Jewish World Review April 16, 2004/ 26 Nissan, 5764
Open Letter to the Big Macher-teer
You've had a rough couple of months, my man. First you were outed by Roy Disney as the self-serving egotist everyone already knew you were but was now made public in a major way. At last folks finally got the true meaning of your initials - M.E. spells "ME." Then you suffered the indignity of almost blowing the mouse factory by a possible takeover bid initiated by Comcast on your watch. Adding insult to injury, leading the charge at Comcast was a former Disney exec and one time young lion that you personally groomed to follow in your footsteps (Ouch-that hurts!).
Next you let Pixar get away. And then you were humiliated by having to grovel on the Larry King show in order to make a case for yourself just days before the annual shareholder meeting took place. And then came the meeting itself, where you received what amounted to a 43% vote of no confidence from all Disney shareholders. While it's true that you weren't removed on the spot, you lost your chairman title and more than a bit of face with your fellow moguls in show bin-ness. Oops.
But buck up, boss, you accomplished something tremendous. You were able to do what no one else in the world has been able to do for years . you got Roy and Diane to actually agree on something! And that something is the need to get your golden parachuted butt out of there!
But I must say, since the shareholder meeting took place, you really bounced back with wise executive decisions and strokes of pure public relations genius. I mean who else would have thought to raise the price of admission to Disneyland and California Adventure to about $50 a pop? Nice move. And great timing, too - right in the middle of a nation-wide gasoline price surge. That should go over supercalifragilisticly well with "the guests."
Oh, I forgot - you had a really good reason for raising admission prices - you were opening a new attraction you had to pay for. Hey, here's a real creative plan - why don't you invest some of that admission increase into cleaning and maintenance for the place? Buy a couple of cans of paint and hire back a few of the people you laid off. You know, it's a difficult trick to get the guests to "feel the magic" when they look around the joint and see peeling paint, trash, cobwebs, and broken stuff on the rides.
Then you decided to acquire The Muppets - again! How many times do you want to buy the Muppets? - You first tried this about 12 years ago. Good heavens, man, even when you attempt to BUY creativity, you repeat yourself! And the Muppets is a real HOT property, isn't it? Just what all the kids are clamoring for - a 35 year old hippy puppet show.
Another great idea was taking a beloved Disney icon like Davy Crockett and doing a modern retelling of the Alamo story. For millions of baby boomers Fess Parker was and will always be Davy Crockett. Heck, most of us couldn't even accept John Wayne in the part. But putting Billy Bob Thornton in the role was like casting Madonna as Mary Poppins. No wonder the thing tanked. Remember the Alamo, eh? You'll be lucky if they forget it.
The latest animated film hasn't done much better. "Home on the Range" has about as much spark as a Ralph Nader run for the presidency. Your marketing people hyped it as being a real old-fashioned cartoon; no messages, no preachy moralizing - just a funny lightweight cartoon-y entertainment. Well, yeah - but about the last thing you need right now is a lightweight little cartoon-y thing. Disney needs a blockbusting, knock-your socks-off, smash hit! But I'll stop short of calling "Home on the Range" cow flop - that stuff at least starts out fresh.
If you think my criticism might be a tad harsh, you'll have to excuse me - you see I was a loyal Disney studio employee from 1970 through 1997, before I was unceremoniously kicked out on my mouse ears because I didn't happen to fit in with the "new way" of operating. (You'll notice that as soon as I was let go everything started falling apart for the company - coincidence? I don't think so.)
So if you believe this letter is sour grapes on my part, well you're right - 27 year old grapes don't get much sourer than this, bunkie. But here's the kicker, and you probably won't believe it, I'm not bugged about getting the boot anymore - really. I came to terms with that a long time ago. No, what really prompted this letter is my anger over the fact that my entire 401K is tied up in Disney stock that continues to go south thanks to your lack of leadership, poor judgment and myopic vision. I also happen to care about the company that was more than an entertainment/media conglomerate to me - it was family. It was also a fantastic place to express creativity, strive for high quality, and try new things.
The problem at Disney, over the past ten years or so, was never a lack of creative ideas; it was a lack of top executives that could recognize those creative ideas when they came along.
Well, that's all I have to say. I won't take up any more of your time - you must have a lot to do - I understand the Baby Huey and Little Lulu properties are available and can be had for a song. Better jump on it. An acquisition like that will really impress the board members at the next meeting.
Oh, and one more thing . those of us who worked at the studio were Disney Studio employees and proud of it. We were never called "cast members" until you came and started referring to everyone that way. The term "cast members" was originally reserved only for the employees who worked at Disneyland, playing a role in the fantasy and interacting with the public, as the name implies. The fact that you insisted on calling everyone by that term showed me right off the bat that you just didn't get it.
Enjoy this writer's work? Why not sign-up for the daily JWR update. It's free. Just click here.
JWR contributor Greg Crosby, former creative head for Walt Disney publications, has written thousands of comics, hundreds of children's books, dozens of essays, and a letter to his congressman. A freelance writer in Southern California, you may contact him by clicking here.