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Eisner emerges as “Save Disney” submerges

Jim Hill uses last month’s walk of fame ceremony for Donald Duck as a leaping-off point for an update on the Save Disney movement.

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There was a surprise guest at Donald Duck’s walk of fame ceremony last month in Hollywood: Disney CEO Michael Eisner.

In honor of his 70th birthday, Johnny Grant — the Honorary Mayor of Hollywood — and Michael Eisner — CEO of the Walt Disney Company — presented Donald Duck with his very own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame last month.

Photo by: Eric Charbonneau©Berliner Studio/BEImages.

“What’s so surprising about Eisner turning up outside of the El Capitan for this photo op?,” you ask. Well, for months now, Disney’s embattled CEO has been limiting his public appearances. Trying to maintain a very low profile. Out of concern that – should Michael appear in public and wind up getting cat-called by some of the Disney faithful – it would look very bad for his image.

But – over the past few months – Disney’s Big Cheese has begun emerging from the shadows. Which – according to some Mouse House watchers I’ve spoken with – speaks volumes about the CEO’s psyche.

“Yeah, Michael’s been making a lot more public appearances lately,” said one company insider. “He’s no longer concerned about having to deal with embarrassing questions from the folks associated with Save Disney. Eisner feels that that movement has lost a lot of its momentum over the past few months. Which is why he now feels free to appear in public again at functions like that Donald Duck thing.”

That’s quite a statement, don’t you think? But – then again – it is kind of hard to argue that the Save Disney movement remains the powerhouse that it once was.

I mean, can it really be just six short months since Roy Disney & Stanley Gold rode into Philadelphia – determined to ouster Eisner? Back then, these guys were front page news.

photo by Nancy Stadler

Whereas now … To be honest, it’s actually kind of sad to go by SaveDisney.com & see what’s become of the Save Disney movement. By that I mean: Roy & Stanley used to be newsmakers. Nowadays … Well, they seem to be reduced to running this anti-Disney clip service. Where Disney & Gold eagerly link to any & all articles that say something negative about the Walt Disney Company.

And – even when the articles posted there have something positive to say about the Mouse – the Save Disney folks still try to put a negative spin on that story. Take – for example – the recent Reuters report about how Euro Disney SCA is thinking of adding a “Tower of Terror” attraction to that resort’s Walt Disney Studios.

Given that that fledgling theme park is admittedly desperately in need of new rides & attractions, you think that this would be good news, right? Not in the eyes of the Save Disney folks. Who chose to frame their site’s link to Reuters’ “Tower of Terror” story with a snide headline of their own: “It Worked So Well at DCA …”

This is what’s so sad about Save Disney these days. Disney & Gold supposedly started this movement because they saw themselves as a positive force. Agents of change for the Walt Disney Company. And now … The whole thing seems to have devolved into this group that likes to grouse about the Mouse.

Oh, I know, I know. The Save Disney faithful will tell you that “We have to stay positive. We have to stay focused. Remember that our goal now is that we get Michael Eisner to step down by September of 2006.”

Which is all well and good … Except that I remember all this talk back in February about Save Disney was going to have Eisner ousted by the end of April. So what happened to that plan?

Okay. I know. Nobody anticipated that Michael Eisner – when confronted with that extremely embarrassing proxy vote back in March – would simply dig in his heels and refuse to give up control of the Walt Disney Company. Roy & Stanley never anticipated that contingency.

Now – to make matters worse – Eisner’s actually begun addressing some of the concerns that Save Disney initially brought up. Take – for example:

  • The condition of Disneyland: As Roy spoke with the Disney faithful in Philadelphia back in March, he was heard to remark: “Would it kill them to paint some of the buildings at Disneyland?”

    Evidently not. Disneyland’s right in the middle of an amazing park-wide facelift. Supposedly on Eisner’s order, every single structure within the theme park is to be painted. So that the “Happiest Place on Earth” can look its best when Disneyland’s 50th anniversary officially gets underway in May of 2005.

  • More family-friendly films: Another of Save Disney’s bones of contention was that the Walt Disney Company is losing its family-friendly image. That the corporation is no longer associated with quality family entertainment.

    Supposedly in direct response to this specific accusation, Eisner ordered that remakes of two of Walt Disney Studio’s most popular family comedies – “The Shaggy Dog” and “The Love Bug” – be put into production. The “Love Bug” remake – tentatively titled “Herbie: Fully Loaded” – started shooting last month in LA with Lindsay Lohan as its star. The “Shaggy Dog” remake – which is supposed to feature Tim Allen in the title role – is slated to begin production next week.

