MickeyXtreme's News Archive February 2005


Monday February 28, 2005


Superhero film 'The Incredibles' wins animated Oscar
 
The Incredibles," the high-octane adventure tale of a family of superheroes who must save both the world and themselves, took home Sunday's Oscar for animated feature.

The film defeated a double threat from rival studio DreamWorks Animation: the ogre sequel "Shrek 2" and the all-star underwater "Shark Tale."

Pixar won the Oscar last year for its own ocean odyssey, "Finding Nemo." The Emeryville, Calif.-based company, which co-finances and distributes its films with The Walt Disney Co., lost its first showdown with DreamWorks in 2002 when the original "Shrek" beat "Monsters, Inc."

This year's animated Oscar race was significant because more people saw the three nominees in theaters than saw all five best picture contestants. By itself, "Shrek 2," which grossed $436 million at the box office, took in more money than the five best-picture nominees combined.

"The Incredibles" produced a number of memorable lines including this one from Mr. Incredible, voiced by Craig T. Nelson: "No matter how many times you save the world, it always manages to get back in jeopardy again. I feel like the maid; `I just cleaned up this mess! Can we keep it clean for ... for 10 minutes!'"

This year's contest also marked the likely end of the long and successful partnership between Pixar and Disney.

Pixar has one more movie to deliver under the terms of its Disney deal, next year's "Cars." The company has said it is looking at other studios to distribute its films, including Warner Bros. and Twentieth Century Fox.

Pixar broke off negotiations on a new deal with Disney last year, saying it wants to retain ownership rights to its future films, paying its partner a flat distribution fee. Under its present arrangement, Pixar co-finances the films with Disney and splits the profits while Disney retains the right to make sequels.

"The Incredibles," Pixar's sixth feature film, also starred the voices of Holly Hunter as Elastigirl and Samuel L. Jackson as Frozone.

The film's director, Brad Bird, provided the voice of superhero costume designer Edna E. Mode, who later in the Oscar telecast appeared onstage with Pierce Brosnan to help present the award for costume design.

Bird, as Edna, commented backstage on the Oscar fashion scene.

"Some people look fabulous on the red carpet and some would look better wearing the red carpet, darling."

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Walt Disney World character topiaries bring Epcot's Flower and Garden Festival to life

It’s easy being green if you’re a Mickey Mouse topiary in the hands of an expert Disney pruner. Disney’s chlorophyll zoo of more than 200 characters is an example of creative gardening at its finest all around Walt Disney World Resort.

Examples of this gardening whimsy include a sea serpent of Japanese yew that guards the moat around Cinderella Castle and a Japanese Privet elephant “conga line” at Magic Kingdom. A creative selection of topiary materials also has produced some fun special effects -- there’s Simba, the lion hero of “The Lion King,” with a furry mane of tufted mondo grass, and the film’s famous warthog, Pumbaa, sporting a hairy plume of Evergreen Giant liriope atop his head.

Each spring, during the Epcot International Flower & Garden Festival, gardeners create new twists on topiary, including leafy characters that move and turn. Traditional hedges and trees stylized geometrically complete the Vacation Kingdom’s topiary picture.

Topiary gardening first became popular more than 2,000 years ago, and it took off like a flying elephant during 17th century Europe. Today, precision pruners at Walt Disney World Resort carry on the topiary tradition with a fanciful twist, fashioning Disney’s popular characters -- Dumbo included -- of shrub or sphagnum moss and vine with plenty of floral splash.

It was Walt Disney himself who first planted the seed to create topiaries in Disney parks and resorts. Combining the talents of his film animators with those of park gardeners, Disney helped grow the topiary techniques to fit the whimsical theming of his first park, Disneyland. Walt Disney World Resort followed suit, beginning its topiary nursery three years before the resort’s 1971 grand opening.

A menagerie of green or blossoming hippos, panda bears and other critters joins Disney character stars such as Mickey Mouse in the backstage growing areas at Walt Disney World Nursery. Disney artists create the shapes to become blueprints for the wire framework that supports each topiary figure. Gardeners prune the plant material weekly during the growing season. Quick-growing figures are fashioned of sphagnum with creeping fig and English ivy -- even wax-leaf begonia flowers are used.

The topiary figures of Walt Disney World Resort are a major guest attraction, and Disney gardeners are kept busy year-round with the planting and pruning of these popular ornamental shrubs.

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Disneyland still painting and cleaning for 50th

Disneyland is still in the process of painting cleaning and rehabs for the upcoming 50th Celebration. Below are pictures of the Castle and the exterior of the coming soon Buzz Lightyear Astro Blaster.

                                         
                                                      

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Jiminy Cricket Environmentality Challenge Award Ceremony Rewards Young Heroes 

Over 250 primary students were formally acknowledged today as "Environmentality Heroes" in recognition of their hard work and extraordinary achievements during the Jiminy Cricket's Environmentality Challenge 2004/05.

Jiminy Cricket's Environmentality Challenge is a partnership program held in conjunction with the Environmental Protection Department and Hong Kong Disneyland.

The program provides teachers with an opportunity to lead their students from a mere awareness of environmental concerns to an understanding of local issues and finally to take responsible actions.

The program consists of two parts: the "Environmentality Pledge" and the "Class Project Competition". Students who took part in the pledge were required to discuss environmental challenges in their class and make a commitment to protect the environment. Those taking part in the competition were asked to identify a "real-world" environmental challenge and implement an action plan to improve the environment.

This year, a record 51,000 students from all over Hong Kong took part in the Environmentality Pledge. There were 98 class projects submitted involving 2,661 students.

The young heroes preformed extremely well during the program, presenting their environmental projects in a lively and creative way. Amongst the various outstanding prize winning projects, one learnt about organic fertilization and planting methods by planting flowers. Flowers were then sold to raise money for charity. Another participant explored ways to promote restroom cleanliness in the community while one other prize winner took a different approach and promoted the importance of environmental protection through performing arts.

The Grand Prize winner of the Upper Class category, the SKH Wing Chun Primary School, explored how schools can better utilize their resources.

By using the "Four R Principle" of reduce, re-use, recycle and replace, students carried out a series of waste reduction campaigns at their school. A journal was published to track different projects they created as well as to set a framework for further promotion in the local community.

The Grand Prize winner of the Lower Class category, Tai Po Methodist School, chose recycling as their major environmental concern with a project entitled "Wishes for Recycling Bins."

Students set out to educate Tai Po residents on how to separate different types of household waste and to place them in the appropriate bins at the recycling outlets. They also studied the current recycling situation in Hong Kong particularly the lack of landfill space and made suggestions on how waste management could be improved.

During the course of the campaign, students found that the main problem was the lack of recycling bins in housing estates, prompting them to write to the relevant government departments asking for more bins.

Attending today's Award Ceremony were the Director of Environmental Protection, Robert Law JP, and Group Managing Director of Hong Kong Disneyland, Don Robinson.

"In Hong Kong Disneyland we believe respect for the environment is an important part of everything we do and we look forward to partnering with the Environmental Protection Department in creating a better environment for Hong Kong in the years ahead," Robinson said.

"It is encouraging to see the active participation of 50,000 students in this year's program; the students have advanced a big step forward by reaching out to the community and promoting waste separation messages," Law JP said.

Each of the 10 outstanding classes was awarded a cash prize of HK$4,000, a Jiminy Cricket Environmentality Challenge class plaque and other gifts. Each Grand Prize winner from the Lower and Upper Class categories will also have the opportunity to visit the Hong Kong Disneyland site in a specially arranged boat trip. They will also be invited to participate in a special "Heroes Award Ceremony" to be held in Hong Kong Disneyland in 2006.

Named after a beloved Disney character, Jiminy Cricket is the "official" conscience of Pinocchio. Jiminy would always sit on Pinocchio's shoulders to mirror his conscience and steer him back to the right path.

In the same way, during the program Jiminy was there to remind students that they should take time to think about of the environment in whatever they do, and to keep in mind his simple motto: "Every little bit makes a big difference!"

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The Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show Centennial Celebration

The year 2005 marks the 100th anniversary of the historic first European tour of Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show, which has been lavishly recreated and staged at Disneyland Resort Paris since 1992.

In 1882, William Frederick Cody, otherwise known as Buffalo Bill, the legendary hero of the far west, produced one of the most spectacular shows of all time - "Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show". The show was first staged in the United States, before touring the globe extensively until 1912. It was a triumph in every capital city it played in, with the stars of the show welcomed like royalty.

On 2 April, 2005, William F. Cody and his cast of Native American Indians and rough riders arrived in France. Their Paris shows at the foot of the Eiffel Tower were seen by over three million Parisians.

One hundred years on, a dedicated exhibition at the "Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show" in Disney Village will celebrate the show's first European tour. Original photographs, vintage films and genuine posters from the time will take guests on a voyage of discovery through the history of the spectacle.

The exhibition takes place from 5 February to 31 December, 2005, at Colonel Cody's Saloon, and is open to all guests with dinner show tickets.

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The Series Finale Of ABC's "NYPD Blue"

"Moving Day" - In the series' final episode, Sipowicz (Dennis Franz) has to make some tough decisions as he starts a new chapter in his life, on "NYPD Blue," TUESDAY, MARCH 1 (10:00-11:00 p.m., ET), on the ABC Television Network.

"NYPD Blue" stars Dennis Franz as Detective Andy Sipowicz, Mark-Paul Gosselaar as Detective John Clark, Gordon Clapp as Detective John Medavoy, Bill Brochtrup as John Irvin, Henry Simmons as Detective Baldwin Jones, Jacqueline Obradors as Detective Rita Ortiz, Currie Graham as Lieutenant Thomas Bale and Bonnie Somerville as Detective Laura Murphy.

Guest starring are Lisa Lackey as A.D.A. Munson, Vincent Corazza as Ray Quinn, Joe Sikora as Joe Slovak, John Tahddeus as Dale St. John, Stanley Anderson as Robert Heilbrenner, David Brisbin as Basil Greenhouse, Keone Young as Akira Nikada, Gwendoline Yeo as Ai Watanabe, Maureen Muldoon as Anne Marie Sullivan, Rosemary Forsyth as Felicia Heilbrenner, Danica McKellar as Rosemary Wyatt, Patty McCormack as Jeannie Wyatt, Edward Carnevale as James Fitzgerald, Bruce Locke as Johnny Nikada, Robert Silver as Pat Wyatt, Ralph Garman as uniform, Bill Smitrovich as Al Angelotti, Jeff Austin as Christopher Perkins, Dan Ziskie as Inspector Dowdell, James Martin Kelly as Chief Duffy, Richard Portnow as Howard Segal, Rubin Knight as doorman and Billy Concha as uniform.

"Moving Day" story by Steven Bochco, Bill Clark and William Finkelstein with teleplay by William Finklestein. The episode is directed by Mark Tinker.

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Doing Disney World on no sleep

Which is more surreal: Searching the Walt Disney World resort at 2 a.m. for an emergency room or asking Magic Kingdom security to assemble a search party for your wife and daughter? The next time I take a family vacation, I'm going to option the television rights as the "Bonner Family Surreality Vacation Show."

I was offered a speaking engagement at an explosives engineer and blaster's conference at one of the Walt Disney World resort hotels. I invited my wife, five-year-old son and nine-month-old daughter to join me. After a late-night flight to Orlando, we were in bed at 12:30 a.m. dreaming of an exciting day in the Magic Kingdom.

At 1:30 a.m., my son was screaming loud enough to wake the 999 ghosts in the Haunted Mansion. After 15 minutes of inconsolable hysterics, he finally told us that the airplane had burst his ears. The front desk said they could send a doctor to my hotel room at considerable expense — like second-mortgage expense. So I asked where the nearest hospital was located. She mumbled some directions and said, "Have a magical day."

Somehow the odds of having a magical day seemed small considering my son needed an emergency room at 2 a.m.!

So much for those directions. After 15 minutes of aimless wandering, my son had stopped crying and was excited about seeing Walt Disney World at 2 a.m.! A policeman working a wreck gave me better directions, and we were able to find the Celebration Health hospital.

The emergency room had a beautiful portrait of Jesus hanging above the nurse's station. My son played in the children's waiting room for two hours. He then slept on adjoining chairs for the next three hours. He woke up around 8 a.m., told me that his ears were no longer hurting and that he wanted to go home (Lufkin, not the hotel).

Now I was the hysterical one. I wanted to tell those nurses where they could go "celebrate," but I could not muster the courage with Jesus looking on. So I refused treatment for my son, and we were back at the hotel by 9 a.m.

Three hours later, we were singing "A Pirate's Life for Me" while on the Pirates of the Caribbean ride. We were having a "magical" day.

The meeting itself was a blast — pun intended. My talk went well but only after I made another late-night trip. This time it was to Best Buy to purchase a new Windows operating system. Sometime during the trip, my laptop computer's operating system decided to go and "corrupt" itself. Of course. I had a backup copy of my Powerpoint presentation on CD; however, it somehow got erased. Less than 12 hours before my talk was scheduled, I had no talk to present. I was able to restore my system, and all's well that ends well.

It was then time for one final night at the Magic Kingdom. The park is amazing at night, especially when the fireworks detonate over Cinderella's Castle. Thousands, possibly even millions, line up along Main Street to view the fireworks. As my family jockeyed for position among the hordes of people, my son and I became separated from my wife and daughter. No problem as I thought we were supposed to meet by the bus stop if that happened. As usual, yours truly was wrong!

After the fireworks had ended at 9 p.m., my son and I ran to the bus stop, but my wife and daughter were not there. We waited as two more of our resort's buses filled. Still, no wife and daughter. At this point, I assumed that they had already gone back to the hotel. Bad assumption!

We hopped on a bus and were back at our hotel by 10 p.m. Imagine our shock and frustration to find that the rest of our family was not in the hotel room.

I started flagging down all the resort buses from the Magic Kingdom. After this proved unsuccessful, my son started crying, "I think my mom and sister are dead." That wasn't helping the situation.

At 11 p.m., I called the Magic Kingdom security from the hotel room and gave them the description of my red-headed wife and her green stroller. They were just about to make an announcement on the public address system at the park when the door to our hotel opened. And the two "lost" Bonners strolled into the room.

The conversation afterwards is censored. Evidently, we were supposed to meet at the park's exit and not at the bus stop. We probably walked within five feet of them.

Even with these late-night escapades, the trip was validated when my son said, "I don't want to go home. I want to stay at Disney World."

I cannot imagine how great the Magic Kingdom must be to a five-year-old. Disney World can turn even the most cynical and sarcastic adult like myself into a kid again. It truly is a place where dreams can and do come true.

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Disney animation classic Bambi gets complete digital makeover for DVD issue

Is there a child born in the last six decades who wasn't in some way emotionally walloped by Bambi?

What begins as a sweet, innocent, 1942 animated feature turns intensely traumatic for pre-school viewers when (no spoiler here, we hope) Bambi's mother is killed by human hunters at about the midway point. It happens offscreen, of course, and was eventually trumped by the onscreen paternal death in The Lion King in 1994.

But for most youngsters in the western world, this is their first confrontation with the concept of mortality. Now, Bambi (Platinum Edition) (Disney) comes to DVD in a gorgeously restored two-disc addition to the studio's elite Platinum Edition series. And young and old alike are sure to be "twitterpatted" all over again.

Extras include two deleted scenes (roughed out storyboards only), the usual making-of feature, a feature on the painstaking restoration, and the artistically-brilliant 1937 Oscar-winning short The Old Mill, which introduced Disney's innovative multi-plane camera that later gave the unique 3-D effect to Bambi's forest scenes. But it gets even better. Recently uncovered notes of the original story meetings are acted out, including someone who does Walt's voice, and serve as a running optional commentary. As narrator Patrick Stewart points out, it's remarkable how close the final product came to Walt's original vision.

There's also a sneak peak at an upcoming theatrical sequel, Bambi and the Prince of the Forest, which actually fills in a gap after Bambi becomes an orphan. The originally aloof stag/dad is now shown taking over the parental duties and raising the little prince by himself, a little belated social revisionism.

The sixth and seventh Platinum Editions will be Cinderella this fall and Lady and the Tramp a year from now.

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ABC Happy After 'Million Dollar' Night

Clint Eastwood, Hilary Swank and Jamie Foxx weren't the only winners at the Academy Awards. Preliminary indications are it was a strong ratings performer for ABC.

The Oscars' 30.1 rating in Nielsen Media Research's 56 top markets was a slight 1 percent improvement over last year's comparable number, and the highest-rated Academy Awards in the metered markets since 2000. The rating is an estimate that nearly 33 million households were tuned in.

Nationwide viewership totals were to become available later Monday.

Last year's Oscars were seen by 43.5 million people, a sharp 32 percent increase over 2003. Considering the ominous signs of ratings declines for the Golden Globes and Grammys this year, the numbers left ABC executives pleased.

"Obviously, Chris Rock as host had an impact in the resurgence of the numbers," said Larry Hyams, vice president of audience analysis and research at ABC.

Backstage at the Oscars, Eastwood contemplated how deserving he was to come away with his second best-picture and directing triumph, this time for the boxing tale "Million Dollar Baby."

"There's a lot of great movies that have won the Academy Award, and a lot of great movies that haven't," said Eastwood, whose film also earned Swank her second best-actress Oscar and Morgan Freeman the supporting-actor prize. Humbly, Eastwood added, "You just do the best you can."

Other acting awards Sunday night went to performers in real-life roles, Foxx as lead actor for his uncanny emulation of Ray Charles in "Ray" and Cate Blanchett for supporting actress as Katharine Hepburn, the love of Howard Hughes' life, in "The Aviator."

Eastwood's triumph meant fresh heartbreak for Martin Scorsese, whose Hughes epic "The Aviator" won the most awards with five but failed to bring him the directing Oscar that has eluded him throughout his distinguished career.

Scorsese, now a five-time loser, matched the record of Oscar futility held by a handful of legendary filmmakers such as Alfred Hitchcock and Robert Altman, who also went 0-for-5 in the directing category.

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Disney, Miramax marriage winds up

Walt Disney and Miramax Film co-founders Bob and Harvey Weinstein are putting the finishing touches on the dissolution of their Hollywood marriage.

After several weeks of intense negotiations, the two sides have reached agreement on the main terms of their divorce, according to sources close to the deal, which could be announced as early as this week.

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Warner Bros. KOs Miramax in Oscar Race

On the eve of Harvey Weinstein's probable exit, Miramax Films was KO'd by Warner Bros. at the Academy Awards -- a bitter swan song for the man who built the trophy-grabbing studio.

Warner's "Million Dollar Baby" took home four Academy Awards, including best director for Clint Eastwood, best picture, best actress for Hilary Swank and best supporting actor for Morgan Freeman.

The awards will almost surely considerably increase the box office haul for "Million Dollar Baby," which has not yet grossed even $70 million for parent company Time Warner Inc. since its December release.

Still, Miramax's "The Aviator" garnered a leading five Academy Awards in what could be the last Oscar night for Harvey and brother Bob as co-chief executive officers of the studio. The moguls are currently negotiating their departure with Michael Eisner, CEO of The Walt Disney Co., which bought Miramax in 1993 for $80 million.

Perhaps symbolically, one of the primary schisms between Eisner and the Weinsteins has been their increasingly high-budgeted films, as opposed to the earlier, more traditionally independent fare. With its large budget and high-priced talent, "The Aviator" resembles previous (and more risky) Miramax ventures like 2003's "Cold Mountain."

Disney also had a hand in the two Oscars won by Pixar Animation Studios Inc.'s "The Incredibles," which won best animated feature and best sound editing. Disney distributed the film. But even that win is a painful one for Disney, whose distribution deal with Pixar ends after next year's "Cars."

Pixar's win (its second in the four years of a best animated category), came at the expense of "Shrek 2" and "Shark Tale," both made by DreamWorks Animation SKG Inc. All of the animated movies, however, have made more than any of the best picture nominees: $259 million for "The Incredibles," $436 million for "Shrek 2" and $160 million for "Shark Tale."

In his acceptance speech, director Brad Bird thanked Pixar and Apple Computer Inc. CEO Steve Jobs for "making the best studio on the face of the earth."

General Electric Co., parent company of Universal Studios, also scored with a best-actor win by Jamie Foxx for "Ray."

The stakes for a potential post-Oscar box office boom were especially high: For the first time in 15 years, no best picture nominee had grossed more than $100 million.

Academy Award wins also can increase a studio's luster in the industry. "It attracts talent," Paul Kim, an analyst for New York-based Traditional Asiel Securities, told the AP in January. "There are tangential benefits. You always want to be perceived as a talent-friendly organization."

While the sun may be setting on Miramax, its Hollywood legacy could be seen elsewhere on Oscar night. Now all the major studios have set up divisions to produce similar low-budget but high-minded films, a new industrywide subsystem dubbed "Indiewood."

The night's big winner, Warner Bros., has recently formed Warner Independent Pictures. And Fox Searchlight, which falls under Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. empire, is often compared to Miramax. Searchlight's "Sideways" failed to win best picture, but took home the award for best adapted screenplay.

"We love Fox Searchlight for letting us make a film with complete creative freedom," said director Alexander Payne while accepting the award.

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Another Rehab

Disneyland Paris - While inside the Disneyland Park the number of rehab projects is comparable small to the same time last year, guests approaching the gates on the right side are now greeted by the first rehab project already outside the gates. The complete building housing Guest Relations, Luggage Storage and the Salon Mickey has been covered with scaffolding to undergo a major rehab of the facade.

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The latest from the Disney Village

Disneyland Paris - Even so a thin layer of snow covered the resort over the weekend and bitingly cold air had it firmly in its grip both construction projects in the Village moved forward. Over at the IMAX the first glass-elements have been added to the metal frame of the facade. Once they are all in place the preparation of the foyer can start in earnest. The new Disney Village program / flyer for March already includes a drawing of the facade, even so the official opening date is only April 9.

The platform for Panoramagique is still growing too. Extending from the core platform new long arms are now protruding. Also the center of the platform has been raised.

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Sunday February 27, 2005


Disney says Korea could be magic but no park deal
 
Walt Disney Co. on Friday denied a Korean newspaper report that it had agreed to develop a theme park in Seoul, but it left open the possibility of building a Magic Kingdom in South Korea.

"While Korea is a potentially attractive market, we have no agreement to announce," Disney said in a statement.

"We are constantly evaluating strategic markets around the world -- including other parts of Asia to grow our parks and resorts business and the Disney brand," the company said.

The Dong-A Ilbo newspaper last week quoted an unnamed Seoul government official as saying the city had reached a provisional agreement with Disney to develop a 204-acre park and other facilities that would open around 2011.

The newspaper projected that a contract would be drawn up in the second half of the year.

Disney will open Hong Kong Disneyland in September and is considering a park in Shanghai. It already has a resort in Tokyo.

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ABC tells Robin Williams: Drop comic song from Oscars
 
ABC executives have forced Robin Williams to drop a comic song from tonight's Oscars show because of its sexual tone and political content.

Williams, the presenter of the Academy Award for best animated feature, decided last week that his one minute on stage would be a prime time to lampoon conservative critic James C. Dobson, whose group Focus on the Family last month criticized the cartoon character SpongeBob SquarePants for appearing in a video about tolerance that the group called "pro-homosexual."

For a bit of material, Williams turned to Marc Shaiman, the composer, whose credits include Oscar-night medleys for Billy Crystal and comic movies ranging from the romantic When Harry Met Sally to the ribald South Park: Bigger Longer & Uncut.

Shaiman and his partner, Scott Wittman, dashed off a mock exposé of the dark underbelly of cartoonland for Williams to deliver over a gospel-music groove, as if he were a full-throated preacher inveighing against other newly-discovered sinners in the nation's midst:

"Pinocchio's had his nose done! Sleeping Beauty is popping pills!

"The Three Little Pigs ain't kosher! Betty Boop works Beverly Hills!"

The producer of the Oscars telecast, Gil Cates, urged Shaiman to make the bit "less political," Shaiman said, so he removed any reference to Dobson's protests - and turned Williams into a character dishing up the latest juicy gossip:

"Fred Flintstone is dyslexic, Jessica Rabbit is really a man, Olive Oyl is really anorexic, and Casper is in the Ku Klux Klan!"

Officials from ABC's broadcast standards and practices office were not pleased. On Thursday, they detailed their objections.

Some lines were opposed for "sexual tone," as the ABC officials, Susan Futterman and Olivia Cohen Cutler, put it to Williams, Shaiman and Cates. These lines included "Chip 'n' Dale are both strippers," "Bugs Bunny's a sexaholic," and "Josie and the Pussycats dance on laps."

In the end, however, the sexual references would have been allowed, a network spokesman said. But they held the line on material that they believed might be seen as glorifying drug use or offending Native Americans or disabled people. Among other things, that included the line, "the Road Runner's hooked on speed."

On Friday, faced with having to rewrite or kill as many as 11 lines out of a 36-line piece, Shaiman said, he and Wittman refused.

Williams, interviewed at the Independent Spirit Awards yesterday, said he was disappointed but sounded philosophical.

"For a while you get mad, then you get over it," he said. "They're afraid of saying Olive Oyl is anorexic. It tells you about the state of humor. It's strange to think: How afraid are you?"

He added: "We thought that they got the irony of it. I guess not."

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Disney Kills A Tribute To Kermit

Muppet stars Kermit the frog and Miss Piggy have been axed from a touring puppet show - after Disney threatened legal action.

The Disney Corporation of America, who own the Muppets copyright, threatened to sue the two-man show touring Scotland if they didn't axe their pig and frog puppets.

Puppeteers Philip Fletcher and Carl Chadd had wanted to make their show, featuring the 'Gluvets', a Muppets tribute.

They asked the estate of Jim Henson, the late Muppet creator, last September for permission but were told the rights had been sold to Disney.Misled

Promoter Paul Bridson then wrote to Disney in Florida. He believed they did not object and the show had bookings in Irvine, Stirling and Dundee.

Kermit and Miss Piggy topped the bill, with other puppets looking and sounding like Big Bird, Bert and Gonzo.

But after the first two shows at Irvine and Stirling last weekend, Disney lawyers claimed they had been misled.

Paul Bridson said: 'They seemed to think we would be submitting scripts for Muppet shows to Disney. That was never the case.

'It's just a frog and a pig but we can't afford to take on Disney.'

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Milian Lost Disney Job When She Became Too Busty

Pop star Christina Milian was kicked off the Disney Channel when she started becoming a curvy young woman.

The Dip It Low singer spent many of her teenage years as a reporter for the wholesome Disney Channel, but was asked to leave when producers could no longer hide her breasts.

She says, "They got rid of me because I was getting too big. I was on there for three years, and, by the time I was 18, they were like, `You can't really pull off the kid thing now, and we can't wrap your chest anymore.'

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Oscar Producer Calls ABC Delay 'Terrible Idea'

Oscar organizers on Friday blasted television network ABC for broadcasting the star-filled Academy Award telecast with a time delay, dismissing it as a "terrible idea" and a concession to political correctness.

The choice of comedian Chris Rock as host has the network, owned by The Walt Disney Co. and the only broadcaster to air the show in the United States, nervous about offensive language hitting the U.S. airwaves.

Federal regulators may boost fines for U.S. broadcasters following last year's Super Bowl "wardrobe malfunction" by singer Janet Jackson in which she bared her breast. Earlier this month the U.S. House of Representatives voted to raise the maximum indecency fine to as much as $500,000 from $32,500.

Rock has already unnerved the Hollywood establishment by joking that straight black men do not watch the Oscars, and his stand-up comedy acts are laden with obscenities. Still, he is popular with young audiences that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which gives out the Oscars, is eager to attract.

"I do not like a time delay," Oscar show producer Gil Cates told reporters on the famed red carpet leading to the awards venue, the Kodak Theatre in Hollywood.

"I'm very happy I'm not the person who has to push that button and decide the difference between something that may be out of step in terms of what the culture thinks is appropriate and something that's political," Cates added. "My feeling is it's a terrible idea but it's ABC's network."

ABC declined to comment on his remarks and even on the length of the time delay. Cates said he thought images would hit TV screens seven seconds after they happened, which was the time delay ABC instituted last year.

Oscar organizers chose Rock, marking his first time as show host, and ABC gave its approval.

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George Lucas visits WDW

With his newest film, "Star Wars: Episode III Revenge of the Sith" set to debut in theaters in May 2005, "Star Wars" creator and director George Lucas took time late Thursday evening, Feb. 24, 2005, to meet "Jedi Mickey Mouse" at the Disney-MGM Studios in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. Lucas is on vacation this week at Walt Disney World. "Revenge of the Sith," the final film in the "Star Wars" saga, will be released worldwide May 19, 2005.

                           

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Matthew McConaughey visits WDW

Actor Matthew McConaughey (R) gets some tips from infielder Chipper Jones and pitcher Tim Hudson (L-R) at Cracker Jack Stadium during Atlanta Braves Spring Training at Disney's Wide World of Sports Complex in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., on Tuesday, Feb. 22, 2005. McConaughey is touring the country in an RV, promoting his new film "Sahara."

                                               

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ESPN The Weekend Star Appears at MGM

Record-setting NFL wide receiver Jerry Rice, who was released yesterday by the Seattle Seahawks, greets fans today as he takes a ride with Goofy through the Disney-MGM Studios in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. Rice is among more than 50 sports celebrities appearing this weekend at the Walt Disney World theme park for "ESPN The Weekend," a three-day sports fan-fest

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Saturday February 26, 2005


Disney Sells Ducks to Samueli for $75 Million
 
Orange County technology entrepreneur Henry Samueli agreed to purchase the Mighty Ducks today, ending the Walt Disney Co.'s foray into professional sports and guaranteeing that the National Hockey League team would remain in Anaheim.

Samueli and his wife, Susan, purchased the team for more than $75 million, according to a source familiar with the negotiations. The deal includes Disney Ice, the Ducks' training facility in Anaheim. The NHL's board of governors must approve the deal.
In buying the team, Samueli fortifies the Arrowhead Pond, which is operated by his management company. The Ducks' lease with the arena allowed Disney to share in, and in some cases monopolize, revenue streams from non-hockey events.

By owning the Ducks, Samueli will now be able to pocket profits, provided the Ducks make money once play resumes after the current labor strife.

Disney, meanwhile, has washed its hands of professional sports, having sold the baseball Angels in 2003, and is rid of a money-losing franchise.

The Ducks, once a cash cow for the company, are believed to have lost $28 million last season and about $12 million in 2002-03 despite reaching the Stanley Cup finals. Disney will cover all operating losses until Samueli assumes control of the team.

"Since we manage the Pond ...it seemed natural to purchase the team," said Samueli, the co-founder of Irvine-based computer chip maker Broadcom Corp. "This keeps the team under local ownership. It made sense for Susan and I to step up."

The Duck sale will not be on the agenda at the NHL board of governor's meeting Tuesday, a league spokesman said. Nor will it likely make the agenda for the following meeting, which has yet to be scheduled. League executives must first vet the Samuelis and their financing.

"It's really a due diligence process," said Frank Brown, NHL spokesman. "It's exhausting and time-consuming and there's never any timeline for it."

The Samuelis will not have to worry about operating costs for the time being, as the NHL is embedded in a lengthy and often caustic labor dispute. NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman imposed an owner's lockout in September and then canceled its season Feb. 16.

Samueli said that the lockout did not enter into his decision to buy the team.

"There is a lot of uncertainty there, but we have been considering buying the team for quite some time," Samueli said. "Given that we already owned the arenas, there was a lot of synergy in owning both entities. I believe it will make both stronger."

The sale concludes Disney's relatively brief and generally unsuccessful venture into professional sports ownership. Although the Angels won their only World Series under Disney ownership and the Ducks became a marketing phenomenon at inception, Disney failed to leverage the teams in other ways that could help the company.

Most notably, Disney's plans for an ESPN West cable channel collapsed in 1998. Without that new channel, one that would have carried Angel and Duck games, Disney could not justify continued ownership of two money-losing teams.

Disney came into the NHL with the expansion Ducks in 1993, following the success of the movie "The Mighty Ducks." Both the film and the expansion team were offshoots of Michael Eisner's interest in hockey, born from his son's participation in that sport.

But Eisner and Disney's interest in the team declined sharply in recent years. Once a regular at games, Eisner rarely came to the Pond, except when the team made its amazing run through the Stanley Cup playoffs in 2003.

Disney put the Angels and Ducks on the market in 1999 and negotiated with Samueli — and Broadcom partner Henry Nicholas — to buy both teams.

At that time, Samueli and Nicholas had approached Disney about acquiring rights to interactive broadcasts, a way to spur sales of the Broadcom computer chips that would have enabled viewers to buy tickets and team merchandise while watching the game, with a few simple clicks of the remote control. Disney responded by asking the two to buy the teams outright, in a $450-million deal that valued the Angels at $300 million and the Ducks at $150 million.

In 2002, after the teams remained unsold for three years, Disney hired the New York investment bank Lehman Bros. to get the teams sold, separately or together. In 2003, Arte Moreno bought the Angels for $183.5 million.

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Disney loves Australia

Disney may have lost its magic touch in the US, but its Australian operation is running to a fairytale script.

With a host of new merchandise lines hitting the market or scheduled for release here soon, Australia is set to contribute strongly to Disney's global revenue.

"The Australian organisation is the benchmark for the whole of Disney consumer products," consumer products chairman Andy Mooney, who visited Sydney last week for a "summit" of Disney's Asia-Pacific offshoots.

All is not well in the heart of Disney's kingdom.

A power struggle involving mercurial chief executive Michael Eisner, former executives, shareholders and business associates has sapped corporate morale as the stock price stagnates.

The company has lost important partners, including Pixar, the animation studio responsible for hits such as Toy Story and Finding Nemo, whose output Disney distributed until last year.

Gone, too, are the Weinstein brothers, Harvey and Bob, co-founders and creative forces behind the Disney-owned film studio Miramax, which produced box-office hits such as Shakespeare In Love and The English Patient.

None of this seems to concern Mooney, who confidently predicts his division will soon post double-digit growth.

"In my world, life is pretty good because we've been growing nicely for coming on three years now," he says.

Mooney attributes the general turn-around in his division's fortunes to a shift in focus from "deal-making" - licensing Disney characters to outside firms that may be less concerned with quality and the longevity of the brand - back to in-house design.

"We're designing and developing quality products that we can then share with our licensees," he says.

Among them are Mickey Mouse DVDs, television sets and even a personal computer, complete with mouse-ear speakers.

Computer games, frozen meals and homewares are also rolling off the Disney production line.

Few markets for these new items are as promising as Australia, which consistently outperforms the US on Disney's revenue-to-income "index" - its measure of sales on a GDP per capita basis.

Only Japan and the United Kingdom rank ahead of Australia on the index, thanks in part to the huge popularity here of Winnie the Pooh, who appears on everything from children's clothing to a kitchen toaster.

Globally, however, the real Disney behemoth is Mickey Mouse.

He's the corporate symbol and the source of a staggering $7.4 billion in revenue last financial year, despite having barely appeared on screen since the 1950s.

Mickey, who recently turned 75, has enjoyed a resurgence, a phenomenon Mooney ascribes to the popularity of kitsch and the appetite for symbols of innocence in a violent world.

"It comments on a generation looking back with fondness, as well as the desire to connect with something positive," he says.

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Taxing district based on Disney is latest idea

Nearly four decades ago, to avoid lawsuits and planning delays, legislators created a special tax district to govern what's become the Walt Disney World complex.

Eager to get a similarly large and coveted development under way, legislators said Thursday they may create a comparable district to help Palm Beach County move forward with the Scripps Florida biomedical research complex.

Frustrations are boiling over in the state Capitol this week because 18 months have passed since the state set aside $369 million for Scripps, and Palm Beach County officials still aren't certain where the project will be located.

Republican leaders of the Florida House of Representatives said Thursday they are eager to see the project advance rapidly. And to nudge it along, they are considering several options, including a Disney-like special district.

Palm Beach officials and some lawmakers cautioned that such a district could invite more problems, even more lawsuits.

``That's nuclear war,'' state Sen. Ron Klein, D-Boca Raton, said. ``The job may get done quicker. I know the local government will go wild ... [But[ I'm not at that stage, not yet.''

The urgency comes in spite of a decision Tuesdayby county officials to name Mecca Farms in western Palm Beach County as the primary choice for Scripps. The Florida Research Park, west of Jupiter, was made the primary alternate.

In his first significant remarks on Scripps, State House Speaker Allan Bense, a Panama City Republican, repeatedly blasted Palm Beach County officials Thursday for having not made more progress getting Scripps Florida under way.

``I'm losing my patience,'' Bense said during a meeting with House leaders. ``It's been 18 months and there's no construction started, and maybe we need to come up with a Plan B for this place.''

Bense, who runs a construction company, said further delays do not make good business sense or public policy.

``In my business, we have a saying,'' Bense said. ``A bad decision beats no decision. Inaction will get you nowhere in life, and sometimes you have to make a bad decision. I'm losing patience.''

Later in the day, speaking to reporters, Bense made similarly strong remarks.

``I'm ready for some action because, in my part of the world, my constituents weren't real happy sending some $300 million to one of the wealthiest counties of Florida,'' Bense said. ``It was a little bit of a sell. ... It's time for Palm Beach County to get moving. Let's start pouring concrete or let's start fighting lawsuits. Let's get going. ''

During interviews with reporters, Bense insisted that he's not locked into a legislative response and is content with Scripps going to Palm Beach County. But his aides and several legislators confirmed that the options include the Disney-like taxing district.

In 1967, the state created the Reedy Creek Improvement District for Walt Disney Co. It has since operated like a privately owned county. Reedy Creek straddles Osceola and Orange counties and has almost all the powers of a county government, except running a justice system. It does its own planning and zoning, for instance.

Legislators and others said the Legislature could, as early as the second week of the annual lawmaking session that begins March 8, debate legislation creating a special district for Scripps. By doing so, they hope, environmentalists' lawsuits attacking the county's efforts to amend its current comprehensive plan would be rendered moot.

``We're taking steps to help Palm Beach County achieve success,'' said Rep. Stan Mayfield, R-Vero Beach. ``Florida's main objective has always been long-term success in attracting the bioscience industry and the high-paying jobs. The bill that we're working on is going to help ensure that goal in the end.''

In the Senate, Michael Bennett, R-Bradenton is proposing a bill that abandons Scripps altogether and would redirect spending on Scripps to a politically popular state health program for the chronically ill, a program known as Medically Needy.

These legislative responses to Scripps delays are causing tremors within Palm Beach County government.

In an e-mail about Bennett's proposal to county officials Thursday, county lobbyist Kathleen E. Daley said she doesn't' think his idea will become law, but the county needs ``to be prepared for the onslaught of legislation that may occur.''

Daley said it's time for the county's leaders to show consensus.

``Now that you have decided on the sites, I think we need to show some unity,'' Daley wrote. ``If we're together, even if it's just conceptually, it will show strength. [The legislative] session is not the time to showcase any local differences, especially with all this funding ... Do not give them any reason to take it away.''

Later Thursday, several county officials contacted said they aren't surprised by the jitters in the Legislature.

``I understand the frustration of the Legislature,'' County Commissioner Mary McCarty said.

McCarty, sharing sentiments of Karen Marcus -- another county commissioner and the board's Scripps liaison -- said the county should be recognized for making progress by selecting one site to serve as the fallback should Scripps Florida not be able to go to Mecca Farms.

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Walt Disney Records to release 'Make A Wish' by Kevin Sharp

Walt Disney Records is set to release a powerhouse compilation CD that will include the brand new song, 'Make A Wish', by country star Kevin Sharp. Additional platinum-selling artist's involved with the project are James Taylor, Elton John, Bette Midler and Barbara Streisand to name a few.

The album, titled Walt Disney Presents Wishes, arrives in stores May 3rd and all proceeds benefit the Make-A-Wish Foundation. Kevin is currently in the studio with producer and industry veteran, Jerry Cupit, putting the finishing touches on his upcoming yet-to-be-titled album slated for release on Cupit Records early this summer.

