Tuesday, January 12, 2016

This is the Disney Bio You're looking for

Christian Moran has put together a well researched, excellently documented and balanced biography of Walt Disney, his work and vision. It's a bit long for casual viewing (100 minutes) but it hits all the significant elements of Walt's drive to use technology in ways never done before. The commentary is factual, accurate and intelligent. I really can't recommend this production highly enough.

There is a companion book, but we're going to have to wait for a DVD.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

A Reflection of Walt

One year ago I attended the cast member and family Holiday Celebration at the Burbank Studios, where I took the opportunity to view some of the artwork in the corridors. I remembered that Walt's Office was in one of the buildings and asked a security guard for directions. He knew which building it was in, but wasn't exactly sure where it had been in the building, but I headed over anyway.

Nearly everyone was at the party, so the halls were empty. I ran into some very helpful party-poopers (wink!) who directed me upstairs and also told me a ghost story about Walt.

Apparently the IT Networking group does maintenance in the building after hours, when no one else is there. Some of the technicians have reported that when they've been working particularly late they have heard Walt's distinctive cough in the area of what used to be his office. 

Here's a photo I took from the hallway outside. The endless reflections in the full glass door add a rather eternal perspective and Mickey is there, standing as guard and sentinel over his muse's former workplace. It's was a bit dark and gloomy. 

True to Walt's wishes. I've plussed the image up a bit. Perhaps I should bring it out once or twice a year for Halloween and his birthday.

Full size it's 4x4 and 400 dpi, so it should print nicely. Please feel free to share.


Thursday, November 12, 2015

Sticking to the Knitting

The 1970’s, in the immediate wake of Walt’s death, were lackluster years for the Disney Company. Most of the revenue was generated from the re-distribution of old films and attendance at Walt Disney World. Top animators defected in 1977 and subsequent efforts failed to capture the magic of the studio’s glory days.

In the early 80’s, Ron Miller began expanding the product line into films for “adult audiences”. Touchstone’s pictures were some of the most financially and critically successful films of the time. Although Disney was careful not to use its name on any Touchstone production in order to preserve its image as a creator of family entertainment.

Beginning in 1984, Michael Eisner continued to pursue a market segmentation and expansion strategy, adding two more film subsidiaries, one devoted to producing films for teenagers and young adults and the other for adult entertainment.

The 90’s were a breakout decade for Disney, primarily driven by a return to quality animation and storytelling. A sting of hits produced by both Disney and Pixar reminded us that great “family friendly” entertainment never really goes out of style.

Over last 20 years, Disney has expanded operations, adding theme parks, cruise ships, resorts, television and live theater, basically returning to Walt’s model of owing both the media production and distribution channels for high quality stories. The popularity of Disney franchises and animated features has funded further acquisitions; Pixar, Marvel and Lucas Film, adding more stories to the library, while renewing and expanding on updated versions of classic fairly tales.

There is no doubt that over the past 10 years Disney has been a rousing financial success. Since 2008, their market capitalization growth has bettered the overall market by nearly 3:1. In the midst of this fiscal fever, it’s important to not loose track of what made it all possible. Based on results, what works is when the company sticks to the four basic principles espoused by its creator; Safely, Efficiently and Courteously telling stories to the kid in everyone.

That may sound boring to some, but financially it appears to be pretty exciting and, so far, it seems to be working.

Monday, May 25, 2015

The Turn of a Phrase

Over the past three days, movie critics have been having a field day labeling Tomorrowland's box office performance as "lackluster" and "disappointing." Even this morning's article in Variety revealing that Tomorrowland is now at the top of the charts sounds cynical.  Something really interesting starts to happen when you remove the emotionally laden adjectives and simply report the facts, which sounds more like this:

LOS ANGELES - "Tomorrowland" opens with a $32.2 million debut. The Disney release is expected to pull in $40.7 million for the four-day Memorial Day weekend. That's would be good enough for a first place finish. The film had been projected to generate $40 million over the three-day period and $50 million over the four-day stretch. Overseas figures thus far have been $26.7 million, for a global three day total of $58.9 million, roughly 1/3 of the film's $180 million production cost. This years' Memorial holiday ticket sales have been 20% below the same period last year.