  • ABC Family: Roy & Stanley have repeatedly ripped on Michael Eisner for over-spending when the Walt Disney Company paid $5.3 billion for the Family Channel back in 2001. Saying that – at that price – the Mouse may never turn a profit on its investment in this cable channel.

    Well, never say never, folks. Last month, the Hollywood Reporter revealed that “the Walt Disney Company is close to finalizing a new broad carriage deal with Time Warner Cable.” Which – in essence – means that the ABC Family channel will now have access to more households. Which (hopefully) will expose the floundering cable channel to a wider audience. Which (in theory) will eventually lead to higher ratings and (sometime off in the far distance) profitability.

You see what I’m saying here, folks? Michael has begun addressing many of the same issues that Roy & Stanley initially brought up. Trying to move these problems off the table. Which – in the end – is going to make him that harder to remove from power.

Of course, one might argue that the above actually demonstrates that Disney & Gold ARE effective agents of change. That – by exiting the Walt Disney Company and making a lot of noise about the sorry shape the Mouse House was in back in December of 2003 – they have essentially forced Michael Eisner to clean up his act.

And – given that Eisner actually gave up his chairmanship of the Walt Disney Company as well as freed up the money necessary to improve Disneyland’s appearance – even I have to admit that Roy & Stanley have accomplished some pretty amazing things over the past 9 months.

But – that said – I still haven’t been all that impressed by Save Disney’s post-Philadelphia performance. Back in March, Disney & Gold had the media’s attention. They had heat. They had momentum. They had the Disney faithful right in the palm of their hands.

And now … That’s really not the case anymore. Oh, sure. I hear from Save Disney insiders that they’ve sold a couple of hundred of those “Disappointed” t-shirts. And Roy & Stanley are still said to be trying to put together an alternate slate for Disney’s Board of Directors. Which Disney & Gold are expected to announce sometime in late November.

But in the meantime … The Walt Disney Company has been hard at work, trying to woo back the Disney faithful. Don’t believe me? Then what about that elaborate presentation that the Mouse mounted for the National Fantasy Fan Club back in July? Mickey supposedly sank over $10,000 into putting together that show for the N.F.F.C.’s annual convention. They built an ornate set. Disney brought in singers, dancers and characters from the theme parks. They even hired Steve Whitmire – the veteran Muppeteer who now performs Kermit the Frog – to provide entertainment for the closing evening’s banquet.

The end result was that a lot of Disneyana fans went home from this year’s N.F.F.C. convention thinking: “Maybe the Mouse has turned a corner. Maybe things aren’t really as bad as I had been led to believe.”

Now the real irony here is – back in January – it was Roy’s appearance at the National Fantasy Fan Club’s annual “Kick-off” event that initially got the Save Disney movement its first real major media exposure. It was Walt’s nephew’s comments in front of the Disney faithful that provided fodder for dozens of feature stories. Which is what put Disney & Gold’s efforts on the radar for many business section editors around the country.

Nowadays … Save Disney really has slid off of a lot of people’s radar. It’s been weeks – months even — since any major stories have been written about Disney & Gold’s efforts. (Though my understanding is that the Associated Press may have an article in the works that will serve as sort of a Save Disney update. So I guess we should all keep an eye for that.)

And perhaps because they’re just now getting a sense that – by putting a negative spin on everything that the Walt Disney Company does – Save Disney may actually be alienating the Disney faithful, Roy & Stanley have recently taken a new tack. Witness this excerpt from the most recent SaveDisney.com e-newsletter:

“We’d like to hear from you about the positive changes needed at The Disney Co. We’ve received countless examples of things that haven’t gone right at the Company in recent years. We’d like to ask you to redirect those thoughts a bit and give us a 10 point (bullet point) list of positive changes you would like to see take place at your favorite entertainment/media company.

Please send us an email with your contributions. We’ll compile a master list of the most repeated items and share them on the site. We also want your views so that Roy and Stanley can be responsive to shareholders and customers needs when the time comes to implement change. Write in and be heard!”

Did you catch the significant difference there? The emphasis being placed on “the positive changes needed at The Disney Co.”? Roy & Stanley are now actively trying to shake off their “Grumpy Old Men” images. To once again emerge as positive agents for change at the Walt Disney Company.