Also, listen for Kevin's new single, 'Your Love Reaches Me', that has been shipped to radio with an add date of March 14th. The music video is scheduled to be filmed at several locations around Nashville in mid-March.

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Radio Disney presents a convention for kids

Disney's "101 Dalmatians," "Pocahontas" and "Lilo & Stitch" take center stage this weekend at the 13th Annual All About Kids Expo.

Those tales will be featured at the expanded Story Time Theater, where costumed characters will read the familiar Disney adventures

"There will be special noise makers and activities so the kids can be involved in the story," said Rhonda Sheya, general manager of Denver's Radio Disney (1690 AM).

The station produces the event, which runs 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturday and 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Sunday at the Colorado Convention Center, 700 14th St.

Radio Disney disc jockeys Chessie Lee and Brittany Wirth will be among the readers, along with Commotion, a musical group sponsored by Radio Disney.

"We will have the stories interspersed with some Disney songs and entertainment," Sheya said. "I think that is going to be just a real fun area for kids, especially the young ones."

Older kids, she said, will be happy that the expo's climbing wall is back after being absent for a few years.

"And of course, the very favorites, the pony rides (and) the petting zoo - the animals attractions are always a big hit - will be back this year," she said.

Entertainers include singers Amanda Hawkins and Mary Katherine Spierings, two local teenagers who Sheya says are about to make their marks nationally.

Spierings appears at noon Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday; Hawkins is scheduled at 2 p.m. Saturday and noon Sunday.

Other acts include Cherry Creek Dance, clown Ann Lincoln, Babies R Us Fashion Show, United Studios of Self Defense and Vertical, a mini cheerleading team.

"And we have got - it kind of sounds silly but it is absolutely fun - an ice cream-scooping contest that takes place on stage," Sheya said. "Kids get in teams and try to build the biggest ice cream cone. The record so far, set last year, is 27 scoops on one cone. It really is fun, and the kids love it."

There are also about 100 information, goods and services booths, dealing with everything from dolls to insurance to home security to cosmetics, to dental care to dinner theater to self-defense.

The Kiwanis Pediatric Trauma Institute again will be on hand, selling for $10 new bicycle helmets for adults and children.

"Normally, they are at least twice that much and sometimes three times," Sheya said. "They are top-quality bike helmets that they purchase to sell as part of their support for the Children's Hospital's pediatric trauma unit."

She said 80 percent or more of the event's activities are included with admission.

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Area children's choir to sing at Disneyland

Some of Conejo Valley's youngest voices soon will fill the air at one of the happiest places on Earth.

The Los Robles Children's Choir is scheduled to perform at Disneyland Saturday.

The choir is made up of three ensembles: the beginning level Bel Canto Choir; the Amadeus Choir, an advanced treble choir; and the high school mixed voices Camerata Youth Choir.

The groups' repertoires range from classical works to folk song arrangements selected according to each's ability, under the artistic direction of Donna Young.

The choir is a nonprofit organization funded by individuals, parents, foundations and corporations working in conjunction with the Friends of the Los Robles Master Chorale and Moorpark College Community Services.

The 12:30 p.m. Disneyland performance will take place on the Carnation Plaza Gardens stage, at the end of the park's Main Street, next to Frontierland.

For more information about the choir, call 480-9416.

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Muppet cranks Statler & Waldorf Discuss Recent Films

Statler & Waldorf, the famed Muppet Show hecklers, are back in action, giving their Oscar picks as part of a new feature on entertainment Web site Movies.com. They make their Movies.com debut, dishing the dirt on the top Oscar contenders in a new online vignette entitled Statler & Waldorf from the Balcony.

LINK

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Friday February 25, 2005


Samueli Reach an Agreement to Buy the Mighty Ducks From The Walt Disney Company

The Walt Disney Co. has sold the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim to billionaire Henry Samueli and his wife Susan, the new owner announced Friday.

Samueli's company operates the Arrowhead Pond, where the Mighty Ducks play.

The sale requires approval from the National Hockey League. The purchase price and the terms were not disclosed.

The Ducks haven't played since a lockout wiped out the entire 2004-2005 NHL season, and the future of the league remains uncertain.

Agents for players plan to meet with union representatives next week for an update on labor talks, a day after the players' association meets with its rank and file.

"The Mighty Ducks have become a wonderful asset to this community, with a terrific following, a history of winning and a strong nucleus of outstanding young prospects and talented veterans," Samueli said.

"Our acquisition of the team assures that the Mighty Ducks will remain in the hands of local ownership committed to keeping the team in Orange County and putting a consistent winner on the ice."

Disney paid $50 million for the Ducks to join the NHL as an expansion franchise in 1992. Samueli's initial offer reportedly was in the $50 million to $60 million range.

Although the Ducks were Western Conference champions and went to the Stanley Cup Finals during the 2002-2003 season, Disney has had them on the market for years.

"We are confident that Henry and Susan Samueli will bring continued success to the Ducks and we will remain among the biggest fans of the team going forward," said Disney boss Michael Eisner.

Samueli is co-founder, chairman of the board and chief technical officer of Broadcom Corp.

Disney also sold the Anaheim Angels, now known as the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, to private owner Arte Morteno in 2003.

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Disney and ESPN: Lesson in synergy
 
What happens when you put two 900-pound gorillas in the same cage?

I don't know, but like my good friend Quasimodo, I've got a hunch.

(Disney's Quasimodo, incidentally, co-stars in a current ESPN promotional spot with Mike Golic of radio-TV's Mike & Mike in the Morning. But Quasi says I'm better looking and a far better song-and-dance man.)

What we have Friday through Sunday at the Disney-MGM Studios amusement park is the second "ESPN the Weekend -- presented by Speed Stick 24/7."

It's an intriguing meeting of the minds -- and egos. The Disney folk and the ESPN folk are the 900-pound gorillas of their specific entertainment areas -- so who leads and who follows when they try to do the dance of love?

In seeking an answer, I learned all about the word "synergy" -- "the working together of two things to produce an effect greater than the sum of their individual efforts."
  • "Exactly! Synergy is a big deal in the Disney company," said Disney Marketing Senior Vice President Ken Potrock. "From our side we realized we had this amazing partner in ESPN but it was playing no part in our parks. And ESPN has a great relationship with their viewers but they don't get to touch them."

    OK, how's this for a promo, Ken: "Come out and get touched by ESPN." I like it.
  • "It's all about passion," said ESPN V-P for Brand Extension and (Yes!) Synergy Heather Campbell. "Disney and ESPN have a passion for what they do, so this simply brings it together. The timing is right."

    Golly, I'm getting all sweaty just thinking about it.

    Seriously, folks, there's a pretty unique opportunity here for you. Most of the ESPN personalities are here, or as Potrock said: "At least 30 ESPN stars from Stuart Scott on down."

    My apologies to the rest of the ESPN people in town, but that's what he said. Stuart Scott is the man. I don't see Chris Berman, Dan Patrick or any of the Sunday Night Football guys on the lists, but there's many others who will be visiting and working here.

    For example, the cast of Cold Pizza will be here (but it's hard to say who that might be by Friday.)

    Many athletes are joining the party. The list includes Roger Clemens, Jerry Rice, Amanda Beard and numerous hockey players who have nowhere else to go.

    Here's a taste:
  • ESPN Sports Zone -- It's an interactive multisport area where you can try all kinds of death-defying acts from sitting in a racing simulator to the terror of being a SportsCenter anchor.
  • Talk to the Stars -- Numerous opportunities to ask questions and hope Barry Bonds won't be there to tear you apart.
  • Who Wants To Be a Millionaire -- A chance to play a special sports edition of the game -- with a celebrity as your lifeline.
  • Constant tapings -- Many ESPN TV and radio shows will be either taped or done live during the weekend. You can watch and there's always a chance of that life-altering experience of being seen on TV waving like a loon.

    Write this down: Espntheweekend.com. That's the computer link that will take you to constantly updated schedules.

    As for me, I'm still suspicious about these two giants of showbiz getting along, so I asked Ken Potrock if Disney still had the best rides over ESPN: "You bet we do!"

    OK, and tell us, Heather Campbell, if ESPN still has the best-looking talent?

    "Are you kidding? They're all beautiful people at ESPN!"

    I don't know. Quasimodo still thinks I'm better looking than Bob Golic.

    And, if you ask me, Quasi is one good-looking man.
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    Disneyland celebrates 50 years

    Walt would be proud. Fifty years after the opening of the original California Disneyland among the orange groves of Anaheim, the park is still true to its founder's spirit.

    And with massive celebrations planned throughout the worldwide Disney empire, Walt's vision is going to be revered in style.

    Of course the Anaheim park and its surroundings have undergone huge changes since that summer of 1955.

    A sister park — The California Adventure — three theme hotels and the huge development of the Anaheim area would likely leave even Walt Disney speechless.

    But what hasn't changed — in fact what has been reborn — is the focus on the dreams of children. Nowhere can that be seen clearer than in the joy and wonder with which kids greet the appearance of the Disney characters anywhere in the two adjoining theme parks in Anaheim.

    In fact, the California Adventure Park — originally aimed at a teen demographic — has reverted to a more traditional look with many more appearances by a host of newer characters.

    For despite the allure of thrill rides such as the recently opened Tower of Terror, it is the link to the Disney movies and cartoons which pulls the parks above being just another Six Flags amusement area.

    Yet while the past lives on and is celebrated, Disney is looking at its half century as a launching pad for new attractions across the globe.

    FESTIVE FRANCHISE

    In Disneyland, the celebrations begin on May 5 with a new fireworks show and the opening of a Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters interactive ride in Tomorrowland.

    In addition, work has been going on for months, sprucing up old favourites such as Space Mountain, the Tiki Tiki Room and Splash Mountain in time for the 50th birthday celebrations. And the 50th will be celebrated throughout the Disney franchise.

    Walt Disney World in Florida will be opening their version of the popular Soaring Over California ride, as well as the Cinderellabration show, which has proven a hit at the Tokyo park.

    In the state's Animal Park a robot dinosaur will be making an appearance.

    And for a two-month period the Disney Cruise line will be sailing out of Los Angeles.

    Over in Paris, the European park will be unveiling its own new fireworks show called Wishes.

    The biggest opening of all, however, will be in Hong Kong in mid-September when a fresh park is unveiled on land reclaimed from the sea. It's hard to believe, as Walt Disney once stated: "It all began with a mouse."

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    New spinoff ESPNU to get tardy start but has ambitious game plan

    This is so tiredly 20th-century: marketing TV sports and worrying whether anybody will actually watch it.

    Burke Magnus, general manager of ESPNU, announced Wednesday that the ESPN spinoff devoted to college sports will make its debut March 4 in about 3 million households — out of nearly 110 million TV households in America.

    It will rely largely on airing events that don't attract enough consumer demand to get on national TV. It already faces competition in that niche from College Sports TV, in about 7 million households, and Fox College Sports, in at least 3 million households.

    And it's devoted to sports that, by definition, are non-existent during summer because school is out.

    Some consumers might be glad to see ESPNU. Like ones wanting marching bands, whose halftime shows don't air on TV.

    "We'll be there for the bands," Magnus says. "That's an opportunity that doesn't exist for anybody else." (Not quite, CSTV spokesman Eric Handler says: "We feature the bands all the time.")

    So why will ESPNU arrive next week? Because, business-wise, it makes sense. Here's why:

    Cheap ingredients. TV rights fees, what networks pay for events, can be huge. But most college events, outside football and basketball, can be free.

    CSTV chief executive Brian Bedol suggests just because colleges aren't paid for their relatively obscure sports doesn't mean they get a bad deal: "Before we came along, they were actually paying — in TV production costs or slotting allowances — just to get on TV."

    ESPNU will rely on showing sports from conferences where ESPN owns all the TV rights but airs a small percentage of the league's games, which critics call "warehousing." The U.S. Justice Department recently investigated ESPN for warehousing. Not coincidentally, ESPNU's birth should make such concerns disappear.

    Similarly, ESPNU will draw on unused elements in the rights it already holds to 21 NCAA championships. ESPNU, for example, likely will air wrestling quarterfinals and semifinals before the finals air on ESPN or ESPN2. About 150 of 300 events that ESPNU will air annually also will air on regionally syndicated TV via ESPN Regional Television, whose Charlotte headquarters will house ESPNU.

    Summertime, Magnus concedes, will "be a challenge." ESPNU plans whole days devoted to reruns from schools or leagues. Reruns will help counterprogramming: It will replay the Rose Bowl during the start of CBS' NCAA men's basketball tournament.

    ESPNU will re-air marquee games that aired on ESPN or ESPN2. Magnus says they'll be dubbed "time shifts" since re-air seems negative. ESPNU might cost under $10 million to operate annually.

    "It satisfies ESPN's strategic objectives," CSTV's Bedol sniffs. "They take stuff in the attic they aren't using and put it on."

    Expanding universe. ESPN can pressure cable operators to carry its spinoffs by packaging them with existing channels. Not that they're comparably priced: Operators will pay about 10 cents per subscriber for ESPNU, compared to about $2.40 for ESPN.

    And it's getting easier to get on TV. At least 25 million households now have digital cable and its hundreds of channels, says John Mansell, senior analyst with consultant Kagan Research, meaning that operators have more "shelf space" for new channels.

    And TV brands have value beyond TV. Bedol says CSTV's online broadband business — including live audio or video coverage of 5,000 sports events annually — produces more than half the company's revenue. That appeals to cable TV operators who see big profits in selling broadband service to subscribers.

    Hunger. For years, it was thought that big-time sports couldn't count on endless increases in their ticket prices, media coverage, franchises values, TV rights fees and price hikes on the warm, flat beers that fans still line up for in stadiums and arenas.

    So maybe, some day, people will spend chunks of their own lives watching, say, TV college volleyball. ESPNU "probably missed the boat by not coming out before CSTV," Mansell says, "but the public still has an insatiable appetite for sports programming."

    That was sometimes recognized, along with the idea that channels hardly anybody watches could be valuable, back in the 20th century. In 1995, Bedol founded Classic Sports Network, which ESPN bought for $185 million in 1997. What happened: Now known as ESPN Classic, it averages a whopping 0.1% of U.S. cable households — in prime time.

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    De'stiji wins creative biz of Lotto, Disney shoes

    Sierra Industrial Enterprises, which retails Lotto, a well-known Italian sports brand, and Disney shoes in India, has awarded the businesses to Delhi-based agency De'stiji.

    The agency won both these accounts in a multi-agency pitch. Because of a company policy, agency executives were unable to disclose the size of the total business. However, going by the aggressive retail plans for Lotto and Disney, billings are expected to be more than modest.

    The Disney shoe brand is borne out a strategic alliance between media giant Walt Disney and Sierra. According to the terms of the agreement, Sierra owns the licence to use the Disney brand to manufacture and market the Disney shoe range in India. Sierra, incidentally, is the distributor of Nike in India.

    The Disney shoes range will target children within the age group of a few months to 10 years. The collection, priced between Rs 150 to Rs 850, would include booties, sandals, slippers and sports shoes for boys and girls.

    Talking about nature of the task at hand, K Ranjan, director, De'stiji, explains, "We have been appointed to deliver creative, strategy and planning work on both the brands. The objective is to achieve a leadership position in both segments." The media plan would include print and below-the-line activities.

    Both Lotto and Disney are going to be retailed through the Bata stores. In fact, the target for the fiscal is to retail Lotto in 120 Bata stores and 600 retail outlets. Disney shoes will be sold in stand-alone stores, besides all Bata stores.

    De'stiji, in addition to Lotto and Disney, handles Radico Khaitan, Nexus (a BPO), Wipro Spectramind (BPO), South Gate (Bangalore-based men's apparel brand), Makino Auto Industries, Clorox (fabric bleach), Hershey's and Cryola (crayon company).

    Incidentally, De'stiji has also pocketed Punjab-based milk and milk product brand, Uttam. Ranjan says, "We have been signed up for the entire account. That includes creative, strategy, planning, media buying and events." The size of account is in the region of Rs 3 crore.

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    Imagineering a better WDS

    Disneyland Paris - The first drawings released by Euro Disney S.C.A. of the new Toon Studios area of the Walt Disney Studios were met with a luke warm reception. To blunt and scaled back seemed the attraction line up and the Bug's Life inspired themeing. A second more atmospheric drawing released by Jay Rasulo during a presentation in the US got a slightly better reaction, still fans voiced their concerns ... but now finally several concept drawings for the Toon Studios have been released that met with rave reviews!

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    Disney May Build Park Near Seoul

    Looking to expand its global entertainment empire, Walt Disney Co. is sizing up South Korea for a possible theme park.

    During the last several months, company executives have been in talks with government officials over a site south of Seoul, sources familiar with the matter said.

    The proposal being discussed would involve something more modest than the 310-acre Disneyland opening later this year in Hong Kong. The Korean project would combine restaurants and shops with a smaller-scale version of a traditional Disney theme park.

    Discussions are in the early stages, sources cautioned, with financing details yet to be addressed. Disney's foreign parks typically include substantial financial commitments by foreign governments and partners.

    The company recently denied a newspaper report in South Korea that Disney had reached a deal on a nearly 800-acre site. Theme park chief Jay Rasulo reiterated in an interview this week that the company had no agreement, although he did call South Korea "a potentially attractive market."

    Some industry observers are skeptical that Disney will move forward in South Korea anytime soon because Disney is preoccupied in nearby China. Disney plans to open its Hong Kong park in September. And it hopes to build a resort in Shanghai, where the company has been involved in lengthy talks for a park that would open after 2010.

    Some longtime observers suggested that Disney might be using the South Korean talks as leverage to win concessions from Shanghai. Disney first signed a letter of intent 2 1/2 years ago in Shanghai, but no final deal has been struck.

    "I would not be surprised if they are doing a little bit of gamesmanship," said Orlando, Fla.-based theme park consultant Bill Coan.

    Disney successfully pitted government officials in Spain against their counterparts in France to win a host of lucrative concessions for building Euro Disney outside of Paris, which opened in 1992.

    "They could be playing Korea off Shanghai," said Frank Stanek, former president of international business development for Universal Studios parks and resorts. "It's a logical extension of their historical practice."

    The Burbank-based entertainment giant — which has 10 theme parks worldwide — has made international expansion a linchpin of its growth. Over the years, executives have talked about possibly expanding Disney's theme park network to areas as varied as Singapore, Australia, India and Latin America.

    Hong Kong Disneyland is set to include a theme park and two hotels. Disney will manage the park and control 43% of the operation while contributing just a fraction of the cost — $314 million. For its part, the Hong Kong government is expected to invest $2.9 billion in the park and accompanying infrastructure.

    Like China, South Korea represents a largely untapped market for Disney. Company icons such as Mickey Mouse are highly popular there.

    Disney has made some inroads in South Korea with the Disney Channel and its publishing arm. The company is enticed by the nation's affluence and its population of about 50 million. South Korean theme parks also fare well; one of the 10 busiest parks in the world, owned by the Lotte retail chain, is in Seoul.

    "I would look at this as a pretty strong market," Stanek said. "Korea has enough population and enough economic wealth to sustain a theme park."

    Analysts said one drawback could be tensions caused by instability in neighboring North Korea. In addition, Seoul is not a major draw for international travelers, unlike Paris, Hong Kong and Shanghai.

    Beyond that, some analysts said, Disney risks offending its partners in China and in Japan, where it operates two Tokyo parks, by adding another competitor to the region.

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    Disney replaces $2.25 billion credit agreement

    Walt Disney Co. on Friday said it had replaced a $2.25 billion credit agreement with a new five-year facility giving it the right to borrow up to the same amount.

    The new deal, lead-arranged by Banc of America Securities and Citigroup Global Markets, will expire in 2010 and has only one financial covenant, related to interest coverage, and excludes covenants or terms related to Euro Disney and Hong Kong Disneyland.

    The previous 364-day agreement expired on Feb. 23, when the new deal was struck.

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    Mary Poppins Cast Album Will Fly Into Shops April 4

    The cast album of the Disney/Cameron Mackintosh production Mary Poppins is scheduled to be released April 4. It will be published by First Night Records.

    The set, which will cost £14.99, will feature the original London stage cast, including Laura Michelle Kelly, Gavin Lee, David Haig, Rosemary Ashe, Linzi Hately and Jenny Galloway. The 1964 movie's songs, by Richard and Robert Sherman, have been re-versioned by George Stiles and Anthony Drewe, who also provide a clutch of new songs. The new numbers include "Practically Perfect" and "Anything Can Happen (If You Let It)."

    The show is currently running at the Prince Edward Theatre. After a triumphant Christmas opening, audiences have remained large. In a running battle with The Producers, Poppins was nominated for nine Olivier Award nominations (to the Mel Brooks show's eight). At the Feb. 20 ceremony, it bagged prizes for Kelly and also for Matthew Bourne and Stephen Mears' choreography. 

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    Disney to Turn Miramax Into 'Elite SWAT Team'

    Walt Disney Co. plans to relocate its Miramax Films unit to Los Angeles, where a streamlined version of the arthouse titan will operate like "an elite SWAT team," according to a Disney source.

    The two companies began a new series of meetings Wednesday to determine the terms of a separation agreement that will see Miramax co-chairmen Bob and Harvey Weinstein leave the New York-based firm in September after several years of strained relations with Disney.

    According to studio sources, Walt Disney Studios chairman Dick Cook plans to hire a new executive to run a reconfigured version of the specialty division, which will be located in Burbank under Disney production president Nina Jacobson.

    "It'll be the old-model Miramax before they got a taste for big-ticket pictures," added the Disney source, who further described it as "a filmmaker-friendly environment where they'll be searching for new talent, putting out about 10 movies a year, with five acquisitions."

    Disney is expected to consolidate Miramax's back-office financial accounting, distribution collections and incremental overhead.

    The Weinsteins are in the process of raising financing for the New Co., which is the temporary name they have given their new venture. They have enlisted help from such Wall Street companies as Salomon Smith Barney and Goldman Sachs, both of which helped them to assemble $420 million in equity to help finance films like "Cold Mountain." That deal fell apart when Disney refused to participate in equity financing.

    Pathe, a European distribution and production company, also might be a player in the Weinsteins' future company. According to one source, Harvey Weinstein has been in discussions with Pathe chairman Jerome Seydoux about forming a joint venture.

    It's not clear what shape that joint venture would take, but those close to the situation speculate that it could involve a shared interest in the Weinsteins' future distribution company and access to Pathe's international sales operation.

    Miramax recently released Pathe's "Bride & Prejudice," from "Bend it Like Beckham" director Gurinder Chadha, and the Oscar-nominated "Les Choristes" (The Chorus). The company is scheduled to release Pathe's "Dear Frankie," starring Emily Mortimer, next month, and it recently bought North American rights to Pathe's "Mrs. Henderson Presents," directed by Stephen Frears and starring Judi Dench.

    The streamlined Miramax will be allotted an annual budget of about $350 million, sources said. At the height of its growth two years ago, Miramax boasted 485 employees with an annual budget of $700 million, according to a company spokesperson. Those numbers are now down to about 200 employees and a $500 million budget.

    During the past year, Miramax cut back its overhead and staff. It postponed the release of "Proof," starring Gwyneth Paltrow, and "An Unfinished Life," starring Robert Redford and Jennifer Lopez, because it was felt their release would have strained the Weinsteins' Oscar campaign staff, which was handling "The Aviator" and "Finding Neverland."

    But the distributor has recently committed to releasing from 18-22 films between now and September. Staffers in the Miramax publicity department didn't learn about the massive marketing launch until this week, and some wonder how the feat will be accomplished. "Nobody releases 22 films in seven months and does a good job," one Miramax publicity executive said.

    Fourteen films already are booked in theaters, starting with the Wes Craven horror thriller "Cursed," which opens Friday, and running through Danny Boyle's long-on-the-shelf sci-fi comedy "Alien Love Triangle," set for Sept. 16. Other titles include some big-budget films that have been kicking around the release schedule for months, including John Dahl's troubled "The Great Raid," starring Benjamin Bratt Joseph Fiennes and Connie Nielsen, which was originally scheduled to open in December, and Terry Gilliam's "The Brothers Grimm," whose commercial prospects are doubtful, insiders fear. Miramax has high expectations for its two upcoming releases from Robert Rodriguez: "Sin City" (April 1) and "The Adventures of Shark Boy & Lava Girl in 3-D" (June 10).

    Several issues remain unresolved in the negotiations, most notably the question of the Weinsteins' departing bonus. Although reports have pegged that figure at $100 million-$150 million, according to sources familiar with the discussions, it is impossible to quantify the compensation until further decisions about how properties are to be divided. One key could be the Weinsteins' participation in future Miramax projects, including more sequels to "Spy Kids" and "Scary Movie."

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    Walt Disney Records announces 'Disney's Karaoke Series: That's So Raven' CD for March 1 release

    Platinum-Selling Karaoke Series Joins Gold-Certified ``That's So Raven'' Soundtrack for the Release of ``Disney's Karaoke Series: That's So Raven''

    Continuing with the huge success of "Disney's Karaoke Series" and "That's So Raven" soundtrack, Walt Disney Records is pleased to announce the March 1, 2005 release of "Disney's Karaoke Series: That's So Raven." The CD features karaoke versions of music from the hit TV series soundtrack, including the chart-topping Radio Disney single "Supernatural," "Shine" and "That's So Raven (Theme Song)" as made popular by Raven-Symone.

    "Disney's Karaoke Series: That's So Raven" is the newest addition to Walt Disney Records' exciting line of CD + Graphics (CD + G) products that allow the song lyrics to appear on a television screen when played in a CD + G machine. "Disney's Karaoke Series: That's So Raven" includes sixteen tracks, both with and without vocals. In addition to playing in karaoke machines, this versatile CDG also can be used in traditional CD players, making it perfect for car trips, parties and family get-togethers.

    "Disney's Karaoke Series: That's So Raven" contains both the instrumental and vocal versions of such popular songs as "Supernatural," "Shine," "We Are Family," "(There's Gotta Be) More to Life," "Jungle Boogie," "You Gotta Be," and "That's So Raven (Theme Song)".

    "Disney's Karaoke Series: That's So Raven" will be available March 1, 2005 for a suggested retail price of $9.98. All Walt Disney Records audio products can be ordered by visiting DisneyRecords.com.

    Disney's Karaoke Series: That's So Raven track listing coming soon!

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    Disney-Miramax Breakup Imperils Film Version of Damn Yankees

    Lola may not get what Lola wants after all. At least, not from Disney or the Weinstein brothers of Miramax, the two companies who initiated a projected high-profile remake of the musical Damn Yankees.

    Disney and Miramax will part company in September, ending a business marriage that produced many notable films. According to the New York Times, Disney has waived its rights to more than two dozen Miramax projects in development, and the Weinsteins plan to abandon at least a third of them, rather than go through the effort and expense of making and marketing the movies.

    One of the casualties may be a film version Damn Yankees, which was to be produced by the "Chicago" movie team of Craig Zadan and Neil Meron.

    Yankees was to have been the next Miramax-produced musical to hit the screens.

    Playbill.com previously reported that Miramax honcho Harvey Weinstein has secured the rights to the musical and has signed executive producers Zadan and Meron to produce. "I see us updating Damn Yankees, modernizing it, and really having fun with the role of the devil," said Weinstein in a released statement.

    Peter Tolan and Mike Martineau had been hired to pen the screenplay.

    The musical — featuring a book by Douglass Wallop and George Abbott; lyrics by Richard Adler and Jerry Ross; and music by Richard Adler and Jerry Ross — follows the story of a man who sells his soul to the devil to join the Washington Senators baseball team in an attempt to defeat the Bronx Bombers.

    The original Broadway production opened May 5, 1955 at the 46th Street Theatre (now the Richard Rodgers Theatre) starring Gwen Verdon and Ray Walston. Bob Fosse (Chicago) choreographed. At the Tony Awards that year, Damn Yankees took home the top prize as Best Musical as well as for its stars and choreographer.

    Verdon, Walston and much of the original cast reprised their stage roles in the 1958 screen adaptation of the musical. In the 1993-94 Broadway season, the show was revived in a staging by Jack O'Brien. Bebe Neuwirth and Victor Garber starred. Jerry Lewis toured the country with it, playing Mr. Applegate, the devil.

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    Disney Channel's 'That's So Raven' and NBA join for McDonald's Happy Meals promotion

    From center stage to center court, McDonald's is bringing the hit television series "That's So Raven" and the National Basketball Association (NBA) to Happy Meals and Mighty Kids Meals nationwide.

    Beginning February 25, 2005 through March 17, 2005 with the purchase of a Happy Meal or a Mighty Kids Meal, guests will receive one of six "That's So Raven"-inspired fashion and fortune-telling accessories, or one mini basketball figure sporting one of 30 mini-NBA jersey replicas.

    The event offers fun, active lifestyle fashions from two of today's hottest properties, at participating McDonald's restaurants nationwide, while supplies last.

    "That's So Raven"

    Arriving in style at McDonald's is "That's So Raven", the hit Disney Channel and ABC Kids television series starring kid and tween superstar Raven (aka Raven-Symone) as intuitive teen and aspiring fashion designer Raven Baxter.

    The new "That's So Raven" McDonald's Happy Meal collection, the first for the series, features six different fortune-telling accessories: Raven's Bag of Fortunes, a stylish handbag featuring an attached clip that doubles as a fortune telling spinner; The Fortune Revealers, chic glasses designed to decipher hidden messages; Spin Your Fortune, a six-sided fortune-telling top that doubles as a ring; Crystal Wrystal Ball, standard issue for fortune tellers; Psychic Cell Phone, a vital accessory with changing image for fashionista fortunetellers on the run; Fortune Toy, a furry and fashionable clip that answers questions when turned upside down.

    McDonald's predicts fashionable futures with the "That's So Raven" McDonald's Happy Meal collection.

    NBA

    Sports fans and NBA enthusiasts alike will love the 30 mini-NBA jerseys available now at McDonald's. Perfect for any NBA fan, the six basketball action figures include one of 30 mini-NBA jerseys, representing each of the 30 NBA teams. Lay-up Luke, Slam Dunk Dan, and Bank Shot Bobby, characters featuring bendable arms, are ready to play! Hook Shot Henry, Free Throw Frank, and Three Point Pete feature a mini basketball and shooting ability.

    These collectible mini-jerseys can only be found at McDonald's, making this Happy Meal and Mighty Kids Meal event a slam-dunk with NBA fans everywhere.

    Young guests now have the opportunity to enjoy additional food choices with their Happy Meals including Apple Dippers (fresh, peeled apple slices) served with low fat caramel dipping sauce, and beverage choices including 100% pure Minute Maid apple juice and low fat white and chocolate Milk Jugs, served in child friendly containers.

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    Disney makes live-action Kiki's Delivery Service

    Originally adapted from Eiko Kadano's books by Hayao Miyazaki, the story follows 13-year-old witch Kiki who moves to the city with her talking cat Jiji where she lands a job in the local bakery. But Kiki's powers are not refined, and the adventures and scrapes she gets into show she has a lot of growing up to do.

    The animated movie Kiki's Delivery Service (Majono Takkyubin) is to be remade by U.S. Disney as a live action film. According to Hollywood magazine Daily Variety, script writer Jeff Stockwell (Innocent Boys) is in mid-production of the screenplay. Mark Gordon (League of Legends) will be producing the film.

    The animated English language DVD has Kirsten Dunst as the voice of Kiki and the late Phil Hartman as the voice of Jiji. It was released by Walt Disney's homevideo division in 1998.

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    Tenders invited for Disneyland ferry route

    The Transport Department is inviting tenders for a ferry service from Central to Hong Kong Disneyland. A notice on the tender invitation will be published in the Government Gazette on February 25.

    As part of the transport provision plan for the Disneyland Resort, the Government intends to provide a ferry service to the theme park.

    Tenders must be sealed and clearly marked with the tender reference and the subject of the tender on an envelope, and addressed to the Commissioner for Transport and placed in the Transport Department Tender Box situated next to the reception counter of Transport Department at 41/F, Immigration Tower, 7 Gloucester Road, Wan Chai, Hong Kong, before midday on March 29. Late submissions will not be accepted.

    Interested parties can obtain the tender documents starting from February 28 during office hours at the Transport Department's Ferry & Paratransit Division at Room 4036 in Immigration Tower.

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    Pixar and Disney fallout

    One of the greatest tragedies to occur in recent movie industry history was Steve Jobs, chairman of Pixar, giving Disney the proverbial bird by refusing to offer a reasonable contract to renew the fabulously successful collaboration the two firms have enjoyed for nearly a decade. Of course, who could blame him?

    Disney Chief Michael Eisner had been verbally abusing Jobs and Pixar (and everyone else associated with Disney for that matter) for years. That kind of flouting can only be taken so long. However the rift between Disney and Pixar may be temporary, especially since Eisner, like Bambi's mother, has all crosshairs fixed on him…and it's only a matter of time until the triggers are pulled.

    James Stewart, a Disney/Eisner expert and author of the book "Disney War" described a light at the end of the tunnel in an interview today with NPR's Renee Montagne. When asked about the fallout between Jobs and Eisner, Stewart said:

    "…believe me, Roy Disney called after this all fell apart, and he had a pretty good relationship with Steve Jobs, and he said something like 'Well, when the wicked witch is dead, y'know, we'll all be back together' and Steve Jobs agreed and I think it's true that once Eisner is gone, there's a good chance that Pixar will renew a deal with Disney if there's a chief executive there they think they can trust."

    Such a restoration will come too late to save Woody and friends from a likely butchery at the hands of the incompetent Disney animation department. Two new Pixar-less Toy Story sequels are on the way, and who knows what other mischief Eisner will manage before he's finally out the door. Eisner was demoted by Disney share holders in 2004 when the CEO and Chairman positions were separated and Eisner left only with the CEO duties. There are sketchy rumors Eisner may step down voluntarily as early as this summer, but his contract as CEO will not run out until 2006. Odds of contract renewal are as likely as Stuart Wood being cast as the next James Bond.

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    Miramax to 'Clean the Pipeline' of Films Before Takeover by Disney
     
    Miramax Films is likely to release as many as 22 movies in the next seven months as its co-chairmen, Harvey and Bob Weinstein, prepare to leave the company. The movies include several that have been shelved or whose release dates have been repeatedly delayed, executives at the studio say.

    The large number of expected releases is a 180-degree turn for Miramax, which had scaled back operations amid employee layoffs over the past six months. It is an effort, as one executive put it, to "clean the pipeline" before its corporate parent, Walt Disney, puts the unit in the hands of new managers.

    Harvey Weinstein has long had a reputation among filmmakers for marketing some films brilliantly but shelving others that he found difficult to sell. The heavy release schedule, if carried out, would make the Weinsteins responsible for marketing pictures produced or acquired under their tenure while leaving the new Miramax managers, who have not yet been named, with a clean slate.

    Spokesmen for Disney and Miramax declined to comment.

    The Weinstein brothers are expected to meet with Disney executives for a final round of negotiations before the Oscar ceremony on Sunday at which the company's film "The Aviator" is a leading contender. The Miramax executives who explained the status of the release schedule cautioned that talks were still proceeding and that plans could change. Those executives declined to be identified for fear of jeopardizing the talks.

    Among the more troubled projects now planned for release is the director John Dahl's "The Great Raid," a World War II prisoner-of- war drama that has been undergoing re-editing for more than a year. The film which stars Benjamin Bratt and has been estimated by people involved with it to have cost $80 million will be released in August or September, the executives said. When they leave Disney in September, the Weinstein brothers are expected to start a film distribution and production company, which as yet has no name or staff. Already, though, the venture has become one of the more robust, and complicated, operations in Hollywood. Under an unusual arrangement being negotiated with Disney, the brothers are permitted to develop or acquire movies for the new company while finishing up Miramax business.

    The arrangement has allowed for an amicable divorce instead of the open warfare that threatened only months ago. But it leaves the brothers, their current employees and a host of filmmakers and their representatives in the awkward position of making movies for a company that does not exist and that may not be in full swing for a year or more.

    Disney has indicated interest in sharing the release of some films, like two movies Miramax acquired at the recent Sundance Film Festival: "Wolf Creek" and "The Matador," which stars and is produced by Pierce Brosnan. As early as last October, one Hollywood agency circulated an internal memo showing that Disney had waived its rights in more than two dozen Miramax projects in development and that the Weinsteins planned to let go of at least a third of them, including a high-profile remake of the musical "Damn Yankees!" That project's producers, Craig Zadon and Neil Meron, declined through a spokesman to comment.

    But the most visible sign of the Weinsteins' departure will be the unusual number of Miramax releases this year, including a few that have been gathering dust for some time.

    The sudden activity will probably be a boon to some filmmakers, who have seen their projects languish; but others may be concerned about the company's ability to support their films with advertising and publicity in a period of transition.

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    Thursday February 24, 2005


    French Author Seeks Damages From Walt Disney Over 'Nemo'

    A French children's book author, who claims the Walt Disney Co. blockbuster animated film "Finding Nemo" copied a fish of his creation, launched a new court battle Wednesday seeking damages from the corporate giant.

    Franck Le Calvez lost an initial bid last year to ban the sale of Nemo products in France, arguing that the lovable title character in "Finding Nemo" was based on his smiling orange-and-white clown fish named Pierrot.

    In March, a court ruled that though the two fish resemble each other - both have big smiles and sport three stripes down the side - their similarities weren't enough to confuse people.

    Maintaining the argument that The Walt Disney Co. copied his character, Le Calvez is now seeking damages of $1.32 million in a separate court case that opened Monday.

    The author argues that he registered his story, "Pierrot the Clown Fish," with French trademark officials in 1995. After pitching his idea to film animation studios with no success, Le Calvez turned Pierrot into an idea for a book that he published in 2002.

    The book, which sold a mere 3,000 copies in France, is about a young fish separated from his family - a plot similar to "Finding Nemo."

    Disney lawyer Magali Thorne had argued that her client's clown fish was already drawn up by 2000, before Le Calvez published his book.

    On Wednesday, she reiterated that Disney "had no knowledge" of the French book.

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    Magic Kingdom Castle adding a little Character

    Now with most of the castle spheres done, Disney has started adding golden characters to the castle

                        
                                                

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    Disney names publisher, editor for Wondertime

    Manhattan-based Disney Publishing Worldwide named David Mevorah and Lisa Stiepock to the newly-created positions of publisher and editor, respectively, of Wondertime, a parenting magazine slated to launch in early 2006.

    Mr. Mevorah was previously publisher of Gruner & Jahr's Child magazine, orchestrating that title's re-launch in 2001. He also served as national advertising director for Primedia's Healthy Kids, as well as its American Baby and Healthy Kids television programs. Mr. Mevorah will report to Glenn Rosenbloom, senior vice president and group publisher of Disney Publishing's U.S. consumer magazine group.

    Ms. Stiepock was named editor of Wondertime. Ms. Stiepock was previously creative development director of Disney's FamilyFun title. Prior to that, she was editor of Disney Magazine. Ms. Stiepock will report to Alexandra Kennedy, vice president and editorial director of Wondertime, FamilyFun, Disney Adventures and Disney Magazine.

    Wondertime, which is aimed at young mothers of children under the age of seven, will debut as a quarterly and eventually be published 10 times a year.

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    Disney and Tesco to promote fruit for kids

    Disney and Tesco have teamed up to launch special packs of fruit designed to promote healthy eating to children.

    The packs will carry Disney stickers, giving children the chance to win Winnie the Pooh-branded lunch boxes. It is hoped that the promotion, which will be carried on packs of apples, pears, Caribbean small bananas and seedless grapes, will encourage children to eat more fruit.

    The promotion follows increasing concerns about rising obesity levels among children. A Tesco/ NOP survey of children has found that few children eat the recommended five portions of fruit and vegetables a day or do enough exercise.