“We are not trying to entertain the critics. I'll take my chances with the public.”

Even if you aren't a fan of Walt's vision of an Experimental Prototype City of Tomorrow, which one film critic has now called "dystopian" and "Orwellian", there is one Walt Disney quote that pretty much summed up his position on film critics.

By the way; on Friday Disney was valued at $181 Billion, with a stock price of $110 per share, which reflects a nearly 700% gain since 2008.

So, if you are looking for something good to do today, use the film review section of your local paper in the bottom of your hamster cage and take your family or a friend to see Tomorrowland.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Walt's Shadow

What's Shadow

There's a bit of a buzz going on in one of the online forums about a change to the storyline in Tomorrowland which eliminated a direct reference to Walt Disney in the film. The scene appeared one minute and twenty six seconds into the Japanese Trailer, which appeared on YouTube April 3, 2015.

In his book Creativity, Inc. Ed Catmull observes that almost all projects go thru phases and sometimes things get thrown out because the concept isn't working. That "working" thing can be a very tricky place. It's where the "magic" happens. It's where the guests willingly suspend their disbelief, allowing themselves to become immersed in the show to the point that it becomes reality. That is where Tomorrowland sets a very high bar. Athena's introduction to the website makes it clear; "If you are ready to change the world, and it looks like you are, then all you need to do is turn around."

After having viewed a dozen trailers and exploring the Take Me to Tomorrowland website, I have to admit that it has worked for me so far. I want Tomorrowland to be real. That is the truly unique aspect of this film. It wants to extend your experience beyond the theater. It wants you to believe Tomorrowland's message completely enough that you will actually go out and change the world for the better.

That is a very lofty goal and accomplishing it will require a great deal of sensitivity and finesse. I suspect that's also why Walt ended up on the cutting room floor. Introducing him into the story broke the spell, reminding you that it is "just" a movie - a little bit about Walt - made by the company that still bears his name, but don't tell anybody..."wink-wink".

He's been gone nearly 50 years. Disney's Land has changed in millions of ways, but his untimely death didn't have to be the end of what Walt wanted to accomplish. This is where things start to get really interesting, because now things are moving out of a land of fantasy and entertainment and into the land of faith and belief and action where personal, even global, salvation and redemption becomes part of the conversation.

In a previous post I mentioned how every little girl - including the ones inside grown up women - want to have the experience of wearing Cinderella's dress, looking perfect, and being treated like a princess. Tomorrowland has an even loftier goal. It wants to make everyone care about, and have the courage to try and fix, what's wrong in the world - regardless of their physical condition or circumstances.

In that way, Tomorrowland has the potential to be the most powerful story Disney has ever tried to tell.

Personally, I hope it works.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

The Disney Land Challenge

Back in 2010, BusinessBrief.com's Bob Hill wrote an article called Walt Disney's 8 secrets to success. In it, he summarized what he felt were the "eight principles that made Walt Disney one of the greatest icons of the 20th century." I've summarized and annotated them here;
  • Focus on “the experience” as a key component to increasing value.
  • Exceed customers’ expectations with relentless attention to detail and personalized service that is designed to revolutionize the industry.
  • Passion; Disney films and theme parks are labors of love.
  • Stay true to Disney's values.
  • Hire reliable people who understand the vision and trust them to transfer it to others.
  • Defy convention: Buck the odds and ignore the critics. Trust your instincts.
  • Leave behind something to grow.
When I hear concerns and complaints people have about the company, or their experience in the parks, I try to frame them in the context of Walt's goals and vision. For example; I ask myself if the cause of a complaint is the result of failing to exceed expectations. I also ask if those expectations were realistic and if there was a fair exchange of value - including travel time. This helps take the conversation outside of individual preferences for one attraction or another and places it in the context of a proven set of values which are the historical foundation of the company's success.