Will this gambit work? To be honest, I don’t know. An awful lot has changed since March. There’s no denying that the whole Save Disney movement has lost momentum over the past six months. And a lot of the Disney faithful have (at least temporarily) seem to have lost interest in the cause.

In the meantime, Michael Eisner’s been out there mending fences. Talking with major Wall Street movers & shakers about how Disney has turned a corner. Reportedly even reaching out to Steve Jobs to see if there might be a way for the Pixar / Disney production & distribution deal to be saved.

“That’d be the real death knell for Save Disney,” said one Disney observer. “If Eisner’s actually able to get Steve Jobs to come back to the negotiating table & then cut a deal with Pixar. If Eisner could actually ever pull that off, there’d be no way that Disney & Gold could ever remove him from power then.”

So now … Well, it’s kind of a waiting game. To see what Roy & Stanley now have up their sleeve. To see if Save Disney actually has a way to get people excited about the cause once more.

Please don’t misunderstand, folks. I don’t write stories like this because I enjoy saying bad things about the Save Disney effort. I actually have a lot of respect for Disney & Gold. Remember, I’ve spoken with Roy on the phone. And — when we talked — he seems like a genuinely nice guy.

And as the crew that works for SaveDisney.com … Talk about dedication.

Here. Let me tell you one story that shows how dedicated these people are. Back in July, I’m out in San Diego, attending Comic Con. And one afternoon, I decide that I have to run the great heaping bag of crud that Nancy and I have acquired while walking around the convention center back out to the car.

So I exit the hall. And who do I find out on the steps of the San Diego Convention Center? A Save Disney rep. Standing there in the blistering hot sun, handing out bumper stickers & business cards, trying to win a few more folks over to Roy & Stanley’s cause.

Say what you will about Save Disney’s effort … But it was hard not to be impressed by that individual – standing in that sea of people – still trying to get the word out about Save Disney.

I genuinely felt bad for the guy. Which was why I flipped over my Comic Con credential so that he couldn’t see my name (I’m told that I’m considered the Anti-Christ in Save Disney’s circles for daring to say that Roy & Stanley haven’t always done a good job) and went over to talk with him.

This guy was very polite, very personable. Handed me a bumper sticker, a business card and a “Save Disney” info letter. Tried to win me over to the cause. I’d told him that I’d review the material and try & make a decision later.

I’ve still got that stuff here on my desk, folks. Not so much because I admire Disney & Gold. But more as a tribute to someone else who really believes in their cause. Who stood out in the sweltering July sun for hours at a time, trying to win over a few more converts.

I don’t know if this guy was ultimately successful. I DO know that the janitorial staff of the San Diego Convention Center wasn’t all that fond of Save Disney by the time Comic Con was over. Why for? Well, I’m told that a large number of those bumper stickers wound up getting plastered all over the bathrooms at the convention center. But – hey – I guess when you’re trying to get the word out, you spread the message wherever you can.

Anyway … Getting back to Roy Disney: This past summer, I spoke with a lot of people who’d actually worked with Walt’s nephew while he was chairman of Disney Feature Animation. To a man, they all described Roy as a genuinely nice guy. Sincere. Dedicated. Not at all aloof. A very approachable individual who actually cares about the craft of making feature length animated cartoons.

I was regaled with all these tales about how much fun it was to travel with Walt’s nephew on press junkets. Or to have dinner with Roy & his wife, Patty.

In fact, it was one story that I was told about a recent dinner with Roy & his wife that I found particularly telling. When asked about how things were going with the Save Disney effort, Patty Disney was supposed to have said: “This would be so much easier if we were dealing with Ron Miller again.”

Unfortunately, Michael Eisner isn’t some former football player from USC. Uncle Mikey is an extremely confidant corporate executive, exceptionally skilled when it comes to surviving in tough boardroom situations.

More importantly — to date — Eisner played his side of this game very well. He never once rose to any of the bait that Roy & Stanley put out there. Disney’s CEO also did okay on his appearance on “Larry King.”

And – in the weeks leading up to Philadelphia as well as the months that immediately followed the Disney shareholders meeting – Michael kept a very low profile. All the while quietly addressing many of the concerns that Roy & Stanley had about Eisner’s stewardship of the Walt Disney Company.