    Tesco produce marketing manager Christy Van Maanenberg says: "Tesco has a track record of encouraging healthy eating among our customers, and we recognise that we have to take some responsibility for encouraging children to eat more fruit and vegetables."

    The promotion, which runs through to September, is supported by a full-colour page ad in Tesco's Computer for Schools mailing and a leaflet in the Tesco Kids Club magazine.

    It is not the first time Disney has been involved in a promotion of this nature. In 2001, it teamed up with Waitrose to launch a range of Disney-branded packets of fruit, each containing a small gift (MW November 5, 2001). The supermarket has since stopped selling the packs.

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    Newport Symphony to present Fantasia program

    Selections from the score of the 1940 Disney movie "Fantasia" will be presented by the Newport Symphony Orchestra at its final concert of the season at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, March 5 at the Newport Performing Arts Center. The symphony's Artistic Director, Sylvain Frémaux, will conduct and present a pre-concert lecture at 7 p.m.

    The 1940 movie presented animated visualizations of a selection of pieces of classical music, including the well-known sequence in which Mickey Mouse depicts The Sorcerer's Apprentice accompanied by Paul Dukas' piece by the same name. That piece will be on the March 5 program, along with Mussorgsky's Night on Bald Mountain, Ponchielli's Dance of the Hours, selections from Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker Suite, and selections from Beethoven's Symphony No. 6, known as the "Pastorale."

    Before the concert, at 5:30 p.m., there will be a benefit reception for the Symphony at Quimby's restaurant across the street from the Performing Arts Center. An appetizer buffet and no-host bar will be offered. Tickets for the event are $25. Reservations are required, and can be made by calling Quimby's at 265-9919.

    Tickets for the concert are available at the Performing Arts Center box office and by calling 541-265-ARTS. Individual tickets are $20 and $25 for adults and $12 for students. Oregon Coast Council on the Arts members receive $1 discounts on individual tickets.

    The Newport Symphony Orchestra is supported by the City of Newport, Coast Arts, and various foundations, businesses and individual donors. The Fantasia concert is being supported by a donation from Georgia Pacific and other businesses.

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    KidzMouse Debuts Sesame Street Headsets, Disney Character Keyboard At 2005 Toy Fair

    KidzMouse, Inc., a developer of niche-market computer peripherals for educational use, today announced new keyboards and headsets showcasing characters from today's most popular children's programs at the 2005 International Toy Fair in New York City. The products—a KidzMouse Keys™ keyboard featuring Disney's Mickey & Friends, plus KidzMouse Ears™ headsets showcasing Sesame Street's Elmo and Bert & Ernie—expand KidzMouse's licensed character offerings while giving children exciting new alternatives for learning at the PC.

    Award-winning KidzMouse products have gained wide acceptance with parents, teachers, and children alike for their kid-sized design and thoughtful features. KidzMouse Ears headsets are high-quality stereo devices with padded, replaceable leatherette earcups for comfortable fit, while KidzMouse Keys keyboards are color-coded to help pre-schoolers who have not yet learned to read. The keyboards also incorporate software that eliminates run-on letters when a key is held down (e.g., "doggggggggggg") —a common occurrence with children who are acquiring keyboard skills.

    "KidzMouse has enjoyed a wonderful relationship with Disney and Sesame Street. These new headsets and keyboard featuring licensed characters expands our relationship with all three companies while significant broadening our non-mouse product offerings," said Susan Giles, founder and CEO of KidzMouse. "When kids see characters they know and love, they automatically relax and enjoy themselves, which is why these new keyboard and headset products will provide a fun and effective learning experience for any child."

    KidzMouse Keys
    The new KidzMouse Keys keyboard is decorated with Mickey Mouse and his friends Minnie Mouse, Goofy, Pluto, and Donald Duck. Featuring standard-sized buttons that are rounded to fit a child's hand, the QWERTY device is limited to just 67 keys (no function keys, pause/break or other auxiliary controls) so as not to confuse the learner.

    KidzMouse Keys are color-coded to make navigation easy. For example, enter and arrow keys are a different color from letter keys; vowels are different from consonants. A special ledge allows kids to put their favorite things on the keyboard as they work, such as an MP3 player, computer camera, or favorite toy.

    KidzMouse Keys keyboards have already been strong sellers since their debut in October of 2004. The original KidzMouse-branded version, sold through Fry's Electronics, has been immensely popular, while a SpongeBob Squarepants version has gained distribution at most Wal-Mart stores along with other KidzMouse-branded products.

    KidzMouse Ears
    Made of durable ABS plastic, KidzMouse Ears headsets are equally suited for school or home use. The new Elmo and Bert & Ernie versions are large-sized to fit over a child's ears, and can be used with an MP3 player as well as a computer.

    All KidzMouse Ears products offer adjustable headbands for a comfortable fit. The six-foot, double-reinforced cord provide easy connection to the host device, enabling high-quality playback of music, language files, or lessons. Volume controls are arranged for easy adjustment by teacher or parent.

    Pricing and Availability
    The new KidzMouse products are compatible with both PCs and Apple Macintoshes and are now on display at the International Toy Fair from the KidzMouse exhibit, Booth 1763I at the Javits Convention Center.

    KidzMouse Ears headsets are priced at $19.99 (MSRP) and will be shipping in early 2005, while the new KidzMouse Keys keyboard featuring Mickey & Friends carries an MSRP of $29.99 and will ship after this year's Toy Fair. For more information about KidzMouse, its full product line and retail availability, visit www.kidzmouse.com.

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    Weiss appointed to UCF board of trustees

    The Florida Board of Governors appointed Walt Disney World Resort President Al Weiss to the University of Central Florida board of trustees.

    Weiss is replacing Richard H. Lee.

    The Board of Governors also reappointed Patrick T. Christiansen, an attorney with the Akerman, Senterfitt & Eidson law firm, to the UCF board.

    Both terms end Jan. 6, 2010.

    The Florida Board of Governors is responsible for making two of the four appointments this year to each state university's board of trustees.

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    Disney prepares 'Chronicles of Narnia'

    Walt Disney Pictures is hoping its upcoming adaptation of C.S. Lewis' children's novel "The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe" will be a major blockbuster on par with "The Lion King" from 1994.

    Disney has tapped the animation specialist responsible for megahits "Shrek" and "Shrek 2" for the film, which combines live action and computer-generated images, according to The New York Times Feb. 17.

    Narnia is expected to hit theaters Dec. 9, and Disney is preparing to launch a line of moneymaking products like toys, clothing, video games and possibly a theme park presence, The Times said, which it expects to spark a pop cultural craze.

    "But this time, the pros at Disney are wrestling with a special challenge: how to sell a screen hero who was conceived as a forthright symbol of Jesus Christ, a redeemer who is tortured and killed in place of a young human sinner and who returns in a glorious resurrection that transforms the snowy landscape of Narnia into a verdant paradise," The Times said.

    Disney must decide whether to acknowledge the strong Christian symbolism and risk alienating a chunk of potential viewers or ignore the symbolism and offend the generations of Christians who are fans of the book.

    So far, Disney says it is trying to be "as faithful to the book as possible," The Times said, and would prefer to leave the spiritual conclusions or lack thereof up to the viewer.

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    ABC News Special on UFO's Uses Footage, Research from Acclaimed James Fox Film, 'OUT OF THE BLUE'

    The Peter Jennings ABC News Special "The UFO Phenomenon -- Seeing Is Believing" may be one of the most complete investigations ever into unexplained aerial phenomenon. But viewers from the scientific and research communities may recognize that some of the material in the ABC special comes from the acclaimed documentary Out Of The Blue from producer/director James Fox.

    "I'm honored to have our research and footage utilized in ABC's prestigious investigation," said James Fox. "Peter Jennings and the ABC News team shared our approach by tackling this controversial subject from a neutral bias position, to enable viewers to draw their own conclusions. ABC's use of material from 'Out Of The Blue' is a professional endorsement of our film from a highly respectable news source," Fox concluded.

    Out Of The Blue is an acclaimed documentary into the UFO phenomenon that relies heavily upon photographic and video footage, government documents and eyewitness accounts from credible authorities. Former Presidents Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter give accounts of their involvement with UFO's, and NASA Astronauts Gordon Cooper and Edgar Mitchell speak about sightings and cover- ups in the military and government. Many other witnesses and authorities are featured, along with compelling film footage and photographs. The program is hosted by actor Peter Coyote ("Sphere")

    "It's a powerful film," said Eric Parkinson, president of Hanover House, distributor of Out Of The Blue. "Regardless of preconceived notions, viewers are intrigued and moved by the program, and respond very positively. It really has to be seen to be believed."

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    First Combined Seven Princess Classics In "Disney On Ice"
     
    "Disney On Ice" will present 12 shows of its most memorable seven Princess Classics appearing together in a live production for the first time in Disney history.

    The show, from March 3 to 8, will be held at Stadium Putra in Bukit Jalil here.

    An international troupe of about 40 award-winning figure skaters from Canada, United States, Japan, Finland, Sweden, England, Ireland, Australia and Germany will perform on a 140-foot by 70-foot sheet of ice.

    "This is the fifth time 'Disney on Ice' will perform in Malaysia. We chose Malaysia as our destination because it is a strategic place famous among Asian countries," the show's regional marketing coordinator for Asia Pacific International Operations Cora Wong told a media conference Wednesday.

    One of the performers, Bonard Muck, said the show is a tale of love and triumph over evil using the strength of the heart, humour and hope as told through the eyes of seven princesses.

    "The Disney Princess Classics feature characters from more feminine princesses such as Cinderella, Snow White and Sleeping Beauty to the stronger and more independent characters like Mulan, Pocahontas and Jasmine.

    He said children from all over the world have been thrilled by the performance while the adults were amazed by the show.

    Tickets are priced at RM55, RM110 and RM165 for weekday performances and RM60, RM120 and RM185 for weekend.

    For bookings and enquiries, call Excess Ticketing at 03-77115000, open from 9am to 5pm during weekdays and 9am to 6pm (on Saturday) and non to 7pm (on Sunday).

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    The El Capitan Theatre Offers Spring's 'Coolest' Event

    From March 18th through April 10th, Hollywood's legendary El Capitan Theatre (6838 Hollywood Blvd.) will offer moviegoers the "coolest" event of the spring season with the back-to-back royal entertainment experience of Walt Disney Pictures' "Ice Princess," and a "Disney Princess Ice Skating Party," it was announced today (2/24) by Lylle Breier, senior vice president of worldwide special events for The Walt Disney Studios. "Ice Princess," the entertaining new comedy from Disney, features Michelle Trachtenberg as a high school bookworm who trains hard to pursue her dream of becoming a skating champion. Joan Cusack, Kim Cattrall and Hayden Panettiere also star. After the movie, guests can enjoy ice skating, and a visit with their favorite Disney Princesses -- Snow White, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty and Belle -- on the custom-built 6000 square foot ice skating rink located directly behind the theatre. The skating party will also include lots of other fun activities including a Princess Hair Salon, the Princess Make-Up Counter (with complimentary Lip Smackers), a Fairy Tale Dress-Up area (with replicas of legendary crowns and tiaras), and a game area featuring Hollywood's largest Bounce House. With the movie and skating party activities, there's four hours of family fun for one all-inclusive ticket price at the El Capitan. Daily showtimes are 10:00 am, 1:00 pm, 4:00 pm, 7:00 pm and 9:30 pm (movie only). Tickets can be purchased at the box office, online at www.elcapitantickets.com, or by calling 1-800-DISNEY6. Discounts for groups of 20 or more, or special birthday party arrangements are available by calling 1-818-845-3110.

    Commenting on the announcement, Breier said, "In the tradition of some of the fun family events that we've staged at the El Capitan, including the hugely popular Princess Teas, this combination of a great film and an activity-filled Disney Princess Skating Party is one of the best we've ever offered. Guests of all ages, and especially royal princesses, will have a blast with 'Ice Princess' and all of the great entertainment that we've lined up in the skating party area. This is a unique way to spend four hours, and we know that moviegoers are going to have a great time at this very cool event."

    "Ice Princess" follows the adventures of brainy Casey Carlyle (Michelle Trachtenberg), who is caught between her fantasy of becoming a championship figure skater, and the wishes of her strong-willed mother (Joan Cusack), who has her on the fast track to Harvard. Casey hopes to be like Nikki, Tiffany, and Gen (Hayden Panettiere) -- three elite skating prodigies who are ruthlessly competing on the US National circuit (and have attitudes to match), and finally gets the break she needs when she trains with Gen and her coach (Kim Cattrall). With the support of Gen's teenage brother (Trevor Blumas), Casey takes on the challenge of her life and finds herself competing against the best to make it into the championship circuit and become a real "ice princess."

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    Disney's Gaming Heart

    One of Disney's most potent arsenals in its portfolio of operating segments is the consumer products division. Although the last several years have been up and down for Disney and its merchandising endeavors, the recent divestiture of the Disney stores is certain to have a positive impact going forward, especially in terms of returns on invested capital.

    I  believe video games will be an important piece of the ancillary puzzle. Anyone who has a Lizzie McGuire fan in the house knows how challenging it was to get her Nintendo Gameboy Advance game this past Christmas; same goes for the title based on That's So Raven. THQ enriched both itself and Mickey's wallet with games based on Disney's and Pixar's The Incredibles and Finding Nemo. Licensing and/or publishing video games is a great business with solid growth potential; both Disney Interactive and Buena Vista Games will do well in this area.

    All of this leads me to the franchise Kingdom Hearts, which currently comprises two games on two separate platforms -- Sony's PlayStation 2 and Gameboy Advance -- and is the result of a successful venture between Disney Interactive and Square Enix. According to a press release on the latter company's website, the Kingdom Hearts game for the Sony system has sold 4 million copies worldwide since its release in September 2002, while the Gameboy Advance title -- called Kingdom Hearts: Chain Of Memories, released this past November in Japan and the following month in North America -- has shipped 1 million copies. Those are pretty impressive stats -- and they are only set to get better.

    Kingdom Hearts II is expected to be released later this year. On an anecdotal basis, I can tell you that kids love this game -- and when I say kids, I mean teenagers and up. I can also tell you that there is great anticipation for the next installment; this bodes well for brand promotion. I've never actually played either game, but I know that the world of Disney and its myriad colorful characters are on prominent display.

    There's been a lot of talk about 2005 being the year of consolidation in the video game industry, and there is plenty of speculation on major purchases by large entities. I hope Disney isn't one of them; I don't want the company -- in which I own shares -- to be an acquirer, except for very small studios, which might be cheap and rife with intellectual capital. Other than that, Disney should focus on licensing and co-developing its games and strive to maximize monetary advances and royalty structures on the deals.

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    ROX-N back in action

    Disneyland Paris - L'Astroport Services Interstellaires has reopened its gate as processing facility into which guests of Star Tours are guided automatically after their space trip. Unfortunately the only remnant of the original entertaining, free interactive offer is the robot ROX-N which greets guests and offers information. Gone is the space themeing of the area with the free photo morphing facilities (the passport check area), the free computer game that allowed guests to scan luggage or the free computer-based personality test. Instead tired video games and an air hockey table without any space themeing have been thrust into the space transforming it into another cheap arcade. Just that this time guests are forced to walk through the arcade for the first time in the Disneyland Resort Paris when exiting the ride. And no, the games are NOT free.

    The presence of some Star Wars video games must be called more of an accident then planned themeing, as the material actually was moved over from the defunct Arcade Omega, that had to make room for the upcoming Buzz Lightyear ride. The free Star Course game which was the kinetic center of the room and a favorite of teenagers is gone too. Its screen is sitting dark reminding guests of better times, when Star Tours and the Astroport where sponsored by IBM. By the way: the resort finally managed to take down the references to IBM around Star Tours. On the main sign the line "Presente Par" is still visible, but the IBM-logo below is replaced with a drawing of a Star Speeder - a rather cheap looking solution.

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    Bye, Bye Barber

    Disneyland Paris - Two years ago a petition of fans and CMs saved the Harmony Barber Shop / Dapper Dan's Haircuts on Flowerstreet (the small side street going of the Main Street in front of Walt's) when Disneyland Resort Paris wanted to close this traditional offering. But management made a point of insisting that this was only a temporary reprieve if the shop would not turn out sufficient profits. According to information given to the union representatives and now reported in the French daily Le Parisien management is not qualifing the returns of the barber shop as sufficient and therefore wants to decide on March 8th to replace it with a children's makeup location, wherein children may receive a fantasy makeup for a fee, as already successfully established in Studio 1 and in Fantasyland. In the recent months the number of customers has declined further as the original old-style barber has retired and his temporary successor is not offering old-style-shavings anymore.

    The decision to close the barber shop would not only bring a tradition to the end that not only started 1992 in this park but in the original US-parks long before. Not to mention that it would take away a truly unique offer of the park. Unfortunately this kind of decision fits into the emerging patterns which also included the de-themeing of the Astroport to put in a cheap run-down arcade which manages to destroy the atmosphere and themeing easily.

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    Chamilia Charm Jewelry Debuts New Disney Bead Collection

    The cornerstone of Chamilia's Disney collection is a 14K gold Mickey Mouse head with diamond eyes. Known for their beautiful and customizable bead bracelets and necklaces, Chamilia's exciting new line of beads will include a special Disney-edition bead collection. Cast in sterling silver and 14 carat gold, Chamilia has developed life-like character beads with their customary craftsmanship to complement their already expansive bead collections.

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    Disney potential buyer of Mammoth Ski Resort

    After 68 years, the old man is ready to part with the mountain.

    Dave McCoy, the legendary outdoorsman who founded the Mammoth Mountain Ski Area, is putting up for sale his controlling interest in the Eastern Sierra winter resort.

    The news touched off speculation and uncertainty in the scenic town about 300 miles north of Los Angeles along U.S. 395. Mammoth's skiing and related operations employ nearly half of the area's 7,700 residents, and host an estimated 1.4 million skiers annually.

    "When you have a straight-talking, sincere and established entrepreneur like David leaving the mountain after 60-some years, that's a jolt," said Andrea Lawrence, who runs an organization dedicated to striking a balance between conservation and economic growth in the region.

    On Wednesday, the company's 3,000 workers were notified that its far-flung operations — 4,000 acres of ski areas at Mammoth and June mountains, 185 ski trails served by 35 lifts, a lodge and more than a dozen stores and dining venues — were on the block.

    "As healthy and engaged as Dave is, the fact is he is 89 years old and won't live forever," the company said in a statement. McCoy couldn't be reached Wednesday.

    Financial bankers hired by McCoy said a "handful" of companies had expressed interest in the properties, which one analyst estimated could fetch as much as $200 million.

    Residents and local officials were in a tizzy about who the new owners would be and what — if anything — they might do with the resort. Speculation about prospective buyers included McCoy's chief executive, Rusty Gregory; development partner Intrawest Corp.; Walt Disney Co.; and actor Robert Redford.

    Intrawest, a giant Canadian resort developer that teamed up with McCoy in the mid-1990s, has first dibs on his stake. Intrawest spokesman Tim McCurty declined to say whether the company planned to buy McCoy out, noting that executives also could join McCoy in selling their interest in its operations.

    Intrawest has spent more than a decade investing in the development of Mammoth Lakes and is the most obvious buyer, said ski industry analyst Dennis McAlpine of McAlpine Associates.

    "They've been developing a village there, and I would be surprised if Intrawest would walk away," McAlpine said.

    Vancouver-based Intrawest is one of the largest resort developers and owners in the world. The company owns or is a partner in 14 mountain resorts in North America and Europe, including the Village at Squaw Valley USA in Northern California, the Village at Solitude in Utah and Tremblant in Quebec, Canada. Intrawest earned $60 million on $1.5 billion in sales last year.

    The sale won't affect Intrawest's plans to build a 230-room, $140-million Westin hotel in Mammoth Lakes, McCurty said.

    Another likely bidder is Colorado-based Vail Resorts Inc., one of the leading mountain resort operators in the U.S. with properties in Vail, Beaver Creek, Breckenridge and Keystone, Colo., and the Grand Teton Lodge Co. in Jackson Hole, Wyo. Vail lost $6 million last year on sales of $721 million.

    A spokeswoman for Vail Resorts declined to comment on the Mammoth Mountain sale.

    Intrawest and Vail are the only North American ski companies large enough to buy Mammoth, said industry analyst William C. Marks of JMP Securities in San Francisco.

    Other potential buyers could include Wall Street investment firms and large real estate developers.

    When Vail paid almost $100 million for Heavenly Ski Resort in the Lake Tahoe area in 2002, the facility had about 850,000 skiers a year, Marks said.

    Based on that figure and the potential growth of the Mammoth resort after an expansion of the airport, "we think the Mammoth resort could be worth twice as much as Heavenly," Marks said.

    Investment banking firm Houlihan Lokey Howard & Zukin was hired to sell McCoy's stake.

    Mammoth Lakes has a general aviation airport but no regular passenger carrier. City officials are working with the Federal Aviation Administration in the hope of getting commercial flights approved.

    Disney officials said they had no interest in investing in the Mammoth Mountain operations. In the 1960s, the company's co-founder, Walt Disney, briefly flirted with the idea of developing a mountain resort in the Mineral King area in the western Sierra Nevada. Those plans ended when Congress voted to make the area part of Sequoia National Park.

    CEO Gregory declined to say whether he planned to make a bid to buy McCoy's interest in the company. Redford couldn't be reached for comment.

    The company's skiing and other operations, which include skiing and mountain-biking lessons and the Tamarack cross-country ski lodge, are profitable, generate about $115 million in annual sales and have little debt, Gregory said.

    He and McCoy had hoped to build a new hotel on the site of the Mammoth Mountain Inn, and develop a hotel and retail project in nearby Juniper Springs, Gregory said.

    Every Friday night in winter, thousands of vehicles stream across the Mojave Desert to a region that for decades has offered what many consider the best skiing for Southern Californians. Mammoth gets up to 36,000 visitors on busy weekends.

    It all started with McCoy, a snow surveyor for the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power. In 1937, he parked his Model A Ford on a slope where snow fell early and hard on Mammoth Mountain, jacked up the rear and tied one end of a rope to the back wheel and the other to a tree.

    He charged 50 cents a person for what became the mountain's first rope tow.

    There were only half a dozen people residing in Mammoth when McCoy bought a snow plow to allow year-round access.

    Over the ensuing decades, McCoy and his staff launched the area's first water district, volunteer fire department, regional hospital, high school and college.

    McCoy is on a first-name basis with his employees, and is beloved by local families who for decades have enjoyed a variety of special privileges such as cut-rate lessons and skiing passes for children.

    "We trust him; Dave has the best interests of the community and the mountain in mind," said Mammoth Lakes City Manager Rob Clark. "This community and this mountain are his legacy."

    "I believe Dave wants an orderly transition," Clark added, "so that all he's accomplished is preserved and enhanced".

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    Robert Evans Attacks Eisner Detractors; Compares Roy Disney Putsch to Nazis

    Herculean for the first time in more than a decade.

    Incredulous as it may seem, it is now exactly a decade later.....

    Eisner's weekend read and immediate response ....

    The Kid Stays in the Picture is an International Best-seller and voted by Publishers Weekly among the six best books ever written!

    LIBRARY OF CONGRESS More than 58 thousand books are published each year. Less than 1/10 of 1% are chosen by the libraries of America to be enshrined in perpetuity. The chosen few are engraved in a singularly large print that more than doubles the number of pages needed to unravel its content.

    The libraries themselves are the sole owner of this special engraving. There is no price on this book, as it will never be publicly sold, thus ensuring future generations though time and eternity the opportunity of reading its text.

    Quoting the author: Me? I'd trade a hundred readers today for one reader a hundred years from now.

    A few months ago Liam Neeson and myself were lying on my bed, philosophizing, talking about the ups and downs of our craft. It was about 2 in the morning as I walked him to the front door. Putting his arms around me, "Bob, you know I've memorized your entire book. You're my friend, my very good friend.

    Take some Irish advice, "Don't try to be a mogul or a tycoon ...it all means nothing...they come and are forgotten before you put out the cigar.... Stick to WRITING, WRITING, WRITING! " He hugged me goodbye... "Never forget that Mozart will be remembered far longer than Napoleon!"

    Eerie the irony...

    if it weren't for Eisner's instinct and ambition to read it to the extent of canceling everything on his calendar.... the book possibly would never have been bought.

    Was Eisner's instinct good?

    No, it was brilliant.

    It's now a decade later... and invariably books die on the vine. The Kid has grown to be ten feet tall. An enthusiastic embrace of The Kid, that he and only he would own it, no matter what the price tag be...without him knowing it... has made him folklore in the world of literature. Honest Ingin it's true Michael...

    It proves once again though, that in this crazy hybrid business... Instinct overrides pragmatism... Being in this racket for fifty years, I've met them all... well almost... not one however ran a distant second to your instinct... your vision...

    Again, I say...INSTINCT...INSTINCT... INSTINCT...

    For without it... "The Kid" would be sitting on the shelf of Simon and Shuster's unreleased properties....

    Instead, not unlike an acorn that grows into a forest... the Kid not only Stayed in the Picture... but got the brass ring as well....

    Strange, huh? My own agent tells me that Eisner wouldn't even take my call...Well, he did...and it changed my life....

    In his notes, I quote the late, great ARTHUR MILLER...

    Arthur Miller said that his play, "Death of a Salesman"... came from images...

    "The image of the aging... and so many of your friends already gone...and strangers in the seats of the mighty... who do not know you, nor your triumphs... or your incredible value. Above all....perhaps the image of a need greater than hunger or sex or thirst...the need to leave a thumbprint somewhere on the world...the need for immortality and by admitting it....the knowing that one has carefully inscribed one's name on a cake of ice on a hot July day.

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    Disneyland days dampened by heavy rain and storms in California

    While many plan trips to Disneyland expecting sunny weather in Southern California, the heavy storms of recent weeks have left guests wet and disappointed.

    It has been raining heavily in Southern California for the last few weeks, causing floods and severe mudslides. Several deaths have been blamed on the wet weather as well.

    Crowds have been lighter at Disneyland in recent weeks because of the rain. Disneyland ride wait times were much shorter due to the rain. However, inclement weather does cause some Disneyland outdoor ride closures.

    With the rainy season expected to continue, this could be the wettest season in recorded history for Southern California. Meanwhile, visitors to Disneyland make do with ponchos and umbrellas and enjoy the shorter lines for the rides.

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    Wednesday February 23, 2005

    Clear Channel Radio to help Disneyland celebrate its 50th anniversary with promotional spots

    Disney's Miramax Unit to Get a Makeover

    A few months back, a top Walt Disney Co. executive asked Fox Searchlight chief Peter Rice a question that once would have seemed inconceivable.

    The executive wanted to know how Rice was having so much success with his red-hot independent film label, which produced this year's Oscar-nominated "Sideways." The answer: by taking creative risks, not financial ones.

    In other words, by operating the way Disney's own pioneering specialty label Miramax Films used to.

    That an executive of the Burbank entertainment giant would seek a competitor's counsel says much about the gulf between Disney and Miramax's co-founders, whose relationship — long viewed with envy in the industry — is in its final days.

    Much has been said and written about the personal animus between Disney Chief Executive Michael Eisner and Miramax co-founder Harvey Weinstein, whose ambitions set the maverick studio on a collision course with its parent company. But the breakup is about more than clashing egos. It's also about the evolving nature of specialty film companies in Hollywood today.

    Despite the huge sums Disney has reaped since its 1993 acquisition of Miramax from brothers Harvey and Bob Weinstein, the company is eager for a return to the past.

    Disney executives and industry analysts say Miramax's business model has shifted so radically in recent years that the company is no longer a good fit with its corporate parent.

    "Miramax became another big-spending subsidiary of Disney, which they don't need," veteran industry analyst Harold Vogel said. "The Miramax style drifted from its original roots as an indie hotshot that made low-budget, offbeat films which supplemented Disney's mainstream lineup."

    Even before the split is final, Disney has quietly been making plans to reshape Miramax into a financially restrained subsidiary more in sync with specialty units owned by other media conglomerates. The division will bear little resemblance to the Miramax that in recent years grew to nearly 500 staffers with an annual $700-million allotment from Disney to produce, acquire and market movies.

    The new Miramax, said a high-level Disney source, will operate "lean and mean," with a staff of fewer than 50 and an annual budget of about $300 million, a figure more in line with other specialty film units. Disney sources said they expected the division to produce six to 10 low-budget movies a year.

    But cost containment is easy compared with duplicating Miramax's artistic success, box- office record and innovative marketing.

    Disney's biggest challenge will be to find a new Miramax chief with the creative instincts of Harvey Weinstein and the business savvy of younger brother Bob, whose hugely profitable Dimension Films label produced such valuable franchises as "Spy Kids," "Scary Movie" and "Scream."

    No studio in Hollywood comes close to matching Miramax's Academy Awards track record of 249 nominations and 54 wins since 1988, including best picture Oscars for "Chicago," "Shakespeare in Love" and "The English Patient." In this year's race, Miramax has amassed 20 nominations, including two for best picture, "The Aviator" and "Finding Neverland."

    "They proved you can create audience allegiance for specialty films and literally become part of the popular vernacular," said former Miramax executive David Linde, who now co-heads NBC Universal's Focus Features, the label behind such Oscar-nominated films as "The Motorcycle Diaries."

    As the Weinsteins depart Disney to start a new operation, they leave behind a library of more than 800 titles, which some analysts value at as much as $2 billion, along with the Miramax moniker, an amalgamation of their parents' names, Miriam and Max.

    Neither Disney nor the Weinsteins would comment for this report, citing the continuing divorce negotiations.

    The Partnership Begins

    The Queens, N.Y.-born brothers founded Miramax in 1979, making a name for themselves by skillfully marketing low-cost art house movies, such as "sex, lies and videotape" and "The Crying Game," that became mainstream hits.

    But like all independent studios, Miramax had limited access to capital. When Disney offered to buy their company for about $70 million, the Weinsteins jumped. Disney guaranteed the brothers enormous autonomy with the caveat that they limit their investment on each film to $12.5 million.

    The partnership began with a bang as Quentin Tarantino's "Pulp Fiction," which cost only $8 million, grossed more than $200 million worldwide. Even as their budgets nudged higher, the Weinsteins limited their financial risk by selling foreign rights before production.

    In the mid-1990s, when Anthony Minghella's $27-million epic, "The English Patient," exceeded the mandated cap, the Weinsteins got approval from then-Disney Studios chief Joe Roth to press ahead. After the film grossed around $80 million domestically and landed an Oscar, Disney raised Miramax's budget limit to $20 million.

    Harvey Weinstein's entrepreneurial urges, meanwhile, began growing beyond the world of art house films. Many say he aspired to be a media titan — a cross between News Corp. Chairman Rupert Murdoch and legendary movie mogul Louis B. Mayer. He would branch out beyond films to create an ill-fated magazine, Talk, and a more successful book-publishing arm.

    In 2000, the Weinsteins renegotiated their employment contracts, demanding more money to make and market movies. Disney, not wanting to risk losing the pair, raised Miramax's annual budget to $700 million from $450 million.

    Costly Disappointments

    Flush with funds, Harvey Weinstein began gambling — and losing — with such costly movies as the $65-million Ben Stiller comedy "Duplex" and the $45-million drama "All the Pretty Horses," starring Matt Damon. Disney executives were not happy.

    But the big chill set in two years ago with Miramax's most expensive bet, the $80-million Civil War epic "Cold Mountain." When Weinstein's original financing partner, MGM, pulled out and no other studio — including Disney — would step in, Miramax paid the full amount. The film flopped and is still $16 million in the red. Making matters worse, another costly Weinstein project, Martin Scorsese's "Gangs of New York," also failed to cover Miramax's investment.

    Weinstein's defenders say that whatever misses Miramax has suffered have been more than offset by "Chicago," which cost $46 million and grossed $170 million domestically, and by other moneymakers, including Tarantino's two "Kill Bill" films.

    Some insiders also argue that Disney is not without blame as Weinstein pushed the financial envelope.

    "He kept getting more and more aggressive and was getting managed less and less," a former Disney executive said.

    Whatever the case, as problems mounted between Miramax and Disney, the independent film scene around them was changing dramatically. Miramax was no longer the only shining star. Other specialty movie companies such as News Corp.'s Fox Searchlight, Sony Pictures Classics and Newmarket Films broke out with their respective hits, "The Full Monty," "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" and "The Passion of the Christ."

    By 2003, every major studio, including latecomer Warner Bros., was operating a specialty film division, all keeping the creativity factor high and the financial risk low.

    "The key to the specialized business has always been to protect your downside and never overextend," said 20th Century Fox co-chief Tom Rothman, who started Fox Searchlight 10 years ago and now helps oversee the unit. "The more fiscally conservative you are, the more boldly and radically creative you can be."

    Fox Searchlight generally limits its production investment to $15 million a picture, although there are exceptions, including the $16-million "Sideways."

    There's no question that the Weinsteins have never considered themselves part of "Team Disney." But company executives say the remake will be different. Unlike the Weinsteins, who in recent years reported to Disney's corporate hierarchy, Miramax's yet-to-be-selected chief will answer directly to Disney Studios.

    Said one executive: "This time we'll be kept in the loop, not out of the loop."

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    Disney rights issue raises 250m euros
     
    The operator of the troubled Disneyland Resort Paris, Euro Disney SCA has successfully raised 253.3m euros (£176m, US$336m) through its rights issue, signaling the end of the company’s financial restructuring.

    The company will now be able to press ahead with developments at its three parks, including the introduction of several new rides.

    This year, the company will re-launch one of its most popular attractions as a completely new experience called Space Mountain: Mission 2. Then, in 2006, Buzz Lightyear’s Laser Blast – a ride-through attraction where guests help Buzz defend the universe against Emperor Zurg – will be introduced.

    Walt Disney Studios Park will see the opening of Toon Studios in 2007 and and the Tower of Terror – a white-knuckle ride in a mysterious Hollywood hotel – in 2008.

    The rights issue, launched on 20 February, offered existing shareholders the chance to purchase 2.8 billion new shares at 0.09 euros (£0.06, US$0.12) each – and was oversubscribed by 9 per cent.

    Prior to the issue, the company’s second-largest shareholder, Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal, agreed to subscribe for up to 25m euros (£17m, US$33m) in additional shares in order to retain at least a 10 per cent ownership interest, while the largest shareholder, the Walt Disney company, undertook to subscribe to at least 100m euros (£70m, US$131m) of the rights issue.

    The new shares will be admitted to trading on Euronext Paris and Euronext Brussels as of today (23 February). They will also be traded on the London Stock Exchange’s market for listed securities.

    “We look forward to an exciting future as we begin an unprecedented, multi-year expansion of our resort offering,” said Andre Lacroix, chief executive officer of Euro Disney.

    “Each of the years 2005-8 will bring even more rides and attractions to our resort. These investments, combined with an innovative marketing and sales strategy should set the foundation for sustained and profitable growth.”

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    Cinderella DVD

    Video Business reports that when Cinderella makes its DVD debut this October (the movie's first home video release in 10 years), it will be offered in a Collector's Gift Set ($49.99 SRP) in addition to the expected $29.99 SRP 2-disc Platinum Edition. The Gift Set will include a limited edition book, character sketches by animator Ollie Johnston and a numbered film frame.

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    Space Mountain: Mission 2 - Opening April 9
     
    Disneyland Paris - It is a never ending story - but the opening date of Space Mountain: Mission 2 has been changed all over again. The first day of operation for all park guests is now, once again, Saturday April 9 - as originally planned. This saves the resort the work and cost to change all the promotional material. The poster on the construction fence on-site which had been changed to April 6 even prior to the official decision last week to move the date forward had been changed back by last weekend already. The decision has been officially confirmed by the German Press Department ... and seems to be set to stay now. The much gossiped about press event originally scheduled for Friday April 8 has been moved forward though to the infamous Wednesday April 6 date due to the collision with the second wedding of Prince Charles. As the main part of the event will take place after the park closure this will not affect guests.

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    Emperor Eisner
     
    The showdown in the Walt Disney Co. boardroom was quick and decisive. It was early 2003, as tensions were mounting over languishing earnings and top executives' failures. But Michael D. Eisner was on the offensive, intent on taking out Andrea Van de Kamp, a board member who was increasingly asking tough questions or siding with Stanley P. Gold, Eisner's harshest board critic. "You are a terrible director," Eisner scolded Van de Kamp in his office. "You're so loyal to Stanley. It's like you've carried his babies." 
     
    Staggered by the attack and the news that the nominating committee had purged her, Van de Kamp, a high-powered Los Angeles fund-raiser and head of auction house Sotheby's West Coast office, tried valiantly at a board meeting two days later to get reinstated. Arguing that she was being banished for exercising independence, she ticked off some of the low points of Eisner's tenure, including lavish exit packages to departing Disney executives, ABC's continued ratings funk, and the company's "terrible relations with Hollywood creative people because of Eisner's arrogance." But Eisner kept control of the board, and Van de Kamp was a goner.

    Eisner's victory was short-lived, and soon Disney's board was hit with open revolt. Roy E. Disney and Stanley Gold, who had brought Eisner into the company in 1984, resigned and led the uprising that in 2004 prompted 45% of Disney shareholders to vote against Eisner. What remained of the Eisner myth had vanished. The man who had saved Disney from corporate raiders in 1984 had gone from prince to ogre -- an imperial CEO driven by vanity and insecurity to expel those who questioned him. Indeed, the man who became a corporate hero by reviving the company that Walt Disney built soon felt he was larger than the company itself -- ruling by fiat, pitting rivals against each other, destroying ties with longtime friends and associates, and putting himself above even Disney shareholders and its board.

    Such are the images in James B. Stewart's DisneyWar, an impressively researched, sometimes riveting if overly detailed account of Eisner's rise and fall. It's also a story of the near destruction of an American institution. The book draws upon mountains of legal documents from Disney's high-profile lawsuits involving former executives Jeffrey Katzenberg and Michael Ovitz. Stewart, a Pulitzer Prize winner, got an inexplicably high level of access to a CEO under the heaviest pressure of his career.

    So armed, the author chronicles Eisner's moves, misstep by misstep. Suspicious of underlings who achieved too much or won public attention, Eisner is shown as installing spies in the offices of key lieutenants and even secretly collecting e-mails to keep track of those he didn't trust. At various points, Stewart writes, Eisner threatened to fire longtime partner Frank Wells, even plotting to replace him with studio chief Jeffrey Katzenberg while at the same time asking superagent Michael Ovitz to help him force out Katzenberg. According to Stewart, Katzenberg's key crime was bringing Disney's animation studio back from near death, then getting too much press credit for it.

    Along the way, Stewart suggests, Eisner's hubris harmed the company. Out of pique, he refused to negotiate the terms of Katzenberg's severance deal -- and partly as a result, the settlement ballooned from $60 million to $280 million. He overruled his theme park staff and built a European park outside Paris, in large part because of his college fascination with France, writes Stewart. Lagging attendance and French public resistance to anything Disney have hobbled the park ever since, nearly forcing it into bankruptcy at one point. Eisner thwarted efforts by Miramax co-founder Harvey Weinstein to buy potential bargains such as Bravo! and Independent Film Channel from Cablevision Systems Corp., then wildly overpaid for the ABC Family Channel. His largest mistake: buying ABC, which saddled the company with losses and years of internal management turmoil. Meanwhile, Eisner's golden gut was tarnished: The company turned away such hits as The Apprentice, CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, and Survivor.

    For all of its copious detail, Stewart's book raises as many questions as it answers. How will the negative publicity affect the chances of Robert Iger -- the only internal candidate -- to succeed Eisner, who has said he will retire in late 2006? ("He can never succeed me," Stewart quotes Eisner as saying.) And what about Eisner? He tells Stewart the board "might come to me" with an offer of the chairmanship. Stewart's charges of Eisner's mismanagement won't help the CEO stick around. Of course, in Hollywood, nothing ever ends until the curtain comes down.

