Monday, August 13, 2007

Perspectives On The World...


Time moves by so quickly we don't really realize how things change before you know it. I've done several posts that people really seem to like, the latest being "What Would Walt Think?"... all the way back to my evaluation of Uncle John called "Walt Disney 2.0". But we've never really examined how different the world we live in today is from the one Walt was in when his heart finally stopped letting him dream.

I mean, there's a lot of time and space between 1966 and 2007. How is the world different now from then?

When Walt died in 1966, America was deep in the middle of the Vietnam War. Lyndon B. Johnson was the president. The Soviet Union was still biggest threat with the Cold War already underway. We'd just lost John Kennedy a few years before and the world was a much scarier place than we thought it would be.

Walt had just completed the 1964 World's Fair and the beginnings of many of the rides we take for granted were just beginning to take their place at Disneyland. It's A Small world was there, but Pirates of the Caribbean would open till the following year after the Maestro's passing. Haunted Mansion wouldn't open for three years even though it had been planned in great detail by Disney during the same planning as Pirates.

Walt was heavily involved in trying to get his EPCOT concept to fruition. The land had been purchased and the announcement had already been made that there was going to be a Disney World in Florida to complement the Disneyland in California. While Walt worked feverishly to get his "Experimental Community of Tomorrow" completed while still alive he had many plans ahead for his WED and other companies. While he was no good at the business side, Walt was a master at the entertaining part of the show... brother Roy took care of the numbers while Walt plotted new ways to take the ideas, the dreams in his fertile mind and bring them to reality.

In his last years Walt was planning on building an expansive and as usual, gorgeously themed ski resort up in northern California called Mineral King. In fact, the last public appearance he made was on a press junket up to the spot where he intended to build it.

And in Hollywood, Walt Disney Productions was just finishing up the "Jungle Book" production. Sadly, this was the last animated film Walt would have his imprint on. "Winnie the Pooh and the Honey Tree " was just about finished when he passed away and preliminary work on the next part(my favorite, btw) "Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day" was well underway. A full slate of Disney's live-action films were in various states of production as well. While not nearly as good or popular as it's animated fair, WDP's slate over the last few years included: "That Darn Cat!", "The Monkey's Uncle" and "Lt. Robin Crusoe, U.S.N.". It was a different time. It was a world full of wonder and filled with fear.

Compare the time to now and it's a world away...

The world we live in no longer has the Soviet Union as our focus of concern. America faces the trouble in the Middle East, an aggressive China and the growing giant that is India. While the planet still faces dangers, they are different dangers we confront. America is still the worlds largest economic power, even more-so than it was back in 1966. We are embroiled in another war, like the 60's, but unlike then our enemy doesn't wear a uniform and doesn't occupy any particular country.

Just as Walt Disney Productions was a big entertainment company back then, the Walt Disney Company dwarfs it size from when Walt and Roy ran it. The theme parks, films, television, cruise ships, Broadway shows and merchandising that the Mouse now does make the company the second largest entertainment company in the world... just slightly behind Time-Warner.

While this blog spends a good deal of time being highly critical of Michael Eisner, it should be noted that much of it's current success is due to the early part of his tenure. The majority of my problem with Eisner is the second half of his reign over all things Disney... I give him a good deal of praise for his first decade.

With every aspect, the WDC is a very "global" company today. While it always had a global impact, it has been seen primarily as an American company. Still American, it does base many decisions on how it affects the global market. The division of theme parks is no longer just a U.S.A. endeavor... with parks in Tokyo, Paris and Hong Kong the world plays a much larger piece of its corporate pie.

Walt Disney Productions, now known as Walt Disney Pictures has always been a major maker of animation, but the live-action that it made in the 60's was not in the same category as Warner, Fox or others. In the 80's that changed with the creation of Touchstone and Disney's move into more diverse subject matter. Even more-so, today's production are far more epic in nature than the movies staring Dick Van Dyke or Kurt Russell(more on that in a future article).

While Walt has shows on one of the three major networks back then, today the Mouse actually owns the network that gave it the money to build Disneyland: ABC. Not that this matters in a world of 500 channels.