Michael Eisner shakes hands with Donald Duck in front of the El Capitan theater as part of the character’s 70th birthday celebration.

Photo by:

Eric Charbonneau©Berliner Studio/BEImages.

Which bring us back to Donald Duck’s walk of fame ceremony. Where Eisner actually seemed happy to be out in public, cutting up on stage with that anonymous cast member who was dressed in the Donald Duck costume. There were no boos when Michael strode on stage. If anything, the crowd assembled on Hollywood Boulevard seemed genuinely thrilled to see Disney’s CEO at this ceremony.

photo by Nancy Stadler

But me? As I was attending this ceremony last month, I couldn’t help but notice one small detail that seemed to escape the Hollywood press corps. That camera platform – where all those shutterbugs frantically jostled for position in order to get a picture of Michael Eisner shaking Donald Duck’s hand – was raised. Which meant that you had to walk up a short set of stairs in order to get up on the platform.

photo by Nancy Stadler

“And just whose star on Hollywood Boulevard was this set of stairs leading up to the camera platform set up upon?,” you ask. Well, I don’t know if you can make it out from this photograph …

photo by Nancy Stadler

… And I’m not entirely sure that this was done deliberately. But those stairs were set up right on top of Roy Disney’s star. Pretty much blocking it from view.

Which – given that literarily dozens of reporters & photographers strode up & down those stairs and never once noticed this great story that was right there in front of them – I think that speaks volumes about how far Roy Disney & Stanley Gold have slid off of the media’s radar.

But – then again – all of the above is just one man’s opinion. Your mileage may vary.

Your thoughts?

Jim Hill

Jim Hill is an entertainment writer who has specialized in covering The Walt Disney Company for nearly 40 years now. Over that time, he has interviewed hundreds of animators, actors, and Imagineers -- many of whom have shared behind-the-scenes stories with Mr. Hill about how the Mouse House really works. In addition to the 4000+ articles Jim has written for the Web, he also co-hosts a trio of popular podcasts: “Disney Dish with Len Testa,” “Fine Tooning with Drew Taylor” and “Marvel US Disney with Aaron Adams.” Mr. Hill makes his home in Southern New Hampshire with his lovely wife Nancy and two obnoxious cats, Ginger & Betty.

Jim Hill is an entertainment writer who has specialized in covering The Walt Disney Company for nearly 40 years now. Over that time, he has interviewed hundreds of animators, actors, and Imagineers -- many of whom have shared behind-the-scenes stories with Mr. Hill about how the Mouse House really works. In addition to the 4000+ articles Jim has written for the Web, he also co-hosts a trio of popular podcasts: “Disney Dish with Len Testa,” “Fine Tooning with Drew Taylor” and “Marvel US Disney with Aaron Adams.” Mr. Hill makes his home in Southern New Hampshire with his lovely wife Nancy and two obnoxious cats, Ginger & Betty.

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General

Seward Johnson bronzes add a surreal, artistic touch to NYC’s Garment District

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Greetings from NYC. Nancy and I drove down from New
Hampshire yesterday because we'll be checking out
Disney Consumer Products' annual Holiday Showcase later today.

Anyway … After checking into our hotel (i.e., The Paul.
Which is located down in NYC's NoMad district), we decided to grab some dinner.
Which is how we wound up at the Melt Shop.


Photo by Jim Hill

Which is this restaurant that only sells grilled cheese sandwiches.
This comfort food was delicious, but kind of on the heavy side.


Photo by Jim Hill

Which is why — given that it was a beautiful summer night
— we'd then try and walk off our meals. We started our stroll down by the Empire
State Building


Photo by Jim Hill

… and eventually wound up just below Times
Square
(right behind where the Waterford Crystal Times Square New
Year's Eve Ball
is kept).


Photo by Jim Hill

But you know what we discovered en route? Right in the heart
of Manhattan's Garment District
along Broadway between 36th and 41st? This incredibly cool series of life-like
and life-sized sculptures that Seward
Johnson has created
.


Photo by Jim Hill

And — yes — that is Abraham Lincoln (who seems to have
slipped out of WDW's Hall of Presidents when no one was looking and is now
leading tourists around Times Square). These 18 painted
bronze pieces (which were just installed late this past Sunday night / early
Monday morning) range from the surreal to the all-too-real.