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    Annual Epcot International Flower & Garden Festival Joins in 'Happiest Celebration on Earth'
     
    From April 15 to June 5, Epcot will bloom with bouquets of custom displays themed to the "Happiest Celebration on Earth," Disney's global jubilee marking 50 years of Disney theme parks. Roses, daisies, carnations, chrysanthemums and thousands of other varieties of flowers and trees at the 12th annual Epcot International Flower & Garden Festival will add living color to the largest celebration in Disney theme park history.

    New this year, guests can experience hundreds of free-flying butterflies as they venture through the Butterfly House -- a unique habitat showcasing several species of butterflies and lush foliage.

    Throughout the park, guests can attend gardening seminars and demonstrations, smell the flowers along the Rose Walk where more than 40 varieties bloom, admire an array of intricate topiaries and participate in a daily ladybug release. They also can walk among colorful displays that include an all-new Farmer Mickey's Maze in Future World, The Ultimate Backyard Garden and a Fragrance Garden.

    Flower Power concerts return to America Gardens Theatre in World Showcase with nightly musical entertainment from top acts of the 1960s and '70s, including The Turtles, Davy Jones and Paul Revere.

    As part of the festival's themed weekend lineup, guests can watch artists paint the gardens during Art in the Garden weekend, learn some of the magic behind Disney photography during Photography weekend, and treat mom to brunch during Mother's Day weekend.

    Epcot guests can make plans for visits to the Epcot International Flower & Garden Festival presented by The Home Depot by calling 407/W-DISNEY (934-7639) or by visiting disneyworld.com. The festival is included in regular Epcot admission.

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    CD for Disney's On the Record to Hit Stores in March

    The cast recording for the new Disney musical On the Record will hit stores across the country next month.

    A spokesperson for the production told Playbill.com that the two-disc set will be available on the Disney Records label beginning March 15. The recording features Kaitlin Hopkins (who recently replaced Emily Skinner) and Brian Sutherland as well as Ashley Brown and Andrew Samonsky and company members Meredith Inglesby, Andy Karl, Tyler Maynard, Keewa Nurullah, Josh Franklin, Leigh Ann Larkin, Koh Mochizuki and Lyn Philistine.

    On the Record, according to production notes, "is the story of a recording session that changed the lives of a young unknown who is about to get her big break, a pop diva who is about to meet her match, and a matinee idol who is about to meet the 'new kid' who could take his place."

    On the Record, which features songs from both classic Disney films and Disney's Broadway outings, will close after its July engagement at the Denver Center for the Performing Arts.

    Directed and choreographed by Robert Longbottom, the musical's creative team comprises Natasha Katz (lighting), Robert Brill (scenery), Gregg Barnes (costumes), David Chase (musical supervision and arrangements), Chad Beguelin (scenarist) and Acme Sound Partners (sound design).

    The On the Record itinerary follows:
    Feb. 8-27 at the Fisher Theatre in Detroit, MI
    March 1-6 at the Wharton Center East Lansing, MI
    March 22-27 at the Clowes Memorial Hall in Indianapolis, IN
    April 19-May 1 at the Broward Center in Ft. Lauderdale, FL
    May 3-8 at the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center in Tampa, FL
    May 10-15 at the Barbara B. Mann Performing Arts Hall in Ft. Myers, FL
    May 24-May 29 at the Majestic Theatre in San Antonio, TX
    May 31-June 12 at the Hobby Center in Houston, TX

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    Disney towels stolen from van

    Buzz Lightyear and The Little Mermaid beach towels were among thousands taken when thieves targeted a parked lorry.

    Towels valued at £170,000 were taken when a lorry parked next to the A14 at Swavesey was broken into.

    The 14,000 towels were of eight different designs, including The Muppets, Winnie the Pooh's Eeyore, Peter Pan's Tinkerbell, Animal from The Muppets, Minnie Mouse and Power Rangers, as well as The Little Mermaid and Toy Story's Buzz Lightyear.

    Pc Kate Tyerman, who is investigating the theft, said: "I would appeal to anyone who was in the area and may have information regarding this incident to contact me.

    "I would also like to hear from anyone who has been offered Disney towels for a discounted price recently. These towels are only ever sold in Disney stores, so anyone selling original Disney towels will not be doing so legally.

    The theft happened between 10pm on Friday, February 4, and 4am the following morning.

    Anyone with information is asked to contact Pc Tyerman at Cambridge's Parkside Police Station on 0845 4564564.

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    Atlanta Braves Take On Georgia Tech March 2 at Cracker Jack Stadium, 1:05 p.m.

    The Atlanta Braves are returning to Disney's Wide World of Sports Complex for Major League Baseball Spring Training in February and March 2005. The Braves will conduct two weeks of workouts before playing a 16-game home schedule against 11 MLB teams during their eighth spring season at the 220-acre sports complex at Walt Disney World Resort.

    Braves pitchers and catchers report on Feb. 17, with their first workout set for Feb. 18. Position players arrive Feb. 22, with the first full-squad workout on Feb. 23. The Braves play their home spring training games at Cracker Jack Stadium at Disney's Wide World of Sports Complex.

    The National League East division champion Braves, the winningest team in the major leagues over the past 14 years, open their 2005 spring schedule with an exhibition against Georgia Tech on Mar. 2. The first home game against a major league opponent is Mar. 4 against the Los Angeles Dodgers. The division rival New York Mets travel to Disney on two occasions, Mar. 6 and Mar. 26, while the American League East champion New York Yankees play the Braves on Mar. 8 in one of the most highly anticipated games of the spring at the Vacation Kingdom. The National League champion St. Louis Cardinals play at Disney on consecutive days (Mar. 20-21), marking the third straight year the Braves and Cardinals are playing a back-to-back two-game series at Disney's Wide World of Sports.

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    2005 Star Wars Weekend Dates 
     
    Once again, the power of the Force and the magic of Disney combine for the family-friendly fan-fest, scheduled for four consecutive weekends beginning May 20, 2005, at Disney's MGM Studios. The event includes special parades, trivia games, meet-and-greet sessions with Star Wars legends and characters and special themed activities. The weekend festivities take place on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays and are included with regular theme park admission.

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    Clear Channel Radio to help Disneyland celebrate its 50th anniversary with promotional spots
     
    Clear Channel Radio today announced a major campaign to promote a global celebration that marks 50 years of Disney theme parks.

    More than 400 Clear Channel Radio stations across the country have committed to airing promotional spots that provide event details for the "Happiest Celebration on Earth."

    Festivities kick off on May 5, 2005, at all 10 of the Disney theme parks around the world with the premiere of exciting shows and attractions at Disneyland Resort in California; Walt Disney World Resort in Florida; Tokyo Disneyland in Japan; and Disneyland Resort Paris in France.

    The opening of Hong Kong Disneyland will add another Disney park -- the 11th Disney theme park in the world -- to the celebration in September.

    Clear Channel Radio stations across the country will begin running a specially designed Disney promotion on Feb. 28, 2005, along with the participation of Premiere Network's "Delilah" show and "American Top 40" with Ryan Seacrest.

    There will be a call-in component of the radio promotion that will award vacation packages for four people to the premiere of the "Happiest Celebration on Earth" at the Walt Disney World Resort and Disneyland Resort.

    "Disney and its much-loved theme parks have introduced an entirely new genre of family entertainment that now spans the globe," said John Hogan, chief executive officer of Clear Channel Radio. "The national reach of Clear Channel's radio network provides the perfect opportunity to reach millions of families who are interested in this unprecedented global celebration, and with the vacation package premium, Clear Channel listeners have the opportunity to visit this national entertainment treasure and create lasting memories."

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    Buena Vista Records releases 'On the Farm' from Baby Einstein Company

    The incredible success of the Baby Einstein audio franchise continues growing with the newest addition, Baby Einstein On the Farm CD and Board Book.

    The first in a series of this all-new audio format, On the Farm combines delightful Baby Einstein melodies with a fun and engaging board book full of colorful illustrations that will amuse little ones as they discover animals that live on a farm.

    The board book contains 8 original verses, each one focused on a different animal from the farm depicted on the colorful illustrations.

    Julie Aigner-Clark, founder of the Baby Einstein franchise, reads each verse and encourages mom and baby to discover all kinds of amazing things on the farm. The CD also features related sound effects that babies will love.

    A special Baby Einstein version of Old MacDonald rounds out the audio as a rousing sing-along.

    About the Baby Einstein Company

    The Baby Einstein Company, LLC, is the award-winning creator of the infant developmental media category and the best-selling brand of videos specifically designed for babies and toddlers from birth.

    Through unique combinations of real world objects, music, art, language, science, poetry and nature, Baby Einstein products expose little ones to the world around them in playful and enriching ways. Originally founded by a mom, the company's videos, DVDs, Discovery Cards, books, music CDs and toys are created from a baby's point of view and encourage parent-child interaction.

    The Baby Einstein Company is a subsidiary of The Walt Disney Company. For more information, visit www.babyeinstein.com.

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    Disney’s next hero: a lion king of kings
     
    As the residents of Narnia like to whisper, “Aslan is on the move.” And so he is. But for the moment, Walt Disney Pictures has him on a very short leash.

    Aslan, a talking lion with mystical powers, is the central figure in “The Chronicles of Narnia,” the much-beloved seven-volume series of fantasy novels written by British academic CS Lewis in the 1950s.

    By the year’s end, if Disney marketers have their way, he will have joined Mickey Mouse, Pinocchio and Buzz Lightyear in a long line of characters that have periodically provided the Burbank giant with entertainment’s most valuable asset, a new fantasy to trade on.

    This next wave begins with the expected release on December 9 of “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe,” which combines live action and computer-generated images in a movie adaptation of Lewis’ epic. Sequels may follow.

    But films are only the spearhead of a corporate initiative that is likely to include a theme park presence, toys, clothing, video games and whatever other tchotchkes the infinitely resourceful Disney team can devise.

    Having been criticized for failing to cash in on the merchandising opportunities offered by 2003’s “Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl,” Disney is preparing for the kind of all-encompassing drive it hasn’t mounted since 1994, when it turned “The Lion King” into a pop cultural event that still reverberates in its retail stores and on Broadway.

    Company representatives, however, have little to say publicly about the “Narnia” cycle, which is being produced in partnership with the financier Philip Anschutz’s Walden Media. They cite a natural reticence about promoting work that is still in progress: the director Andrew Adamson, an animation specialist whose only previous films are the computer-generated comic fairy tales “Shrek” and “Shrek 2,” is still behind his digital console.

    But this time, the pros at Disney are wrestling with a special challenge: how to sell a screen hero who was conceived as a forthright symbol of Jesus Christ, a redeemer who is tortured and killed in place of a young human sinner and who returns in a glorious resurrection that transforms the snowy landscape of Narnia into a verdant paradise.

    That spirituality sets Aslan apart from most of the Disney pantheon and presents the company with a significant dilemma: whether to acknowledge the Christian symbolism and risk alienating a large part of the potential audience, or to play it down and possibly offend the many Christians who count among the books’ fan base.

    Disney executives say their aim is to capture the largest possible audience by remaining true to Lewis’ work. “We’re lucky that there are millions of devoted fans, who probably cross four generations,” said Dennis Rice, the studio’s senior vice president of publicity. “We want to reach all of those devoted fans.”

    To do that, Rice said, the studio plans to reach out to middle schools, boys’ clubs, girls’ clubs, fantasy fans and, where appropriate, religious groups. Rice said the company’s message would be: “We are trying to make this movie to be as faithful to the book as possible. And if you connect to the book, we think you will connect to the movie.”

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    Narnia Toys from Hasbro

    Narnia Web features images of the upcoming action figures for Disney's Chronicles of Narnia.

    http://www.narniaweb.com/news.asp?id=199

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    Smits Hosts 'NYPD Blue' Tribute

    Jimmy Smits is returning to the 15th Precinct one last time.

    Smits, who played Detective Bobby Simone on "NYPD Blue" for four-plus seasons, will host "NYPD Blue: A Final Tribute," ABC's retrospective on the show's 12 years. The special is scheduled for 9 p.m. ET Tuesday, March 1, preceding the series finale.

    The tribute will feature interviews with current cast members Dennis Franz, Gordon Clapp, Mark-Paul Gosselaar, Henry Simmons, Jacqueline Obradors, Bill Brochtrup, Currie Graham and Bonnie Somerville and a host of clips from landmark episodes of the series. Former cast members, including Smits, Kim Delaney, James McDaniel, Amy Brenneman and Nicholas Turturro, will also share their memories.

    "Blue" is ending its 12-season run next week with 20 Emmy victories, including four for Franz and the 1995 award for outstanding drama series, and a place in the TV pantheon for its extension of the the boundaries of a network series.

    A number of ABC affiliates refused to run the show at first, citing fears of a boycott by conservative groups over its rough language and occasional nude backside. The controversy seemed only to fuel interest in "Blue," however, and it quickly became a hit.

    Ratings have ebbed over time, but the show's legacy is pretty well assured

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    Star Wars Weekends 2005 at Walt Disney World coincide with Episode III Revenge of the Sith opening

    As the long-anticipated and newest Star Wars film -- Star Wars: Episode III Revenge of the Sith -- debuts in theaters nationwide May 19, 2005, Walt Disney World Resort will raise the curtain on its month-long celebration of the most famous saga in movie history during the annual Star Wars Weekends at the Disney-MGM Studios theme park.

    Once again, the power of the Force and the magic of Disney combine for the family-friendly fan-fest, scheduled for four consecutive weekends (Friday, Saturday and Sunday) beginning May 20, 2005, at Disney's showbiz-inspired theme park.

    With the park's famous Star Tours thrill ride serving as the centerpiece of the celebration, Star Wars Weekends fills Disney-MGM Studios with dozens of heroes, heroines, droids and villains from the famous films.

    Meet-and-greets with famous villains and heroes from the five Star Wars films -- Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi, The Phantom Menace and Attack of theClones -- Star Wars Weekends bring guests face-to-face with their favorite characters. Guests never know which Star Wars character they'll find around the corner, whether it's the heroic and young Jedi Luke Skywalker, the poised and regal Queen Amidala, the furry, loyal and lovable Chewbacca or the evil Siths Darth Vader and Darth Maul.

    Star Wars celebrities are special guests during each weekend, taking part in meet-and-greet sessions, star conversations and Hollywood-style motorcades. The lineup of Star Wars legends appearing during the month will be announced soon.

    Here's a sampling of festival activities:

    * The Characters will be with You -- One of the largest gatherings anywhere of characters from every Star Wars film -- from Kit Fisto and Boba Fett to Princess Leia and Greedo -- will roam Disney-MGM Studios greeting guests, signing autographs and posing for photographs. Even Mickey Mouse gets into the Star Wars spirit, posing for pictures in his very own Jedi costume.

    Star Wars Legends -- Visiting Star Wars celebrities take part in a talk show-style conversation inside the theme park's ABC Theatre. Guests hear directly from the actors, actresses and creative minds that have brought the popular film series to life since the Star Wars first debuted in 1977.

    To Endor... and Back? -- Guests can take flight to the moon of Endor in Star Tours, an action-packed flight simulator that salutes the Star Wars series. Synchronizing a stunning film with the virtually limitless gyrations of the simulator, the attraction takes guests on a hair-raising, light-speed trip aboard a careening star speeder. The rookie pilot tries his best to get the ship back to port while dodging comets and Imperial Tie Fighters.

    Who Wants to be a Jedi? -- Special editions of the popular game show attraction "Who Wants To Be A Millionaire-Play It!" will be presented, with a variety of Star Wars-inspired questions and surprise appearances by film characters. The attraction's studio audience can join in the fun by answering trivia questions using keypads installed at their seats.

    Obi-Wanna-Be -- Throughout the day, lucky youngsters will be chosen to take part in the "Jedi Training Academy," giving Jedi hopefuls the chance to learn moves with a lightsaber. Following instruction by the Jedi Master, young Padawans are challenged to test their newly acquired lightsaber skills against one of the evil Siths.

    One-of-a-Kind Collectibles -- Star Wars collectors will find a treasure trove of special-edition merchandise each weekend. Once again, Disney and Lucasfilm Ltd. have created event-exclusive Star Wars memorabilia -- from trading pins and commemorative posters to apparel, medallions and other limited-edition items -- that will be available in Tatooine Traders. With a look inspired by scenes in the Star Wars movies, the retail location is adjacent to the Ewok Village set at the Star Tours attraction.

    Star Wars Weekends will launch into orbit May 20, 2005, and will be held four consecutive weekends (Friday, Saturday and Sunday) through June 12, 2005.

    For the latest Star Wars Weekends updates, guests may visit www.starwars.com or disneyworld.com.

    Happiest Celebration on Earth & Customized Vacations -- There's never been a better time than during Star Wars Weekends to visit Walt Disney World Resort. In addition to Star Wars Weekends, the entire 47-square-mile Vacation Kingdom will brim with excitement as the "Happiest Celebration on Earth" kicks off May 5, 2005.

    New "E-Ticket" attractions -- including a high-flying, extreme stunt show at Disney-MGM Studios called "Lights, Motors, Action! Extreme Stunt Show" -- will debut all across Walt Disney World property as 50 years of Disney theme parks are celebrated globally.

    Also, a new and innovative Disney ticket pricing system, known as "Magic Your Way," was just introduced and offers the chance for guests to customize their vacations. For Florida residents, ticket discounts have been introduced to allow them to maximize their Disney theme park fun.

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    Disney's Baby Einstein Company branches into preschool television with new Little Einsteins franchise

    As the leaders and creators of the infant developmental media category, Baby Einstein(TM) is the number one infant/preschool video brand in 2004 (Nielsen, December 2004 YTD; Includes New Releases and Catalog Titles Combined). Over the last three years, The Baby Einstein Company has established itself as a global infant category leader, while simultaneously setting its sights on capturing a significant share of the preschool market with the fall 2005 launch of its new Little Einsteins(TM) franchise.

    Global Infant Category Leader

    Through product and market expansion, The Baby Einstein Company has grown nearly 91 percent (compounded annual growth rate) since being acquired by The Walt Disney Company in 2001. With products in more than nine categories, including DVDs, music, books, toys, juvenile products, baby gear, party supplies, bibs and soft bath items, Baby Einstein has grown from a $25 million retail brand at time of acquisition to a $170 million retail brand in 2004. With a presence in more than 30 countries by the end of this year, the brand offers products in more than 25 different languages and has posted 900 percent growth in international markets since being acquired by Disney.

    "The impressive growth of the Baby Einstein brand is in large part due to the loyal consumer base we enjoy," said Russell Hampton, Senior Vice President and General Manager, The Baby Einstein Company. "The experience of parenthood is universal. All parents want the best for their little ones and it is our goal to provide age-appropriate products that encourage parent child interaction."

    At the American International Toy Fair 2005 in New York City, Baby Einstein announced plans to further evolve its product line to include apparel and bath toys, while continuing to create new and innovative DVDs, books and music titles that expose little ones to the world around them and encourage parent-child interaction in ways that are relevant to today's rapidly changing lifestyles. Most recently, Baby Einstein has incorporated an enhanced language-learning element into its full collection of award-winning DVDs by adding multi-language viewing options, featuring English, Spanish and French in the U.S. and appropriate languages in other parts of the world. In addition, the company has announced that with the July 2005 debut of Baby Wordsworth video/DVD the company will partner with Academy Award Winning actress Marlee Matlin to expose babies and parents to the many different forms of language and communication, including sign language. All Baby Einstein products will continue to be created from a baby's point of view, using unique combinations of real-world objects, music, art, language, science, poetry and nature to engage and stimulate little ones in playful and enriching ways.

    "The infant category has become one of the fastest-growing, most lucrative and competitive business segments. And, we've seen that a company's success often hinges on whether or not they create products that fit the day-to-day needs of today's parents and caregivers," said Sean McGowan, industry analyst from Harris Nesbitt. "Successful companies, like Baby Einstein, will continue to evolve their product lines and find new ways to help parents address different needs throughout the day."

    Launching Into The Preschool Category

    Leveraging its leadership position within the infant products category and its brand awareness among parents, The Baby Einstein Company is launching into the $21 billion preschool market with the debut of the Little Einsteins franchise. Created specifically for preschoolers, Little Einsteins builds on the experiences of the Baby Einstein brand and will take children on fun, musical missions of exploration that will take them all over the world, provoking their curiosity and actively seeking their participation. Anchored by a television series that will air on Disney Channel in the Playhouse Disney block beginning this fall, the first Little Einsteins mission will be available exclusively via direct-to-video this August.

    "Over the past year, several preschool companies have attempted to launch into the infant category based on the explosive growth within that market," said Sean McGowan. "The infant and preschool categories are dramatically different, however, and I believe many of the preschool companies learned how challenging, and perhaps unrealistic, it is to 'age down.' Baby Einstein, on the other hand, is in a very unique position as they are 'aging up' and able to leverage an existing consumer base who can and wants to grow with them."

    The development of the Little Einsteins series is being led by executive producer Eric Weiner, who is best known for his work as the co-creator of "Dora the Explorer." Little Einsteins was created with child development experts and musicians to ensure the storyline, curriculum and pacing is age appropriate. Based on feedback from real preschoolers, Little Einsteins will continue to add depth to Playhouse Disney's strong learning based programming line up.

    About The Baby Einstein Company

    The Baby Einstein Company, LLC, is the award-winning creator of the infant developmental media category. The company is famous for its best-selling Baby Einstein brand of videos, books, music CDs and toys specifically designed for babies and toddlers, from birth. Little Einsteins, debuting in 2005, is the company's newest venture, specifically created for the preschool market. Headquartered in Glendale, CA, The Baby Einstein Company is a subsidiary of The Walt Disney Company. For more information, visit www.babyeinstein.com or http://www.littleeinsteins.com/.

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    Miramax's Weinsteins, Disney near break-up
     
    Brothers Bob Weinstein and Harvey Weinstein will meet with executives of Walt Disney Co. this week to iron out the details of their exit from Oscar-winning powerhouse Miramax Films, a source with knowledge of the talks said on Tuesday.
     
    The brothers founded the Disney unit and guided it to best film Oscars -- the top U.S. movie honors -- for the likes of 2002's "Chicago," but have for years had a contentious relationship with Disney chief executive Michael Eisner.

    The pair have been in talks to exit Miramax since last year, and it appears the Oscar ceremony this coming Sunday, Feb. 27, will be their swansong with Miramax, which is backing best picture nominees "The Aviator" and "Finding Neverland."

    "They are continuing negotiations this week," the source said, "A deal is imminent."

    A Disney spokeswoman was not immediately available. Miramax would say only that there was nothing new to report in the ongoing negotiations.

    Under plans being considered, the Weinsteins would leave their posts as co-chief executives but remain as consultants to help market certain upcoming films, the source said.

    Some of those titles include comic book themed "Sin City" and kids' movie "The Adventures of Shark Boy & Lava Girl" -- both from director Robert Rodriguez -- as well as drama "Proof," starring Gwyneth Paltrow.

    The Weinsteins would be free make their own movies and find a new distribution partner.

    Disney would pay the Weinsteins around $100 million to settle their contract, which expires on Sept. 30, 2005, although a final amount has yet to be determined.

    WHAT'S IN A NAME?

    Disney would retain the Miramax library of some 800 films with titles that include 1998's Oscar winner "Shakespeare in Love," starring Paltrow, and director Quentin Tarantino's popular "Pulp Fiction" and "Kill Bill: Vol. 1" and "Vol. II" titles. Libraries are a highly lucrative means of generating cash from sales of DVDs, videos and television rights.

    Disney would retain the Miramax brand name, which the Weinsteins had sought to keep because it is based on their parent's names, Miriam and Max.

    Miramax would become a slimmer unit with an annual budget around $300 million, far less than the $700 million Miramax under the Weinsteins but closer to the budgets of the art-house movie wings of Hollywood's other major studios.

    Staff, which now numbers less than 300 people, would be cut, although a final number has yet to be determined, the source said.

    The employee count has fallen steadily since Miramax said in August of last year it was laying off 13 percent of its then 485-member staff. Just last month, Miramax Chief Operating Officer Rick Sands left to join DreamWorks SKG.

    The Weinsteins have been a major film force in New York, where Miramax is based, and in Hollywood for more than two decades. Based on the success of low-budget hits like "sex, lies and videotape," the brothers sold their company to Disney in 1993 for around $75 million.

    Since then the Weinsteins have increasingly pursued more expensive films like last year's Oscar contender "Cold Mountain," while Disney wanted the unit to stay closer to its low-budget, independent roots.

    Tension between the Weinsteins and Disney came to a head last May when Disney refused to release Michael Moore's controversial anti-Bush documentary, "Fahrenheit 9/11," which Miramax had backed. The Weinsteins acquired the film from Miramax and found an independent distributor to release it.

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    Tuesday February 22, 2005


    Everest Ride vehicle photos  

    Joe Rohde, executive designer at Walt Disney Imagineering and lead designer of Disney's Animal Kingdom, explains the legend of the fearsome yeti that will menace guests among the snowy peaks of the Himalayas on Expedition Everest when it opens in early 2006

                                               .

    Model builder Mark Bishop of Walt Disney Imagineering applies delicate details to a miniature version of the "steam donkey" train cars that will transport guests to a thrilling encounter with the legendary yeti in Expedition Everest.

                         
                         

    Walt Disney Imagineering's Rick Daffern (seated), senior show programmer, and Larry McAfee (standing), principal animation designer, review a computer model of Expedition Everest that allows Imagineers to program the thrill ride "virtually" before construction begins.

                         
                         

    Stefan Hellwig, senior concept designer and in-field art director with Walt Disney Imagineering, describes the unique architecture at Expedition Everest that will convince guests they are trekking through the Himalayas en route to a high-speed train adventure.

                         

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    Hollywood Ending for Weinsteins and Disney?
     
    Harvey Weinstein, the Miramax Films co-founder, is expected to meet this week with executives for the Walt Disney Company for a final round of negotiations that would allow the Weinsteins to leave Disney when their contract expires in September, according to three people involved in the negotiations.

                                              

    The Weinsteins have agreed to stay and market several Miramax movies that have already been completed and will be released before they depart on Sept. 30. Among the movies are "Sin City," the comic book thriller from Dimension Films, the highly profitable division of Miramax run by Bob Weinstein; "Hostage," with Bruce Willis; Gwyneth Paltrow's "Proof"; and "The Great Raid," starring Benjamin Bratt, whose release date will be moved to June from December.

    The Weinsteins have also agreed to reduce Miramax's budget to less than $350 million for the year ending in September, about half of the $700 million they have contractually been allowed to spend, two of the people said. In exchange, the Weinsteins will be able to begin production on films for an unnamed film company they are starting. They have already sought financing on Wall Street, as well as a partner to distribute the movies.

    If a deal is struck soon it would be the end of a tempestuous 12-year relationship that has been both beneficial and trying for Harvey and Bob Weinstein, as well as for Disney's chief executive, Michael D. Eisner. The Weinsteins sold their company in 1993 for $80 million to Disney, where they have since produced several Academy Award favorites, including "Shakespeare in Love," "The English Patient" and "Chicago."

    Mr. Eisner often chafed at the autonomy of the Weinsteins, particularly as Disney's fortunes shifted after the Sept. 11 attacks and it was forced to cut costs as tourism waned and the recession lingered.

    The Weinsteins, for their part, felt thwarted by Mr. Eisner although they expanded into books, television, magazines and big-budget movies, some of which disappointed at the box office, including "The Gangs of New York" and "Cold Mountain."

    Harvey Weinstein is expected to be in Los Angeles on Wednesday ahead of Sunday's Academy Awards for talks with Richard Cook, chairman of Walt Disney Studios. Mr. Cook took over negotiations for Disney in November when it became clear that the Weinsteins would leave once their contract ended. Negotiators for both sides say the terms benefit both parties, and they are cautiously optimistic that the long-simmering dispute will be resolved as early as next week and announced soon after that.

    But they also warn that the discussions could falter or be delayed given the volatile nature of the Weinsteins' relationship with Disney. A spokesman for the Weinsteins declined to comment on any potential agreement. A Disney spokeswoman declined to comment.

    The three people involved in the negotiations requested anonymity, fearing that disclosing their names might jeopardize the talks.

    The Weinsteins have yet to finalize which Miramax projects they will be allowed to take with them, the three people said. Those discussions are scheduled to continue this week, but the list is expected to include some acquisitions that Harvey Weinstein made at the Sundance Film Festival as well as movies to be directed by Quentin Tarantino, Anthony Minghella and Robert Rodriguez.

    All of those directors have long-standing successful working relationships with the Weinsteins.

    In an unusual twist for Disney, said two of the people involved, the Weinsteins will be able to make the sequels to Dimension Films franchise properties like "Scary Movie," "Scream" and "Spy Kids." Disney, however, will retain the right to co-produce those films and invest in up to 50 percent of any movie's budget.

    The Weinsteins will also be able to keep a certain percentage of the profit in movies Miramax did not make but has a financial stake in, including the "Lord of the Rings" franchise at New Line Cinema, which Mr. Eisner refused to finance when the idea was first presented by Harvey Weinstein, and Disney's coming "Chronicles of Narnia."

    One sticking point in the talks had been whether the Weinsteins would be able to retain the Miramax name and the library; they will keep neither, the three people said. The loss of the name is a personal one for the brothers; Miramax was named after their parents Miriam and Max.

    Disney plans to restructure Miramax, although it will continue to be based in New York and will be independent, one negotiator said. In the post-Weinstein Miramax, the parent company will have more control, both financially and creatively, and the budget will be about $300 million.

    Several Hollywood executives have been said to be interested in running Miramax, but Disney has not yet considered potential candidates. Even some within Disney have begun jockeying for the post, a politically risky and naïve move given that the Weinsteins have not left yet. Disney has several months to interview possible successors.

    The two sides have yet to decide how much cash the Weinsteins will receive upon leaving but estimates are that it will be above $100 million and less than $150 million. The amount, said one of the people, depends on how many projects the Weinsteins hope to buy back from Disney.

    If an agreement is reached soon it would cap more than a year of fractious discussions where, among other things, the Weinsteins threatened legal action against Disney and the two camps engaged in a public war of words. The relationship between Disney and the Weinsteins hit a low last spring over the release of the Michael Moore political documentary "Fahrenheit 9/11," which Disney refused to distribute but which went on to earn more than $119 million at the domestic box office.

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    The Two Faces of Bob Iger

    Is Disney's No. 2 an unsung leader or a dutiful lackey? The Mouse House board will soon decide just that.

    After a year characterized by malicious gossip and rampant speculation, the final stretch of the succession race at Disney is finally underway. In February the board of directors convened to review the headhunters' report on the sole inside candidate—and front-runner up to now—Disney president Bob Iger. The next day a more devastating report hit the streets: DisneyWar, the buzzed-about new book in which Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist James Stewart details Iger's poor judgment and tendency to kowtow to CEO Michael Eisner. The fallout? As recruiters at Heidrick & Struggles, who are vetting the CEO candidates, start interviewing the board's outside contenders—known to include CEOs such as eBay's Meg Whitman, Yahoo's Terry Semel, and the Gap's Paul Pressler—Iger has an awful lot to prove. Here is a guy who has spent his career working under legendary bosses—Roone Arledge at ABC, Tom Murphy at Capital Cities/ABC, and Eisner. But many wonder: Can he be a great CEO in his own right? "Do you ever know?" Iger replies, instantly riled by the question. "I have much more authority than people believe."

    Though famously reserved and polite (even detractors who call him "Michael's concierge" say he's nice), Iger, 54, in wide-ranging interviews with FORTUNE, is letting down his guard to persuade the world—well, actually, the 11 fellow Disney directors who intend to choose Eisner's successor by June—that he measures up against bona fide heavyweights. A weatherman early in his career, Iger has never found it easy to break from the pack. He spent his first 20 years quietly scaling ABC's sports and entertainment divisions. In 1995 he was the new president and heir at parent Capital Cities/ABC when Murphy sold the company to Disney for $19 billion. Some believe Murphy made the deal partly because Iger wasn't ready to be CEO. But Murphy tells FORTUNE, "That's baloney, absolute baloney."

    Murphy says Iger has "unbelievable energy and discipline." Married to TV journalist Willow Bay and the father of four children, he is up at 4:30 a.m., even on weekends, and usually at his desk by 6:45. The deal with Disney ushered in "my worst year in 30 years in business," Iger says. Charged with merging ABC and ESPN into Disney and reporting to new Disney president Michael Ovitz, he says, "I fell into a big black hole of oblivion." Eisner was so consumed with top-tier dysfunction, he practically ignored Iger. When he did take notice, it wasn't with a ringing endorsement. Early on in Iger's tenure, Eisner wrote the board about Iger's prospects for becoming CEO someday: "He is not an enlighten [sic] or brilliantly creative man, but with a strong board, he absolutely could do the job." Eisner claims he has overcome his doubts: "I bought into the cliché of Bob—that because he didn't get on top of the table and rant and rave and act like a fool, he wasn't a creative, passionate person."

    Iger eventually got plenty of attention—the wrong kind—at ABC, which had fallen from No. 1 to No. 4 in prime time by 2002. Iger admits that he managed the crisis, brought on by a drought of new hits, poorly: "I think for the first time in my career, I let myself get sucked into the vortex of thinking, 'Oh, my God, we're in third place ... fourth place ... we need action, action, action!' " Instead of delegating as he usually did, he micromanaged programming (shades of Eisner) and made shortsighted personnel changes. "It sounds like a cliché, but I'm a sailor. When you start overreacting to storm conditions, you're in peril," says Iger, who owns a 52-foot Hinckley. The question is whether ABC, which has made strides this season with hot shows like Desperate Housewives and Lost, can rightly be called a turnaround, since the network is still likely to finish in third place this year—or even fourth, if NBC rebounds.

    The Disney board is giving Iger credit for his significant role in the recent profit turnaround at the company. He directs its international efforts—critical to growth. It's Iger, not Eisner (or Mickey), who is the face of Disney to the Chinese, and he has overseen Hong Kong Disneyland, due to open in September. A self-proclaimed "gadget guy," Iger has also led Disney's charge to expand its content via technology—like ESPN in high-definition, ESPN phones, and in the works, Disney phones customized for families. (For the second year in a row, Disney topped FORTUNE's list of Most Admired media companies.) Like Eisner, Iger sees the company as a developer of content—"Disney's heart and soul," he says—rather than an owner of distribution platforms like cable systems and satellites. If Iger wins the CEO job, he will probably change Disney's centralized-management style. "We've got to find our entrepreneurial spirit again," he says. Unlike Eisner, the creative guru who tosses movie and theme-park ideas like bombs, Iger convenes executives from across the company and quietly urges them to trade ideas.

    Iger's advantages in the CEO race are his knowledge of Disney and his clean-cut, low-key image—the anti-Eisner. His other edge is that key rivals may not want the job. The board is known to be interested in Whitman, 48, but she insists she will stay at eBay. She doesn't want to move from Silicon Valley until her youngest son, now 16, goes off to college. Pressler, 48, who once ran Disney's theme parks, has told friends he'll stay at Gap, where he's under a lot of pressure to keep the turnaround on track. Iger's toughest rivals in this contest may be two media guys. One, Semel, says he would rather stay in Silicon Valley than go back to Hollywood (where he once ran Warner Bros.). "I'm flattered but not interested," he tells FORTUNE. But some say that's just talk. Semel, 61, still lives in Los Angeles and commutes to Yahoo weekly via private plane; plus he has a qualified CEO-in-waiting in Yahoo COO Dan Rosensweig. The other prime contender is News Corp. president Peter Chernin, 53. Blocked from the top job by Rupert Murdoch's children, Chernin is known to be interested in going to Disney. But he has a pay package that potentially awards him more than three times what Iger or Eisner made last year. That could be an issue for the Disney board, which is already under scrutiny for outrageous pay packages.

    At this point, here's how the contest stacks up: Three directors, including Eisner, support Iger. The other eight, to varying degrees, are open to the idea of an outsider infusing long-dysfunctional Disney with fresh blood. But keep in mind one thing this board agrees on: In a tossup—two candidates being equal—the insider beats the outsider. That would be Iger.

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    It's the Happiest Place for Us, Too

    Even though the words "Downtown Disney" may elicit thoughts of Mickey and friends, don't be fooled.

    They remain locked inside the Disneyland Resort and California Adventure Theme Park, just a few feet away.

    Downtown Disney has more of a grown-up feel to it, as it includes restaurants, live entertainment and much more.

    Believe it or not, it's a hot spot for college students who want to hang out during the evenings or earn a wage.

    You may still be wondering, "What is there for us college students to do?"

    Well, let me tell you.

    If you happen to be an avid sports fan or just like anything related to sports, then make your way down to the ESPN Zone where you will be greeted with a jumbo-sized TV.

    When it's the NBA playoff season, you will find a crowd of fans either sitting or standing in front of the ESPN Zone, staring up at the screen. It's better than watching the game on a small TV at home, right?

    Nicole LeDuc, a 20-year old hostess at ESPN Zone said, "Twenty- to thirty-five-year-olds is our main crowd."

    College students "mostly go to the bar and play games," she added.

    Anyone can find the bar on the left side of the restaurant and then go up the staircase to the second- floor game room, where someone can play hockey, ride a Harley Davidson and attempt to throw the game-winning touchdown at Sunday Night Football.

    The ESPN Zone offers discounts during college nights, too, on select months.

    Adjacent from the ESPN Zone is the AMC 12, where students can get tickets at a discounted price with their student ID.

    But the thing is, college students like to stay out past regular evening hours, and watching a late-night flick at Downtown Disney is impossible because the latest showings are at around 10 p.m.

    Perhaps the greatest incentive for our age group to venture out to Downtown Disney is the House of Blues.

    Olivia Catron, a 23-year-old box- office concierge for the House of Blues said that different age groups are attracted " [depending] on who the performer is."

    The House of Blues offers an array of artists like Chingy, Sugar Colt, Lisa Marie Presley and Unwritten Law, bringing in anyone from the high-school crowd to guys in their thirties who wear leather jackets.

    On Feb. 15, Mos Def performed at the House of Blues and brought in a number of college students.

    "They [college students] go more to shows than to the restaurant," Catron said.

    Friday and Saturday nights are the busiest for the House of Blues; things get "pretty crazy," Catron said.

    Now, to the restaurant portion of Downtown Disney.

    Ralph Brennan's Jazz Kitchen"offers New Orleans cuisine, and restaurant goers have the option to dine inside or outside in its wrought iron patio.

    The Rainforest Café puts parties in the heart of the jungle with replicas of real-life apes throughout the two-story restaurant and a rainstorm that routinely goes off every half-hour.

    The Catal Restaurant is another eatery located just further down the district. It offers Mediterranean food and has an open-air "UVA Bar" in the heart of Downtown Disney.

    Despite its countless restaurants we should not overlook the shops interspersed throughout Downtown Disney.

    If you feel like smelling something great, then walk into Illuminations, a popular candle shop.

    For young ladies who feel the need to buy a piece of jewelry, then head to Something Silver, which has amazing necklaces and earrings to purchase or look at.

    While the shops, restaurants and live entertainment carry grown-up appeal, this "downtown" nonetheless raises nostalgia, reminiscent of the "magic kingdom" with its themed aesthetic atmosphere and enormous "World of Disney" store.

    Admission is free, free, free! So even if you choose not to eat at a restaurant or watch a movie, Downtown Disney is still a lively place to stroll through at night.

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    ABC's 'The Bachelorette' uses Daufuskie Island & Breathe Spa as Romantic Backdrop of the Popular Series 

    Fans of ABC's popular hit TV reality show, "The Bachelorette" can now create their own "fantasy date" just like bachelorette Jen Schefft and bachelor Jerry recently experienced at the exclusive Daufuskie Island Resort & Breathe Spa.