A line of cruise ships let one take Disney on a cruise around the world... never having to go without the Mouse, so to speak. Broadway, an area Disney hadn't mined until the 90's, it's now commonplace to see a production on this famous street with Disney's name on the header.

While Walt always was involved in merchandising, Disney Consumer Products and the various examples of it's licensing empire alone would make the profits of the company Walt ran fit into its tiny pocket.

The world the company started by a mouse knows today is a different place. Still a place of wonder. Still a fun factory. Still a reason the children and families all across the globe can share common dreams.

The company will still be changing. I'd bet the Walt Disney Company we see ten years from now will make the one Michael Eisner ran a very small place. But we shouldn't fear this change. The future is filled with change as Walt always told us... but also as he told us...

The future is filled with promise.

12 comments:

Crash McQuarrie said...

Nice post, Honor. I too have a positive perspective on the change coming to the Mouse. I really like all the changes you mention about the DL Resort. When can we expect another Blue Sky Alert on WDW? Soon, I hope?

Anonymous said...

I wouldn't call a completely bad businessman. His quote "You can't top pigs with pigs" shows just how well he knew his audience, which then led to Snow White, which is one of the largest money makers of all time. He was smart enough to re-release his features every seven years because it would create a new audience. And of course, Disneyland was a moneymaker from the start, but it was his deal with ABC (he may have been the first Hollywood boss to embrace TV) that was a move of a businessman genius.

He wasn't the best businessman, but he was bold, and took the risks he knew would pay off.

Merlin Jones said...

Your take on the popularity of 60's Walt Disney-era live-action films is simply inaccurate.

Movies like "That Darn Cat!" were enormously popular and top grossers. In fact, the other studios were very jealous at the time that Disney had such a consistent audience - - it was only in the mid-70's that this became a problem. Did they get the critics? Not always, but they did get the public.

In fact, up until George Lucas and "Star Wars," the top grossing live-action director of all time was... Robert Stevenson ("Mary Poppins," "Old Yeller," "The Love Bug," "That Darn Cat!", etc...). Celebrated in Variety and everthing. Did you know that? Do the research.

And they performed in reissue and are watched still. Touchstone films?

I hope this doesn't turn out to be yet another stale change facillitator blog...

Honor Hunter said...

Well Merlin,

Your the first person to cast me as someone being negative on Disney. In any case, your anger is misplaced. I wasn't saying that movies like "That Darn Cat" weren't popular... they were. I was a huge fan of the Kurt Russell films he did for Disney as a teen.

That being said, the point I was making was that Disney was not known for live-action films that that were high-end, shall we say. No one can compare a film like "The Absent Minded Professor" or "The Shaggy Dog" with "Planet of the Apes" or "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid".

By the late 60's and into the 70's Disney lost its way. It's my contention that with the cultural change in America it started in the early 60's. When Ron Miller was in charge in the late 70's/early 80's he tried to address this with the creation of Touchstone(personally, I would have chosen Hyperion for the name since it was the other choice). It wasn't until Eisner was in power that they were actual able to rid themselves of the stigma that they were out of touch with modern audiences. I won't compliment Eisner on much, but coming from Paramount he had a good eye for popular entertainment.

If you disagree then fine. This isn't something we're going to agree on. We both love Disney so let's just leave it at that.

I can't help wether people like what I say or not. This blog is simply here to give me a place to address my opinions and focus on news and events that I'm interested in that have some form of relation to Disney. I hope people like what they see here on BlueSkyDisney, but don't intend on changing my opinions so that people will continue to like me or my blog.

Hope that clarifies things a bit...

Anonymous said...

Gee, Honor gives us a long, well written article telling us his perspective and you complain about a couple sentences?

Another stale change facillitator blog? What the heck is that?

Merlin Jones said...

>>I wasn't saying that movies like "That Darn Cat" weren't popular... they were. I was a huge fan of the Kurt Russell films he did for Disney as a teen.<<

Well, then you should be able to tell them apart. Kurt Russell's teen films (such as "The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes"?) were largely low budget "B-grade" kids films made post-Walt while Walt Disney's "That Darn Cat!" was a big budget broad public hit with an A-list (for Disney) cast with Hayley Mills who was worth more than Donald Duck at that time. They aren't even the same types of films within the studio's output or timeline.

