The Walt Disney Company, an American institution once powerful enough to get special privileges, might soon be no more. The utter hubris of its current (and likely last) Chief Executive Officer, who thought he could parlay his leadership of that company to the Presidency, has all but destroyed it. Yet even now, neither he nor his faithful lieutenants understand the devastation they have wrought.
How powerful was The Walt Disney Company?
Walt Disney, in his lifetime, built an entertainment empire encompassing its world-famous (and world-pervasive) parks and TV and movie studios. He sought to make himself a totally extralegal duke, by building what would have been the world’s first “smart” city. This was the impetus behind the original Reedy Creek Improvement District, which was always the glove over the Disney hand. No one will ever know whether the Experimental Prototype Community Of Tomorrow would have succeeded – or not. But if it had, Walt Disney would have been Duke of Reedy Creek in all but name. (This although the Constitution forbids any grant of a nobility title.)
But Walt Disney died, and EPCOT became just another section of the vast and unequaled amusement park, Walt Disney World. But the company he founded continued, under his brother Roy and then under a long line of non-family CEOs. This era saw passage of the Copyright Act of 1976, and then its 1998 extension. Michael Eisner was CEO of Disney at the time, and most observers credit (or blame) him for that extension. The intent of that extension was simple: to protect Disney’s exclusive rights to its cartoon characters.
But perhaps the first crack in the assumed invulnerability of Disney came in 2018. In that year, Congress signaled no willingness to extend copyright protection any further. So the first Disney animated cartoon, Steamboat Willie (1928), will enter the public domain next year. But that is the least of the company’s worries.
How the mighty have fallen!
Imagine a scenario in which a film costing less than $14.5 million to make (in today’s dollars), and $5 million to promote, out-grosses three films by what was once the most powerful studio in the land. Imagine no more, because The Sound of Freedom, as of this weekend, has achieved that precise milestone. Since its July 4 release that film out-grossed Elemental on its twelfth day, and now has outgrossed Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny, or “Indy Five” for short. Disney released Haunted Mansion on July 28 – and beginning August 1 it fell behind The Sound of Freedom in day-of-release performance. That an independent film with a shoestring production budget would so outclass Disney is the final humiliation of that name. Worse still, the tremendous production budgets of these other films mean most will not earn back those budgets.
Walt Disney’s famous parks are in worse shape. Walt Disney world has lately been virtually empty, as has Disneyland. Meanwhile, Comcast Universal, which competes often head-to-head with Disney in many locations, is seeing higher attendance overall. And in three years, a massive new park with a patriotic theme will open in Oklahoma.
What is the problem?
Simply put, the Walt Disney Company has abandoned everything for which it once stood, and which made it great. Patriotism, innocence, and family friendship have given way to an ideology offering their complete destruction.
The rot probably began to set in beginning in 1983, when Ron Miller took over the company. He created Touchstone Pictures, Disney’s “grown-up film studio.” Within a year, Miller was gone and Michael Eisner, the longest-serving CEO to date, took over. But Touchstone remained – and the parks gained attractions like “Pleasure Island” at Walt Disney World. “Pleasure Island” was the “grown-up place.” It lasted from 1989 to 2008, at which time all its nightclubs closed and the area changed its name.
But the man more responsible than anyone else for trashing the Disney legacy was Robert Iger, who took over in 2005. He salted the company with alphabet-soup alternative-lifestyle adherents – and advocates. Few people understood his true ambition: to become President of the United States. He was going to do this by turning a family-friendly company into Woke Central.
We have seen the results. In 2019 Disney acquired Twentieth Century-Fox, and has ruined some of its best intellectual properties. Worse than that, local law enforcement has noted pedophilia problems at Walt Disney World for more than six years. Florida passed an anti-grooming bill – and Disney opposed it. Then the revelations of the “not-so-secret gay agenda” shocked parents and other traditional Disney fans everywhere.
The current head of Disney doesn’t get it
A largely interim CEO, Bob Chapek, tried to stop the slide. But even he did not realize the full scope of the problem. In addition to untoward experiences with Disney “cast” (anyone from costumed performers to uniformed attendants/ushers/escorts), reports came out of the parks of unsafe conditions, especially on the rides. (Your editor worked a season extender as a ride operator/attendant and knows how serious a consideration ride safety really is.) Earnings started to plunge, and Chapek got the blame. So Bob Iger was back in the saddle, and pushing the company to be as woke as ever.
Apart from the ruin of the Star Wars franchise that Disney acquired with Lucasfilm, Disney has been ruining many intellectual properties it created. They remade The Little Mermaid (1989) as a live-action picture – and changed the story line to make it unrecognizable. The race-swap wasn’t the biggest problem – after all, race swaps have worked before. (Consider Louis H. Gossett Jr. as Gy. Sgt. Emil Foley USMC in An Officer and a Gentleman.) But making the prince much less of a man than he was in the original – that sank the film.
Now they’re remaking Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Here they plan to make the character called Snow White some kind of feminist archetype. She doesn’t need a man; she doesn’t need romance. Indeed the lead actress openly described the prince character in the original as “a creepy stalker”!
While the company burns, Iger plays the fiddle
No, that’s not quite accurate; Bob Iger has no reputation for any musical talent at all. But he is taking the dire financial straits of his company far too lightly. The problem is that half the board agrees with him on the direction of the company. They want the woke ideology. And if traditional fans don’t like it, they can lump it! Iger has said so – out loud. So have at least two lead actresses in Disney films, released and planned: Phoebe Waller Bridges of Indy Five, and Rachel Zegler of Snow White.
But everything at the company seems headed for rack and ruin. Kathleen Kennedy, installed at the head of Lucasfilm, is selling her Malibu mansion. Well she might. Not only has Iger “thrown her under the bus,” but she is now total box-office poison in Hollywood.
More to the point, the once-proud company, an American institution, is dying. Mansion Entertainment’s American Heartland Theme Park and Resort will likely sink the parks subsidiary, together with Comcast Universal’s parks in Florida and California. Angel Studios has made a fortune distributing The Sound of Freedom – a film Disney tried to shelve. So the competition is already in place or under development. No one is likely to forget the Disney name, with its rich legacy. But unless the company’s board changes its attitude, few will mourn the company’s passing.
Terry A. Hurlbut has been a student of politics, philosophy, and science for more than 35 years. He is a graduate of Yale College and has served as a physician-level laboratory administrator in a 250-bed community hospital. He also is a serious student of the Bible, is conversant in its two primary original languages, and has followed the creation-science movement closely since 1993.
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