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.