BCDB's

Animated Word

Presenting an in-depth look at the current state of Animation


The Great Struggle of Michael Eisner

The gauntlet has been thrown down. In the last few weeks, little else has made more news in the animation industry than the resignation of Roy Disney (and to a lesser extent headline-wise, Stanley Gold) from the Disney corporation, clearly done in unpleasant terms with its big boss, Michael Eisner. Had the departure been a quiet, understated, amicable one, only the most major of conspiracy theorists would really have taken it to mean much more than just a tragic chapter in the seemingly-simple decline of Disney. But Roy made it a point to not go gently into that great night, and released more sound and fury at Eisner and his associates than any other major name in the industry had DARED to do. What has this done for the industry, the controversy, and the people involved? More importantly, where will this lead animation itself?


advertisement >

 

One thing that the whole Eisner/Roy debacle has most definitely done is that it has most assuredly taken the big question (whether it was the art or the management that has been killing off animation like a poison for the last few years) out of the realm of fanboy and industry insider discussion and into the public consciousness. Talk about the hiring and firing of lead animators and box-office estimates and incomes for various animated films, sadly, will not turn the heads of the American public, even though that's the main data for the whole problem. But when a Disney quits the Disney company, that's a newsmaker, and since he did it in the firestorm of all this other activity, it brings all this other stuff to light. Now it can't be ignored.

Although, that doesn't seem to be stopping Eisner from trying. Rumors are circulating that Eisner has taken this thing very personally and is aiming to remove Roy from much of the Disney memorabilia, releases, and what have you. Jim Hill Media recently did a report on the recall/delay of Disney Treasures DVDs, which quite possibly may be for purposes of removing Roy's signature from the covers (which all Disney Treasures have sported up until now). Their editorial/report is a little sketchy, but they do reference one specific truth: this kind of executive temper tantrum is not a first for Michael Eisner. Nobody should have forgotten the last time Eisner had a big, public clash with another high-profile coworker: Jeffrey Katzenberg. Indeed, Katzenberg's image and presence has been all but deleted from the Beauty and the Beast Platinum DVD, whereas previous incarnations of the film's propaganda have the little guy all over the place. (I happen to own an early 90s VHS release of The Jungle Book that has a preview/behind-the-scenes look at Beauty and the Beast that Katzenberg hosts and narrates entirely.) And don't think I used the words "little guy" without thinking; who could possibly forget the eternal quote from Michael Eisner as Katzenberg left to create Dreamworks? "I ****ing hate the little midget."

So Eisner's a big hothead crybaby who holds grudges like nobody's business. Will proving that be enough to get the company to kick the big idiot out? Sad to say, probably not. The board at Disney has officially stated that they're sticking by Eisner, once again proving themselves as general yes-men. When the dissenting voices all kick their heels up and vamoose, it doesn't leave anybody except the ones who all kowtow to the big voice in the first place. So unfortunately, I don't see this as a particular reason for Eisner to suddenly lose his power. On the other hand, the far-enhanced visibility of the conflict between the two is bound to affect public opinion, and one thing that Roy will always have over Eisner is his family name, not to mention the fact that he's championing the artists' side of the ledger. Eisner is bound to suffer publicly due to all this; how could he possibly save face now, especially with his current tactics being his typical attempt at downplaying the opponent's input in the company? (Which, of course, will utterly conflict with everything he's ever said in the past.) If it becomes big enough for a public outcry to occur, then Eisner may find that the rats he's got sitting on his executive board will start deserting his ship.

As for Roy, he's got his work cut out for him. Right now, the event is newsworthy, which gives him a public forum on which to speak his issues. But it will eventually die down, and Roy and Stanley will really need to get another job in the industry to maintain the fight, on the safe assumption that they won't be getting rid of Eisner anytime soon. What I think they should do is join Pixar (I hear they've been courting the possibility). It'd be a stroke of pure genius. Firstly, it'd further enforce the status of Pixar as the next Disney, especially with their 2-D animation department well underway. Secondly, it would give Roy and Stanley the perfect positions from which to maintain their beliefs, surrounded by passionate and nurtured artistry amidst the seas of executive-minded thinking in animation these days. Finally, and maybe most importantly, it would put Eisner in a terrible position, because one of his biggest concerns right now is courting Pixar back into their fold. Should Roy and Stanley join the Pixar team, Eisner would be forced to deal with them again, likely setting off his volatile temper and costing him any possibility of a deal. But it's the problem of dealing with Pixar that was one of Roy's reasons for leaving in the first place! Thusly, Eisner would be quite screwed. As a Roy-supporter myself (it should've been fairly apparent that that's where I stand), I'd quite like to see that.

For animation in general, I think this is going to be a key turning point. The decline has been going on for sometime now, especially with the brain-drain at Disney of their best talents. With Roy finally laying it on the line in such a loud and unforgettable manner, we'll now see the purest of differences between the schools of executive thought versus artistic license. Not that financial worry is in any way bad, but it is in no way a priority for the ARTISTS to consider when making their products. Now that everyone knows about it, we'll see the next couple of years be very embarrassing for executives, for everytime they step over their bounds, we're going to know about it (like Eisner's recent unwarranted demand for Chicken Little to be a guy instead of a girl). If there was a Berlin Wall before, separating the truth of what the big wigs in the companies have been up to, then it has been torn down by this shock to the system. The war is not over, nor has it just begun; it has merely been colored red for all to see.


A critique by Alex Weitzman
First Published on Dec 13, 2003

Back To The Animated Word

1998-2005 bcdb.com
   All Rights Reserved
Characters, trademarks, brands are property of their respective owners.
Web Privacy
terms of use