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Monday Mouse Watch: Harry Potter and the Letter of Intent

Monday Mouse Watch: Harry Potter and the Letter of Intent

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So what's the verdict on Bob Iger's first year as the new head of the Walt Disney Company? Judging by various press reports that I've read over the past two weeks, most people seem to think that Bob's done a pretty good job so far.

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Oh, sure. There are those (myself included) who think that the Walt Disney Company paid way too much for Pixar. And there's still an awful lot of upheaval going on at Disney Feature Animation (Where just last week, it was revealed that there will be significant staff cuts once production of "Meet the Robinsons" is completed) as well as Walt Disney Imagineering (Where it's recently been rumored that several members of senior management will soon be shown the door).

 

But overall, the general feeling these days seems to be that the Mouse House is getting its house in order. And a lot of the credit for both Disney's rising stock price as well as the rising morale levels among Disney employees has to be given to Bob Iger.

Soooo ... Having had such a positive impact on the corporation during his first year on the job, what's Bob going to do now to top that? Well, to be honest, Iger's looking to borrow a page from Michael Eisner's old playbook.

To explain: How many people remember how exciting it was back in the mid-1980s when -- thanks to Eisner's Hollywood connections -- many of Tinseltown's top talents were suddenly willing to work with the Mouse? We're talking about people like Steven Spielberg (Who used his considerable clout to finally get "Who Framed Roger Rabbit" made) and George Lucas (Who lent both his "Star Wars" characters as well as his technical expertise to WDI in order to make "Star Tours" happen).


Disney CEO Robert Iger

Photo courtesy of Google Images

Unfortunately, Steven & George were eventually put off by Michael's overly-aggressive management style. Which is why Spielberg & Lucas both basically stopped doing business with Mickey by the mid-1990s. But -- for a brief while there -- it was a very exciting time to be a Disney fan. The very idea that George Lucas & Steven Spielberg -- the modern masters of film fantasy -- were both working with the studio as well as Imagineering in order to create brand-new films and theme park rides ... It just boggled the mind.

Well, now it's October of 2006. And while Spielberg & Lucas are still in the game, many other masters of fantasy have come on the scene in the past two decades. People who've created compelling new characters that have connected with audiences around the globe.

And Iger? He's anxious to start doing business with people like this. So that Bob can prove to the world that -- once again -- the Walt Disney Company is a place where top talents work together to creat the very best in family entertainment.

Toward that end, Disney officials very quietly began talks with J.K. Rowling, the acclaimed author of the "Harry Potter" series. And after months of negotiations, Rowling finally signed a letter of intent. Which then awarded the Walt Disney Company the right to begin preliminary development of a theme park-related project featuring the Harry Potter characters.


"Harry Potter" author J.K. Rowling
Photo courtesy of Google Images

Now please note that we're only talking about just a letter of intent here. Which -- according to investorsworld.com -- is:

A letter from one company to another acknowledging a willingness and ability to do business ... A letter of intent is not a contract and cannot be enforced, it is just a document stating serious intent to carry out certain business activities.

And given Ms. Rowling's reputation for being one tough negotiator (Case in point: When Warner Bros. was getting ready to produce the very first "Harry Potter" film, the studio insisted that at least one actor in the cast be a "name." To be specific, Warners wanted Robin Williams for the role of Hagrid. But J.K. absolutely refused to allow the studio to cast this Academy-award winning comedian as Hogwart's big-hearted gamekeeper. And given that one of the terms of the sale of "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone" movie rights was that the author had final approval over the film's cast ... Well, that's how Robbie Coltrane wound up filling Hagrid's over-sized boots) ... Just because Disney now has a letter of intent with J.K. Rowling doesn't mean that you should plan on queuing up for "Harry Potter: The Ride" anytime soon.

Mind you, Disney's still hoping that negotiations can be completed in time for the company to be able to formally announce its arrangement with Rowling between July 7, 2007 (I.E. When the seventh & final Harry Potter book will be released to stores) and July 13, 2007 (When the movie version of "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix" is released to theaters). When the world is expected to be in the grips of unprecedented Harry Potter mania.


Photo by Jeff Lange

Still, given how protective J.K. can be about her characters ... Disney knows better than to count on their "Harry Potter" letter of intent being turned into a really-for-real full-blown contract. Which is why senior company officials decided to put together a contingency plan. One that would still allow the Mouse to be in business with a modern master of fantasy should Rowling actually decide to pull the plug on Disney's theme park deal.