    "We were excited to host Jen and Jerry and to participate in the show," says Gayle Bulls Dixon, founder of Breathe Spa. "A visit to a Breathe Spa forever changes peoples' expectations of the spa experience." Breathe signature products, similar to what the couple might have enjoyed, are now available at http://www.breathespa.com . Offerings available to turn your at home beauty routine and pampering into a true spa experience include:

    Meet My Family Special

    Breathe Spa Signature 100 percent cotton Robe with classic shawl collar adorned with the Breathe Spa logo, Zents Bath Salts and a Breathe handcrafted pillar candle featuring fragrances that invoke and inspire the senses with colors that complement any decor ($149).

    Kiss N' Tell

    Breathe Spa Signature Robe, $50 Gift Certificate for spa services or online purchases and Yoga Longevity DVD or VHS ($99).

    That's not all. The Breathe Spa on-line store has a host of additional products for the ultimate in pampering, relaxation and romance. The choices are endless.

    "We set the highest level of service you'll find in any spa, starting from the minute you arrive and are greeted by your own personal spa coordinator, who will stay with you through the duration of your visit," said Bulls Dixon.

    Breathe Spa is operated by the Breathe Spa Management Company (BSMC) which develops branded, full-service destination spas renowned for their impeccable service and individualized treatment programs, with services ranging from body treatments and massages to facials, hydrotherapy and specialty hand and foot treatments, among others.

    Current Breathe Spa locations include the Daufuskie Island Resort & Breathe Spa on Daufuskie Island, S.C., and the Hyatt Pinon Pointe in Sedona, Ariz.

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    ABC's "Blind Justice"

    From Steven Bochco, the award-winning producer of such critically acclaimed and popular series as "NYPD Blue" and "Hill Street Blues," comes the next generation of police drama -- "Blind Justice." Starring Ron Eldard ("ER," "The House of Sand and Fog"), "Blind Justice" chronicles the journey of Detective Jim Dunbar, an officer blinded in a shootout because of his partner's negligence. Refusing retirement after his injury, Dunbar instead fights to remain on the job, challenging preconceived stereotypes and conventional wisdom. Ultimately successful in his attempt to win reinstatement of his badge, Dunbar is assigned to a new precinct, where everyone says they respect his heroism, but where few are willing to accept him as an equal. "Blind Justice" premieres TUESDAY, MARCH 8 (10:00-11:00 p.m., ET) on the ABC Television Network.

    In the premiere episode, "Pilot," the newest victim of a serial killer is found brutally murdered. Detective Karen Bettancourt (Marisol Nichols), who had been working for eight months with Detectives Tom Selway (Reno Wilson) and Marty Russo (Frank Grillo) on the case, now finds herself re-assigned by the precinct's Lieutenant, Fisk (Michael Gaston), to partner with Dunbar on the investigation of a stolen car. Just as a resentful Bettancourt begins to think she's being completely marginalized in this new dynamic, Dunbar discovers that the stolen car may be connected with the string of murders.

    "Blind Justice" stars Ron Eldard as Detective Jim Dunbar, Marisol Nichols as Detective Karen Bettancourt, Rena Sofer as Christie Dunbar, Reno Wilson as Detective Tom Selway, Frank Grillo as Detective Marty Russo and Michael Gaston as Lieutenant Fisk.

    Guest-starring are Sonny Marinelli as Terry Jansen, John Centiempo as uniform, Christine Toy Johnson as reporter, Adam Kulbersh as reporter, Don Clark Williams as reporter, Kate Reinders as Kim Chenowith, John Michael Bolger as uniform, Eden Rountree as Paula Wheaton, Saul Rubinek as Alan Galloway, Guy Torry as Eddie, Shawn Doyle as Randy Lyman, Zhao Mao as Lo-Hop father and Deborah Teng as Lo-Hop daughter.

    "Pilot" story by Steven Bochco, Matt Olmstead and Nicholas Wootton, with teleplay by Nicholas Wootton and Matt Olmstead.

    "Blind Justice" is created by Steven Bochco along with Nicholas Wootton and Matt Olmstead. Bill Clark and John Badham also serve as executive producers. The series is produced by Steven Bochco Productions in association with Paramount Network Television for ABC.

    "Blind Justice" is broadcast in 720 Progressive (720P), ABC's selected HDTV format, with 5.1-channel surround sound and video description. This program contains partial nudity. Viewer discretion is advised. A TV parental guideline will be assigned closer to airdate.

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    Andrews is still top of the Poppins

    Mary Poppins star Laura Michelle Kelly said she could never replace her heroine Julie Andrews in the famous role - despite winning best actress at the Laurence Olivier Awards.

    Kelly, 23, has wowed audiences and critics alike with her performance as the magical nanny in Sir Cameron Mackintosh's £9 million West End production. She picked up the prize for best actress in a musical at the ceremony, held at the Hilton on Park Lane last night.

    Kelly, a devout Christian, left her Isle of Wight home as a teenager to pursue her dream of a West End career. She had roles in Whistle Down The Wind, My Fair Lady and the Broadway production of Fiddler On The Roof before landing the part of Mary Poppins, played in the Disney film by Andrews.

    She said: "I could never replace Julie Andrews, I'm a massive fan of hers. It really is a lot of responsibility taking over from someone who is my hero."

    Mary Poppins had been nominated for nine awards, but came away with just two - the other went to Matthew Bourne and Stephen Mear for best choreography.

    Mel Brooks' The Producers pipped it to the post with three awards, including best new musical.

    Its stars, Nathan Lane and Lee Evans, were up against one another for best actor in a musical.

    The prize went to Lane, who joined the cast as a last-minute stand-in for Richard Dreyfuss.

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    Laura Michelle Scoops Theatre Award

    Sandown stage star Laura Michelle Kelly has been named best musical actress in the Laurence Olivier Awards for her West End role as Mary Poppins.

    The Cameron Mackintosh and Disney production, which opened in December at the Prince Edward Theatre, also took the award for best choreography in a glittering ceremony at London's Park Lane Hilton on Sunday.

    The show, based on P. L. Travers' book, grossed £12 million in advance ticket sales before opening and brought the cast a ten-minute standing ovation on opening night.

    Former Sandown High School student and Stagecoach Theatre Group performer Laura Michelle, 23, turned down the lead in Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber's The Woman In White to take on the Mary Poppins role and was acclaimed by the Daily Mail as "better than the great Julie Andrews".

    Laura Michelle made her West End debut in Disney's Beauty And The Beast at 17 and starred in Lloyd Webber's Whistle Down The Wind at the Aldwych Theatre. She has also played in My Fair Lady, Peter Pan, Les Miserables and Mamma Mia on the London stage and made her Broadway debut in Fiddler On The Roof with Alfred Molina.

    In 2001, she became the first recipient of the BBC's Voice of Musical Theatre award.

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    ABC Family Orders Eight Episodes Of Original Scripted Series 'Beautiful People'

    ABC Family has ordered eight episodes of the original one-hour scripted series BEAUTIFUL PEOPLE (working title), it was announced today by Paul Lee, president, ABC Family. The series, from Sony Pictures Television, follows the highs and lows of two sisters and their mother as they move from a small town in New Mexico to New York City. The series will begin production Spring 2005 and is slated for a two-hour premiere in Summer 2005.

    "This is a great project, it's a smart coming-of-age story about two sisters who move from New Mexico to the big city – we think it'll be a great addition to ABC Family," said Paul Lee.

    "We are thrilled to be producing ABC Family's first original scripted series," said Zack VanAmburg, senior vice president, development and cable programming for Sony Pictures Television. "Based on the strength of Michael Rauch's script, the network has ordered eight episodes—a tremendous show of faith in his talents and commitment to the material."

    BEAUTIFUL PEOPLE is the fictional story of the Kerr family - three dynamic women in transitional periods of their lives. When Sophie receives a scholarship to attend a prestigious private school in New York, the girls convince their mother that they should all move to the city from their quiet hometown in New Mexico. Recently abandoned by her husband (who left his family for his secretary), 40-year-old Lynn Kerr is up for the challenge of not only becoming a single parent to Karen (18) and Sophie (16), but giving New York a try. Sophie quickly discovers that her new high school is not the easiest place to fit in. The school is ruled by a popular crowd of wealthy society kids known as Beautiful People, the BP's. Karen, an aspiring model, and Lynn, who gets a job in a dress shop, also find the city full of challenges, but with each other's support, all three women venture on a journey of self discovery.

    The series will be executive produced by Michael Rauch, who wrote the pilot, and Paul Stupin ("Dawson's Creek"). BEAUTIFUL PEOPLE will be produced by Sony Pictures Television.

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    IMAX showing some Colors

    Disneyland Paris - The Cinemas at the Disney Village have been a magnet to many local visitors. A new addition is now being build, an IMAX complex for super sized movie enjoyment. The next step is choosing some colors for the exterior of the new complex. With the Disney Studios just around the corner, it is no big surprise that the colors are being kept to the same feeling as the park itself.

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    "Oprah Winfrey Presents: Their Eyes Were Watching God,"

    "Oprah Winfrey Presents: Their Eyes Were Watching God," an adaptation of Zora Neale Hurston's literary classic starring Academy Award winning actress Halle Berry, will air as an "ABC Premiere Event," SUNDAY, MARCH 6 (9:00-11:30 p.m., ET) on the ABC Television Network.

    Based on the classic by Harlem Renaissance author Zora Neale Hurston, the film depicts the timeless, lyrical and passionate story of a beautiful and resilient woman's quest for love, sensual excitement and spiritual fulfillment, despite society's expectations of a woman of color in 1920s America. Ms. Berry stars as Janie Crawford, whose journey takes her through three marriages with very different men, and during which she experiences all that life has to offer, from tremendous success to unspeakable heartbreak.

    Starring along with Ms. Berry are Ruben Santiago-Hudson as Joe Starks, Michael Ealy as Tea Cake, Terrence Howard as Amos Hicks, Lorraine Toussaint as Pearl Stone, Nicki Micheaux as Pheoby Watson and Ruby Dee as Nanny.

    Darnell Martin ("I Like It Like That," "ER") directs from the teleplay written by Suzan-Lori Parks ("Topdog/Underdog") and Misan Sagay and Bobby Smith, Jr. Ms. Parks is the first African-American woman playwright to win the Pulitzer Prize.

    Harpo Films' Oprah Winfrey and Kate Forte (Emmy Award-winning "Oprah Winfrey Presents: Tuesdays with Morrie" and "Beloved") are executive producers. Quincy Jones is co-executive producer.

    This program carries a TV-14,S parental guideline.

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    VEA Airport Shuttle involved in Accident

    Disneyland Paris - In today's issue the French daily Le Parisien reports that one of the VEA airport shuttle buses was involved in a road accident on highway A104 yesterday around 11.00 am. According to the report the shuttle bus was on its way from Charles de Gaulle airport to the Disneyland Resort Paris when the accident occurred on the first leg of highway it took. When the bus had to break due to the cars in front of it slowing down, an Italian truck behind it was unable to react fast enough and rammed the bus, pushing it into another truck in front of the bus. Then a second truck drove into the accident-scene and pushed the Italian truck further against the bus. Le Parisien mentions that the Italian truck might have followed the shuttle bus slightly too close. One of the fifteen British guests on board of the shuttle bus was injured, as was the driver of the Italian truck and the bus driver, who was injured most verily but not life threatening. All three injured persons were taken to the hospital of Lagny-sur-Marne, as were the remaining 14 British guests on board of the shuttle, in their case for observation before being released again. It should be noted that guests on board of the VEA airport shuttles are asked to buckle up.

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    Nausicaä Of The Valley Of The Wind

    Buena Vista Home Video - Hayao Miyazaki's epic masterpiece! A thousand years after a great war, a seaside kingdom known as the Valley of the Wind is one of the only areas that remains populated. Led by the courageous Princess Nausicaä, the people of the Valley are engaged in a constant struggle with powerful insects called ohmu, who guard a poisonous jungle that is spreading across the Earth. Nausicaä and her brave companions, together with the people of the Valley, strive to restore the bond between humanity and the earth. The English language version of the film includes the voice talents of Alison Lohman ("Matchstick Men") as Nausicaä, Patrick Stewart ("X-Men;" "Star Trek: The Next Generation") as Lord Yupa, Uma Thurman ("Kill Bill" series) as Kushana, Chris Sarandon ("The Nightmare Before Christmas") as Kurotowa, Shia LeBeouf ("I, Robot") as Asbel, Edward James Olmos (TV's "American Family") as Mito and Mark Hamill ("Star Wars") as "Mayor of Pejite."

    NAUSICAÄ OF THE VALLEY OF THE WIND is written and directed by Hayao Miyazaki, one of the most celebrated filmmakers in the history of animation. This spectacular 2-disc set features exotic settings, stirring music and a timeless story about courage and compassion in the face of danger.

    First Time Ever On 2-Disc DVD Available On February 22, 2005. 2-disc DVD for $29.99 (S.R.P.).

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    Porco Rosso

    Buena Vista Home Video - Take flight with "Porco Rosso," a valiant World War I flying ace! From tropical Adriatic settings to dazzling aerial maneuvers, this action-adventure from world-renowned animator Hayao Miyazaki is full of humor, courage and chivalry.

    When "Porco" – whose face has been transformed into that of a pig by a mysterious spell – infuriates a band of sky pirates with his aerial heroics, the pirates hire Curtis, a comical rival pilot, to "get rid" of him. On the ground, the two pilots compete over the affections of Gina, a beautiful cabaret singer. But it is in the air, with Fio, a young and talented airplane engineer/designer, where Porco's true battles are waged. From its Mediterranean Sea settings to its dazzling aerial dogfights of amazing sweep and grace, PORCO ROSSO is an exhilarating ride you'll never forget.

    The English language version of this high-flying adventure features the voice talents of Michael Keaton ("Batman Returns," "White Noise") as Porco Rosso, Cary Elwes ("Ella Enchanted") as Donald Curtis, Susan Egan ("Spirited Away") as Gina, Kimberly Williams (TV's "According To Jim") as Fio, David Ogden Stiers ("Lilo & Stitch") as Grandpa Piccolo, and Brad Garrett (TV's "Everybody Loves Raymond") as Boss.

    First Time Ever On 2-Disc Dvd Available On February 22, 2005 2-disc DVD for $29.99 (S.R.P.).

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    The Cat Returns

    Buena Vista Home Video - From the creators of the Academy-Award–winning "Spirited Away" (Best Animated Feature, 2002) comes the visually stunning THE CAT RETURNS, a spectacular animated journey to a world of magic and adventure.

    Haru, a schoolgirl bored by her ordinary routine, saves the life of an unusual cat, and suddenly her world is transformed beyond anything she's ever imagined. Her good deed is rewarded with a flurry of presents, including gift-wrapped mice, and one very shocking proposal of marriage - to the Cat's King's son! Haru embarks on an unexpected journey to the Kingdom of Cats where her eyes are opened to a whole other world and her destiny is uncertain. To change her fate she'll need to learn to believe in herself, and in the process she will learn to appreciate her everyday life. THE CAT RETURNS is a magical animated adventure that will delight and inspire everyone.

    The English language version of THE CAT RETURNS features the voice talents of Anne Hathaway ("The Princes Diaries 2: Royal Engagement"), Cary Elwes ("Ella Enchanted"), Peter Boyle (TV's "Everybody Loves Raymond"), Elliott Gould ("Ocean's Eleven"), Andy Richter ("Elf"), Rene Auberjonois ("The Princess Diaries"), Tim Curry ("The Wild Thornberrys Movie"), Judy Greer ("The Village"), Andrew Bevis, Kristen Bell, Kristine Sutherland (TV's "Buffy The Vampire Slayer"), Katia Coe.

    First Time Ever On 2-Disc DVD Available On February 22, 2005 2-disc DVD for $29.99 (S.R.P.).

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    Cinderellabration  soft opening

    Walt Disney World - Cinderellabration is currently scheduled for soft opening on March 17 2005 at Magic Kingdom. Dates and times are always subject to change, and there is no guarantee that you will see the show until it officially opens.

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    Weinsteins agree to smaller Miramax budget

    The Weinstein brothers, co-chief executives of Walt Disney Co.'s Miramax Films unit, have agreed to a reduced Miramax budget, the New York Times said on Tuesday.

    The article said the Weinsteins have agreed to cut the unit's budget to less than $350 million for the year ending in September. That is about half of the $700 million the Weinsteins have been allowed to spend, the newspaper said.

    Disney and the Weinsteins have been locked in negotiations over whether to renew the brothers' contract when it expires on Sept. 30. The brothers are widely expected to leave the company they founded and form a new operation of their own.

    The Times article, citing people involved in the negotiations, said that in exchange for cutting the budget, the brothers will be able to begin production on films for the film company they are starting.

    A report in the Los Angeles Times said Disney plans to reshape Miramax into a financially restrained subsidiary, with a source telling the paper Miramax will operate "lean and mean".

    The Los Angeles Times said the new Miramax will have a staff of fewer than 50 and an annual budget of about $300 million. The paper said the Miramax division in recent years grew to nearly 500 staff.

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    Monday February 21, 2005


    Desperate Housewives (Impossible) 

    Mike Delfino is questioned about Mrs. Huber's murder; John's friend, Justin (guest star Ryan Carnes), attempts to blackmail Gabrielle with his knowledge of their affair; Tom wants a big promotion, but Lynette fears that she'd be home alone with the kids more than ever; and Bree is shocked when she finds a condom -- and even more so when she learns whom it belongs to. Meanwhile, Zach Young plans a pool party for the teens on Wisteria Lane, and things get out of hand.

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    Paris Hilton Celebrates Birthday At Disney World

    In this handout image provided by Walt Disney World, the Hilton family, (L-R) Conrad, Nicky, parents Kathy and Rick, Paris and Barron pose with Mickey Mouse at Walt Disney World Resort on February 19, 2005 in Lake Buena Vista, Florida. The Hilton family visited the resort in honor of Paris' birthday, which was February 17. Even with Mickey she has to strike a pose!

        

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    Peabody High band to march in Disney World parade
     
    Thirty-seven members of the Peabody Veterans Memorial High School marching band have played at football games, local parades and political events around Peabody.

    This April, they'll be in Orlando, Fla., marching down Walt Disney World's Main Street, U.S.A. as part of the park's daily parade.

    While that sounds like a pretty fun trip for the students, it's a lot more of a nod to their entire performance. Peabody's Director of Performing Arts, Stephen J. Baberadt Jr., explained that the application process is rigorous.

    The PVMHS marching band is much smaller than it was a decade back, when its sheer size attracted a brief flurry of media attention. Six years ago, Baberadt made the decision to eliminate requiring members of the school band to also be in the marching band. His reason for that choice was to improve the marching band. "I wanted to get the kids who wanted to march, marching, and the kids who only wanted to play in the band playing in the band."

    The result was exactly what Baberadt had hoped for - two musical bands that were top-notch, and being picked to be part of the parade, which has thousands of schools vying for the chance, is all the proof he needs.

    What Disney's criteria includes is music to be performed, marching routines, and even uniforms - if they aren't just right, the band could be great, but it isn't going to march in the parade. "So it's a big honor for us," Baberadt said.

    The biggest requirement Disney has when auditioning? No Disney songs. The marching band will perform it's own version of the Marilyn Monroe classic 'Diamonds are a Girl's Best Friend', which Baberadt describes as having a 'jazzy, marching band format'. That song was one of two that were on the audition tape sent to Disney when the Tanners began the long application process. "Disney is all about image, so everything has to be perfect. If they don't like one thing, they eliminate you."

    This isn't the first time that the Tanners have traveled to the Magic Kingdom in Orlando, Fla.Five years ago, the marching band was invited to play there, but at Epcot Center - not in the parade, which has much more rigorous standards a band must meet in order to be chosen.

    The trip isn't just about being in the parade. Disney will also run clinics for the musicians, including 'Your instrument', which shows them exactly what it is like to work as a professional musician for one of the media giant's movies or cartoons, in which music plays an enormous role; watching 'George of the Jungle' hit a tree while swinging on a vine would not have the same effect without the accompanying cymbal crash.

    During that clinic, students will experience exactly what a professional musician would. They enter a recording studio not knowing what music they will perform. At that point, without any time to rehearse, one of Disney's conductors whom they have never met, and the only one in the room who is seeing the movie as they perform the score - will lead them, speeding them up or slowing them down according to instructions he is receiving.

    "You really have to be ready to go," Baberadt said. "But the kids will love it.The last time we went, it was all anyone talked about for the entire weekend."

    The Color Guard will also attend a clinic called 'Auxiliaration', which will also show the members of that squad what they would experience in a professional setting.

    Another day of the four-day trip will be spent in preparation for the parade.

    It's not going to be all work and no play, though. After all, it's Disney World. "This trip has everything - education, clinics and recreation," Baberadt said. After spending the first two days in clinics and in preparation for the parade, the students will have two days in the park itself.

    Baberadt himself is looking forward to the time spent in the park, because he will be bringing his four children along - but not without a sacrifice. This week, which would normally be his vacation time, he'll be spending long hours working as a carpenter in Newton, which is usually reserved only for his summers to pay for the extra plane fares.

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    Sunday February 20, 2005


    Special Report: The end for Iger's Disney dreams?
     
    TERI HATCHER is hot. The 40-year-old actress is a magazine-cover star and a must-have guest on America's top talk shows, having just won a Golden Globe and a Screen Actors Guild award.

    She has been hot before. In the 1990s she played Lois Lane to Dean Cain's Clark Kent and was a Bond girl in Tomorrow Never Dies. But in recent years she described herself as a "has-been". Now she's back. And it's all thanks to Desperate Housewives, America's latest television sensation.

    It's not only her career that Housewives has resurrected. The show had its premiere on ABC, the American television network owned by The Walt Disney Company. Along with Housewives, ABC has another hit — Lost — about desert- island castaways whose fates are intertwined with an unseen menace.

    Not bad for a network usually described as "struggling" and whose last big hit was Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? ABC's poor ratings were a handicap for Disney's chief operating officer, Bob Iger, who was in charge of trying to improve the network's performance while fighting an even bigger battle for the succession to Disney's throne.

    Now, however, ABC is on the up, and Disney — after a shareholder revolt last year against Michael Eisner, its veteran and combative chief executive — is back on a roll; its shares have doubled from a low in 2002.

    So is Iger back in the frame for one of the world's most sought-after media jobs when Eisner steps down next year? He certainly looks the part of a media mogul. A 53-year-old Porsche-driving triathlete, Iger is known to rise as early as 4.30am for workouts. But his accession is by no means assured.

    Long overshadowed by Eisner, he has yet to win over Disney investors. Members of the board are considering outside candidates for the succession and, while they make up their minds, they have some hot new reading material.

    Disney Wars, a 572-page description of the "civil war" at Disney, is this weekend's Hollywood must-read. Out in Britain next month, the book has been released early in America after a copy was leaked. Written by James Stewart, a prize-winning investigative journalist, it paints an unflattering picture of Iger just when he needs it least.

    It was to be expected that the book would savage Eisner. He is one of the most hated people in Hollywood, and lost a series of talented Disney executives. But for insiders, it is the damning portrait of Iger that is causing the greatest stir.

    One Hollywood executive scoffed: "The book basically says Iger was the least threatening deputy to Eisner. What sort of qualification is that? I think it could have a serious impact on his chances."

    The book also claims that neither Eisner nor Iger was an early fan of ABC's hit new shows. Iger, the book claims, wanted ABC executives to kill off Lost. On a scale of one to 10, one being the worst, Eisner gave Lost a two.

    Disney loyalists are furious, arguing that much of the book is based on hearsay and the opinion of bitter ex-employees. "We remain focused on excellent results, performance and a bright future, not a one-sided depiction of past events largely told through the eyes of those with a clear bias and personal agendas," the company stated.

    Much of Disney War's impact comes from reopening old wounds. In 1996, as Eisner prepared to dump Michael Ovitz, who until then had been regarded as his heir apparent, he poured out his feelings about possible successors to two board members, Irwin Russell and Ray Watson.

    It would be "catastrophic" if Ovitz were to succeed, wrote Eisner. If he had to choose anyone, it would be Iger, because "he will not get the company into trouble. He is a corporate executive. He is not an enlightened or a brilliantly creative man but, with a strong board, he absolutely could do the job."

    Eisner then went on to call Iger's management of two other executives "stupid and weak" and to suggest that Iger's authority should be curbed with spending limits on movies and television shows. Iger seemed aware of Eisner's ambivalence. When Eisner suggested elevating him to president, Iger said: "Are you sure? You seem to be hot and cold on me," Stewart says.

    In Hollywood these are well- told tales. Perversely, however,Eisner's ambivalence could be a good thing for Iger, helping to distance him from his boss. The doubts the book casts on Iger's contribution to ABC's success may be far more damaging.

    Iger's detractors say that the success of Housewives and Lost was due to two key talents he got rid of: ABC's former chairman, Lloyd Braun, and its president, Susan Lyne.

    Relations between Braun and Iger were never warm, the book says. In November 2003, Iger asked Braun to dinner. Braun arrived with a list of complaints he had discussed with Lyne. Iger refused to shake his hand.

    "I hope you're up for this," the book claims Iger said, "because I'm going to let you have it. This is the most dysfunctional relationship I've ever had. You don't respect me. You don't like me. It's unacceptable." Braun said: "Really? Well, maybe you need to know why. Do you want to know?" "Yeah," Iger replied. Braun, the book says, let him have it: "Lack of character; incompetence; taking credit for things you had nothing to do with; and running away from decisions you made."

    Braun gave specific allegations in each category, according to Stewart, and said that Iger deserved little or no credit for ABC's few successes. Iger was so angry that he gestured with his arm, hit a passing waiter carrying coffee, spilling it down his shirtfront, ruining his tie. They left without eating.

    Braun survived the confrontation, and last year he and Lyne were granted authority to approve ABC's schedule. Now ABC is in the ascendant but both have left the company, pushed out by Iger.

    They are far from alone in leaving Disney. It lost a stellar cast of executives during Eisner's tenure, including: Steve Burke, now president of Comcast; Paul Pressler, now chief executive of Gap; Steve Bollenbach, now chairman of Hilton Hotels; Meg Whitman, now eBay's president and chief executive; and Jeffrey Katzenberg, now chief executive of DreamWorks Animation.

    Some of those names now appear on the list of likely Eisner successors. Another often-mentioned candidate is Peter Chernin, president and chief operating officer of News Corporation, ultimate owner of The Sunday Times. He recently ruled out a move and signed a new contract with News Corp.

    Others include Yahoo chief executive Terry Semel; Time Warner entertainment and networks chief Jeffrey Bewkes; and Viacom co-presidents Les Moonves and Tom Freston. All have been incentivised by their companies to stay put.

    In his battle against outsiders, Iger is leaving nothing to chance. In the last three months he has met most of Disney's largest shareholders to explain its growth prospects and to tout his future strategy, including a stronger push into foreign markets such as India and China.

    In Orlando, Florida, home of the Disney World theme park, Iger said: "Sometimes I feel like I'm a contestant in a reality show that probably would be called The Apprentice Survivor Millionaire," referring to three "reality TV" programmes.

    He has three months, at most, to see off the competition. His contract expires in September this year. The board has said it will make a decision by June, and Iger reportedly wants to know by spring whether he is in line to get the job.

    Big shareholders such as Roy Disney, nephew of Walt, and Stanley Gold are lobbying against his appointment but media analysts reckon their power is waning. The guessing now rests on how much impact DisneyWars will have and how much lingering impact Iger will suffer from his ambiguous relationship with Eisner.

    At this time last year, the fact that Eisner favoured him was damaging Iger's chances.

    Once Disney's saviour, Eisner's 20-year reign at the Magic Kingdom appeared to be ending in bitter recrimination. Knockers argued that Disney's creative juices were drying up. Eisner had also fallen out with two of Disney's most respected collaborators, Apple Computers' boss Steve Jobs, whose Pixar studio created Finding Nemo and The Incredibles, and Harvey Weinstein, co-founder of Miramax, which has 20 Oscar nominations this year, including best picture for The Aviator.

    Shareholders were baying for Eisner's blood. He looked sure to be hounded out of office by angry shareholders led by Roy Disney and Gold, a former Disney director. At a raucous shareholder meeting, 43% of investors withheld support for Eisner as Disney chairman. Cable giant Comcast launched a bid for Disney claiming that its management was far more capable of running the Magic Kingdom. It was not a good time to be Eisner's protégé.

    A year on, everything has changed. Comcast's bid collapsed and Disney is coming back strong. The recovery has been fuelled by DVD sales of Finding Nemo and Pirates of the Caribbean, Disney's ever impressive ESPN sports channel and returning numbers at its theme parks. Even the much maligned EuroDisney is now a solid, growing business.

    Rival media executives argue Disney's problems are far from over. Giant rivals such as Time Warner, Viacom and News Corp all own distribution channels on cable and satellite TV. Disney is a provider of content at a time when distribution companies are in the driving seat.

    Privately they say that Iger, an insider's insider, is not the man to push Disney to the next level. He has three months to try to prove them wrong.

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    Former 20K walls coming down

    The walls at the former 20k Leagues Under the Sea are starting to go down and Pooh's 100 acre woods are beginning to show.

      

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    NBA to Begin TV Extension Talks With Disney, Turner, Stern Says 

    The National Basketball Association will begin negotiations to extend its broadcast contracts after it reaches a new labor contract with players as soon as next month, Commissioner David Stern said.

    The league's six-year, $4.6 billion television agreements with Time Warner Inc.'s TNT and Walt Disney Co.'s ABC and ESPN expire after the 2007-08 season.

    ``We want to extend with our partners,'' Stern said at a media breakfast with Turner Sports President David Levy prior to today's All-Star Game in Denver. ``I'm sizing up David's pockets.''

    TNT pays $2.2 billion for its portion of the contract, while Disney pays $2.4 billion.

    The executives also said that, beginning next season, Turner would produce and distribute NBA TV, the league's owned-and- operated network, in full-time high definition from its Atlanta- based headquarters. NBA TV currently originates from the league's entertainment complex in Secaucus, New Jersey.

    As part of the deal, Time Warner increased its 11 percent equity stake in NBA TV, which carries regular-season and playoff games. Neither Stern nor Levy would say how much of the network the world's largest media company owns now or how much it's worth.

    Turner has telecast the NBA for 21 years. Disney replaced General Electric Co.'s outlets prior to the 2002-03 season.

    Stern said it makes sense for the league to remain with Time Warner and Disney, the second-biggest U.S. media company, because both companies can help the league grow internationally.

    On that front, Stern said three NBA teams that he didn't name would conduct their training camps in separate European cities next season. They would play each other and against Euroleague teams as part of the exhibition schedule.

    The league and the players union will stage five straight days of negotiations next week. Stern and union Executive Director Billy Hunter said they're optimistic an agreement would be reached before the end of the regular season on April 20.

    The labor contract expires on June 30.

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    Eisner vs. Everyone

    With Disney already airing enough of its dirty laundry to supply one of Christo's works of art, it's a wonder that author James B. Stewart could find much to add for his new tome, Disney War. That he did is a testament both to the former Wall Street Journal editor's prodigious skills--and to longtime Disney CEO Michael Eisner's Machiavellian rule over the Magic Kingdom.

    In a juicy and often irresistible tale of corporate scheming, back-stabbing, and betrayal, Stewart chronicles Eisner's two-decade-long power trip at Disney and his seemingly pathological need to kill off every strong executive who might succeed him as he edges closer to retirement. And like one of Disney's famous character parades, all of Hollywood's brand-name elite are there, including Barry Diller, Jeffrey Katzenberg, and Michael Ovitz as well as a load of Hollywood stars and entertainment-industry powers.

    The corporate catfights (Eisner vs. everyone) and courtroom battles (Eisner vs. Ovitz; Eisner vs. Katzenberg) are delicious. But with a betrayal on nearly every page, less Disney-obsessed readers might begin to suffer battle fatigue. That said, the book is an interesting and exhaustive--if unflattering--look at one of America's most influential CEO's.

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    ABC News special raises questions about paying for interview

    ABC News said it didn't pay for interviews on this week's Michael Jackson special - but some of the subjects were paid nonetheless.

    The news program, "Michael Jackson's Secret World," contained interviews conducted for a British documentary on Jackson that aired in that country earlier this year. ABC paid for the U.S. rights to the film, and the British producers paid for some of the interviews.

    At least one of ABC's competitors said it was interested in the documentary, but the arrangement left its executives uncomfortable.

    "We screened it," said Susan Zirinsky, executive producer of CBS's "48 Hours Mysteries." "We decided as a network news organization not to make a bid, because as a news program, the paid participation was a problem for us."

    ABC News spokesman Jeffrey Schneider emphasized the network made no payments of its own to sources and disclosed the arrangement to viewers.

    "It is a common practice in Britain to compensate interview subjects," he said. He would not say who was paid or how much, but said appearance fees were generally less than $1,000.

    A spokesman for Tiger Aspect, the British producers, referred all questions to ABC News.

    ABC put "Tiger Aspect" on the corner of the screen during interviews with subjects including LaToya Jackson, Michael's sister; biographer J. Randy Taraborrelli; journalists Maureen Orth and Diane Dimond; actor Emmanuel Lewis; and Terry George, a British man who claimed Jackson had phone sex with him more than 20 years ago. ABC correspondent Martin Bashir also interviewed George.

    Schneider would not say what ABC paid for rights to air portions of the documentary. Someone familiar with such rights negotiations predicted it was more than a half million dollars.

    Paying news subjects for interviews is generally frowned upon in the United States, and ABC is among the news organizations that has a policy against it.

    "We are certainly very wary of using material that involves payment for interviews," said Bill Wheatley, NBC News vice president, who was unaware of whether NBC had been approached about the footage. "Anytime you pay for an interview, you run the risk that the interviewee is in effect performing, rather than telling an honest story, to get payment."

    In a note to viewers at the beginning of the two-hour show, ABC News explained the arrangement. "Some of the individuals who appeared in that (British) documentary received compensation ... No payment was made for any of the interviews conducted by Martin Bashir and ABC News," the network said.

    ABC News checked all of the documentary's interview subjects for errors and obtained the full transcripts of interview portions that weren't aired in Britain, Schneider said.

    "I am certain that the AP picked up quotations from the documentary and relayed those quotes on the wire," Schneider said. "Is that not an analogous situation?" (There's no evidence The Associated Press used material from these interviews).

    Generally, news organizations should not pay for interviews unless the news is compelling and can't be obtained any other way, said Aly Colon, a media ethics expert at the Poynter Institute. Whether or not this situation fit the bill, it's important that ABC made the situation clear to viewers, he said.

    But he said the arrangement still raised questions.

    "The only difference in my view is that they didn't stick their hand into the mud," Colon said. "They let someone else do it."

    Ethical standards can sometimes get murky when television news organizations are competing for interviews. Morning news shows won't pay for interviews, for instance, but they may pay for a trip to New York and a hotel stay for interview subjects.

    A CBS News executive was criticized in 2003 for pitching former prisoner of war Jessica Lynch for an interview and mentioning potential opportunities offered by sister units of Viacom-owned CBS News, including MTV networks, publisher Simon & Schuster and CBS entertainment.

    The Jackson special was the biggest splash yet for Bashir, hired from British TV last year to help ABC News stay competitive in the race for big interviews with Barbara Walters' semi-retirement. When ABC aired Bashir's interview with Jackson during the February ratings sweeps two years ago, it was seen by 27 million people.

    Interest in the pop star has obviously waned. Thursday's special drew only 8.8 million viewers, leaving ABC a distant third to CBS and NBC in the time slot, according to Nielsen Media Research.

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    ToT Construction

    Disneyland Paris - The installation of the four towering cement-tanks surely was the final signal that now the construction for the Tower of Terror in the Walt Disney Studios is moving ahead at full-steam. Now a unique photo of the construction site reveals: most of the work so far has taken place in the rear section and seems to have been for the temporary construction-structures, but the heavy equipment is in place already as well as steel elements for the future construction.

                                    

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    Exposing the sorcerer behind Disney's magic, DisneyWar offers critique of Eisner's tenure

    As much as you may hate your boss, it could be worse.

    You could be working for Michael D. Eisner. Eisner, the long-embattled chief executive of Walt Disney Co., serves as the de facto protagonist of "DisneyWar," a sweeping history of the past 20 years of the Disney company's life by James B. Stewart, author of investigative blockbusters like "Blood Sport" and "Den of Thieves."

    Whether you find Disney a symbol of childhood magic or the apotheosis of promotional greed, you're likely to find "DisneyWar" an engrossing story of human foibles running amok in one of the world's most famous workplaces. And amid the ego-crazed backstabbers in this book, Eisner has no rival.

    A producer of both hit movies and profits at the Paramount studios in his 30s, Eisner was brought in by Walt Disney's nephew, Roy, and allies as a turnaround chief executive when the company was floundering in 1984.

    Eisner quickly proved his worth, making a series of cheap, high-gross movies like "Down and Out in Beverly Hills" that jump-started Disney's profits and stock performance. Eisner also forged the Pixar animation studios partnership that yielded megahits like "Toy Story."

    But for all the good he did Disney in his early years, as Stewart shows, Eisner rapidly revealed himself to be a dishonest megalomaniac. His ability to turn friends into enemies has been extraordinary. It also exposed Disney to eye-popping payouts to top executives Eisner brought in, then pushed out: a $140 million golden parachute for Michael Ovitz, a $280 million arbitrated payoff for Jeffrey Katzenberg.

    By 2003, Roy Disney, the same person who brought in Eisner in the first place, was leading the shareholder revolt to oust him. Astonishingly, Stewart reveals that three-quarters of the people who work for Eisner voted to sack him.

    In a book whose main fault is being more thorough than brisk, Stewart captures the chief executive in rich nuance. "Eisner is intelligent, charming and funny," Stewart writes, but there's plenty of boss-from-hell dark side: "An inability to delegate, a frequent failure to acknowledge the achievements of others, his pitting of one executive against another, his encouragement of a culture of spying and back-channeling."

    Eisner cooperated in several interviews with Stewart, but he is so "reckless with the truth" that Stewart warns that Eisner cannot be relied on, especially given the many "major omissions and inaccuracies" in his version of stories that Stewart already had from other sources.

    The former Wall Street Journal Page 1 editor has produced a rigorously reported account that pulls no punches. But this hard-boiled newsman's heart holds a soft spot for Disney, and he frets for the company's future.

    In his years of reporting, Stewart's copious research included a stint serving as the person inside the Goofy costume one morning at Disney World. He's a believer. "Once you've seen those children's faces," Stewart writes of the effect of Disney magic seen through the mouth of Goofy, "nothing else seems quite the same."

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    Saturday February 19, 2005


    Disney, Seoul Deny Report of Agreement to Build Theme Park
     
    Walt Disney Co. and Seoul city officials denied a South Korean newspaper report that they reached tentative agreement to build a theme park in the capital.

    Disney plans to build a theme park, hotel and other entertainment facilities on a 3.2 million square-meter (790 acre) site south of Seoul, a Dong-A Ilbo report said, citing unidentified city officials.

    "While Korea is a potentially attractive market, we have no agreement to announce," said Disney spokeswoman Michele Nachum in a statement sent by e-mail.

    Seoul municipal spokesman Choi Nak Bong also denied the report. "As far as we know, there have been no such agreement," Choi said. "I don't know where that report is coming from."

    Disney, the second-biggest U.S. media company, is planning to open a theme park in Hong Kong this year and another in Shanghai after 2010. Its Tokyo park is currently the only Disneyland in Asia.

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    Disney to expand netservices

    Perhaps kids cannot take their eyes off from watching Mickey Mouse and his friends, or wait anxiously for the next scene from the Legend Of Tarzan. But now, these comic characters will not be restricted to kids alone. They would soon appear on mobile handsets and their voices would be heard in the form of ringtones. Besides being a prominent player in the kids entertainment segment, the $30-billion Walt Disney Television International-India (WDTVI-I), known for its Disney brand of cartoon characters and other icons, is upbeat on new services. The company is working with internet service providers (ISPs) for offering customised broadband services in the country.