Photo by Jim Hill

Some of these pieces look like typical New Yorkers. Like the
business woman planning out her day …


Photo by Jim Hill

… the postman delivering the mail …


Photo by Jim Hill

… the hot dog vendor working at his cart …


Photo by Jim Hill


Photo by Jim Hill

… the street musician playing for tourists …


Photo by Jim Hill

Not to mention the tourists themselves.


Photo by Jim Hill

But right alongside the bronze businessmen …


Photo by Jim Hill

… and the tired grandmother hauling her groceries home …


Photo by Jim Hill

… there were also statues representing people who were
from out-of-town …


Photo by Jim Hill

… or — for that matter — out-of-time.


Photo by Jim Hill

These were the Seward Johnson pieces that genuinely beguiled. Famous impressionist paintings brought to life in three dimensions.


Note the out-of-period water bottle that some tourist left
behind. Photo by Jim Hill 

Some of them so lifelike that you actually had to pause for
a moment (especially as day gave way to night in the city) and say to yourself
"Is that one of the bronzes? Or just someone pretending to be one of these
bronzes?"

Mind you, for those of you who aren't big fans of the
impressionists …


Photo by Jim Hill

… there's also an array of American icons. Among them
Marilyn Monroe …


Photo by Jim Hill

… and that farmer couple from Grant Wood's "American
Gothic."


Photo by Jim Hill

But for those of you who know your NYC history, it's hard to
beat that piece which recreates Alfred Eisenstaedt's famous photograph of V-J Day in Times Square.


Photo by Jim Hill

By the way, a 25-foot-tall version of this particular Seward
Johnson piece ( which — FYI — is entitled "Embracing Peace") will actually
be placed in Times Square for a few days on or around  August 14th to commemorate the 70th
anniversary of Victory Over Japan Day (V-J Day).


Photo by Jim Hill

By the way, if you'd like to check these Seward Johnson bronzes in
person (which — it should be noted — are part of the part of the Garment
District Alliance
's new public art offering) — you'd best schedule a trip to
the City sometime over the next three months. For these pieces will only be on
display now through September 15th. 

Jim Hill

Jim Hill is an entertainment writer who has specialized in covering The Walt Disney Company for nearly 40 years now. Over that time, he has interviewed hundreds of animators, actors, and Imagineers -- many of whom have shared behind-the-scenes stories with Mr. Hill about how the Mouse House really works. In addition to the 4000+ articles Jim has written for the Web, he also co-hosts a trio of popular podcasts: “Disney Dish with Len Testa,” “Fine Tooning with Drew Taylor” and “Marvel US Disney with Aaron Adams.” Mr. Hill makes his home in Southern New Hampshire with his lovely wife Nancy and two obnoxious cats, Ginger & Betty.

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Wondering what you should “Boldly Go” see at the movies next year? The 2015 Licensing Expo offers you some clues

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Greeting from the 2015 Licensing Expo, which is being held
at the Mandalay Bay
Convention Center in Las
Vegas.


Photo by Jim Hill

I have to admit that I enjoy covering the Licensing Expo.
Mostly becomes it allows bloggers & entertainment writers like myself to
get a peek over the horizon. Scope out some of the major motion pictures &
TV shows that today's vertically integrated entertainment conglomerates
(Remember when these companies used to be called movie studios?) will be
sending our way over the next two years or so.


Photo by Jim Hill

Take — for example — all of "The Secret Life of
Pets
" banners that greeted Expo attendees as they made their way to the
show floor today. I actually got to see some footage from this new Illumination
Entertainment
production (which will hit theaters on July 8, 2016) the last time I was in Vegas. Which
was for CinemaCon back in April. And the five or so minutes of film that I viewed
suggested that "The Secret Life of Pets" will be a really funny
animated feature.


Photo by Jim Hill

Mind you, Universal Pictures wanted to make sure that Expo
attendees remembered that there was another Illumination Entertainment production
coming-to-a-theater-near-them before "The Secret Life of Pets" (And
that's "Minions," the "Despicable Me" prequel. Which
premieres at the Annecy International Animated Film Festival next week but
won't be screened stateside 'til July 10th of this year). Which is why they had
three minions who were made entirely out of LEGOS loitering out in the lobby.


Photo by Jim Hill

And Warner Bros. — because they wanted "Batman v
Superman: Dawn of Justice
" to start trending on Twitter today — brought
the Batmobile to Las Vegas.