"And which other modern master of fantasy are we talking about?," you ask. Well, how many of you caught that story last week about how the Walt Disney Company has been in discussions with Peter Jackson and the Weta Workshop? You know, the folks responsible for the smash hit "Lord of the Rings" film trilogy?

Th press reports will tell you that the real reason that Mouse House officials have been meeting with Jackson is because Disney is interested in using Weta's artists to create new animated films for the studio. But given that Walt Disney Pictures is actually planning on scaling back on the number of feature length cartoons that it will be releasing each year (With the hope that this artificial scarcity will then translate into renewed audiences' interest in new Disney animated films) ... Well, that cover story doesn't hold much water then, does it?


"Lord of the Rings" director Peter Jackson
Photo courtesy of Google Images

So what other reason might Disney officials have for meeting with Peter Jackson? Perhaps to gain access to Weta's extensive design library for a yet-to-be-announced "LOTR" -based project?

Well ... Let's just say that -- should J.K. Rowling opt not to take her current arrangement with the Mouse beyond the letter-of-intent phase -- Mickey now has a hobbit up his sleeve.

Anyway ... If you were wondering what Bob Iger was going to top last year's landmark deal to acquire Pixar Animation Studios ... Well, now you know.

Your thoughts?

 

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  • While it would definetely be awesome for something to come of these things, and while he has done a pretty decent job thus far, there's no way I can approve of the jacket Bobby's wearing in that photo up there. Just awful...:)
  • This sounds awesome, but a voice in the back of my head is shouting "Disney Decade Part 2"...  I sure hope not...
  • "When the world is expected to be in the grips of unprecedented Harry Potter mania."
    ---
    And--just between Potter fans--a few months before the craze will officially be OVER:
    Book 6 managed to rescue the big black eye the franchise had taken from Book 5 (although the movie condensation should improve the book's long hard slog), but most fans are now just  eady to wrap the whole story up with a bang and be done with it....Like the Star Wars prequels, at this point we're just tuning in to find out what happens.  And in '07, What Will Happen is that the story will end.
    (As Warner will find out when they try to flex that "Original story" clause they put into the marketing contract, and Movie 8 never quite gets into production.)

    Shades of Goosebumps--The Eisner Disney had a bad habit of grabbing outsiders' third-party mainstream crazes just before they hit the tag sale...Which really, they shouldn't even have to be doing now; this isn't MGM Studios in '91.
    Not to mention that any attraction would have to be based on the -characters- only, since Warner still has the more familiar movie imagery tied up, as it's already a cash-hub of their MovieWorld parks overseas.

    ====
    "So what other reason might Disney officials have for meeting with Peter Jackson? Perhaps to gain access to Weta's extensive design library for a yet-to-be-announced "LOTR" -based project?"
    ---
    ...Um, aren't they already working with WETA for that Narnia thing?
    But, from the linked article, sounds like Peter Jackson just wants to use his neat-o Motion-Cap characters to get into the CGI Feature Glut.  No hobbits mentioned.

    ====
    "But given that Walt Disney Pictures is actually planning on scaling back on the number of feature length cartoons that it will be releasing each year (With the hope that this artificial scarcity will then translate into renewed audiences' interest in new Disney animated films) ... Well, that cover story doesn't hold much water then, does it?"
    --
    No, it does:  Now that Pixars count as "in-house" movies, they want a few more Nightmare Before Christmas-style "alternative" off-house animateds to acquire and throw into the mix for major seasons, and heard that Peter wanted to play, too.
    Although they probably won't be going back to the "Valiant" and "Wild" studios for major off-house "alternatives" any time soon.  :)
  • Oh, and from the linked article:
    ----
    "Weta has been in discussions with Walt Disney Studios over the options open to the Wellington-based workshop, which was responsible for The Lord of the Rings and King Kong.
    Disney's Animation Creative Director Dave Bossart rates Weta Workshop highly for the special effects they have already produced in Peter Jackson's films.
    He now expects them to take it further and move into making films based on digital characters.
    Bossart says film makers are always looking to work with the best, and it is a natural evolution for a company like Weta Workshops to move into animation."
    ---
    ...Um, excuse me if I misread, but it sounds awfully like the CGI Feature thing isn't even Jackson's IDEA--And that Bossart's trying to talk him into it so they can get his name on the company credits.
    Nice looking cart, but I'll wait for which pictures the horse feels like making.
  • One thing about Bob Iger's first year is that  he really  dropped the ball by deciding not to release "Song Of The South"
  • " Which then awarded the Walt Disney Company the right to begin preliminary development of a theme park-related project featuring the Harry Potter characters."
    I feel that 'Harry Potter' is not Disney...why can't Disney use its existing, or brand new, entertainment properties?
    Wouldn't having 'Harry Potter' at Six Flags make more sense, since they have Looney Tunes characters, which are Warner Bros. characters?