    Rajat Jain, managing director, WDTVI-I, elaborated, "We are working on the business opportunities avaiable through the 40-50 million mobile phones spread over a period of time. Perhaps, we can tap this offer through the wireless media." However, he did not divulge the timing of this offer, as the modalities are still being worked out.

    "We are seriously thinking about expanding our presence in the internet and broadband space in India," he said. This would include providing movies on mobile phones, offering ringtones, etc, he added. The company is also upbeat about its publishing business as there is a significant opportunity in the children's education sector.

    Earlier, announcing Toon Disney, India's first 24-hour Telugu language kids channel, Jain said that India is the first market in the Asia-Pacific region to introduce a Toon Disney channel. As there is a tremendous business opportunity waiting to be tapped in India's vast TV viewing population. "WDTVI-I is committed towards its viewers and has localised its channel initially in the south," he added.

    With over 1,800 episodes dubbed in Telugu for the first year, Toon Disney will significantly enhance age-appropriate viewing options for kids in their native language.

    With a library of universal comic characters, the company is working on strategies for Indian stories as well and hopes to launch the Hindi Toon Disney channel by October 2005.

    It had launched a 24-hour Tamil Toon Disney channel earlier.

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    Magic Kingdom Hub Opening Slowly

    The hub at the Magic Kingdom has begun to open and some walls are coming down. The Partners Statue is now visible but, see if you can find what's missing.

      

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    Land reopening delayed

    Epcot - Disney has moved the reopening of the Land pavilion from April 1 to April 6 2005.

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    Universal Website has Disney comparison chart

    "Fairy tales and pixie dust" not your thing? But compare us to Disney...PLEASE!
    I find this very pathetic on the part of Universal. It's bad enough with all the commercials and Universal employees making jokes when they see you with a Disney shirt, but this is just pathetic.

    LINK

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    Small World reopening date

    Magic Kingdom - It's A Small World is now set to reopen to guests on 19th march 2005 after its extensive rehab.

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    Disney dolls for 'hina' festival

    On March 3, Japanese families with girls celebrate the "hina matsuri" or Girls Festival. On this day, parents set up a shrine featuring displays of traditional Japanese dolls and prepare special food.

    For this festival, Disney has prepared Mickey and Minnie Hina Ningyo (dolls) in traditional Japanese kimono. The dolls are made of ceramics just like the real classic dolls. It's a good gift for girls or Disney enthusiasts.

    Hina Ningyo, Disney
    3,990 yen

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    Friday February 18, 2005


    NASCAR to feature Disney goods at 2005 events

    Mickey Mouse and his friends will help NASCAR kick off the Daytona 500 on Feb. 20 at the Daytona International Speedway in Florida as part of a racing-themed merchandising program to be showcased at several upcoming NASCAR events in 2005.

    This marks the second year Disney characters and merchandise have been featured at NASCAR events.

    Karen Mell, director of brand management with International Speedway Corp., says that's because "of all the special event programs that ISC has participated in, the Disney program has been the most successful in terms of building awareness and product sales."

    At the Daytona 500, six wrapped Monte Carlo cars featuring Mickey, Minnie, Donald, Daisy, Goofy and Big Bad Wolf will be prominently featured throughout the speedway. The Disney cars will also have the honor of performing a lap prior to the singing of the National Anthem.

    Meanwhile, at the Daytona International Speedway's 10,000-square-foot retail center a special Disney store will be open, and a 50-foot Disney trailer will be on-site for fans to purchase merchandise.

    The Disney characters and merchandise then will head to the California Speedway for Auto Club 500 and additional NASCAR events across the country.

    Among the Disney-related merchandise to be featured at the NASCAR events: everything from apparel to die-cast replica cars featuring Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, Donald Duck, Daisy Duck, Goofy and Big Bad Wolf. The merchandise will be sold at special Disney-themed stores throughout NASCAR events.

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    ABC ready to cash in on homegrown megahits 'Housewives,''Lost' 

    The Walt Disney Co. bought ABC so it could profit from both making and broadcasting the network's hits.

    Nine years later, the deal is finally paying off.

    After a long run of modest hits and disappointing flops, ABC stands to make hundreds of millions of dollars on advertising, syndication and DVD revenue from "Desperate Housewives" and "Lost," two of this season's top-rated programs. The shows are the work of Touchstone Television, Disney's TV studio, and are its first hits since "Home Improvement" in 1991.

    Disney and other media giants have been hungry for such homegrown megahits since the government lifted regulations a decade ago that kept networks from owning the programs they broadcast. Under the old rule, shows were produced and owned by studios that licensed them to networks; studios collected money from the licensing fees and in some cases syndication, while networks kept revenue from advertising.

    The change helped networks boost their earnings and triggered a rush of consolidation with the Hollywood studios that make TV programs. It was a major reason behind the merger last year of NBC and Universal, which makes the network's popular "Law and Order" shows. It also led Disney to buy Capital Cities/ABC in 1996.

    "The media companies have wanted this all along," said Paul Kim, an analyst with Tradition Asiel Securities.

    Independent TV producers have complained that the change would make it nearly impossible for them to compete with the major studios. But media companies including Disney said the consolidation was necessary given the rising costs of making shows.

    Like many entertainment companies, Disney had long been in the business of producing TV programs, including past hits such as "Ellen" and "The Golden Girls."

    Now, with Touchstone producing most of ABC's new shows, Disney said it stands to make nearly $1 billion from its two new hits along with the Jennifer Garner spy drama "Alias" and soon-to-be syndicated sitcoms such as "According to Jim" and "My Wife and Kids."

    The success was a long time coming for Touchstone, which has stumbled with ratings flops such as the 2001 Jason Alexander vehicle "Bob Patterson."

    "You have to remember, when the consolidation of ABC Primetime and Touchstone occurred, it in essence became almost a startup company," said Mark Pedowitz, president of Touchstone. "We were starting from scratch. The inventory was old inventory."

    Touchstone has had some success in the past few years, producing "Scrubs" for NBC and "Alias." But for the most part, it churned out dramas and comedies that just didn't catch fire with viewers.

    It did famously develop the megahit "Crime Scene Investigation" only to see Disney sell its stake in the show after deciding it wasn't worth the financial risk. The franchise has since helped propel CBS to the top of the primetime ratings.

    Touchstone's fortunes changed last fall with the debuts of "Desperate Housewives" and "Lost." The studio also produces "Kevin Hill," a modest ratings success on UPN.

    "We've become hot," Pedowitz said. "We took chances and we'll still take chances. My point of view is, within some restraint, put it on the screen and let the viewer determine if it will work or not."

    ABC decided to produce the primetime soap opera "Desperate Housewives" even after the concept was rejected by other networks.

    "They had nothing to lose," said Harold Vogel, an analyst with Vogel Capital Management. "At the same time, competing shows begin to get tired."

    But challenges remain for Touchstone, including keeping its new hits around long enough to reach syndication with at least 100 shows. And there's no guarantee that its other shows will automatically make it to ABC's schedule. With the network rebounding, outside producers are anxious to sell their shows to ABC.

    "When you get this job, you get an immediate objectivity, which is, 'I want the best stuff,'" ABC Entertainment president Steve McPherson said. "We've got to be in business with everyone."

    McPherson moved to ABC last year from Touchstone, where he helped develop this year's network hits.

    Touchstone's success has led to a flurry of award nominations for its shows and a number of high-profile deals with writers and actors who want to develop shows for the studio. Recently, David James Elliott, star of the CBS show "JAG," said he would leave the show at the end of the season and develop new projects with ABC and Touchstone.

    Pedowitz has gotten credit for aiding the turnaround. After handling business and legal affairs at Touchstone, he became head of the company last year.

    "While the specifics of his job may have shifted, he's finding his footing," said J.J. Abrams, who created "Alias" and is co-creator of this year's hit show "Lost."

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    Euro Disney capital increase oversubscribed

    Theme park operator Euro Disney, owner of the troubled attraction east of Paris, said Friday that oversubscription of its share issue was evidence of optimism for the future of the group.

    The debt-ridden company, which has had to restructure its finances twice since being launched in the early 1990s, said its EUR 253.3 million (USD 331million) capital increase had been nine-percent oversubscribed.

    The appetite for the new shares "demonstrates investors' confidence in the future of the group", the company said.

    Euro Disney shares rose by 7.69 percent to EUR 0.14 in early trading on an overall Paris market that was up 0.03 percent at 4,006.21.

    The plan to issue
    2.8 billion new shares at EUR 0.09 per share to raise crisis cash was approved by shareholders at the company's annual general meeting in December.

    The Walt Disney Company, which owns 39 percent of the group, agreed to underwrite 1.11 billion of the new shares, and Saudi Prince Al Walid was to take 217.3 million shares.

    The company had been struggling to service its EUR 2.4 billion debt burden for more than a year, and agreed a new deal with its creditors amid concern that the group might have been declared insolvent.

    The cash raised from the share issue will allow the company to continue trading and will also be used to develop the Disneyland Resort in Marne-la-vallee, near Paris, in a bid to reverse declining visitor numbers.

    "We look forward to an exciting future as we begin an unprecedented, multi-year expansion of our resort offering," Andre Lacroix, Euro Disney chairman, said in a statement.

    "In April, we will witness the launch of Space Mountain: Mission 2, followed by our Summer Magic Celebration honoring the 50th Anniversary of The Disneyland Resort in California.

    "Each of the years 2006, 2007 and 2008 will bring even more rides and attractions to our resort," he said.

    The company has warned, however, that it will record losses for at least the next couple of years.

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    Discoveryland Music

    As reported earlier this week already there is a new background music playing around the fountains at the entrance of Discoveryland, which have fully returned from their rehab now - including new lighting effects at night and new and rehabed speakers. Against originally impressions the new, more "synth" and "ethereal" music might be a replacement loop for David Tolley's work a longer listening has revealed that the new music loop is only played in the closest surrounding of the fountains to supplement the still used loop by David Tolley, such setting the fountain area apart from the remainder of the land. In fact the music might not be so much of a new feature but maybe even an old feature from the opening days that finally got reinstated.

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    Work in Progress - Week 7

    The Disneyland Resort Paris is an eternal work in progress. So here is the current report on some of the ongoing construction projects: at Lake Disney work is progressing right now to install the platform on Lake Disney for the Panoramagique balloon which will take up to 30 guests 100 meter into the air for a great bird's eye view of the resort and the surrounding landscape as far as 20 km away. The basic frame of the platform is already visible. Inside the Disneyland Park in the meantime rehab-crews have returned to Main Street, U.S.A. This time their scaffoldings have been erected in front of the facade of a part of Casey's Corner, facing toward the meet'n'greet area for Mickey Mouse (on the top left of the Main Street). In Discoveryland in the meantime visible progress is hard to come by - nothing new from the exterior of Space Mountain: Mission 2 and barely visible changes in the Visionarium area, where the letters over the mural Timekeeper are now gone. The turning Visionarium-sign in front of the building is still peaking over the fence, though, but deconstruction has started here too. After the columns of the building on ground level have been covered by protective plywood to avoid damage by the heavier equipment moving around in the area, all of the planters and concrete (seating) blocks behind the fence have been taken out leaving a flat floor. Also while the top of the Visionarium sign seems unchanged, the panels covering the main body of the sign have already been taken off. 

      

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    Tickets going Topsy, Turvy

    The ticket-sellers are going topsy, turvy for this year's Kids' Carnival season ... and this means even more fun for the guests as they not only get to enjoy the special entertainment in the Disneyland Park with Ariel and their friends from under the sea as well as with the Disney Characters from the jungle and the savannah. but are also treated to a discounted ticket price!

    Till Sunday March 6th the one day two park hopper-passport is available for 39,- Euro. Which means: 39,- Euro for children or adults! Or in other words: to give all adults an excuse to join the raving parties of the Kids' Carnival they can get the one day Park-Hopper-Passport for the childrens price (which equals a 10,- Euro discount). So there is no excuse left not to party along now.

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    Disney puts accent on fun
     
    It was on the second day of our trip to Disneyland Resort Paris that the subject of relocation was first broached: "Dad, can we live here?"

    When you're 3 years old and holding hands with Minnie Mouse, it must seem like a reasonable request. Now, if that question is posed in Orlando the best a kid can hope for is, "We'll see." But drop that one on the folks when you're on the outskirts of Paris and you never know.

    And that fact alone is reason enough to visit Monsieur Mouse and the rest of the Disney gang in France. Not only do you fulfill every kid's dream of going to Disney, but you can organize a few days in Paris on the side. And for kids, Paris is definitely the side dish to Disney's main course.

    Disneyland Resort Paris, or Euro Disney as it's still more commonly known, opened in the spring of 1992. Less than half the size of its American cousin in Florida, the resort features two theme parks — Disneyland Park and Walt Disney Studios Park — a Disney Village of shops, restaurants and live entertainment, a golf course, and seven on-site theme hotels. There are four more hotels within the resort and nine more Disney-approved hotels nearby. If you are staying in Paris, the Metro (RER line A to Marne La Vallée/Chessy) will drop you at the front gates in 35 minutes.

    Three full days will allow you to see just about everything at Disney. Staying at the resort is definitely the way to go if you plan on multiple-day visits to the parks. Some of the hotels are within walking distance and free shuttle buses operate at all of the resort's hotels.

    Disneyland Park is the place to start, featuring all the usual Disney fare, with a French accent to boot. There's Main Street U.S.A., Sleeping Beauty's Castle, rides, parades, Disney characters like Blanche Neige wandering about and live shows sprinkled with enough words in enough languages to keep everyone in the picture. It's all very charming. Make sure to utilize the Fast Pass tickets that are free and available at many of the most popular rides. The Fast Pass system enables you to pre-book rides and move to the front of the line at designated times — the availability window is usually about 15 minutes. This lets you take in the sights at your leisure and still gets you and the kids on enough rides to keep everyone happy.

    The Princess Parade and Disney Fantillusion parade, which signals the end of the day for many families with young children, should not be missed.

    The Walt Disney Studios Park tends to be much quieter and provides foot-weary parents with a chance to sit back in comfortable theatres and take in a show or two. The Animagique and CineMagique productions are excellent and the Studio Tram Tour produces plenty of high-pitched screaming. The kids like it, too.

    After a farewell hug from Mickey, mouse ears in position and helium balloons tied to the luggage, we take the shuttle to the station for the short trip to Paris.

    One of the smarter things we did on our trip was booking apartments in each city we visited rather than hotels. While it's hard to beat the allure of that little gem in the Latin Quarter a friend may have told you about, when you are travelling with small children a kitchen and fridge can be a godsend after a long day of sightseeing.

    The Citadines chain has plain but immaculate apartments all over Paris, with fully-equipped kitchens and laundry facilities. Most are a little pricier than small hotels, but you save elsewhere by not having to eat all your meals in restaurants. Our routine consisted of lunch in a sidewalk café and dinner at the apartment after a stop at the local grocer on the way home. Our girls, 5 and 3, loved the cafés, where they could devour ice cream and watch Paris go by. But at the end of a full day of sightseeing and numerous trips on the Metro, the chance to flop on the couch, pizza in hand, and watch a little TV was popular as well.

    Paris, of course, is unbelievably romantic so it shouldn't be surprising that two little girls fell in love while there — with the Eiffel Tower. No matter how well traveled you may be, there are few sights more awe-inspiring than the Eiffel Tower at sunset.

    If you don't do anything else with your kids in Paris, take them up the tower, preferably late in the afternoon, and follow it up with a cruise on the Seine when the bridges are being illuminated.

    The Vedettes de Paris river cruise boats, located just steps from the Eiffel Tower at Port de Suffren, offer very reasonable cruises — you can download discount coupons off their website, as well as the Paris Ile-de-France tourism site.

    Watching your children gaze wide-eyed at the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame and the city's beautiful bridges as the sun sets is the reason to take your kids to Paris. Even if they don't remember everything, you will.

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    Mickey Mouse, Trance and Small Children

    On April 9th 2005, Disneyland Resort Paris launches Space Mountain : Mission 2. This new mission sends exploronauts to the farthest reaches of space, to go where no one has gone before and discover the mysteries at the edge of the universe. On April 16th, the Best DJ in the World, Tiësto, will celebrate the launch in a spectacular way, with a live concert right at the heart of Disneyland Park. During this unique musical event, Tiësto will perform a unique re-mix of the Space Mountain : Mission 2 soundtrack, as well as a host of his own well-known tunes.

    Tiësto's Space Mountain : Mission 2 Concert will be a thrilling combination of the Disney Magic and the Magik Muzik of Tiësto! After Disneyland Park closes its doors for regular guests, it will re-open especially for Tiësto fans from all over Europe. The concert will get under way with a set from one of France's top DJ's, Bob Sinclar. Then, from an especially designed stage at the foot of Sleeping Beauty Castle, Tiësto will play for no less than 3 hours! Special effects, lasers, lights, fireworks and guest performances will make this concert an unforgettable occasion, offering the audience a truly magical experience!

    For more information about Tiësto's Space Mountain 2 concert or to make a reservation, Tiësto and Disney fans from all over Europe should visit www.tiestoatdisney.com. Dutch Tiësto fans can already reserve for the Tiësto concert, with prices starting at € 119 per person, including 2-day hopper tickets to Disneyland Park and Walt Disney Studios Park and a one night stay including continental breakfast in a Disney hotel.

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    Marching band headed to Disney World

    It was months ago that the Springfield Local Schools' marching band made its way down Holland's Madison Street with pretty close to no one watching.

    The single-unit parade, however, was recorded on video tape and is a big reason why the group is scheduled to arrive today in Orlando, Fla., where they will take part in a Walt Disney World parade this weekend.

    Three buses are leaving from the school district's high school to take 82 members of the marching band and about 20 others for the weekend in warmer weather.

    Band Director Kathy McGrady said the trip will be a highlight for the year for the youngsters who practice regularly and perform not only at school events, but also for the community.

    "These are real good kids who work hard,'' Ms. McGrady said.

    The video tape was a key part of the competition for bands from around the country to be invited to the Disney event.

    Ms. McGrady said she aims for one major trip every other year, with a shorter trip in the odd years.

    The band last year played at the Indianapolis 500 auto race.

    Today the buses are scheduled to stop at a water park where the youngsters will have a chance to work off the cramped feeling of the straight-through bus ride.

    Friday will be spent at Disney's Magic Kingdom with a performance along Main Street USA, the entrance street to the attraction.

    Ms. McGrady said there will be many bands at the site this weekend, but only a few will be in the Magic Kingdom.

    "That's were you want to be," if you're a member of a marching band, she said.

    Another highlight of the weekend will be a three-hour session music workshop Sunday.As part of the workshop, the group is given music to read and after discussing it, the band will perform the piece.

    They then will be shown an animated film with their performance supplying the music.

    Band members, family and others have put on numerous fund-raisers to be able to afford the cost of the trip, which totals about $60,000.The group is scheduled to return Monday at about 8 p.m.

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    Five Leading Candy Companies Form Imagination Confections to Produce and Market Disney Treats

    American Licorice Company, Ferrara Pan Candy Company, New England Confectionery Company (Necco), R. M. Palmer Company and Spangler Candy Company announced today that Imagination Confections LLC has entered into a long-term licensing agreement with Disney Consumer Products to produce a complete line of Disney candy.

    The five candy companies will operate Imagination Confections, LLC as a sales and marketing company, marketing and selling Disney confectionery products. The licensing agreement covers North America and includes substantially all ready-to-eat chocolate and non-chocolate confectionery items for the food, drug, mass, convenience store, military, vending, specialty, theater, video store, dollar store and club classes of trade.

    “This new venture again follows our business model of marrying beloved Disney characters with long-established, best in class companies like those that make up Imagination Confections,” said Andy Mooney, chairman, Disney Consumer Products Worldwide. “We are going to have a significant presence in the treat aisle and offer families special Disney confection items to share for the holidays – or everyday.”

    The new seasonal offerings will hit stores just in time for Easter 2004. When fully implemented, programs will also include back-to-school, Halloween, Christmas, Valentine’s Day, spring/summer and everyday merchandise.

    All long-established private confectionery companies, American Licorice (1914), Ferrara Pan (1908), Necco (1847), R.M. Palmer (1948) and Spangler (1906) share a history of independence and leadership in the candy industry. Together their products cover the full range of confectionery items. The new Disney products will be primarily manufactured at the group’s facilities, which consist of 13 plants in the US, Canada and Mexico employing in excess of 3,000 people.

    The new venture will bring to North American consumers candy treats of exceptional value and quality. The marriage of wholesome Disney characters with quality long-established confection treats will leverage the icon Disney brand and long-established candy favorites.

    Disney Consumer Products (DCP) is the division of The Walt Disney Company that extends the Disney brand to merchandise ranging from apparel, toys, home décor and books to interactive games, food and beverages, electronics and fine art. This is accomplished through the work of the division’s various lines of business: Disney Toys, Disney Softlines, Disney Hardlines, Disney Publishing, Buena Vista Games and Baby Einstein. The Disney Store, which debuted in 1987, also falls under DCP, carrying mostly exclusive, non-licensed merchandise.

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    Another lion for Disney’s den
     
    The residents of Narnia like to whisper, ‘‘Aslan is on the move.’’ And so he is. But for the moment, Walt Disney Pictures has him on a very short leash.

    Aslan, a talking lion with mystical powers, is the central figure in The Chronicles of Narnia, the much-beloved seven-volume series of fantasy novels written by the British academic C.S. Lewis in the 1950s.

    By this year-end, if Disney marketers have their way, he will have joined Mickey Mouse, Pinocchio and Buzz Lightyear in a long line of characters that have periodically provided the Burbank giant with entertainment’s most valuable asset, a new fantasy to trade on.

    This next wave begins with the expected release on December 9 of The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, which combines live action and computer-generated images in a movie adaptation of Lewis’ epic.

    Having been criticised for failing to cash in on the merchandising opportunities offered by 2003’s Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, Disney is preparing for the kind of all-encompassing drive it hasn’t mounted since 1994, when it turned The Lion King into a pop cultural event that still reverberates in its retail stores and on Broadway. Company representatives, however, have little to say publicly about the ‘‘Narnia’’ cycle, which is being produced in partnership with the financier Philip Anschutz’s Walden Media.

    They cite a natural reticence about promoting work that is still in progress: director Andrew Adamson, an animation specialist whose only previous films are the computer-generated comic fairy tales Shrek and Shrek 2, is still behind his digital console.

    But this time, the pros at Disney are wrestling with a special challenge: how to sell a screen hero who was conceived as a forthright symbol of Jesus Christ, a redeemer who is tortured and killed in place of a young human sinner and who returns in a glorious resurrection that transforms the snowy landscape of Narnia into a verdant paradise.

    That spirituality sets Aslan apart from most of the Disney pantheon and presents the company with a significant dilemma: whether to acknowledge the Christian symbolism and risk alienating a large part of the potential audience, or to play it down and possibly offend the many Christians who count among the books’ fan base.

    Disney executives say their aim is to capture the largest possible audience by remaining true to Lewis’ work. ‘‘We’re lucky that there are millions of devoted fans, who probably cross four generations,’’ said Dennis Rice, the studio’s senior vice president of publicity. ‘‘We want to reach all of those devoted fans.’’

    To do that, Rice said, the studio plans to reach out to middle schools, boys’ clubs, girls’ clubs, fantasy fans and, where appropriate, religious groups.

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    ‘Lost’ needs to find some answers

    In James B. Stewart’s new book “Disney War,” about infighting in the Walt Disney enterprise, it’s said Disney CEO Michael Eisner had disparaging remarks about the new hit ABC drama “Lost.” (ABC is part of Disney’s corporate conglomerate).

    “‘Lost’ is terrible,” Eisner reportedly said. “The pilot was two hours; it was broken into two one-hour episodes. Then the show goes off a cliff. There’s no more plane crash! Who cares about these people on a desert island?”

    Consistent top 10 Nielsen ratings for “Lost” make Eisner sound like a buffoon. The show’s consistent introduction of secrets without payoffs makes him sound like Nostradamus.

    I was one of many who instantly were swept up in “Lost” from the start, wondering just where this thrilling drama was going to go. After several bad episodes, I’m demanding some answers. “Lost” is veering into we’re-not-going-to-really-tell-you-anything territory that ruined “The X-Files.”

    After 15 installments, with nine more to go this season, there are at least 10 major unresolved oddities, including a “black rock” on the island, voices Sayid heard in the wind, a discovered steel hatch leading somewhere underground, the polar bear and “beast” stalking the island, young Walt’s supernatural powers, how once-wheelchair-bound Locke can walk and why the plane crashed.

    The show had its best chance to drop a delectable hint last week during a confrontation with Ethan, a man apparently on the island before the survivors, who killed one person and kidnapped Claire, a pregnant survivor, for a yet-unexplained reason. Of course, Ethan was gunned down by guilt-ridden Charlie before even uttering a word.

    There’s a difference between rewarding patient viewers of complex dramas who diligently tune in each week (“24”) and stringing them along. In a half-season, “Lost” has built up enough mysteries for two. If it doesn’t start offering straight-up solutions, its title might soon describe its fan base.

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    Thursday February 17, 2005


    It's time for Disney to liberate 'South'
     
    Of the dozens of feature-length animated films produced by the Walt Disney Studios since the 1930s, only one has never been released on home video in the United States: "Song of the South."

    Based on stories by Joel Chandler Harris first published in 1876, "South" was Disney's first animated film to also use live actors. The 1946 release won a best song Academy Award for its signature tune, "Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah," and actor James Baskett received an honorary Oscar for his work as Uncle Remus.

    Yet "South" is never mentioned alongside such beloved animated Disney films as "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs." Even on the official Disney Web site, the film is not listed on the "animated classics checklist" or under "other animated movies."

    The only way to access any information about it is through a specific name search.

    That's because "South" remains Disney's most vexing and controversial film. At the height of the 1960s civil rights era, the NAACP condemned it for what the organization called "the impression it gives of an idyllic master-slave relationship."

    And in all likelihood, it's the movie's depiction of its black characters as singing former slaves still happily working for white folks on Southern plantations that has kept the film out of circulation for nearly 20 years.

    Now, there's a petition drive encouraging Disney to release the film on home video. Songofthesouth.net and Uncleremuspages.com have collected more than 60,000 names of people who claim they want a chance to rent or buy it.

    Disney Studios Chairman Dick Cook has said no Disney film has received more customer requests than that, and despite rumors to the contrary, there has never been an official ban of the film. Still, if its own Web pages are any indication, Disney has tried to keep the film consigned to its vaults.

    And that's a mistake.

    I saw the film once, and I won't hesitate to say I'm not a fan. I wasn't deeply offended by the portrayals of African-American characters, but I do recall they made me uncomfortable in ways that, as a kid, I couldn't quite define. It probably should be seen again now for the very reasons it first bothered me.

    Some might argue that "South" may reinforces racial stereotypes. But in releasing the film, Disney could turn its sheepishness about the film into some kind of positive action. Any DVD would have to include among its extras supplemental material examining the film's difficult history. Like many images in our culture, the film is weighed with a racial subtext, yet keeping the film out of view because of it is just as ignorant as are those who refuse to understand the fuss. The only proper thing for Disney to do is confront directly the film's images, as well as its cultural resonance.

    This isn't kowtowing to political correctness but rather is an opportunity to deal with issues that most of us would rather not think about. It could be similar to what Disney did when it released "Walt Disney Treasures — On the Front Lines," a collection of its animated shorts from the World War II era. There it dealt directly with the ethnic stereotypes of the Japanese that existed in those shorts.

    Important discussions about still-relevant issues can be fueled by "South," but only if more people can see it or see it again. Too often in this country, our way of dealing with shameful aspects of our history is to try to pretend they never existed. Keeping Uncle Remus out of circulation doesn't so much protect the present as it sanitizes the past.

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    Disney to test group vacations in Hawaii, Wyoming
     
    Walt Disney Co.'s theme parks group, which has already expanded into cruise lines, will test leading group tours to Hawaii and Wyoming this summer, a spokeswoman said on Thursday.

    Disney plans to take about 400-450 veterans of its parks and ships on one-week tours in groups of 35 people or less, spokeswoman Lisa Haines told Reuters. She declined to comment on pricing but said the test trips would be at discount rates.

    Mickey Mouse won't be hiking in the mountains or getting a tan on the beach, but Disney expects its reputation for service to draw crowds of customers nonetheless.

    "We are experts in the family vacation, but you are not going to see (Disney) characters in places they shouldn't be," said parks spokeswoman Lisa Haines.

    Disney will hire its own guides for the trips, which could form the beginning of a new business. The initial Hawaii trip will include visits to the big island of Hawaii, Oahu and Kauai, while the Wyoming trip will take in the Grand Tetons, Jackson Hole and Yellowstone.

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    A new king for the Magic Kingdom

    Between now and June, some of the world's leading media executives will compete for one of their industry's most sought-after jobs: chief executive of the Walt Disney Company. Michael Eisner, who has held the job since 1984, is to step down next year, and Disney's board has promised to name his successor this summer. At the moment the leading candidate—backed by Mr Eisner—is Bob Iger, Disney's president and chief operating officer, and Mr Eisner's number two, for the past four years.

    At last year's annual meeting, 45% of shareholders withheld their vote for Mr Eisner's re-election to the board—a remarkable act of shareholder protest. Soon afterwards he gave up his title of chairman and agreed to step down as chief executive in September 2006. This year's annual meeting, held last week in Minneapolis, was a quiet affair, and Mr Iger took the opportunity to show himself off as a potential successor. Compared with Mr Eisner, he is pleasant and easy to get on with (though who isn't?). Institutional shareholders and analysts on Wall Street seem increasingly convinced that he could do the job.

                                                        

    And the timing of the succession is working in Mr Iger's favour. Lately Disney has improved its financial performance. Investors are feeling better about the firm: its shares have doubled from a low in 2002, and last year they outperformed the Dow Jones US media index by 18 percentage points. Mr Iger has been in charge of trying to revive Disney's ABC television network, which has been losing money for a few years. So his candidacy for the top job has received a boost from the fact that ABC has produced not one, but two, hit shows—“Lost” and “Desperate Housewives”—and is rising in the ratings. People in the business know that two people fired by Disney last year (Lloyd Braun and Susan Lyne) were chiefly responsible for the two shows. Even so, the success is rubbing off on Mr Iger.

    Yet the spotlight now on him is revealing some potential problems, too. A book published last week, “DisneyWar”, by James Stewart, paints an unflattering portrait of Mr Eisner and his second-in-command. In particular, the book chronicles instances where Mr Eisner questioned Mr Iger's abilities, including an incident where he allegedly told board members that “Bob can't run this company”. Mr Eisner claims he was misinterpreted. In one sense, any such conflicts between the two men ought to reassure critics such as Roy Disney, nephew of Walt Disney, who suspect that Mr Iger is nothing more than Mr Eisner's placeman. But such comments from his principal backer hardly inspire confidence in Mr Iger's ability to restore Disney's creative energy. The company says that “DisneyWar” is a “one-sided depiction of past events largely told through the eyes of those with a clear bias and personal agendas”.

    According to one person who knows the board's thinking, “DisneyWar” contains another episode that directors will discuss before choosing a chief executive. In 2001 Disney bought the Fox Family Channel for $5.2 billion—and, according to the media-industry consensus, overpaid by $1 billion. In 2002, claims the book, Mr Iger intervened when Angela Shapiro—a Disney executive who had been given responsibility for the channel—produced growth targets for the business for a board meeting that were far lower than those used to justify the price of the acquisition. Ms Shapiro objected, but Mr Iger insisted that she rework the numbers. According to the book, Mr Iger confirms that he intervened, but says that he did so in order to produce better and more accurate results.

    Supporters of Mr Iger say that his behaviour would be very different as chief executive than it has been as Mr Eisner's loyal number two. Might he usher in big changes? He will certainly be aware that his boss's habit of micro-managing people has led to an exodus of valuable management talent from Disney. As chief executive he could decide to give his executives more space. Another desirable change, some former executives say, would be to scrap Disney's feared strategic planning department, which some nickname the “department of business prevention” because of the way it vetoes new initiatives and deals that it has not conceived itself.

    As for Disney's wider strategy, Mr Iger says that the firm should expand its international presence and concentrate more on new technology. He wants half of Disney's revenue to come from outside America, up from just under one-quarter now.

    A topic of particular interest for rival media executives is how Mr Iger would handle his predecessor once selected to be chief executive. Would he be ruthless enough to insist that Mr Eisner get out of the way before his contract ends in 2006? Another scenario would be for him to reward Mr Eisner for his support by inviting him to stay on at Disney beyond 2006. That could work against Disney in at least one sense, however, as Mr Eisner has made an enemy of Steve Jobs, chief executive of Pixar, an animation studio that made some of Disney's biggest recent movie hits, such as “Finding Nemo”. Mr Jobs is likelier to mend relations with Disney if Mr Eisner has left.

    This week, Disney's executive-search firm is expected to start contacting top executives at other companies. There is no shortage of attractive outside candidates with the experience necessary to run Disney: Peter Chernin, the chief operating officer of News Corporation; Jeff Bewkes, chairman of the entertainment and networks group at Time Warner; Les Moonves, co-chief operating officer at Viacom; or even Meg Whitman, chief executive of eBay. But some of them suspect that the job is already destined for Mr Iger, and are wary of risking their reputations, and current jobs, by submitting themselves for interview by the board if rejection is certain. The onus is now on Disney's directors to make it clear that the selection process is not a sham.

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    Disney Making Peter Pan Prequel

    Disney animation has optioned bestselling children's book Peter and the Starcatchers, by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson. Variety says the story will be developed as a 3-D CGI feature.

    In the loose prequel to "Peter Pan," modern 8-year-old Peter leads a group of orphaned boys on the ship Never Land. Peter and shipmate Molly lead an effort to recover a trunk of magical starstuff, before it can fall into the hands of the pirate Black Stache.

    The book was published by Disney Editions in August.

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    Review: Disney War, by James B. Stewart, offers critical look at Walt Disney Company's Michael Eisner

    Back when he was a fledgling artist in the neverland of the Midwest, Walter Disney used to catch mice, keep them in a cage on his desk, and watch them play. His fondness for the critters yielded Mickey Mouse, his first hit character and the source of millions of dollars.

    One of Disney's successors, Michael Eisner, and the cast of lieutenants he assembled had billions more to play with, having augmented the Disney stable with characters, films, television channels, Broadway shows and assorted other properties. As onetime Wall Street Journal editor James B. Stewart remarks at the end of his long, dishy and often astonishing look at life inside the Magic Kingdom during the past 20 years, Eisner's record is in many respects admirable.

    Yet Eisner also has insisted, in a turn that would send Disney spinning in his grave, that "We have no obligation to make art. . . . We have no obligation to make a statement." By which, presumably, Eisner meant that the keepers of the Disney brand had only an obligation to make money, even if it meant burning down the barn to keep the mice from fleeing.

    Walt Disney, Stewart lets us know, was a tough player; he effectively cut his own brother out of a longtime partnership and made millions leasing his own company the rights to use his name. But that was nothing compared to the Machiavellian standards that followed Eisner's arrival in 1984, fresh from successful service as head of Paramount, thanks to which, Stewart writes, "he was an obvious candidate for just about any studio but Disney, which had traditionally resisted hiring outsiders."

    Eisner made it a point to dismantle the old culture at Disney -- where hardly anyone got laid off or fired and, it seems, hardly anyone worked very hard -- on ascending to power. He made it a point as well to secure un-Disneylike perks and salary for himself and his executives; at one point, Stewart writes, Eisner's former lieutenant Jeffrey Katzenberg brought down $100 million annually. Indeed, the old Disney culture collapsed when people started talking about what they earned. It tumbled into ruin when Katzenberg left Disney to help start DreamWorks, which made hot properties, for the first time, of the long-despised animators on the back lot, the untouchables of Eisner's regime.

    Much of the news that has come thus far from Stewart's wholly newsworthy book concerns Eisner's dealings with Michael Ovitz, the onetime king of Hollywood agents. Although Ovitz was "not sophisticated about matters of corporate management," Stewart writes, he was sophisticated enough to see that Eisner, a supposed close friend, began to betray him as soon as he was hired. Strangely, Stewart reveals, Eisner, who had worked hard to bring Ovitz on board, instantly regretted doing so: "I think I just made the biggest mistake of my career," he confided.

    The Eisner-Ovitz battle unfolds with tragic sureness in Stewart's hands, and Eisner does not look good in the telling. He would make many other big mistakes, Stewart writes. A capacity for inhuman deeds seems a job requirement for corporate higher-ups these days. What is unforgivable is poor judgment that costs the company and its shareholders money.

    Eisner, Stewart asserts, turned down "The Lord of the Rings," the fabulously profitable "CSI" franchise, "Fahrenheit 9/11" and other lodes of gold. Moreover, he seems not to have understood the value of what he did have, dismissing "Finding Nemo" as a certain failure and complaining of the blockbuster "Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl" that Johnny Depp came off as effeminate.

    And, of course, it cost a fortune to get rid of Ovitz.

    Eisner hired or approved the hiring of one disastrous, expensive executive after another. He let Disney's gold-standard brand get tarnished one time too many -- until, in a humiliating moment, Disney's board, spearheaded by a vengeful Disney heir, stripped him of the chairmanship last year.

    Early on in Stewart's research, Eisner pegged his book as "turning into 'Barbarians at the Gate."' The comparison is apt, though RJR Nabisco at least had some kind of management. This is an extraordinary, morally charged tale of money, art, power and betrayal -- all the makings of a magnificent movie, if full of characters that would scare Cruella De Vil.

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    Music Choice And Radio Disney Team Up For Diana Degarmo Concert

    Music Choice, the pioneering multi-platform music network, today announced a joint promotional campaign with Radio Disney to promote pop songstress Diana DeGarmo, the featured artist on the special MUSIC CHOICE and RADIO DISNEY concert event in February/March. The concert showcases music from Diana's first album, Blue Skies, on RCA Records. Diana has secured her position as a pop sensation with her powerful vocals. Her first album demonstrates her ability to deliver both upbeat pop hits and heartfelt ballads with the voice of a true artist.

    At the tender age of 16, she made it on to American Idol, and she has never looked back. Her second place finish on the highly rated television talent competition gave notice to the world that Diana was on her way to a musical career that had nowhere to go but up. Her first album, on RCA Records, Blue Skies, demonstrates her musical artistry. Tune-in to the MUSIC CHOICE/Radio Disney concert event to hear her perform an extensive play list that includes: "Blue Skies", "All I Never Wanted", "The Difference in Me", "Dreams", "Boy Like You", and many more.

    Radio Disney and Music Choice have joined forces to promote this mega-concert event featuring Diana DeGarmo with cross channel (Radio Disney, TV and online) tune-in spots. Target stores will also be promoting the concert with tune-in spots in their stores nationwide.

    "The Radio Disney/Music Choice(R) Presents' Concert Series provides a fun, cross platform music experience for our listeners," said Robin Jones, Vice President of Programming, Radio Disney. "The joint Radio Disney/Music Choice presentation of the Diana DeGarmo concert series extends the Radio Disney brand in a dynamic way which resonates with kids and families."

    "We look forward to working with Radio Disney and Target to promote one of today's hottest pop music sensations, Diana DeGarmo," said Christina Tancredi, Senior Vice President, Marketing, Advertising and Sponsorship Sales for Music Choice. "This partnership gives Diana exposure to a vast, nationwide audience by capitalizing on the marketing resources of Music Choice, Radio Disney and Target."

    The MUSIC CHOICE and Radio Disney concert event featuring Diana DeGarmo will air in 32 million cable homes nationally from now through the end of February. Over 12 million DIRECTV homes will have access to the concert through the FREEVIEW concert series throughout the month of March. Check out www.musicchoice.com, DIRECTV, or your local cable company for specific concert dates and times.