Photo by Jim Hill

Not to mention full-sized macquettes of Batman, Superman and
Wonder Woman. Just so conventioneers could then see what these DC superheroes
would actually look like in this eagerly anticipated, March 25, 2016 release.


Photo by Jim Hill

That's the thing that can sometimes be a wee bit frustrating
about the Licensing Expo. It's all about delayed gratification. You'll come
around a corner and see this 100 foot-long ad for "The Peanuts Movie"
and think "Hey, that looks great. I want to see that Blue Sky Studios production
right now." It's only then that you notice the fine print and realize that
"The Peanuts Movie" doesn't actually open in theaters 'til November
6th of this year.


Photo by Jim Hill

And fan of Blue Sky's "Ice Age" film franchise are in for an even
longer wait. Given that the latest installment in that top grossing series
doesn't arrive in theaters 'til July
15, 2016.


Photo by Jim Hill

Of course, if you're one of those people who needs immediate
gratification when it comes to your entertainment, there was stuff like that to
be found at this year's Licensing Expo. Take — for example — how the WWE
booth was actually shaped like a wrestling ring. Which — I'm guessing — meant
that if the executives of World Wrestling Entertainment, Inc. didn't like
the offer that you were making, they were then allowed to toss you out over the
top rope, Royal Rumble-style.


Photo by Jim Hill

I also have to admit that — as a longtime Star Trek fan —
it was cool to see the enormous Starship Enterprise that hung in place over the
CBS booth. Not to mention getting a glimpse of the official Star Trek 50th
Anniversary logo.


Photo by Jim Hill

I was also pleased to see lots of activity in The Jim Henson
Company booth. Which suggests that JHC has actually finally carved out a
post-Muppets identity for itself.


Photo by Jim Hill

Likewise for all of us who were getting a little concerned
about DreamWorks Animation (what with all the layoffs & write-downs &
projects that were put into turnaround or outright cancelled last year), it was
nice to see that booth bustling.


Photo by Jim Hill

Every so often, you'd come across some people who were
promoting a movie that you weren't entirely sure that you actually wanted to
see (EX: "Angry Birds," which Sony Pictures Entertainment / Columbia
Pictures
will be releasing to theaters on May 20, 2016). But then you remembered that Clay Kaytis
who's this hugely talented former Walt Disney Animation Studios animator — is
riding herd on "Angry Birds" with Fergal Reilly. And you'd think
"Well, if Clay's working on 'Angry Birds,' I'm sure this animated feature
will turn out fine."


Photo by Jim Hill

Mind you, there were reminders at this year's Licensing Expo
of great animated features that we're never going to get to see now. I still
can't believe — especially after that brilliant proof-of-concept footage
popped up online last year — that Sony execs decided not to go forward
with  production
of Genndy Tartakovsky's
"Popeye" movie.  But that's the
cruel thing about the entertainment business, folks. It will sometime break
your heart.


Photo by Jim Hill

And make no mistake about this. The Licensing Expo is all
about business. That point was clearly driven home at this year's show when —
as you walked through the doors of the Mandalay
Bay Convention Center
— the first thing that you saw was the Hasbros Booth. Which was this gleaming,
sleek two story-tall affair full of people who were negotiating deals &
signing contracts for all of the would-be summer blockbusters that have already
announced release dates for 2019 & beyond.


Photo by Jim Hill

"But what about The Walt Disney Company?," you
ask. "Weren't they represented on the show floor at this year's Licensing
Expo?" Not really, not. I mean, sure. There were a few companies there hyping
Disney-related products. Take — for example — the Disney Wikkeez people.


Photo by Jim Hill

I'm assuming that some Disney Consumer Products exec is
hoping that Wikkeez will eventually become the new Tsum Tsum. But to be blunt,
these little hard plastic figures don't seem to have the same huggable charm
that those stackable plush do. But I've been wrong before. So let's see what
happens with Disney Wikkeez once they start showing up on the shelves of the
Company's North American retail partners.


Photo by Jim Hill

And speaking of Disney's retail partners … They were
meeting with Mouse House executives behind closed doors one floor down from the
official show floor for this year's Licensing Expo.


Photo by Jim Hill

And the theme for this year's invitation-only Disney shindig? "Timeless
Stories" involving the Disney, Pixar, Marvel & Lucasfilm brands that
would then appeal to "tomorrow's consumer."