    "(With the hope that this artificial scarcity will then translate into renewed audiences' interest in new Disney animated films)"
    Quality, not quantity.  I've liked all of Disney's animated films, but, for whatever reasons, be it marketing, story, etc., some people haven't been going out to see some of Disney's animated films...I think "Rapunzel" will do well, since it's a Princess film, but I honestly don't know how many people will "Meet the Robinsons", although I'm excited for it.

    I don't see how acquiring some rights to HP or LOTR is going to "top last year's landmark deal to acquire Pixar Animation Studios".  Pixar already had a history with Disney; they made Disney films.  It made sense to acquire that company.  Besides hoping to make money, I just don't see how HP or LOTR will fit into the Walt Disney Company.  Sure, Star Tours or Indiana Jones aren't Disney.  I like those attractions, but I'm sure I'd like them more, and they'd make more sense, if they were Disney originals, or based on Disney characters...

    DerekJ said:
    " since Warner still has the more familiar movie imagery tied up, as it's already a cash-hub of their MovieWorld parks overseas."
    So, HP already has theme park attractions existing?  So why would Disney steal someone else's idea?

    Disney has "Pirates" and "Narnia"- I know they have been and are still expanding the "Pirates" line, but how about a Narnia attraction, besides the walk-through at MGM?

    DerekJ said:
    "they want a few more Nightmare Before Christmas-style "alternative" off-house animateds to acquire and throw into the mix for major seasons, and heard that Peter wanted to play, too."
    But, since they have Pixar, you'd think they wouldn't need any more outside-produced animated films... I like how TNBC has become an actual Disney film.  I don't mind that "Who Framed Roger Rabbit" was a joint deal.  Heck, people may have been skeptical about Disney working with Pixar for "Toy Story".  But, "Valiant" and "The Wild" didn't do so well at the box office, and I've heard people say that the stories and animation just aren't up to par.  I saw "Valiant" with a free ticket, and it wasn't Disney-good, but it was entertaining enough.  I didn't bother with "The Wild"...not because I saw "Madagascar", because I didn't, but I guess I'm fed up with Disney, who should (and use to) pride itself on its amazing animation studio, who now apparently doesn't.  I know that DisneyToon Studios is part of Disney, and they animate the sequels, but do they also ship out animation to other studios overseas, or are those actual legit Disney studios?  Regardless, I wonder if Walt would be happy with this.  My guess is no, but how can I know?  I wonder how Roy E. Disney feels about this.  He should have more of an impact at the studio.
    Sorry for getting off topic.  

    Elcapitan Man said:
    "he really dropped the ball by deciding not to release "Song of the South""
    That really disappointed a lot of fans, I'm sure some African American fans, too.  They really need to do a widespread opinion poll on the movie, and maybe even show it to some select groups of people.  Who cares if Maya Angelou won't like Disney after this; when did she ever help the Mouse?  I have nothing against her, but I'm hoping that's not a key factor in not releasing SOTS.  I can't see that the majority of moviegoers can't handle the film.  I've seen it; I can't see what's wrong with it...it's Reconstruction period.  I wonder what Leonard Maltin thinks...Disney needs to get him on board and rerelease SOTS.

    Sorry about this long rant...I'm done!



  • A Narnia-HP-LOTR union would make for pretty cohesive and interesting land or even a full park... only one of those could probably sustain an attraction, but I think it would take all three to form a coherent universe for a theme park... perhaps that's the thinking here? again, "I'll believe it when..."
  • Jim, you know something we don't about the release of Book 7?  

    Or did you not read past the first line of this article?

    http://www.hpana.com/news.19200.html
  • As a lifelong fan of LOTR it is interesting to hear even the smallest rumor of discussions with Peter Jackson (wow has he lost some weight!).

    I can't get excited about animation projects involving LOTR -- not only have previous efforts left a bad taste, but it's hard to imagine wanting anything else in this area after the wonderful trilogy that Jackson brought to life.

