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Disney – A falling empire?

Every history teacher will tell you that the only certain thing about empires is that they will fall eventually. The “Disney empire,” consisting of vast corporation holdings, including theme parks, movies, music catalogs as well as radio and television networks, may be the next if things do not change.

I am hardly the first person to make this observation. Thursday, the animation studio Pixar, maker of such runaway hits as Monsters Inc., Toy Story, A Bug’s Life and most recently Finding Nemo, decided to not renew its contract with Disney, the company that formerly distributed its movies.

“After 10 months of trying to strike a deal with Disney, we’re moving on” Steve Jobs, CEO of Pixar, said in a news release. According to the New York Times, Pixar’s movies have grossed “$2.5 billion at the worldwide box office and sold more than 150 million DVD’s and videos,” making it one of the most financially successful studios of all time, since each of its five movies so far has been a blockbuster. The movies have also been acclaimed, both with fans as well as critics, and have garnered several Oscars and various other prizes.

Jobs though, may have had the vision to leave the sinking ship. This is, after all, the man who, as CEO of Apple in his other job, single handedly reinvigorated the music industry with the iTunes Music Store and the iPod. You can say a lot about him, but you can’t say that he lacks long-term vision.

The main source of concern at Disney seems to be head honcho Michael D. Eisner, who according to Jobs in the Times story was the source of the split due to the fact that he “did not appreciate (Pixar) enough” and “had mismanaged the relationship.”

Eisner is said to rule the company with an iron fist, Jobs only being one of the many that have complained about this in recent years. (Fun fact: depending on what root you assume Eisner’s name comes from, it could either be a translation of the German word for “iron-like” or “ice-like.” Coincidence?)

Roy Disney, nephew of the company founder Walt Disney, walked away from the company as well only two months ago, resigning as both Chairman of the Feature Animation Division and as Vice Chairman of the Board of Directors at Disney. In his much-publicized letter of resignation, he attributed his decision to Eisner’s mismanagement TV network ABC, which consistently lost ratings; failure to invest into theme parks, including Euro Disney, which he said was built “on the cheap” like many other attractions in other parks; but mainly “micro-management of everyone around (Eisner) with the resulting loss of morale throughout this company.”

The question of course is why do I care so much? I do not have any Disney stock, so from the financial side, I could not care less. I do however share something that no doubt a lot of my readers will agree with: fond memories for what used to be Disney.

Movies like The Jungle Book and Robin Hood, probably one of my favorite movies of all time, are a big part of my childhood. I also have fond memories of going to Disney World when I was 10 and reading Mickey Mouse graphic novels till late at night.

But today Disney seems to be more associated with a Florida nursery school being sued for having Disney characters drawn on its walls. Current non-Pixar Disney movies are about such things as the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team winning against the evil Russians in Miracle. Do we really need to celebrate the cold war while we are in the middle of starting a new one with international terrorists?

It seems Disney has indeed changed at the very core. Of course the company has always been in the business of making money, but at least they were making art in the process. Art people could identify with.

Now some of the mice are the sinking ship and we can only hope that the management, particularly Eisner, notice the trend and reverse it. Until then, I’ll just keep watching my copy of Robin Hood on DVD, blissfully whistling along.

Sebastian Meyer is a junior majoring environmental science and is an Oracle Opinion Editor.