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    Disney Tries to Win Over Conservatives on Piracy

    In their latest attempt to win support among conservatives, Republican lobbyists for the Walt Disney Co. will venture into potentially hostile territory today when they take up positions in their booth at the American Conservative Union’s annual Conservative Political Action Conference.

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    Brad Jamison Named Vice President, Corporate Communications, ABC Television Network

    Brad Jamison has been named vice president, Corporate Communications, for the ABC Television Network, it was announced by Susan Binford, senior vice president, Corporate Communications of the Disney-ABC Television Group. He will be based in Burbank.

    In this newly created position, Mr. Jamison will head the strategic development and implementation of all corporate communication initiatives for the ABC Television Network, including community outreach through special programming, events and public service campaigns; oversee communications strategies for the network's diversity programs; manage audience/special interest group communications; serve as the primary liaison for all philanthropic endeavors; and act as the administrator of the network's speakers bureau.

    "Brad's broad experience in developing and executing comprehensive communications programs directed at a multitude of audiences, along with his proven ability to create strategic alliances among businesses and non-profits that are mutually beneficial, made him the ideal choice for this position. We are thrilled to have him as a member of our team," said Ms. Binford in making the announcement.

    Mr. Jamison joins ABC from Edelman, the world's largest independent public relations firm, where he served as vice president, Consumer Brands, providing counsel to and overseeing a variety of accounts. This included the Recording Academy, Discovery Health Channel, Warner Bros. Consumer Products, UNICEF, National Association of Broadcasters and DIC Entertainment. Mr. Jamison is credited with the development and launch of the award-winning "What's The Download" campaign -- the Recording Academy's acclaimed effort to combat illegal downloading of music through television and radio PSAs -- a comprehensive website, grassroots initiatives, artist outreach, publicity and strategic alliances.

    Previous to Edelman, Mr. Jamison was with Ketchum in New York and Los Angeles, where he quickly rose through the ranks representing an assortment of consumer product companies, including The Baby Einstein Company, Barbie Consumer Products, Levi Strauss & Co., Intel, Frito-Lay, Maybelline, Mountain Dew and Hallmark Cards. Prior to his departure, Mr. Jamison oversaw all communications strategies for Hyundai Motor America, including consumer, trade and corporate programs, in his role as an account supervisor.

    Mr. Jamison also represented brands such as Coca-Cola, Perrier and Brooks Brothers during a two-year tenure at Ogilvy Public Relations Worldwide. Recipient of numerous communications awards, including two PRSA Silver Anvil and IPRA Golden World Awards, Mr. Jamison is a magna cum laude graduate of Ithaca College.

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    Disney on Ice giveaways

    Disney on Ice shows are always fascinating whether it is Monsters Inc, Beauty and the Beast or Toy Story. 

    Come next month, Disney on Ice returns to Malaysia with Princess Classics.  

    The performance will feature Disney’s seven popular princess stories – Aladdin, Cinderella, Mulan, Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and Sleeping Beauty. 

    If you’re a big fan of this show, be the ninth caller through on 03-95433333 and give the password “Disney on Ice” and you will walk away with two tickets to the show at at the Putra Indoor Stadium in Bukit Jalil, Kuala Lumpur, from March 3 till 8.

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    Disney's Toontown Online Expands with Second Advanced Gameplay Area

    Disney Online, part of the Walt Disney Internet Group, today announced a highly-anticipated expansion in Disney's Toontown Online, the first massively multiplayer (MMP) game for kids and families. The new area, Cashbot Cog Headquarters (HQ), is designed for advanced players and delivers more challenging gameplay, platform style puzzles and a completely new eight-person boss battle.

    Using personalized Toon avatars, players join forces to save Toontown from the robot Cogs - Bossbots, Lawbots, Cashbots, and Sellbots - who are attempting to turn the colorful world of Toontown into a dark metropolis of skyscrapers and businesses. Cog Headquarters are advanced gameplay areas within Toontown.

    "Cashbot HQ is part of our plan to evolve and grow Toontown over time. The area offers completely new challenges and environments for our players - it's really a game within a game," said Steve Parkis, Vice President of Premium Products, Disney Online. "Much as Disney has been able to accomplish with our theme parks, the creative team of the VR Studio continues to bring imaginative and varied styles of game play and enjoyment to the Toontown world. This allows families to enjoy a shared experience, while having something different about the experience appeal to each individual guest."

    Players enter Cashbot HQ via Pajama Place, a street in Donald's Dreamland - one of Toontown's six themed neighborhoods. Once inside Cashbot HQ, Toons must courageously make their way through a train yard and enter the Mint, where Cashbots manufacture Cogbucks, the Cog currency. Once inside, Toons must complete difficult tasks in order to build a Cog disguise and earn access to the Vault - the dangerous home to the most senior Cashbot, the Chief Financial Officer (CFO). As a reward for defeating the CFO, Toons are granted new powers to heal other Toons or restock other Toons' gags and jellybeans, the games' weapons and currency.

    Cashbot HQ follows the successful launch of Sellbot HQ, the first Cog Headquarters which debuted in March 2003.

    "MMPs like Toontown are able to maintain their appeal because they are ever changing. Although we initially designed Toontown primarily for more casual gamers, we now have a significant population of more advanced players," said Mike Goslin, Vice President of the VR Studio, Walt Disney Internet Group, the group that develops Toontown. "Cashbot HQ gives our advanced players new challenges and makes the Toontown world larger and more interesting for everyone."

    Since launch in June 2003, Toontown has continued to gain momentum in the marketplace, keeping gamers of all ages entertained and challenged. Toontown is currently available for download at www.toontown.com for $9.95 per month. Longer-term memberships are available at reduced rates, and for consumers who prefer to try before they buy there is a 3-day free trial period available.

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    Space Mountain: Mission 2 - Opening April 6 CONFIRMED

    Disneyland Paris was planning to reschedule the press and VIP event for the opening of Space Mountain:Mission 2 as it was scheduled for the 8th of April. The reason according to the rumors: the Resort was afraid that it would not receive the necessary press coverage on these days due to the wedding of Prince Charles and Camilla Parker Bowles in Windsor Castle on April 8th. Soon the rumor changed to actually saying that the opening for the general public would be moved forward from Saturday April 9th to Wednesday April 6th.

                                                                   

    Two days ago the poster announcing the new ride on the construction wall closing off the "bridge" leading to the ride's entrance had been changed: with a small sticker the date had been changed to April 6. Now the word was out ... or not. The Resort officially around noon today still confirmed through its press department upon request of DLP.info that there were no changes so far. In other words the opening for the public was still scheduled for Saturday April 9 and the press and VIP event was still scheduled for April 8 - even so our internal sources did point out, that there were at least parts of the management who entertained the idea to change the dates. The resort did not comment whether the change of the poster was an error or maybe a prank.

    But then it happened: at 3.00 pm the Resort's press department in Paris officially informed their international bureaus that the change on the poster was correct and only done a bit too early. Since this afternoon DLRP is officially communicating that the confirmed opening of Space Mountain: Mission 2 to the public will be on Wednesday April 6. Websites and promotion material is to be changed in the coming days. The press and VIP event has not yet been confirmed but is according to internal sources most probably going to take place on Tuesday April 5 with the main part taking place after park closure in the evening.

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    Expansion of "Magic your Way" Tickets

    As of February 11, 2005, Magic Your Way Tickets are now available for 8-Day and 9-Day options. Prices are as follows:

    8 Day; Adult $202, Child $162, Park Hopper Option $35, Magic Plus Pack Option $45 (5 visits), and No Expiration Option $100

    9 Day; Adult $205, Child $164, Park Hopper Option $35, Magic Plus Pack Option $45 (5 visits), and No Expiration Option $100

    Reminder on Upgrading or Modifying your Tickets! You can upgrade or modify your Magic Your Way tickets ANYTIME within the first 14 days of use. You do not need the NO Expiration option to do this. However, you MUST make the changes at the WDW Parks or Resorts. You may not change your tickets over the phone or via the Internet.

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    Magic Kingdom's "Pooh's 100 Acre Woods" Photos

    Below are some photos of the former 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea section and future home of Pooh's 100 Acre Woods in Fantasyland at Magic Kingdom.

          
          

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    Lobby Concierge replaces Guest Services at WDW Resorts

    Lobby Concierge - a new Disney resort service will replace what was known as Guest Services in the resorts. All resorts will be separating the functions of the Front Desk into two service ares: Front Desk and Lobby Concierge in the next few months. The Front Desk will be your stop for Check-in to the resort as well as any assistance you may need with your room. The Lobby Concierge will provide dining and recreation information and ticket sales

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    "Buffalo Dreams" & "The Suite Life of Zack & Cody" Premiere In March

    The premiere of a Native American-themed Disney Channel Original Movie "Buffalo Dreams" starring Reiley McClendon, Simon R. Baker and Graham Greene," the premiere of Disney Channel's newest live-action comedy series "The Suite Life of Zack & Cody" starring TV's newest "it" twins Dylan and Cole Sprouse as lovable pests who give Boston's luxury hotel its daily "wake-up call," the Disney Channel premiere of the blockbusters "Max Keeble's Big Move," "Snow Dogs" and "Recess: School's Out;" plus new episodes from popular series "That's So Raven," "Phil of the Future" and "Kim Possible;" are presented in March on Disney Channel.

    Also, two marathons center around the popular JETIX action/adventure series "Power Rangers: Space Patrol Delta" and "Super Robot Monkey Team Hyperforce Go!."

    Highlights of Disney Channel's March programming are:

    Preschoolers are encouraged to actively participate when JoJo, Goliath and all of Circus Town celebrate friendship MONDAY, FEBRUARY 28 through FRIDAY, MARCH 4 (8:30 a.m., ET/PT). Throughout the week, Disney Channel premieres "Mr. Pig & Mr. Duck," a delightful short-form series about two best friends who do everything together but in very different ways. Mr. Pig is a gentle soul who enjoys the simple things in life, while his best friend Mr. Duck is never quite content with the way things are, turning everyday tasks like cooking spaghetti into big adventures.

    JoJo and pals Skeebo and Croaky decide to form their own Circus Town Kids Club, but are unable to decide on a secret hand signal for the club on a new episode of "JoJo's Circus" airing FRIDAY, MARCH 4 (8:30 a.m., ET/PT). Viewers are invited to practice potential signals such as lassoing and hopping as the gang learns to compromise.

    Lilo becomes an instant king when she places "Checkers," aka Experiment 029 – a crown shaped creature – on her head and takes full advantage of its function. Chaos ensues when Lilo declares everyday a holiday and makes Mertle and the Hula girls build her preferred float for the upcoming parade, in an all-new episode of "Lilo and Stitch: The Series" airing FRIDAY, MARCH 4 (4:00 p.m., ET/PT).

    Disney Channel premieres the movie "Max Keeble's Big Move" (8:00 p.m., ET/PT) starring Alex D. Linz as sixth grader Max Keeble who is frequently harassed by the school bullies. When he learns he's moving, he spends his final week in town exacting revenge on his tormentors. Unfortunately, he soon learns that his family is not leaving afterall...

    Amy Davidson ("8 Simple Rules") guest stars as Tiffany Turlington of the Texas Turlington's who's been separated from her owner while on safari. Jealous of Brandy's new friendship with Tiffany, Whiskers creates his own bunny friend. Plus, an Easter-themed storyline where Whiskers' hopes for the arrival of the Easter Bunny are dashed when Brandy claims he doesn't exist on a new episode of "Brandy & Mr. Whiskers" airing FRIDAY, MARCH 11 (4:30 p.m., ET/PT).

    In a new episode of "That's So Raven," Raven blabs that singing group Boyz 'N Motion are dining at the Chill Grill, so the group has no choice but to retreat to the Baxter house for some peace and quiet. Back at school, bully Bianca challenges Raven to deliver the boys to the school concert. When the boys refuse, Raven devises a plan involving disguises, backing tracks and a fog machine. Meanwhile, Cory and William create a cottage industry by selling Boyz 'N Motion paraphernalia on the internet, airing FRIDAY, MARCH 11 (7:30 p.m., ET/PT). Debbie Allen directs this episode. Michael Copon ("One Tree Hill") guest-stars as Ricky of Boyz 'N Motion.

    The premiere of the Disney Channel Original Movie "Buffalo Dreams," starring Reiley McClendon (Disney Channel's "Eddie's Million Dollar Cook-Off"), Simon R. Baker (Steven Spielberg's "Into the West," "The Missing") and veteran actor Graham Greene ("The Green Mile," "Dances with Wolves"), about Native American culture and tradition, along with environmentalism and friendship is presented FRIDAY, MARCH 11 (8:00 p.m., ET/PT). Set in New Mexico, it is a stirring story of culture clash and compromise as two teenage boys struggle to reach a balance with Mother Earth and an understanding of each other and their place in the world. Thomas Blackhorse, a Native American, rejects the customs of his Navajo tribe, much to his grandfather's chagrin. Josh Townsend, a Caucasian kid – newly relocated to the southwest – takes a job on the buffalo preserve just so he can ride his mountain bike. Although Thomas is apprehensive, he allows Josh into his circle of friends, but soon feels betrayed when Josh makes the mistake of associating with local troublemakers who violate the restricted buffalo areas and desecrate sacred Navajo land.

    Disney Channel premieres the popular movie "Snow Dogs" on FRIDAY, MARCH 18 (5:00 p.m., ET/PT). Academy Award winner Cuba Gooding Jr. stars as Miami dentist Ted Brooks who learns that his birth mother has passed away and left him as a benefactor in her will. He heads to Alaska to pick up his inheritance, only to discover that it is her property and a pack of sled dogs. Ted decides to enter the rowdy pack in a race, much to the chagrin of a local mountain man who wants the dogs and property himself. After the movie, Disney Channel presents the premiere of the live-action comedy series "The Suite Life of Zack & Cody" with two back-to-back episodes (7:00-8:00 p.m., ET/PT). Starring identical twins Dylan and Cole Sprouse ("Big Daddy," "Friends"), Ashley Tisdale ("Still Standing") and Brenda Song (Disney Channel's "Stuck in the Suburbs"), the original series tracks the antics of twin 12-year-old boys, Zack and Cody, whose single mom Carey gets a job as headlining singer at an upscale hotel in Boston and as part of her contract, an upper floor suite where they all live now. The hotel comes complete with room service, a swimming pool, game room, candy counter and many new friends for the twins to get to know including Maddie, the candy counter clerk and frequent babysitter, as well as London, the hotel owner's spoiled daughter. To the chagrin of the hotel manager, Mr. Moseby, the twins turn the hotel into their playground, and the staff and guests into unwitting participants in the outrageous situations they manage to create. Estelle Harris ("Seinfeld") has a recurring role as irascible housekeeper, Muriel.

    When the cool kids at school discover that Zack and Cody live at the Tipton, the twins become very popular and the hotel becomes "party central." When things get out of hand, Zack and Cody realize that these kids aren't their real friends and must come up with a plan to get them all out of the hotel before Mr. Moseby does it for them. Meanwhile, Maddie gets stuck tutoring London in math and in exchange, London gives Maddie advice on dating the hotel's cute lifeguard in the episode entitled, "Hotel Hangout" (7:00 p.m., ET/PT).

    In "Fairest of Them All" (7:30 p.m., ET/PT), Cody sneaks backstage at a Mini Miss Beauty Pageant to give flowers to one of the contestants. When Mr. Moseby almost catches him, Cody disguises himself as a girl but soon winds up entered in the contest. Meanwhile, London, a past pageant winner, is basking in her former Mini Miss glory. Skyler Samuels, a correspondent for "Access Hollywood," guest stars as Brianna.

    Jake, Grandpa, Trixie, Spud and Fu Dog must stumble through an elaborate "Ocean's 11" style heist to retrieve a leprechaun's stolen gold on an all-new episode of "American Dragon: Jake Long" airing FRIDAY, MARCH 25 (5:00 p.m., ET/PT).

    In the animated hit series "Kim Possible," Kim's dad is one bummed dude when he's the only genius not invited to the Crooked D Ranch Research Roundup. But as the other brainiacs start to become a few quarts short of a 10-gallon hat, it's up to the Possible posse to save the West on FRIDAY, MARCH 25 (5:30 p.m., ET/PT).

    Phil and Keely enter the school's science fair using next century's invention - the milk engine. When Phil's dad panics that their true identity will be discovered, he makes immediate plans to move the family from Pickford. To avoid moving, Phil and Keely go undercover to retrieve the evidence. Meanwhile, Pim uses her own futuristic device for her creative writing class--storylines from movies in 2121 on a new episode of "Phil of the Future" airing FRIDAY, MARCH 25 (6:30 p.m., ET/PT).Maddie gets caught up in a big lie when a cute hotel guest assumes she's also a rich guest instead of an employee and asks her out on a date. So Maddie can keep up her ruse, Zack and Cody help her get a suite in the hotel on "The Suite Life Of Zack & Cody" airing FRIDAY, MARCH 25 (7:00 p.m., ET/PT).

    Then, it's the Disney Channel premiere of the full-length animated film, "Recess: School's Out" (8:00 p.m., ET/PT). The Recess gang from the popular Walt Disney Television Animation series "Recess" must team up with their teachers to stop a diabolical plot to eliminate summer vacation.

    Highlights of the JETIX action/adventure programming seen mornings on ABC Family and evenings on Toon Disney are:

    A "Power Rangers: S.P.D." marathon featuring the first five episodes of the brand new series is presented SUNDAY, MARCH 6 (8:00-11:00 a.m., ET/PT) on ABC Family and later that evening (7:00-10:00 p.m., ET/PT) on Toon Disney. The premiere of a new episode "Abridged" finds the team on the lookout for an intergalactic bank robber. They see a suspicious-looking alien, T-Top, near the vicinity of the crime. Assuming that they have their man, they try to arrest him, but T-Top puts up a fight and evades them. Although the evidence points to T-Top as the bank robber, Bridge is not convinced of his guilt and asks to conduct his own investigation. The others are dubious of Bridge's methods as he tries to look beyond the obvious facts and use his intuition.

    The emerging JETIX hit action/adventure/comedy, "Super Robot Monkey Team Hyperforce Go!" is presented in an episode marathon, SUNDAY, MARCH 13 (8:00 a.m.-12:00 noon, ET/PT) on ABC Family and (8:00 p.m.-12:00 a.m. midnight, ET/PT) on Toon Disney. The sci-fi anime adventure centers on a self conscious young teen named Chiro who -- with the help of five high-tech robot monkeys -- transforms into the brave fighter, bold leader and great hero he always wanted to be. Set in the utopia of Shuggazoom as a cosmic changeover looms, the villainous Skeleton King is plotting to turn this futuristic planet into his evil empire. When Chiro inadvertently awakens the long dormant Super Robot Monkey Team, he absorbs the Power Primate energy that transforms him into superhero-in-training and leader of the Team. Now, the five Super Robot Monkeys help Chiro hone his new powers as he evolves into the Chosen Protector of the Universe.

    St. Patrick's Day is celebrated with the Green Power Ranger from "Power Rangers Ninja Storm," the Green Goblin from "Spiderman" and Otto, the green monkey from "Super Robot Monkey Team Hyperforce Go!" in a St. Patrick's Day Green Characters Marathon, THURSDAY, MARCH 17 (7:00-9:00 a.m., ET/PT) on ABC Family and (7:00 p.m.-12:00 midnight, ET/PT) on Toon Disney.

    Toon Disney and JETIX feature "the best of the worst, the biggest villains plotting their meanest schemes. Included are Hades from "Hercules," Neils, Merkus and Samuel T. Philander from "The Legend of Tarzan," Zurg from "Buzz Lightyear," Copyotter from "Power Rangers Dino Thunder," D-Reaper from "Digimon," theDemolition Boys from "Beyblade," Spider-Enterans from "Shinzo," Doc Oc from "Spiderman," Magneto from "X-Men" and Demona from "Gargoyles," TUESDAY, MARCH 22 (7:00-9:00 a.m., ET/PT) on ABC Family and (1:00 p.m.-12:00 midnight, ET/PT) on Toon Disney and JETIX.

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    ABC Peeks, Opens 'Eyes' Early
     
    If this were a game of hide-and-seek, you'd accuse ABC of cheating, because the network plans to open its "Eyes" earlier than planned. ABC has rescheduled the premiere of the freshman drama for the end of March.

    Originally scheduled to debut on Wednesday, April 13, the series has been moved up two weeks to March 30, where it will premiere in the comfortable 10 p.m. ET time period behind first-year hit "Lost" and the recently rejuvenated "Alias."

    "Eyes" stars Tim Daly ("Wings") as Harlan Judd, the head of Judd Risk Management, a high tech group that delivers the private investigation goods while operating on the outer edge of what most people would consider legal. Judd and his staff of investigators -- including A.J. Langer ("My So-Called Life"), Garcelle Beauvais-Nilon ("NYPD Blue"), Eric Mabius ("The L Word") and Natalie Zea ("The Shield") -- work on sensitive cases for ultra-wealthy clients. They're also known to occasionally spy on each other.

    Laura Leighton ("Melrose Place") and Rick Worthy ("Push, Nevada") also star in the drama, which comes from John McNamara ("Fastlane").

    ABC boasts that the "Eyes" premiere will follow new episodes of both "Lost" and "Alias" in what should be a conducive home. For the season, "Lost" is averaging nearly 16.3 million viewers, while "Alias" has pulled in 13.5 million, though that drama will lose some of its steam facing "American Idol" in the weeks to come.

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    Michael Williams-Jones, President of Miramax International, Electing to Step Down Effective March 1, 2005

    Miramax Films announced today that following a projected record breaking 2004, Michael Williams-Jones, President of Miramax International, has elected to step down effective March 1, 2005. The announcement was made today by Miramax Co-Chairmen, Bob and Harvey Weinstein.

    "We are truly grateful for Michael's considerable contributions to Miramax's International success this year," said Harvey Weinstein. "Michael joined the company to lead and further develop our international interests and he has more than achieved these goals. We will miss his always well-reasoned and candid opinions. He leaves us after 37 years as a true pioneer of the International motion picture industry. We wish Michael well in any and all future endeavors."

    Prior to coming to Miramax, Michael Williams-Jones rose to the Presidency of United Artists International in the late 1970's and subsequently built and ran UIP as President and CEO for 15 years.

    "After a long career with the majors, I was intrigued by the opportunity to work with Bob and Harvey," said Michael Williams-Jones. "Over the past 25 years they have both been at the forefront of independent cinema and watching how they operate from the inside has been a revelation. They are indefatigable and intense but their unbridled passion for film and extraordinary talent is what really distinguishes them. It has been no accident that the Weinsteins have scored consistently well both commercially and artistically for many years and this year's awards recognition for Finding Neverland and The Aviator is no different. Whatever direction the future takes for them I have no doubt that they will be out there leading from the front as usual with great imagination and flair and of course their trademark drive."

    Michael Williams-Jones went on to praise his entire division and its International Distribution Partners.

    "You are only as good as the product and the people around you and I had the best on both counts -- a genuinely talented staff and a great network of Distributors. Buena Vista International under Mark Zoradi's inspired leadership is the finest in the business today and on every level added greatly to the success of Miramax International in 2004 as did TFM our partners in France and our superb network of independent buyers and distributors."

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    Wednesday February 16, 2005


    Mickey Mouse pin triggers evacuation
     
    Vancouver fire officials jokingly referred to it as a "Mickey Mouse incident."

    But it was no laughing matter for 950 federal employees and drivers being re-routed as a hazardous-materials team sealed off a downtown block yesterday.

    A 19-storey office building at 401 Burrard St. was evacuated for about 2 1/2 hours and four mailroom employees who were "exposed" to a package containing white powder were decontaminated.

    The block was closed to traffic and six fire trucks were on standby as firefighters wearing masks tested the material.

    Fire department spokesman Capt. Rob Jones-Cook said Hazmat officers discovered the offending package contained a Mickey Mouse pin.

    "It was chafing on the materials inside the package. So what was discovered was, essentially, finely ground-up paper," he said.

    "It gives a whole new meaning to the phrase 'a Mickey Mouse incident."

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    Eisner fights for his legacy

    Yes, James B. Stewart's book, "DisneyWar," is a fascinating page-turner about the insecurities and foibles of Michael Eisner, the chief executive of Walt Disney Co. since 1984.

    The title refers to the legendary infighting that has taken place in the Magic Kingdom during Eisner's often-tumultuous reign.

    But the real "war" may be only just heating up -- the juicy war of words, that is.

    Simon & Schuster is pushing hard to publicize Stewart's widely discussed book. Disney is scrambling just as hard to do damage-control and limit damage to Eisner's reputation.

    Plenty is at stake. Eisner, who relinquished his two-decade-long chairman position after Disney shareholders turned on him last year, is struggling for a graceful end to his tenure. The image-conscious CEO is (presumably) also fretting mightily about how Stewart's book will affect his legacy.

    "Eisner wanted the mantle of Walt (Disney, the founder) because Walt is an American icon," Stewart said.

    Meanwhile, publisher Simon and Schuster is betting on a bonanza at a time when exposes of such companies as Enron have been registering disappointing sales. Simon & Schuster, a unit of Viacom, moved up the scheduled publication date by three weeks, hoping to capitalize on the buzz in Hollywood and New York.

    Stewart is warming to the task, too. On Tuesday alone, he taped television appearances on NBC's "Today," "MarketWatch Weekend," Fox's "O'Reilly Factor" and PBS' "Charlie Rose."

    As Stewart calmly munched on a banana and sipped a cup of coffee, he summed up for me in three words Eisner's attitude toward him as he conducted his research for the book: "Please go away!"

    In an interview with MarketWatch on Tuesday, Stewart chided Eisner's hesitance to cooperate with him. Stewart said Eisner's reluctance to pass along documents and grant extended interviews gave him the impression that he is an insecure person, despite his many remarkable accomplishments.

    "People who don't feel as if they have anything to hide generally don't say, `I don't have anything to hide,' " quipped Stewart, referring to something Eisner had told him.

    It's fair to say that Eisner has had a change of heart since he told Stewart, "Let's have fun with this book," back at the beginning of the process in 2001.

    Agendas

    Disney spokeswoman Michelle Bergman countered by sending me a few e-mails that hammered home Disney's suggestion that some of Stewart's unnamed sources were enemies of Eisner and, therefore, of questionable value.

    The Disney spokeswoman noted on page 537 of Stewart's book, it says: "Readers should bear in mind that, given the vagaries of human memory, remembered dialogue is rarely the same as actual recordings and transcripts."

    So, in other words, Disney is perhaps insinuating that Eisner didn't REALLY say all of those terrible things about such former colleagues as ex-studio chief Jeffrey Katzenberg and one-time best friend and confidante Michael Ovitz.

    Some of the most sensitive parts of the book deal with how Eisner recruited Ovitz for many years, often by playing on their close friendship, and then made him feel like a pariah.

    Only fourteen months after Ovitz became Eisner's right-hand man in 1995, Eisner practically shoved him under a train, according to the book. Eisner had turned on Katzenberg in much the same fashion despite their 19 years -- in the book, Eisner notes that it was more like 16 - as business partners.

    Disney's statement said: "We remain focused on excellent results, performance and a bright future, not on a one-sided depiction of past events largely told through the eyes of those with a clear bias and personal agendas."

    Stewart isn't surprised. He realized long ago that life at Disney is "at odds with the public image of the brand," he said. But Stewart also didn't expect to find a culture quite so steeped in the teachings of Machiavelli.

    At the same time, Stewart doesn't think people like Katzenberg and Ovitz truly hate Eisner all these years later. "They're still struggling with the level of the betrayal. Ovitz never thought Eisner would do that to him. Ovitz's failing was to believe Eisner," Stewart said.

    For Stewart, a telling moment came when he asked Eisner if all of his wealth and success was really worth leaving a trail of such bitter people. "I couldn't get him to answer it," Stewart said. "I don't think it would be worth it."

    Disney is probably fighting a losing battle if it attempts to poke holes in the quality of Stewart's work.

    Stewart, who writes for the New Yorker and Smart Money, won the Pulitzer Prize when he covered the 1987 stock market crash and the 1980s' insider trading crimes for the Wall Street Journal. (The Wall Street Journal is published by Dow Jones, which acquired MarketWatch, the publisher of this report, last month).

    Further, Stewart's book, "Den of Thieves," detailed that era of excess on Wall Street, and was a best-seller.

    For two decades, Stewart has been one of the most respected journalists anywhere. Fair or not, the media would probably be inclined to give Stewart the benefit of the doubt on any of Disney's vague gripes.

    Even in an age in which the New York Times' Jayson Blair, and USA Today's Jack Kelley, among others, have disgraced journalism by writing utterly inaccurate and misleading stories, Stewart would probably get a free pass from other members of the craft. Put simply, Stewart has been that good.

    If it had serious questions about accuracy, Disney should spell them out.

    Actually, Disney, the keeper of Eisner's flame, would be better off if it concentrated on fixing its own problems.

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    NJ diving dentist says 'Nemo' film was his idea

    A scuba-diving dentist says Disney and Pixar Animation Studios stole the idea for the hit film "Finding Nemo" from him.

    In a lawsuit filed this week in U.S. District Court in Newark, Dennis G. Sternberg, 56, of Allenhurst, said he used experiences as a diver to create an underwater adventure story for children in 1991. He called his story "Peanut Butter the Jelly Fish."

    He claims he submitted an illustrated manuscript to Disney and talked on the phone about his story with a writer from Pixar. (The two companies have a distribution partnership.)

    A Disney vice president told Sternberg in 1996 that although the story had "great potential," it did not fit into the studio's "development slate" at that time, according to the suit.

    Seven years later, Sternberg was in a movie theater and saw a preview for the upcoming release of "Finding Nemo."

    "I thought, 'Hey, I'm the scuba-diving dentist. Those are my characters, that's my story,"' he told The Star-Ledger of Newark for Wednesday's editions. "It made me sick to my stomach."

    One big similarity: Sternberg story has a character named "Nimo."

    The suit claims a violation of federal copyright laws, in addition to fraud and misrepresentation, breach of contract, unjust enrichment and breach of the duty of good faith and fair dealing. It claims the companies "have intentionally, knowingly, illicitly and slavishly copied plaintiff's protected works in whole or in substantial part."

    Before Sternberg submitted his manuscript, Disney had him sign a two-page waiver that said he would be entitled to only $500 if he were to claim that the company used his material without permission or authorization. The lawsuit asks the court to void that waiver.

    Neither Disney nor Pixar would comment when reached by the newspaper Tuesday.

    Developed by Pixar and distributed by Disney, "Finding Nemo" grossed nearly $340 million, making it the 12th highest grossing movie of all time and the second highest among animated films.

    It tells the story of a young clown fish named Nemo who is caught by a scuba diver and ends up in a fish tank in a dentist's office. Nemo's father searches the vast ocean for him with the help of a blue tang. Nemo eventually gets free of the dentist's tank, returns to the sea and is reunited with his father.

    Sternberg's "Peanut Butter the Jelly Fish" tells the story of "two worlds coming together _ above and below the sea, with unusual sea creatures such as hatchet fish, creatures with large eyes and other exaggerated features, undersea turtles and their travels on the undersea Gulf Stream currents," according to the lawsuit.

    Sternberg had a long-standing personal acquaintance with a woman who worked as an executive secretary at ABC Capitol Cities, a Disney company, the lawsuit states. He sent her a copy of his manuscript, and she encouraged him to send another copy to Disney, the suit asserted.

    According to the suit, the Disney copy ended up in the hands of Barry Blumberg, an executive vice president of television animation. Blumberg called Sternberg at his home in November 1996 to talk about the story.

    The lawsuit quotes Blumberg as saying during that phone call, "We all love 'Peanut Butter the Jelly Fish' and the entire concept."

    The suit says Blumberg's office put Sternberg in touch with a Pixar employee, Andrew Stanton. Sternberg told Stanton he imagined "Peanut Butter the Jelly Fish" surfacing during his adventure and using the Statue of Liberty to get his bearings.

    In "Finding Nemo," Nemo surfaces and gets his bearings when he sees the Sydney Opera House.

    Stanton was the director and story writer of "Nemo." He was also one of the three screenwriters who were nominated for an Academy Award for best original screenplay.

    "The thing that makes this so different from other similar situations is the amount of contact between Dr. Sternberg and the studios," said Sternberg's attorney, William T. Hill. "There was a vice president from Disney on the phone with this guy. Vice presidents from Disney don't contact just any old Joe Schmoe off the street."

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    Disney's "Winnie the Pooh's Rumbly Tumbly Adventure" Video Game

    Ubisoft, one of the world's largest video game publishers, and Disney Interactive, a publishing label of Buena Vista Games, Inc., today announced the launch of Disney's Winnie the Pooh's Rumbly Tumbly Adventure. The game features Winnie the Pooh, one of Disney's most beloved properties, and a great birthday adventure in the Hundred Acre Wood. Rated "E" for everyone, the game is releasing on the PlayStation2 computer entertainment system, Nintendo GameCube system and Game Boy Advance system.

    Developed by Phoenix Studio, this new Action/Adventure game for children ages three and up allows players to follow five different birthday adventures while playing as Winnie the Pooh, Tigger, Eeyore or Piglet. Players must use the special skills of each character, such as Piglet's scary face or Eeyore's butterfly collecting, in order to help Winnie the Pooh advance through each level. Players will need to avoid the fast-moving Heffalumps and Woozles and, at the same time, collect honey pots to offer the bees in exchange for special items.

    "The game is specifically designed to be fun for younger players while using a brand that is trusted and loved by parents," said Helene Juguet, director of marketing at Ubisoft. "The game's launch date coincides with the highly anticipated release of Disney's new theatrical film, Pooh's Heffalump Movie, which adds an extra dimension of excitement to this launch."

    Expanded features for PlayStation2 and Nintendo GameCube include five mini-games and a special Junior mode where players can explore the Hundred Acre Wood and interact with their favorite Pooh characters at their own pace. Whether it's finding a new house for Eeyore or helping Tigger out of sticky situation, players will be entertained for hours as they help Pooh celebrate birthdays, find honey pots, and avoid mischievous Heffalumps and Woozles. Disney's Winnie the Pooh's Rumbly Tumbly Adventure is available for a $29.99 MSRP.

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    'The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy' Movie Trailer Premieres Today on Amazon.com

    The first full-length trailer for Touchstone Pictures' "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy," in theatres April 29, debuts today on Amazon.com (www.amazon.com). This exclusive online event marks the first time Amazon has worked with a studio to host the world premiere of a theatrical trailer.

    Starting today and through Friday, February 18, visitors that come to the Amazon.com homepage can enjoy the trailer for the highly-anticipated film. Additionally, IMDb.com, the internet's most comprehensive movie information site, will feature a link on its home page to the trailer on Amazon.com.

    Commenting on the launch, Dennis Rice, Senior Vice President of Buena Vista Pictures Marketing, said, "'The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy' is a clever comic adventure, filled with rich characters, based on the beloved book by Douglas Adams -- debuting the trailer on Amazon.com is a unique and unprecedented opportunity that seemed like a natural fit. We are pleased to partner with Amazon for this event."

    "Amazon.com and IMDb.com are favorite destinations for movie fans looking for information about theatrical releases -- such as show times, movie tickets, or production information -- in addition to related books, CDs and DVDs," said Bob Hogan, Senior Manager for Amazon In Theatres and IMDB.com. "This collaboration with Touchstone Pictures to host the world premiere of 'The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy' trailer is a great example of how we can work with our studio partners to delight customers and drive awareness of their upcoming releases among Amazon's tens of millions of active customer accounts, and IMDb.com's more than 25 million monthly visitors."

    Film Synopsis

    Don't Panic ... join the most ordinary man in the world on an extraordinary adventure across the universe in the hilarious action comedy, "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy." Earthman Arthur Dent is having a very bad day. His house is about to be bulldozed, he discovers that his best friend is an alien and to top things off, Planet Earth is about to be demolished to make way for a hyperspace bypass. Arthur's only chance for survival: hitch a ride on a passing spacecraft. For the novice space traveler, the greatest adventure in the universe begins when the world ends. Arthur sets out on a journey in which he finds that nothing is as it seems: he learns that a towel is just the most useful thing in the universe, finds the meaning of life, and discovers that everything he needs to know can be found in one book: The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.

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    Andy Bird, President, Walt Disney International, to Speak at the Smith Barney Leisure Day Conference

    A presentation and general discussion with Andy Bird, President, Walt Disney International, The Walt Disney Company will be hosted by Smith Barney Citigroup at its Leisure Day Conference on Thursday, February 17, 2005, at 11:05 a.m. EST/8:05 a.m. PST. To listen to a live Web cast of the session, please point your browser to www.disney.com/investors approximately five minutes prior to the start time. A re-play will be provided through Thursday, February 24, 2005, at 4:00 p.m. PST.

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    Walt Disney Treasures DVD

    The next four Walt Disney Treasures releases due this December are called Disney Rarities, Legendary Heroes, Spin and Marty, and as expected, The Chronological Donald, Volume 2. These four limited edition 2-disc tins would street on December 6, but Disney has not yet made a formal announcement. "Disney Rarities" sounds promising, though we're not sure what it would encompass. "Spin and Marty" was a serial about two boys at a summer ranch which aired as part of "The Mickey Mouse Club" in the fall of 1955. The second volume of The Chronological Donald is expected to contain the irascible duck's cartoon shorts from 1942 through 1948 or 1949.

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    Tourism to the United States becomes an unintentional casualty in war on terror

    Mickey Mouse has a bone to pick with Uncle Sam.

    U.S. travel executives -- including those who run Disneyland and Walt Disney World -- say President Bush's war on terror is unintentionally scaring off foreign tourists and that an international campaign is needed to lure more visitors and repair the country's soured image.

    "It's more than just an image decline," said Jay Rasulo, president of Walt Disney Parks & Resorts, a Lake Buena Vista, Fla.-based unit of The Walt Disney Co. "I think other countries are out there competing for tourists and we have not been."

    Rasulo and other travel executives said tourism to the United States, while rising again after several down years, is not as robust as it should be, with an estimated 10 percent fewer international visitors in 2004 than in 2000. Although the weak dollar has brought more visitors in recent months, the overall trend is still disappointing to the industry.

    The stakes involved are huge. Visitors from abroad accounted for about $93.5 billion in spending and economic activity in the United States in 2004, according to Commerce Department estimates. That's slightly larger than U.S. exports of automobiles, engines and parts.

    Tourism officials ascribe the decline partly to anti-Americanism that arose after the country launched military action in Afghanistan and Iraq and to the "hassle factor" associated with new visa application and airport security procedures.

    Homeland Security Department spokesman Dennis Murphy said the new procedures are intended to correct vulnerabilities exploited by the Sept. 11 terrorists, without impeding trade or travel. "We can't allow our system to be abused again," he said.

    "Because the system was not enforced rigorously in the past, any change to enforcement postures become significant changes in the minds of people who used it before," he added.

    Tourism officials emphasized that they aren't opposed to the Bush administration's homeland security objectives; what concerns them is the manner in which policies are implemented.

    "We have developed an image in many countries as fortress America," said Betsy O'Rourke, senior vice president for marketing at the Travel Industry Association of America, a Washington-based trade group. O'Rourke said tourists should be greeted as "customers," not potential "invaders."

    Alan Chick of Brighton, England, has traveled to the United States once a year, on average, for the past 18 years and said that while there is some truth to the perceived hassle factor, the problem has been vastly overblown and shouldn't deter foreign tourists.

    "Unfortunately, the Americans don't do very much to dispel these things," said Chick. "They don't really do anything to say 'Hey, it's really not that bad."'

    The commission that investigated the Sept. 11 attacks said the nation's beefed-up border screening system needs to become more efficient and friendly, and it noted that visa applications in 2003 were down 32 percent compared with 2001. "There is evidence that the present system is disrupting travel to the United States," the commission said.

    Meanwhile, a November poll of 8,000 consumers from eight industrialized nations found that 55 percent of respondents had an increasingly negative perception of that United States, according to Seattle-based market research firm GMI Inc.