>>No one can compare a film like "The Absent Minded Professor" or "The Shaggy Dog" with "Planet of the Apes" or "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid".<<

But the fact is, both these titles were top ten grosses in their year of release, just like the other two. Seems like a subjective bias.

>>By the late 60's and into the 70's Disney lost its way.<<

The two films you cite there were made in the late 50's and early 60's and box-office smashes.

And by the way, even in the late 60's, "The Love Bug" was the top grossing film of 1969... how was that "lost"?

By the early-to-mid-70's, well after Walt, they were lost, yes. But not before Walt died...

uga Buga said...

Merlin I think you take too much offense at what Honor is saying. It doesn't sound like he's putting Disney films down. It does seem he's saying that their live action weren't as well know for their quality as the animated ones are. You take it too personal I think. This blog, more than most is very positive towards Disney. That's one of the reasons I like it.

You are right that the Love Bug was number one in 1969, but most of the other films show you how the audience had changed. I agree with Honor that I believe in the early 1960's they started to not have as good a grasp on what the audience wanted. Let's all agree that we love Disney and not fight over issues like this. We all have our opinion and we're not going to change it. Our love of Disney is what we can agree on.

Here's the rest of the top box office films of 1969 if anyone's interested.

(1) The Love Bug

(2) Funny Girl

(3) Bullitt

(4) Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid

(5) Romeo and Juliet

(6) True Grit

(7) Midnight Cowboy

(8) Oliver!

(9) Goodbye, Columbus

(10) Chitty Chitty Bang Bang

(11) Easy Rider

(12) I Am Curious

Anonymous said...

"The two films you cite there were made in the late 50's and early 60's and box-office smashes."

Man, I don't think he was saying they weren't box office smashes. I think he was saying they weren't the same quality as something like "Sword in the Stone", "Jungle Book" or "One Hundred and One Dalmatians".

You're accusing him of saying something he didn't. I'd suggest going over to Jim Hill if you want to argue with someone that's being negavite about Disney. You're fighting the wrong person.

Merlin Jones said...

>>Man, I don't think he was saying they weren't box office smashes. I think he was saying they weren't the same quality as something like "Sword in the Stone", "Jungle Book" or "One Hundred and One Dalmatians". You're accusing him of saying something he didn't.<<

Not at all. From the article:

>>"While not nearly as good or popular as it's animated fair, WDP's slate over the last few years included: "That Darn Cat!"..."<<

I'm only addressing underlying facts. "That Darn Cat!" (or "Absent-Minded Professor" or "Shaggy Dog" for that matter) were extremely successful movies, and all were more popular at the box-office than concurrent animated fare.

Understand, the reason I take issue is that within the studio all of the pre-80's live-action films are lumped together by execs as dusty old junk, as if they have no individual distinction, but they do - - especially Walt's films, and the entire film library has suffered poor distribution in recent years for that perception.

Obviously, this isn't Hunter's fault, but as someone who loves and is passionate about Walt Disney, I'm sure he wants to share accurate facts with the readership.

Walt Disney was not out-of-touch, he was doing his own thing - - and successfully - - a major difference. And an important distinction to what happened in the 70's when the bottom fell out for lack of vision.

>>I'd suggest going over to Jim Hill if you want to argue with someone that's being negavite about Disney. <<

LOL. I clearly don't see Hunter in that kind of role... or carp with his right to editorialize, positive or negative. I'm only clarifying the underlying facts. These can be important, yes?

Merlin Jones said...

>>I agree with Honor that I believe in the early 1960's they started to not have as good a grasp on what the audience wanted.<<

"Mary Poppins" (1964)?

It was the early 70's.

t said...

I love your perspective and knowledge Merlin, but don't worry...
this blog is far from a "stale change facillitator blog..."

Honor is one of the good ones out there...one of the best actually.

KINGCRAB said...

I agree that this blog is definetely one of the more positive ones out there.

Too many Disney blogs are populated with hatred, bad-mouthing and people who obviously hate Disney and will do nothing but complain about Disney, no matter what they do.

Epcot Central and Re-Imagineering are two of the WORST blogs out there! Stay away from them.