On a related note; I believe that responsibility for preserving and improving the park experience is not one sided. I think we - as Guests - have a responsibility to play by Walt's rules when in his Kingdom. The "Magic" flourishes best when both everyone willingly suspends their disbelief and embraces the possibilities of a having a mutually magical experience.

“Disney Land is something that will never be finished, something I can keep ‘plussing’ and adding to. I just finished a live-action picture. It’s gone. I can’t touch it. I want something live, something that will grow. The park is that.” - Walt Disney

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

PerformancExcellence (1994)

Back in 1994, when Disney was about to celebrate their 40th Anniversary.  Judson C. Green, then chairman of Theme Parks and Resorts, penned a pamphlet for Cast Members which "defined the daily goal of exceptional performance... so we may all share a common foundation and expectation of how we intend to work together in the future." 

In 2000, Green left Disney to become President and CEO of  Navigation Technologies Corp, as described in an April 18th article in the LA Times, but the legacy of his vision for the future of Disney lives on in these words:


  • Exceeding guest expectations
  • Getting involved
  • Breaking down barriers
  • Sharing information and suggestions
  • Working smarter
  • Trying new ways to do things
  • Listening to others
  • Being a team player

Our Disney Culture:

We have a rich heritage, traditions, quality standards, and values which we believe are critical factors to our success. This foundation, as well as certain traits and behaviors, create a unique environment which we call the Disney Culture. We will seek to understand and cultivate our culture and challenge ourselves to model the behaviors that it represents.

We respect the Disney Heritage and Traditions:

We are committed to a friendly and informal work environment.
We show our pride and respect for the Disney Product and Legacy.
We emphasize Cast training and recognition.
We pursue synergistic opportunities.
We demonstrate our concern for our environment and community.
We emphasize "family" entertainment.
We protect the public's trust in Disney.
We are committed to education.

We ensure the Disney Quality Standards:

We put safety first, to provide secure, safe experiences for our Guests as well as our Cast.
We give friendly, personalized service and treat every guest as a VIP.
We deliver flawless and professional presentations every day, for every guest.
We strive for the fastest and most effective systems and procedures in order to provide a quality Guest experience.

We share these Disney Values:

HONESTY - We deal with each other in a sincere and straightforward manner.
INTEGRITY - We act in a manner consistent with our words and beliefs.
RESPECT - We treat others with care and consideration.
COURAGE - We pursue our beliefs with strength and persistence.
OPENNESS - We share information freely.
DIVERSITY - We seek value and respect differences among our fellow Cast Members.
BALANCE - WE strive for stability and vitality in our personal and professional lives.

We demonstrate these Disney Traits and Behaviors:

We enjoy making our guests happy.
We care about our fellow cast members.
We work as a team.
We deliver quality.
We foster creativity and innovation.
We encourage risk-taking, realizing that mistakes amy happen.
We are attentive to every detail.
We find enjoyment and fun in our work.
We assume responsibility beyond our individual roles.
We are emotionally committed to Disney.


Share their vision and belief in the Disney Culture.
Share their enthusiasm and pride in Disney with the Cast.
Energize others with their commitment for PERFORMANCE EXCELLENCE.
Display decisiveness and a sense of urgency in achieving goals and objectives.
Encourage creativity and risk-taking.
Promote teamwork to accomplish our business objectives.
Set challenging goals which are realistic, clear and measurable.
Hold themselves and other Cast Members accountable for their performance.
Unleash the potential of each Cast Member by providing developmental opportunities.
Listen intently to diverse opinions.
Communicate honestly and frequently, soliciting feedback and suggestions from Cast Members at all levels of the organization.
Interject a sense of humor, fun and enjoyment in their work.
Set the stage and work with others to produce the show...
Celebrate the Victories!

Walt may have said it more simply, but I think the message still rings true to his vision.