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Why For?

Why For?

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Ben B. writes in to ask:

Jim,

This is from (this week's "DizBiz" column):

"By the way, there's an interesting story about how the Partners statue came to be in the center of the Hub at Disneyland. There isn't time to tell it here. Let's just say it has to do with one of Imagineering's better ideas for keeping the "suits" from ruining Disneyland's sightlines. If you'd like to know more drop Jim a line and ask him to tell you the whole story."

I'd be very interested to hear this story. :)

Thanks,
Ben

Dear Ben:

This particular story isn't one of mine. It's actually one that my ex-wife -- Michelle Smith AKA the Fabulous Disney Babe -- used to feature on her tour of Disneyland. Michelle has been gracious enough to allow me to "borrow" this anecdote from time to time (provided, of course, that I always give her credit for this story).

Anyway ... If you talk with the Guest Relations staff at Disneyland, WDW's Magic Kingdom, Tokyo Disneyland and/or Walt Disney Studios - Paris, they'll tell you that the reason that the "Partners" statue was placed in their theme park was because the Walt Disney Company wanted to honor its founder, Walt Disney.

However, were you to talk to the Imagineers who actually originated the "Partners" project (particularly the original incarnation of the statue, which stands in the planter in the center of Disneyland's Hub), they'd tell you a very different story as to why Mickey and Walt occupy that particular spot in the Anaheim theme park.

So what's the deal? How many of you remember the mid-1980s? That intriguing time right after Michael Eisner came on board as the new head of Walt Disney Productions. Back when Uncle Mike was determined to do anything he could to increase attendance levels at the Disney theme parks.

Given that building brand new E-Tickets like "Star Tours" and "Splash Mountain" -- attractions that were sure to bring crowds back to Disneyland and Walt Disney World -- was going to take a couple of years (and tens of millions of dollars), Eisner was looking for interim fixes back then. Some sort of temporary special events that could be staged inside the parks that would bring guests back to Anaheim and Orlando. Particularly during the off-season.

Which is how we ended up with months-long entertainments like the "Blast to the Past" (which celebrates the music and pop culture of the 1950s), "Disneyland State Fair" (which brought such unique entertainments as pig races and pie eating contests to the park) and "Circus Fantasy."

It was "Circus Fantasy" that particularly irked the Imagineers. Why for? Because -- even more than the "Disneyland State Fair" (which erected a ferris wheel directly in front of the Main Street train station ... which -- according to many of the guys at WDI -- totally ruined the carefully crafted story telling of Walt's theme park ) -- the circus really disrupted Disneyland. Particularly when the Special Events staff did things like placing a motorcycle "Cage of Death" right in the center of the Hub.

As they stood there, watching a motorcycle zoom 'round and 'round in front of Sleeping Beauty Castle, the Imagineers talked amongst themselves. "We've got to stop this. Otherwise, they'll just come back every year and put something really stupid in front of the castle. Something that will totally ruin Disneyland's theming and storytelling."

So one of the guys at WDI chimes in and says "Well, what if we were to put a statue in the center of the Hub? Of, say, Walt ... and Mickey! They'd never take something like that down. If we put something like that in place here, the Special Events guys would never be able to put another 'Cage of Death' or Ferris Wheel here."

That's why the Imagineers contacted master sculptor Blaine Gibson and initiated the "Partners" project. Not because they really wanted to honor Uncle Walt. But rather, because they just didn't want to see another "Cage of Death" in front of Sleep Beauty Castle.

Intriguing story, don't you think? Well, this is just the sort of great behind-the-scenes story that you'll get to hear if you take my ex-wife's course -- "Manufacturing the Magic: The History of Disneyland and Growth of the American Theme Park" (course number F5B01) --- which will be held over three Saturdays starting on May 24th.

This course is will be a full blown examination of the history of the American theme park. The classes -- which will run from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. -- will feature guest speakers. Including yours truly. Who will be detailing how the construction of Disneyland knock-offs like New England's Pleasure Island and Southern California's Pacific Ocean Pier actually drove Walt Disney to aggressively expand his own Anaheim theme park.

Registration for the class -- which takes place at LTU's Orange County campus -- is already underway. To register, just call LTU at 714-427-0588. The cost of the class is $129.00. Class times are 9:00 am to 4:00 pm.

If you can't make it out to Costa Mesa to physically take part in Michelle's class ... not to worry. My ex -- working with the nice folks over at iuniversityonline.com -- has also cooked up an on-line version of her "Manufacturing the Magic" theme park class. To learn more about the on-line version of this class, follow this link.

You wanna know the best part of Fab's "Manufacturing the Magic: The History of Disneyland and Growth of the American Theme Park" course? The class will conclude with Michelle leading the folks who've signed up for the LTU version of the class on one of her highly acclaimed tours of Disneyland (theme park admission NOT included). On this tour, you'll get to hear all about stuff that never made it off WDI's drawing board. Full blown lands like Discovery Bay and Big City U.S.A.

So be sure to check it out. Okay ... enough with the gratuitous plugs for the mother of my child. Let's move on to other subjects, shall we?

Next, Matt M. writes in to ask:

Hi Jim -- first time/long time, really love your site. Quick question: as much as I have come to loathe Disney DTV sequels (with good reasons aplenty, but that's neither here nor there), I have always had a weakness for Dumbo (my favorite Disney film ever!).