    Much more interesting would be a theme park project. Even with basic dark rides it would be possible to put together some terrific attractions, and with more imagination put into the format of the attractions there's no limit to what could be done. As my enthusiasm is shared (and often surpassed) by tens of millions of people around the world, such a project would have the potential to attract many people who would otherwise not visit Disney parks.

    Oh, yes, Harry Potter would be very cool too! ;)
  • I thought that Jim had reported a while ago that Disney was looking into buying the publisher that has the rights to the Harry Potter Series...wouldn't that make more sense than getting involved with the actual author?

    ...and let's be frank, Disney has plenty of characters in its stable that would make for very good rides if a little extra time a money were spend on them.  I don't think that I am the only one who thinks that the cheap-quel idea has not only applied to these crappy made for DVD movies, but also most park rides lately.

    To make my point, wouldn't it make more sense to fix what you have first instead of paying someone to screw up their project as well?
  • IMO, Disney should be working on an attraction based on a little film they had last year, oh what was its name, made a ton of money - oh yeah - NARNIA!!!!

    I mean what the hell? Is Disney buying up other people's creations again instead of developing its own? Crap! I thought things had changed...
  • What if Harry dies in the final book? Will that change Disney's desire to pursue these rights?
  • brick1974 said:
    "Jim, you know something we don't about the release of Book 7?  
    Or did you not read past the first line of this article?
    http://www.hpana.com/news.19200.html"

    I was just thinking the same thing.  There is no release date scheduled for HP7 yet.  They 7/7/07 was just speculation.
    As for acquiring Harry Potter theme park rights, I say leave it alone.  Unless disney is going to create an entirely separate park, I don't think Harry Potter belongs in any of the disney theme parks.
  • Who said Harry was coming to a Disney theme park? All the letter of intent says is that Disney can develop a theme-park related project.  With the rumors swirling about an indoor theme-park project in Singapore and the proposed Shanghai project NOT being another Magic Kingdom, it's very possible Disney could be looking at a Harry Potter or LOTR theme park.
  • Much like Voldemort, these Harry Potter-Disney stories just won't die. They seem to pop up every year like unwanted weeds.

    This is the standard reasoning of Disney Co wanting to establish an ongoing "relationship" with these Hollywood players. The Indiana Jones dark ride would have been much better and more cost effective if it was themed to Aladdin's Cave of Wonders, but Disney Co wanted a relationship with George Lucas and tried to start a relationship with Harrison Ford. George didn't end up releasing episodes 1-3 with Disney Co, and Harrison was done before he started.

    "Development deals" and "working relationships" are established everyday in Hollywood, at great expense, and maybe 1% of those deals actually pay off with anything substantial. They became necessary with the fall of the studio system, and the rise of MBA non-creative leadership. Development deals and lunch expenses can be shown on a spreadsheet - creativity can't.

    Now, great - Disney Co signs a deal with HK Rowling to build a Harry Potter ride. It's going to be expensive - very expensive. She will insist on it. To build her E ticket to her specifications, you could probably build 3 amazing Disney E tickets that don't require licensing fees.

    That's what happens when you intimidate, threaten, and fire all your creative people. The park was opened with a guy who walked around and said things like: "a mountain with a roller coaster inside it would look good there," or "let's re-create New Orleans over there." You didn't have to look outside the company because he surrounded himself with people who came up and said things like, "ya know, Main Street needs a fire truck," or "how 'bout if we put the people in boats?" And the guy in charge said "great - go do it."

    In today's world you don't get, that because the guys in charge have never created anything themselves.  Oh hold on, just a second. Disney Co does have a guy like that in charge now. What was his name again? Lassetter, I think. And look at all the heat he's takin'.    He's spending way too much on unnecessary upgrades to the submarine ride, he just doesn't understand how to save money running a theme park, he wants to do things the old-fashioned way - ick! He might have some help if there were any imagineers left.

    So if you're not going to give Lassetter some money to spend, what's the point of spending money on Jackson and Rowling? Disney Co had their crack at Harry Potter and turned it down or didn't want to spend the money, depending on who you talk to. Same story with LOTR.

    Spend the money on people you've got now. If someone's succeeded on a Disney owned cable channel - try them on ABC. If they succeed at ABC, put them in a Disney movie. If someone is creative in one area, they probably are creative in another area. The company is packed with people that are thrilled to work for the legacy that is Disney Co and would work round the clock designing a theme park ride for free - but where is the press release in that?
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