Photo by Jim Hill

And just to sort of hammer home the idea that Disney is no
longer the Company which cornered the market when it comes to little girls
(i.e., its Disney Princess and Disney Fairies franchises), check out this
wall-sized Star Wars-related image that DCP put up just outside of one of its
many private meeting rooms. "See?," this carefully crafted photo
screams. "It isn't just little boys who want to wield the Force. Little
girls also want to grow up and be Lords of the Sith."


Photo by Jim Hill

One final, kind-of-ironic note: According to this banner,
Paramount Pictures will be releasing a movie called "Amusement Park"
to theaters sometime in 2017.  


Photo by Jim Hill

Well, given all the "Blackfish" -related issues
that have been dogged SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment over the past two years, I'm
just hoping that they'll still be in the amusement park business come 2017.

Your thoughts?

Jim Hill

Jim Hill is an entertainment writer who has specialized in covering The Walt Disney Company for nearly 40 years now. Over that time, he has interviewed hundreds of animators, actors, and Imagineers -- many of whom have shared behind-the-scenes stories with Mr. Hill about how the Mouse House really works. In addition to the 4000+ articles Jim has written for the Web, he also co-hosts a trio of popular podcasts: “Disney Dish with Len Testa,” “Fine Tooning with Drew Taylor” and “Marvel US Disney with Aaron Adams.” Mr. Hill makes his home in Southern New Hampshire with his lovely wife Nancy and two obnoxious cats, Ginger & Betty.

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It takes more than three circles to craft a Classic version of Mickey Mouse

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You know what Mickey Mouse looks like, right? Little guy,
big ears?

Truth be told, Disney's corporate symbol has a lot of
different looks. If Mickey's interacting with Guests at Disneyland
Park
(especially this summer, when
the Happiest Place on Earth
is celebrating its 60th anniversary), he looks & dresses like this.


Copyright Disney Enterprises,
Inc.
All rights reserved

Or when he's appearing in one of those Emmy Award-winning shorts that Disney
Television Animation has produced (EX: "Bronco Busted," which debuts
on the Disney Channel tonight at 8 p.m. ET / PT), Mickey is drawn in a such a
way that he looks hip, cool, edgy & retro all at the same time.


Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights
reserved

Looking ahead to 2017 now, when Disney Junior rolls out "Mickey and the
Roadster Racers
," this brand-new animated series will feature a sportier version
of Disney's corporate symbol. One that Mouse House managers hope will persuade
preschool boys to more fully embrace this now 86 year-old character.


Copyright Disney Enterprises,
Inc. All rights reserved

That's what most people don't realize about the Mouse. The
Walt Disney Company deliberately tailors Mickey's look, even his style of
movement, depending on what sort of project / production he's appearing in.

Take — for example — Disney
California Adventure
Park
's "World of Color:
Celebrate!
" Because Disney's main mouse would be co-hosting this new
nighttime lagoon show with ace emcee Neil Patrick Harris, Eric Goldberg really had
to step up Mickey's game. Which is why this master Disney animator created
several minutes of all-new Mouse animation which then showed that Mickey was
just as skilled a showman as Neil was.


Copyright Disney Enterprises,
Inc.
All rights reserved

Better yet, let's take a look at what the folks at Avalanche Studios just went
through as they attempted to create a Classic version of Mickey & Minnie.
One that would then allow this popular pair to become part of Disney Infinity
3.0.

"I won't lie to you. We were under a lot of pressure to
get the look of this particular version of Mickey — he's called Red Pants
Mickey around here — just right," said Jeff Bunker, the VP of Art
Development at Avalanche Studios, during a recent phone interview. "When
we brought Sorcerer Mickey into Disney Infinity 1.0 back in January of 2014,
that one was relatively easy because … Well, everyone knows what Mickey Mouse
looked like when he appeared in 'Fantasia.' "


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Inc. All rights reserved

"But this time around, we were being asked to design
THE Mickey & Minnie," Bunker continued. "And given that these Classic
Disney characters have been around in various different forms for the better
part of the last century … Well, which look was the right look?"

Which is why Jeff and his team at Avalanche Studios began watching hours &
hours of Mickey Mouse shorts. As they tried to get a handle on which look would
work best for these characters in Disney Infinity 3.0.


