Jim Hawkins in "Treasure Planet." But rather, Taran, the pig boy who was searching for that cursed kettle in Walt Disney Pictures' 1985 release, "The Black Cauldron."

And "... that dinosaur movie" wasn't alluding to Walt Disney Pictures' Summer 2000 release, "Dinosaur." But the studio's 1985 fantasy adventure, "Baby: Secret of the Lost Legend."

As for the reference to "... computer graphics," few people remember that it was Ron Miller (while he was serving as President of Walt Disney Productions) who actually greenlit production of "Tron," the first feature length film to ever make significant use of CG. (Interesting bit of trivia here: "Tron" is actually the film that inspired Disney animator John Lasseter to get into the CG business. So, if there hadn't been a "Tron," maybe there wouldn't have been a "Toy Story" or a "Monsters, Inc." So maybe animation fans owe Ron Miller a much larger debt of gratitude than has been previously recognized.)

You see what I'm saying here, folks? Ron Miller really never gets the credit that he's due. He's the guy who greenlit "Tron." Ron's the studio executive who finally got Disney out of the family film ghetto by starting up Touchstone Pictures. He also radically increased the company's reach by starting up the Disney Channel.

Yet Ron's short reign as the head of the Mouse House is usually dismissed out of hand because he only held power for such a short amount of time. Besides, it's easier just to give in to the clich├ęs: That Miller only got that job because he was Walt's daughter's husband. That Ron was really just a dumb jock. That the guy had played one too many USC football games without wearing a helmet.

The reality is ... Ron Miller was actually a lot brighter than that. More importantly, that much of the success that Michael Eisner had immediately after his arrival in Burbank in September 1984 (when Uncle Michael officially succeeded Walt's son-in-law as CEO of Walt Disney Productions) was built on the foundations that Ron Miller had already put in place.

Given how shabbily Miller was treated when he was heaved out of the Mouse House, I seriously doubt that Ron would have much sympathy for the situation that Uncle Michael currently finds himself in. With the stock once again in the toilet. And -- just like in the early 1980s -- the wolves of Wall Street are reportedly circling the Disney corporation yet again. Wondering if there's some significant money to be made off of the Mouse's misfortune.

But still ... one has to wonder what Ron Miller is making of Michael Eisner's current predicament? Is he gleeful that Eisner's finally getting his just desserts? Or sympathetic -- knowing from experience how difficult it is to be seated in the hot seat whenever around you seems to be gunning for your job?

"What do you, Andrea, think that Ron Miller thinks of Michael Eisner's current situation?" you ask. Well -- since I'm a fan of both Michael Eisner and Ron Miller -- I have this fantasy where Eisner flies up to the Napa Valley to meet Miller at the Silverado Vineyard (the award-winning California wine-making concern that Ron has run since he left Disney back in the early 1980s).

Immediately upon arriving at the vineyard, Uncle Mike apologizes to Miller for the awful way that the Walt Disney Company had handled Ron's exit. Miller would then forgive Eisner. Then the past and present CEO of the Walt Disney Company would sit down over a nice bottle of Sauvignon Blanc and discuss what it's like to an embattled Chief Executive Officer.

Then Ron can tell Michael about the most important thing that he learned from playing football. Which is: when you take a hit, you don't just lie down and die. You get back up and get back in the game.

Taking Miller's advice to heart, Eisner would then fly back down to Burbank, tough it out and eventually get the Walt Disney Company back on track ...

I know that's how this particular story would play out if life were like a Disney movie. But somehow I get the feeling that this isn't the way things are actually going to work out for Michael Eisner. But wouldn't it be nice if it did?

'Til next time,

Andrea "Mickeyfantasmic" Monti

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