The Dumbo DVD, released in Autumn 2001, showed some fluffy promotional material for Dumbo 2, just enough to get me interested. Since then I haven't heard a peep, and I noticed it wasn't on your extensive BVHE report. Is there any word on this release?

Thanks a bunch,

Matt M.

Ah, yes. "Dumbo 2." This project -- along with "Bambi 2" -- is currently on hold. Why for? Because Disney Television Animation is still trying to decide whether or not it wants to go forward with CG sequels to both of these classics.

That's right. A computer animated follow-up to both "Bambi" and "Dumbo." I know that may sound sacrilegious to some of you Disneyana fans out there. But Disney was serious enough about this idea that it had Joe Grant, the 95-year-old Mouse House vet who was actually the supervisor of story of "Dumbo" back in 1940-1941, come in last year to view test footage of several CG versions of the flying pachyderm.

Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on how you feel about CGI squeezing out traditional animation as Hollywood's choice du jour), none of the Dumbo test footage was quite up to snuff. So Disney Television Animation opted to put "Dumbo 2" and "Bambi 2" on hold for a year or two. 'Til enough advances can be made in computer animation so that direct-to-home-video-and-DVD sequels could be produced to these 1940s era Disney classics that actually looked like the original animated films.

So a little more patience is necessary, Matt. "Dumbo 2" is coming. As soon as someone teaches 2003 era computers (and -- more importantly -- 2003 era computer animators) how to ape the look and style of Disney's master animators.

And finally, Mark B. writes to asks:

I just got done reading your very informative and interesting article regarding the Disney/Pixar relationship over at Digital Media FX.

I thought Finding Nemo would be Pixar's 4th film in their 5 film contract.
1) Toy Story
2) A Bug's Life
3) Monster's Inc
4) Finding Nemo
5) The Incredibles

I know Toy Story 2 doesn't count toward the deal, but I don't know why Cars would be number 5 and end the 5 picture deal. Do you know? Thanks.

Mark B.

Mark,

What you need to understand is that the Walt Disney Company and Pixar Animation Studios are actuallly in the middle of their third deal negotiation. Their first agreement -- which Michael Eisner and Steve Jobs signed off on 'way back in 1991 -- was just for three films. But -- when "Toy Story" turned out to be such a monstrous hit when it hit theaters back November 1995 -- Disney quickly decided that it had to renegotiate its deal with Pixar.

That second pact -- which was announced February 24, 1997 -- called for Pixar Animation Studios (starting with its November 1998 release, "A Bug's Life") to deliver five new feature length films to Walt Disney Pictures. So -- (as you already mentioned, Mark) given that "Toy Story 2" doesn't count toward the completion of this pact -- the five pictures covered by the second Disney / Pixar deal are:

1) "A Bug's Life" (November 1998)
2) "Monsters, Inc." (November 2001)
3) "Finding Nemo" (May 2003)
4) "The Incredibles" (Holiday Season 2004)
5) "Cars" (2005 release date yet to be determined)

And what's the current status on the negotiations for a third Disney/Pixar deal? Disney insiders has been quoted as saying that Mouse House executives expect to spend most of the month of June to trying to wrap up their negotiations with Steve Jobs. Jobs is said to be pushing for another three picture deal, rather than agreeing to yet another five film extension of Pixar's current arrangement with Disney Feature Animation. And two of the proposed titles on the table (in an effort to get Mickey to sign off on the deal) are the sure-to-be-hits "Toy Story III" and "Monsters, Inc. II."

Unfortunately, given the financial terms that Steve Jobs is now trying to get Michael Eisner to sign off on (Jobs is said to be modeling his new Disney deal on the one George Lucas was able to get 20th Century Fox to agree to in order to land "Star Wars I - III." In which Fox only got a 5-7% distribution fee, while Lucas got to keep the bulk of the box office), it's now seem only 60% likely that Disney will actually go forward with extending its Pixar pact. Which may explain why Pixar Animation Studio is already actively developing its first post-Disney feature. A film that's reportedly built around the premise of the adventures of a mouse who lives inside on a tony New York City restaurant.

Given that I'd like to see "Toy Story III" and/or a sequel to "Monsters, Inc." I'm hoping that Disney and Pixar are actually able to come to terms regarding yet another extension of their deal. But since there are so many variables right now (I'm told that a lot is depending on how well "Finding Nemo" does during its first two weeks at the box office. If the film does really well, Jobs may feel compelled to spur Disney's deal and strike out on his own. If "Nemo" somehow manages to under-perform, Disney may think that it can now push for better financial terms ... which may also result in the third deal getting derailed), it's hard to predict what's actually going to happen.

Still, given that Eisner is still smarting over the fact that the Muppets (a deal that Uncle Mike was SURE was already in the bag) got away, I'd imagine that he's going to play it extra safe with the Pixar negotiations. Dotting all the I's. Crossing all the T's. Doing everything he can to make sure that this one doesn't unravel in front of his eyes.

Given that Forbes has already singled Eisner out as the worst CEO in the country, Uncle Mikey can't afford any more bad news right about now. Which is why (I'm betting here) that -- when push comes to shove -- Disney's CEO will agree to whatever Jobs is asking. Just so the Mouse can avoid yet another series of "Disney Blows It ... Again" headlines in the financial press.

Okay. That's it for this week's "Why For." I'll be back next week with even more stories ... as well as a couple of special announcements. Talk to you then, okay?

Have a great weekend,
jrh

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