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Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

"And we went all the way back to the very start of Mickey's career. We began
with 'Steamboat Willie' and then watched all of those black & white Mickey shorts
that Walt made back in the late 1920s & early 1930s. From there, we
transitioned to his Technicolor shorts. Which is when Mickey went from being
this pie-eyed, really feisty character to more of a well-behaved leading
man," Bunker recalled. "We then finished out our Mouse marathon by
watching all of those new Mickey shorts that Paul Rudish & his team have
been creating for Disney Television Animation. Those cartoons really recapture
a lot of the spirit and wild slapstick fun that Mickey's early, black &
white shorts had."

But given that the specific assignment that Avalanche Studios had been handed
was to create the most appealing looking, likeable version of Mickey Mouse
possible … In the end, Jeff and his team wound up borrowing bits & pieces
from a lot of different versions of the world's most famous mouse. So that
Classic Mickey would then look & move in a way that best fit the sort of
gameplay which people would soon be able to experience with Disney Infinity
3.0.


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Inc. All rights reserved

"That — in a lot of ways — was actually the toughest
part of the Classic Mickey design project. You have to remember that one of the
key creative conceits of  Disney Infinity
is that all the characters which appear in this game are toys," Bunker
stated. "Okay. So they're beautifully detailed, highly stylized toy
versions of beloved Disney, Pixar, Marvel & Lucasfilm characters. But
they're still supposed to be toys. So our Classic versions of Mickey &
Minnie have the same sort of thickness & sturdiness to them that toys have.
So that they'll then be able to fit right in with all of the rest of the
characters that Avalanche Studios had previously designed for Disney Infinity."

And then there was the matter of coming up with just the
right pose for Classic Mickey & Minnie. Which — to hear Jeff tell the
story — involved input from a lot of Disney upper management.


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Inc. All rights reserved

"Everyone within the Company seemed to have an opinion
about how Mickey & Minnie should be posed. More to the point, if you Google
Mickey, you then discover that there are literally thousands of poses out there
for these two. Though — truth be told — a lot of those kind of play off the
way Mickey poses when he's being Disney's corporate symbol," Bunker said.
"But what I was most concerned about was that Mickey's pose had to work
with Minnie's pose. Because we were bringing the Classic versions of these
characters up into Disney Infinity 3.0 at the exact same time. And we wanted to
make sure — especially for those fans who like to put their Disney Infinity
figures on display — that Mickey's pose would then complement Minnie.

Which is why Jeff & the crew at Avalanche Studios
decided — when it came to Classic Mickey & Minnie's pose — that they
should go all the way back to the beginning. Which is why these two Disney icons
are sculpted in such a way that it almost seems as though you're witnessing the
very first time Mickey set eyes on Minnie.


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Inc. All rights reserved

"And what was really great about that was — as soon as
we began showing people within the Company this pose — everyone at Disney
quickly got on board with the idea. I mean, the Classic Mickey that we sculpted
for Disney Infinity 3.0 is clearly a very playful, spunky character. But at the
same time, he's obviously got eyes for Minnie," Bunker concluded. "So
in the end, we were able to come up with Classic versions of these characters
that will work well within the creative confines of Disney Infinity 3.0 but at
the same time please those Disney fans who just collect these figures because
they like the way the Disney Infinity characters look."

So now that this particular design project is over, does
Jeff regret that Mouse House upper management was so hands-on when it came to
making sure that the Classic versions of Mickey & Minnie were specifically
tailored to fit the look & style of gameplay found in Disney Infinity 3.0?


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Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

"To be blunt, we go through this every time we add a new character to the
game. The folks at Lucasfilm were just as hands-on when we were designing the
versions of Darth Vader and Yoda that will also soon be appearing in Disney
Infinity 3.0," Bunker laughed. "So in the end, if the character's
creators AND the fans are happy, then I'm happy."

This article was originally posted on the Huffington Post's Entertainment page on Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Jim Hill

Jim Hill is an entertainment writer who has specialized in covering The Walt Disney Company for nearly 40 years now. Over that time, he has interviewed hundreds of animators, actors, and Imagineers -- many of whom have shared behind-the-scenes stories with Mr. Hill about how the Mouse House really works. In addition to the 4000+ articles Jim has written for the Web, he also co-hosts a trio of popular podcasts: “Disney Dish with Len Testa,” “Fine Tooning with Drew Taylor” and “Marvel US Disney with Aaron Adams.” Mr. Hill makes his home in Southern New Hampshire with his lovely wife Nancy and two obnoxious cats, Ginger & Betty.

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