    That rankles some travel officials.

    "I refuse to believe that our declining image is a fair portrayal of who we really are," Amtrak vice president Barbara Richardson said last month at an industry luncheon in Washington.

    The image problem aside, the U.S. tourism industry is already losing global market share as borders in many parts of the world have become easier and cheaper to cross, and as countries from Spain to Singapore outspend the United States in tourism marketing and advertising.

    "I don't know if it's naivete or arrogance that we feel people know the U.S. so well that we don't need to invite them," said Marilyn Carlson Nelson, CEO of Carlson Companies Inc., the Minnetonka, Minn.-based owner of travel agencies, hotels and restaurants.

    Either way, Nelson said it is critical for the U.S. government to market its national parks and other attractions more forcefully, lest it concede more tourism business to other countries and allow "the perception that foreigners might not be welcome" to fester.

    Thirty-nine state governments spent about $20 million in 2003 on international advertising and other promotions, according to a nationwide survey. This was down 11 percent from the year before, but still more than twice as much as the federal government has allocated for 2005.

    Officials likened the U.S. tourism industry's woes to the recent experience of American universities, which have seen declining applications from foreign graduate students since 2001. Education officials attribute the dropoff to the same three factors cited by travel executives: tighter U.S. immigration policies, negative attitudes toward the United States and increasing competition from other countries.

    Angela Aggeler, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Bureau of Consular Affairs, a division of the State Department, said the agency has added staffing and improved technology at consulates around the world in order to streamline visa-application procedures and make one message clear: "The welcome mat is out."

    She conceded that requiring face-to-face interviews, digital fingerprints and other personal data as part of the visa application process may have sent the opposite message. "But how do you address those perceptions?" she said.

    Disney's Rasulo said the U.S. government needs to spend more money on marketing and advertising. "If the source of that image is the nightly news, I don't think that paints a particularly good picture of the United States as a tourist destination," he said.

    The Commerce Department spends $10 million a year to promote America by using clips from famous movies, but Rasulo said that is a minuscule sum compared with other countries. For example, Australia spends about $250 million a year marketing itself as a tourist destination, while Spain spends more than $70 million.

    While international arrivals rose an estimated 12 percent in 2004, compared with 2003, and spending climbed an estimated 17 percent, officials largely attributed that to the improving global economy and the declining value of the dollar, which has made it cheaper to visit America. (Disney reported in its latest quarterly earnings that operating income at the company's theme parks increased 11 percent, boosted by an increase in attendance from international tourists.)

    The number of international travelers visiting the United States in 2004 -- about 45 million -- was about the same a decade earlier, though the country's overall piece of the international tourism market has dwindled by about 5 percent over the same period, according to industry estimates.

    Between 2000 and 2003, the United States' worldwide share of travelers from Britain declined by 14 percent, from Germany 17 percent, from Japan 14 percent and from Brazil 28 percent, according to TIA data.

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    Ever wonder where old amusement park rides go to die

    Ever wonder where old amusement park rides go to die? What happens to once cherished attractions when the powers that be decide they are no longer magical enough? In the case of Walt Disney World, discontinued rides, or at least parts of them, could end up in warehouses, their private junkyard, or even buried in landfills. If they are very lucky though, they might take a trip to Salvageland, the graveyard of lost Disney attractions.

                                                     

    Brian Ramsey is the proprietor of Mousesurplus, a unique salvage operation whose sole focus is Walt Disney World cast offs. At any point in time, his warehouse of inventory may include props from rides (both current and retired), costumes from attractions, or even leftovers from Disney gift shops and stores. The Disney surplus business has been so successful that Mousesurplus has recently relocated to a larger warehouse including a storefront that is open to the public. In addition to allowing for a retail sales space, the new location is also closer to Walt Disney World to make the logistics of transporting all these treasures less time consuming. In the coming months, Mousesurplus will be featuring Disney Christmas ornaments, arcade games, animation desks from a recently closed studio, plus pins, watches and figurines of popular Disney characters.

    As a follow up to my article on the destruction of Walt Disney World’s immensely popular 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea ride, I was fortunate enough to be able to interview Brian Ramsey on his business of uncovering buried and forgotten treasures and transferring them to an appreciative group of fans and collectors.

                                                  

    ED Tucker: How long have you been in the surplus business?

    Brian Ramsey: I’ve been dealing with Disney and their surplus memorabilia for about four and a half years now.

    ET: Are you the only one who gets surplus from Walt Disney World?

    BR: There are a couple of other vendors who get stuff but we are the only ones who deal in props, displays, and the more unique items.

    ET: In the four and a half years you have been dealing with this surplus, what are some of the props and attraction pieces you have acquired?

    BR: I’ve had Dumbo cars from the ride. I have had Figment cars from the Journey to Imagination ride. We’ve had a couple of cars and parts from Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride and coming up in the next few months I will have all the props and displays that came out of that ride. We’ve had costumes and displays from just about anything you could name.

    ET: OK, how about the Haunted Mansion?

    BR: The only thing we have really had out of the Haunted Mansion is a lot of the light fixtures and stuff like that. We got those when they remodeled the outside but we don’t really get much stuff from inside there because there is such a fight over it.

    ET: Do you get more items from rides that have been discontinued as opposed to the ones still operating?

    BR: We get stuff from the ones that are operating now but it will usually be if something is broken or doesn’t fit or if there is a rehab. For example they are redoing It’s a Small World so we will be getting all the old boats out of that.

    ET: Some rides that are still operating, like The Jungle Cruise or Pirates of the Caribbean, have been modified over time and had things removed to make them more politically correct. Do you ever get pieces like that?

    BR: I haven’t seen any of that stuff, it probably went to the archives. There is one Jungle Cruise boat in the lot that is beyond repair so we might get that. Some things will sit in warehouses for ten to fifteen years before they will get rid of it. The Dumbo car we just got was scheduled to go to the 1997 Disneyanna convention.

    ET: Let’s take a moment now to talk about one of my favorite rides that no longer exists at Walt Disney World, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. Did you ever go on the ride?

    BR: Yes and I thought it was cool! I was little at the time but I liked it. I think 1989 or 1990 was the last time I went on it. I liked the backgrounds and the way they took you through it. It was just a very cool ride. You would never have thought that the exterior of the subs were just pieces of fiberglass. You start tearing that stuff apart and you realize there was nothing to it but it looked real. I grabbed one of the rear fins from one of the subs and just snapped it right off. It was nothing but fiberglass and foam.

    ET: When did the props from the 20K ride first become available to you for surplus?

    BR: It was about three months ago, so June 2004. We made a deal with Disney and went out and spent one morning just stripping everything we could get off the subs. We were also working with them as they were dismantling the ride. We kept telling them we wanted these parts because they are worth money. We started getting stuff out of the lagoon but then the demolition crews started crushing it too fast. They just went crazy so we didn’t get as much out of there as we were supposed to. A lot of it was just timing.

    ET: What were you able to salvage out of the lagoon?

    BR: We got to remove some of the glaciers out of it. We got a walk through of the interior building but after that Disney decided it would be safer to have their crews remove it, so the items removed from there were taken out by actual Disney employees.

    ET: What kind of condition was this stuff in after sitting in chlorinated water for ten years in the Florida sun?

    BR: It was junk. It was just totally deteriorated. There were some pieces that had already been removed before we got there, so over the years people had been through there and removed a little souvenir for themselves. We got some of the props from the Atlantis area like the jewels. We got a couple of parts from the sea serpents and a lot of the seaweed.

    ET: You actually had to chip the pieces from the Atlantis scene out of the ground didn’t you?

    BR: Yes, the pieces themselves were made of fiberglass but they were set into concrete. Most of the things in the scene, like the coins and jewels, were hot glued onto it. For the time period it was built it was very primitive but you couldn’t tell that when you were looking at it from the subs.

    ET: Did you feel a little sick to your stomach as you walked through the drained lagoon and remembered how the ride was when you were a kid?

    BR: No, I was like – I want that and that and that and that! I was hoping to get it all because I knew how badly people wanted this stuff. The day the lagoon was walled off, we started getting E-mails from people wanting to know what parts we would be getting from it and what they could get. The attention that this received from the crowds and the fans was incredible. People wanted a piece of it bad! I even had people willing to pay for water and dirt!

    ET: Based on the Disney collectors and fans you have dealt with, do you think that if Walt Disney World took a ride scheduled to be discontinued, like 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, and made it known to the public that they had a year left to see that attraction, that they would see increased profits from this strategy?

    BR: Possibly. With 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, by the time they decided to shut it down, a lot of the parts were just so worn out and what they were doing to keep it running was so involved that they couldn’t have kept it open for another year. I think it would have cost millions of dollars to get it back up and running the way it should be. They couldn’t make that back in a year. The subs were already over twenty years old when the ride was shut down and, it’s like owning a car, they’re not going to last forever. I think, even through all the controversy, that was a big part of it, the age and how constantly the things were being run.

    ET: That’s true and you make an interesting analogy between the subs and a car. When you buy a car, however, you usually expect that it will last about ten years if you take good care of it and then at the end of those ten years you will go out and buy a new car. You don’t run your car, without maintaining it properly, until it breaks down and then bury it in a landfill and hope everyone forgets you ever had it.

    BR: Some people do! The reason I say that is I have had a close look at those subs and I realized that a lot of it is just fiberglass. After being out in the sun and all that it takes its toll. I think it would have just cost too much to rebuild all of those parts.

    ET: What are some of the bigger Disney items you have sold?

    BR: We’ve had some of the concession stands from MGM, including one shaped like a Model A car. We’ve had cars from Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride and Space Mountain. We even had one of the monorail cars. That ended up going to a private collector.

    ET: What percentage of your business are auctions versus private sales?

    BR: I would say it is about fifty, fifty. The private collectors want the bigger items like ride cars and signs. The gentleman who bought the monorail has one of just about every ride car. When they redid Typhoon Lagoon at Blizzard Beach, they took one of the waterslides out and he bought that. His yard looks like an amusement park.

    ET: Do the private collectors specialize in certain characters or eras of Disney?

    BR: One of my customers is in to all the movieola machines that came out of the Main Street Arcade. Another customer in North Carolina is really into the old artwork and wartime Disney stuff. One of them just wants Winnie the Pooh items.

    ET: Do you collect Disney items yourself?

    BR: I like a lot of the artwork and pictures that were around the park. I don’t like to have the same stuff that everyone else has so I have a lot of models and displays and pieces of rides.

    ET: To you personally, what is the coolest item you have?

    BR: I have a five-foot hand carved wooden Mickey. I also have a Scrooge McDuck from one of the Disney stores from way, way back. I have several statues from there and even some of my furniture and pictures are things that came out of the resorts. I’ve got some very cool stuff!

    ET: Do you get the inside information on which rides are going to be the next to be shut down?

    BR: Yes, a lot of the time I know what is happening and what is being remodeled before almost anyone else. From the sound of it, The Wonders of Life at EPCOT will be the next to go. It’s closed down most of the time right now so I think it will be the next to go.

    ET: What is your favorite open ride?

    BR: Well I don’t really know if I have a favorite. I guess the ones I like the most right now are Mission Space and the test track. I think my favorite thing in the whole park is Mickey’s Philharmonic. That’s just awesome.

    ET: I’ve heard that the speedway is actually getting sticky and people are complaining that it isn’t running like it should.

    BR: The last time I went on it, there was a lot of stuff on the inside, before you get to the actual ride, that wasn’t operating properly.

    ET: If you could have any one item for yourself out of Walt Disney World, from the time it opened until now, what would you choose?

    BR: The statue of Walt and Mickey in the center.

    ET: What if it was one item to sell?

    BR: I think it would be one of the animatronics from The Pirates of the Caribbean. That would be a big draw. My wife wants one of the It’s a Small World people.

    ET: Thanks for all the great insight Brian!

    BR: My pleasure.

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    Crush 'n' Gusher Debuts March 15

    Flash flooding will take on a whole new meaning for Walt Disney World guests in March as they experience Crush 'n' Gusher, a new white-knuckle "water coaster" thrill ride like never before at Disney's Typhoon Lagoon. While riding Crush 'n' Gusher, guests will be whisked along a series of flumes and spillways that weave through what appears to be a rusted-out tropical fruit facility. As guests slip and slide through torrents they will have three different fruit spillways to choose from -- Banana Blaster, Coconut Crusher and Pineapple Plunger.

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    HK Disney Hotels Accepting Reservations
     
    Hong Kong may be an expensive city, but folks who want to spend some quality time with Mickey Mouse may find it is the cheapest place around.

    Walt Disney, the United States entertainment company whose new theme park opens on Lantau in September, started taking reservations Tuesday for the resort's two new hotels, and the asking price is half the tariff charged at the company's swankiest hotel at its Walt Disney World theme park in Orlando, Florida.

    Rooms at the luxury Hong Kong Disneyland Hotel, a Victorian-themed resort with 400 rooms, will start at HK$1,600 per night, while the starting rate at the art deco-style Disney's Hollywood Hotel will be HK$1,000.

    A room at the Grand Floridian Hotel in Walt Disney World, by contrast, starts at US$394 (HK$3,073) per night, while rooms in Disney's Grand Californian Hotel in Anaheim, California, start at US$265 per night.

    The relative bargains are, in some measure, Disney's own fault.

    There has been a boom in hotel construction and conversions that will add 23 new hotels, including Hong Kong Disneyland's, to the SAR's existing 100 this year.

    And much of the increase, says a hotel association executive, can be traced back to Disney's arrival.

    Disney executives said they do not think their two hotels will seriously cut into the business of their competitors.

    ``I don't believe there will be an impact on the local industry,'' said Peter Lowe, general manager of hotel operations for Disneyland in Hong Kong, who was previously general manager at the Mandarin Oriental in the territory.

    He predicted Disneyland's arrival would be a boon for the SAR's hotel trade, since the resort cannot begin to accommodate the 5.6 million visitors Disney has estimated will visit the theme park in its first year.

    The two new hotels will only add 1,000 rooms - less than half the 2,100 Disney ultimately plans to build - to a total of 37,934 hotel rooms in Hong Kong as of last September, according to statistics from the Tourism Board.

    ``These hotels do not have a comparable equivalent in Hong Kong because there is practically no other hotel here that has a big piece of land,'' said James Lu, executive director of the Hong Kong Hotels Association, referring to the sprawling lawns and gardens that will surround Disney's hotels on Lantau.

    Following the Sars outbreak in 2003, tourists have returned to the territory, with 21.8 million arrivals last year, up more than 30 percent from the year before, according to the Tourism Board.

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    ABC's Head Over Heels for Prinze

    A comedy pilot starring Freddie Prinze Jr. has received a green light from ABC.

    The pilot, which Prinze co-wrote and is executive producing as well, is about a successful single guy who was raised in a houseful of women. His life takes an unexpected turn when said women move back in with him.

    Should the pilot make it onto ABC's schedule, it would be Prinze's first regular role in a TV series. He would also be following in the footsteps of his father, Freddie Prinze, who starred in NBC's "Chico and the Man" in the mid-1970s.

    Prinze wrote the script for the pilot with Bruce Helford ("The Drew Carey Show"), Bruce Rasmussen (also a "Drew" alum) and Conrad Jackson, the Hollywood trade papers report. Helford, Rasmussen and Deborah Oppenheimer join Prinze as exec producers, and veteran director John Pasquin ("Roseanne," "Home Improvement") will helm the pilot.

    After beginning his career with a guest spot on "Family Matters," Prinze has starred in "I Know What You Did Last Summer," "She's All That," "Head Over Heels" and the two "Scooby-Doo" movies with his wife, Sarah Michelle Gellar. He's also logged guest appearances on ABC's "Boston Legal" this season, playing the son of William Shatner's Denny Crane.

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    A tale of two ears

    Hugh Hefner is sitting on an uncomfortable-looking sofa in one of Disney's Grand Floridian Resort's presidential suites, facing a gaggle of local media.

    The founder of Playboy magazine and one of our culture's leading hedonists, even at 78, is surrounded by four of his girlfriends -- that's a title, I am told -- all blondes wearing pastels of white, pink and purple. Hefner is wearing white pants and a pink and blue shirt with a white collar and rabbit-clasped French cuffs. The women sitting primly alongside him "are my security," he says. "Emotional and otherwise."

    How things change. Thirty years ago, Hefner and his entourage would have been persona non grata at Walt Disney World. A scathing 10-page feature article, written by D. Keith Mano and titled "A real Mickey Mouse operation" had recently appeared in the magazine, proving the point that people do buy Playboy for more than the pictures.

    Mano's screed took the position that the emperor had no clothes -- apt, considering his publication venue -- and the story was chock full of bitter attacks on the people at Disney that Mano dealt with in researching his piece. It was peppered with sarcastic, sometimes deliciously humorous, descriptions. For instance, he describes Disney's Contemporary Resort by saying, "It looks like your old pop-up toaster. The monorail passes right through it."

    Up until then, Disney World had been the subject of glowing stories in national magazines. People weren't used to reading anything bad about it.

    I believe the glimmerings of truth in the story made Disney management at the time a bit uncomfortable. Looking back 30 years later, many of the things Mano mocked have changed or vanished. There is no more "Greta Groom," looking for dress code violations. Paying customers sans appropriate undergarments are no longer spurned at the gate.

    Asked about the emotions after the Mano article, Hefner confides that today all is forgiven. "Their new management doesn't have any problems with us," Hefner notes, adding, "In fact, Michael Eisner picked up part of the cost of our trip."

    Hefner even hints he might ponder a "Girls of Disney" pictorial for the magazine.

    Disney's more enlightened management today provides an escort to expedite Hefner's movements. The security squad stands out from the casually attired guests in their dark blazers and ties, with red, white and blue all-American cloisonné lapel pins in the shape of a rabbit.

    On a two-day stop here, Hefner last week was on his way to Jacksonville to host an over-the-top Super Bowl bash. The stopover was a birthday present to one of the girlfriends, Holly Madison.

    One-on-one, Hefner is totally unlike another frequent Disney guest, the reclusive Michael Jackson. Unlike Jackson, Hefner was receptive to all questions, displaying a healthy intellect as he responded to questions ranging from terrorism to the fate of his former competitors.

    Hefner says he has always been in awe of Walt Disney and what Disney's corporate legacy has accomplished. He even draws a parallel between himself and Walt Disney. Both were Midwesterners, he says, both started as cartoonists and both ended up establishing a worldwide brand.

    Just a day before, Orlando's community leaders heard Bob Iger, Michael Eisner's heir apparent, expound at length about the Disney brand. He spoke of the company's planned expansion into China and India, ironically the same parts of the world that Hefner says he's taken the Playboy brand.

    In February 2003, the Far Eastern Economic Review named Playboy the most popular brand in China, where Playboy says it has more than 700 retail outlets for both men's and women's clothing.

    Hefner has been almost as adept at growing his rabbit brand as Disney has been at growing the mouse brand, despite the substantial difference in corporate revenues. For 2004, Playboy Enterprises Inc.'s sales were $330 million, as compared to the Walt Disney Co.'s $30 billion.

    With that, Hefner and his girls were off to the Disney-MGM Studios, to ride Tower of Terror and dine at The Brown Derby.

    How Hollywood-esque.

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    Tuesday February 15, 2005


    Disney-Area Land Deal Closes

    One of the last remaining developable parcels next to Walt Disney World and the Osceola County city of Celebration has been sold. Two Asian business partners sold the prime 12.1-acre tract to a mystery buyer for approximately $4.9 million or $400,826 per acre.

    The $9.20-per-sf price is the steepest this year for a tourist-oriented parcel in Central Florida, according to GlobeSt.com research. The transaction was first reported by GlobeSt.com in October 2003. Paperwork for local and state agencies delayed the closing.

    The buyer plans to erect a 250-unit condo community on the site, Tandy O. Lofland, president, Intergroup Cos., Houston, tells GlobeSt.com. The 12.1 acres are within the 195-acre, mixed-use Parkway development that Intergroup developed, marketed and managed for the past 15 years.

    "The Parkway is approximately 80% built out and, when completed in 2008, will contain over 1,000 hotel rooms, some 1,150 large timeshare units, 288 condos, extensive retail and restaurant space, and a large equestrian-themed tourist attraction--all on more than a dozen sites," Lofland says.

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    Pirates Sequels to Feature Cannibals

    The BBC reports that the "Pirates of the Caribbean" sequels plan to portray Dominica's Carib Indians as cannibals. Shooting on the films is expected to take place this April in the area, with hundreds of Dominicans applying to be extras in the movie.

    Carib Chief Charles Williams said talks with Disney's producers revealed there was "a strong element of cannibalism in the script which cannot be removed".

    The Caribs have long denied their ancestors practiced cannibalism. "Our ancestors stood up against early European conquerors and because they stood up...we were labelled savages and cannibals up to today," said Williams.

    About 3,000 Caribs live on the island of Dominica.

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    Disney on Ice returns to Verizon

    Disney On Ice is proud to bring audiences the magical and romantic tale of the charming and intelligent Belle as Disney On Ice presents Beauty and the Beast. Disney on Ice¹s engagement runs from February 24-27, 2005 at the Verizon Wireless Arena in Manchester. Tickets go on sale on Sunday, January 9, 2005.

    This beloved story of true beauty found within features an unforgettable cast of characters Belle, Lumiere, Mrs. Potts and Chip, Cogsworth, Gaston, and the Beast himself. Add to this extraordinary ensemble the Academy Award-winning score of Alan Menken and sing-along sensations such as "Be Our Guest", "Belle", and the Academy Award®-winning song "Beauty and the Beast" by Alan Menken and Howard Ashman. All-new enchanted scenery and costumes, along with magical special effects, will showcase the beauty of this story to audiences both young and young at heart. This enchanting production of song, dance, comedy and romance showcases the figure skating excellence of an international company of champions.

    Tickets for Disney On Ice presents Beauty and the Beast are on sale starting Sunday, January 9. Tickets can be purchased through the Verizon Wireless Arena box office, Ticketmaster by calling (603) 868-7300, or by logging on to www.ticketmaster.com.

    For additional information on Disney On Ice, please visit www.disneyonice.com.

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    Disney Princess Collection 2005 Two New Titles

    When Disney's fairest stars come together, the magic begins! Presenting two new titles in the delightful DISNEY PRINCESS COLLECTION: Disney Princess Stories Volume Two: Tales of Friendship and Disney Princess Party Volume Two. Disney brings together the beloved Princesses from Disney's classic animated films in a collection of DVDs and videos that will be a must-have for every little princess. These delightful titles join little Princesses everywhere with Disney heroines including Ariel, Belle, Jasmine, Cinderella, Mulan, Snow White, and more. Each title is available separately for $19.99 (DVD S.R.P.) and $14.99 (VHS S.R.P.).

                                                                    

    DISNEY PRINCESS STORIES VOLUME TWO: TALES OF FRIENDSHIP This all-new DVD features three all-new stories from Ariel, Jasmine, and Snow White. Now our little princess can enter a world of pure enchantment, a unique storytelling experience that captures all the wonder of "let's pretend" and puts your child in the middle of the magic, every moment of every day.

    The fun starts when three delightful tales about the importance of cherishing true friends come alive. Join Jasmine and Ariel as they find excitement and adventure above the clouds and under the sea. Watch Snow White try her best to fix a yummy dinner for her beloved Dwarfs – with hilarious help from Dopey! As each captivating story unfolds, your child will meet her favorite Disney Princesses, share in their fabulous adventures and discover that friendship is the most powerful magic of all.

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    Meg Ryan 'Role' on Playbill at Disney

    Meg Ryan has signed to star in "The Role of a Lifetime," the long-gestating romantic comedy about a Hollywood actor and a British director whose paths cross on Broadway.

    Originally set up at Sony a decade ago, "Role" is in the process of moving over to Disney. The male lead has not yet been cast.

    The project, based on an original script by Allison Burnett, has been through several incarnations over the years.

    In the current version, a Hepburn/Tracy-like chemistry develops when a British theater director comes to Broadway with a Shakespearean production and investors insist that he cast a movie star in the leading role.

    Ryan's recent credits include "Against the Ropes," "In the Cut" and "Kate & Leopold," none of which made much of a dent at the box office.

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    The Case for Disney

    Now that my new book "DISNEYWAR" has emerged from the realm of pirated manuscripts, rampant Hollywood speculation and secondhand accounts and onto bookstore shelves, I can finally break my long self-imposed silence on the subject of Disney stock. Even some Disney employees have recently been asking my advice on what to do with their stock options.

    Needless to say, the two-and-a-half years I've been immersed in the reporting and writing of "DisneyWar" have been tumultuous ones for the company. Walt Disney's nephew Roy Disney resigned from the board and led a national shareholders' movement to oust Disney Chief Executive Michael Eisner (hence the book's title); Comcast made an unsolicited takeover bid, rebuffed by Disney; and Eisner resigned, effective September 2006. Now Disney's board is in the midst of a high-stakes search for a new chief executive. (While I often write about stocks I own, I did not own Disney shares during this period, nor do I now.)

    Disney's prospects — and its stock — are clouded by unresolved issues and uncertainty. Its board, now entrusted with the most important decision it's likely to make, has a sorry record of bowing to Eisner's wishes, which in this instance include his desire to stay on in some capacity, perhaps as chairman and chief creative officer. It is daunting that Comcast, in its pursuit of Disney, never increased its offer, a stock swap which amounted to about $25 a share, and indicated that it didn't think Disney was worth much more than that. And apart from management and valuation issues, Disney is in an industry confronted with historic technological changes.

    Still, such uncertainty creates an opportunity for investors, along with risk.

    Disney is at a critical point in its history. The most pressing issue is succession. As shareholders have already made clear with their historic 2004 vote withholding support for Eisner, it's time for him to go. Indeed, it is past time. Eisner should step down as soon as a successor is chosen. His historic achievements at the helm of the company deserve due recognition, but he should have no further role in the company, either as a director or an officer. Disney needs a clean break with the recent past.

    Disney needs a leader who can reignite the creative spirit at the heart of the company, respect and encourage the often difficult personalities who create hit entertainment products, unite the warring factions of the company, and placate institutional investors and business partners. It needs to be someone who can be an effective partner to people like Steve Jobs at Pixar and Harvey Weinstein at Miramax, and who doesn't feel threatened by them or by people who succeed within Disney's executive ranks. It needs someone cut from the Tom Murphy model — he ran Cap Cities/ABC before Disney acquired it — rather than the Eisner mold.

    Disney also needs a chief executive who can dispel the Machiavellian culture that prevails at Disney that is so at odds with the Disney image. One of his or her first steps should be to bury the hatchet and make peace with Roy Disney and members of the Disney family. Given the loyalty to Roy Disney on the part of animators, other creative employees at Disney, and by shareholders and members of the public at large, it's harmful and distracting to Disney for the civil war to continue, and entirely unnecessary. For this reason alone, it is hard to conceive that Disney President Robert Iger would be the best person to lead Disney into the new era, given his close association with Eisner. Roy Disney and his close adviser Stanley Gold have promised to renew their campaign to unseat board members if Iger is selected. Disney cannot afford this kind of warfare at this juncture in its history. It's clear that the Hewlett-Packard board reached a similar conclusion in ousting CEO Carly Fiorina, who had alienated members of the Hewlett family.

    My own view is that the Disney board understands the importance of its mission and the need to find the best person to replace Eisner. Despite the challenges facing Eisner's successor, I believe there are a number of people up to the job. And I don't believe the search for a new chief executive is a sham intended to rubber stamp Eisner's belated choice of Iger. Some have told me that despite being immersed in Disney's culture for several years, I'm still naive. Perhaps. But I still believe this story will have a Disney ending. I wouldn't be surprised to see the stock jump substantially on news of Eisner's early departure and a new CEO that excites the investment and creative communities.

    Longer term, Disney faces more profound issues. As the lines between "content" and "distribution" have become increasingly indistinct, entertainment companies have been evolving either into the fully integrated behemoths like News Corp. which has most effectively pursued the strategy of vertical integration, or creative boutiques like Pixar or DreamWorks Animation, which concentrate strictly on content and leave distribution to others. At the moment, Disney is caught uncomfortably in the middle. A host of pressing issues, from capital investment in theme parks to securing sports rights for ESPN, will turn on Disney's ultimate vision of itself. My own gut feeling is that Disney may need to do both — somehow carve out the identity of a creative boutique within the structure of a large conglomerate, perhaps with some kind of a Pixar-like tracking stock. The market obviously awards a much higher multiple to companies like Pixar and DreamWorks. But these are long-term issues best left to new management and the board.

    During the Eisner years, Disney was obsessed with portraying itself as a "growth" company, with a high earnings multiple on the stock and annual 20% earnings gains and share appreciation. Roy Disney, meanwhile, spoke of returning Disney to its roots, with its devotion to quality and its nurturing of the creative process, regardless of the effect on quarterly results. Listening to Eisner and Roy Disney at last year's annual meeting, I was struck that they were like ships passing in the night. My own view is that companies like Disney should embrace Google's manifesto, and concede that an unpredictable creative business can yield enormous profits, but not in predictable quarterly increments. Disney is not, and should not be viewed, as a typical "growth" company, for the simple reason that Disney isn't a typical company.

    Disney is a treasured national institution, one that has shaped most of our lives and those of our children in profound ways. Its brand name is beloved the world over. If it can build on its creative heritage, align its corporate reality with its image, and live up to the values it purports to hold dear, it will earn profits along with the public's ongoing trust, respect and patronage. Long-term investing often demands an element of faith, and in Disney's case, I believe it will ultimately be rewarded.

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    DJ Tiesto rocking Disneyland 

    Disneyland Paris - In 2002 and 2003 he was awarded the title "best DJ of the world" and raced to the top of the charts. Now he is coming to the Disneyland Resort Paris: DJ Tiesto. In the night from Saturday April 16th to Sunday April 17th he will mount especially set up turntables in the Disneyland Park after the official park closure (8.00 pm). According to organizers more than 15,000 fans are expected to party along to his electronic music. The event is not organized by the Resort which has rented out the park for the night. Therefore special event tickets are necessary and no special offers for guests of the Disneyland Hotels are organized. So far no information regarding potential sources and prices for the tickets is available - but the German youth travel specialst Rainbow Tours has prepared a special package, including coach travel from Germany to the Resort and back, a two-day-park hopper passport, two nights with breakfast in Disney's Hotel Cheyenne and a ticket for the concert / the party with DJ Tiesto in the Disneyland Park. Prices start at 199,- Euro with four guests per room.

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    Harley Davidson to open at Pleasure Island

    The Mouse House at Pleasure Island will close today and be replaced with a new Harley Davidson retail store.  As well as merchandise, several custom bikes will be on display. The new location is set to open in late March 2005.

                                                              

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    Disney walks on a strong foot
     
    Sierra Industrial Enterprises has joined hand with world famous US-based Walt Disney Company to manufacture and market Disney shoes for kids in India.

    The Disney shoe range has footwear for children up to 10 years old.

    "We are expecting the brand to be one of the most popular international kids footwear brand in India. We are looking forward to be the market leader very soon. The markets are presently flooded with unbranded products which cannot assure quality to the kids feet and there exists a vacuum in the kids branded footwear market," said the company spokesperson.

    The Disney shoe collection consists boots, sandals, slippers and sports shoes for boys and girls, priced between Rs150 and Rs850.

    The Disney footwear product will be sold retailers and chain stores like Lifestyle, Loft, Shopper's Stop, Pantaloon, and Central. Disney characters such as Mickey Mouse, Minnie, Pluto Dog, Goofy, Winnie the Pooh and Disney Princess will prominently feature on the products.

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    The Mania Returns with the Disneymania 3 CD and Disneymania in Concert DVD
     
    Star-studded cd features Disney classics as performed by Clay Aiken, Raven-Symoné, Nick Lachey, Jessica Simpson and more!

                                                      
     
    On February 15, 2005, Walt Disney Records unleashes Disneymania 3, a star-studded CD featuring Disney classics performed by some of today’s hottest tween and teen artists. Continuing the success of the near-platinum Disneymania album and last year's Disneymania 2, which is fast approaching gold certification, Disneymania 3 showcases talented performers such as Clay Aiken, Nick Lachey, Jessica Simpson, Raven-Symoné and Jesse McCartney putting unique twists on their favorite Disney songs to create an extraordinary album of fun and timeless tunes.
      
                                                     
    The mania doesn't stop there! In addition to the Disneymania 3 CD, Walt Disney Records releases Disneymania in Concert on February 15th. The DVD features some of today's hottest Radio Disney artists taking center stage at the Disneyland Resort in California to perform classic Disney songs, plus a few of their own greatest hits.

                                  

    This exciting new DVD features exclusive behind-the-scenes footage of the making of the Disneymania CD series and backstage footage from the concert, including up close and personal interviews with Raven-Symoné, Jesse McCartney, Ashanti featuring Lil' Sis Shi Shi, The Beu Sisters, Stevie Brock, the Disney Channel Circle of Stars and a bonus music video from Clay Aiken.

    Disneymania 3 track list:

    1. Under the Sea – Raven-Symoné
    2. Hawaiian Roller Coaster Ride – Jump5
    3. A Whole New World – Nick Lachey and Jessica Simpson
    4. It's a Small World (RapMania! Mix) – Fan_3
    5. The Bare Necessities – Bowling for Soup
    6. I Won't Say (I'm In Love) – The Cheetah Girls
    7. Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah – Aly & A.J.
    8. Kiss the Girl – Vitamin C
    9. Part of Your World – Skye Sweetnam
    10. Colors of the Wind – Christy Carlson Romano
    11. Proud of Your Boy – Clay Aiken
    12. Strangers Like Me - Everlife
    13. A Dream Is a Wish Your Heart Makes – Kimberley Locke
    14. Cruella De Vil - Lalaine
    15. When You Wish Upon a Star – Jesse McCartney

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    Disney Seeks Hitchhiker Fans

    Walt Disney Pictures, which is producing the upcoming feature adaptation of Douglas Adams' SF spoof Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, has announced a contest to find the most dedicated Hitchhiker's fans in the galaxy, the Dark Horizons Web site reported. Contestants are asked to submit an essay of 250 words or less on why they became fans and how they live their lives according to the titular fictional guide.

    Six winners—a number derived from the addition of the digits in 42, which is hailed as the answer to "life, the universe and everything" in the Hitchhiker's series—will be chosen to have their profiles featured on the official Web site for the film. Entries must include name, age, city and e-mail address and may be sent to 42Fans@gmail.com. The deadline for the contest is Feb. 25. The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy opens in theaters May 6.

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    Landau, Jones Follow 'Evidence' for ABC
     
    Orlando Jones and Oscar winner Martin Landau will make for a wacky buddy cop team in the ABC drama pilot "Evidence."

    Based on a script by "The Rule of Four" co-authors Dustin Thomason and Sam Baum, "Evidence" focuses on two homicide detectives (Jones and Landau) who assemble evidence and then reconstruct crimes. According to The Hollywood Reporter, Gary Fleder is on board to direct the pilot, which comes to ABC courtesy of John Wells Prods. and Warner Bros. TV.

    Landau's television credits go back to his role as Rollin Hand on "Mission: Impossible," a part that earned him three Emmy nominations. After a 35-year gap, Landau received his fourth Emmy nomination in 2004 for a guest spot on CBS' "Without a Trace." The actor won his Oscar for the 1994 film "Ed Wood," following nominations for "Crimes and Misdemeanors" and "Tucker: The Man and His Dream."

    Jones was last heard as Scrat in NBC's short-lived computer animated comedy "Father of the Pride." The "MADtv" alumus and "Biker Boyz" co-star was attached to ABC's bounty hunter drama "The Catch," but left the series after a number of production delays.

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    Monday February 14, 2005


    Disney Book May Halt Rise Of Iger

    A bombshell book on the backbiting and power struggles within Disney gives new ammunition to dissident shareholders looking to block President Robert Iger's ascension as CEO.

    James B. Stewart's tome "DisneyWar" features a host of damaging revelations about heir-apparent Iger. The book often portrays Iger as an alternately insecure and arrogant manager who protects his turf by kowtowing to CEO Michael Eisner. The negative publicity could torpedo Iger's move up the corporate ladder in 2006.

    "This book will relate to the ordinary shareholder what everyone in Hollywood knows — [Iger] is a weak manager and totally beholden to Michael [Eisner]," said one source close to the board of directors.

    A Disney insider said the book opens a window on the Mouse House's "dysfunctional" world.

    The juicy revelations in Stewart's page-turner made national headlines just as Magic Kingdom execs and board directors were readying for Friday's annual meeting in Minneapolis.

    While the majority of Disney shareholders gave Iger a vote of confidence with a landslide re-election Friday, disgruntled stockholders have shown their power in the past.

    Vocal shareholders Roy Disney and Stanley Gold have already said they oppose Iger as a new leader and have chastised the board for not opening up the CEO search to outside candidates. The duo has stirred up enough controversy to force Eisner to relinquish his chairman title and publicly agree to step down as CEO next year.

    Details from the book look like they could help their case against Iger. One index item, "Iger, Robert: Eisner's doubts about," includes eight entries.

    Some embarrassing details include:

    * Eisner insulted Iger in internal e-mails and verbal tirades to other Disney colleagues, in one situation including Iger on a list of executives he considered "problems."

    In a separate case, Eisner said, "ABC has destroyed Bob! Unless he fixes it, he will never be CEO. He can't even get another job in this town."

    * Although Iger denies it in the book, Stewart says he passed on the hit series "Survivor," which instead aired on CBS. Iger also vetoed the idea of producing "CSI" for rival CBS, losing out on the potential revenue that the hit series would bring to Disney/Touchstone.

    * Under pressure to deliver a money-making hit, Iger pushed for ABC's "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire" to air three times a week (against the wishes of its producers) saying "I'll take full responsibility for the decision." Millionaire eventually became overexposed, leading to its downfall.

    * The book details Iger's troubles in dealing with his ABC colleagues such as Lloyd Braun, then chairman of ABC Entertainment Television, and the Jamie Tarses, a programming executive who sometimes disregarded Iger's authority.

    * Eisner was evasive in naming Iger as a viable successor, confiding in others that Iger may not have the stature needed to run Disney. Stewart recounts Iger as saying, "I just feel everytime I pick up a magazine I read that there isn't any successor. I'm invisible. No one takes me seriously." When Iger was named President and COO, Eisner refused to be photographed with him for the press release, according to Stewart's book.

    Disney execs couldn't be reached for comment, but earlier in the week issued a response to the book's revelations: "We remain focused on excellent results, performance and a bright future, not on a one-sided depiction of past events largely told through the eyes of those with a clear bias and personal agendas."

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    Pirates movie makers upset Native Indians

    Pirates of the Caribbean movie-makers have been attacked by Dominica's native Carib Indians for portraying them as cannibals in the upcoming adventure sequel.

    After talks with Disney producers, Carib Chief Charles Williams has expressed concern there is "a strong element of cannibalism in the script which cannot be removed".

    The Caribs - who number around 3,000 of the 70,000 population on the Caribbean island - have always stringently denied any history of cannibalism among their people.

    Williams says, "Our ancestors stood up against early European conquerors and because they stood up... we were labelled savages and cannibals up to today.

    "This cannot be perpetuated in movies."

    Filming of the sequel and a third film is due to begin on a number of Caribbean islands - including Dominica - in April (05).

    JOHNNY DEPP, ORLANDO BLOOM and KEIRA KNIGHTLEY will reprise the roles they played in the first film, which took $305 million (GBP162 million) at the box office after its 2003 release.

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    DisneyWar scores with readers

    The troubled publishing genre of business scandal narratives is getting a breath of life from James B. Stewart's DisneyWar.

    The controversial inside look at Michael Eisner's tenure at Disney was put on sale last week, almost a month ahead of its original release date, to take advantage of press coverage.

                                                                         

    The title landed at No. 12 on Amazon.com's list of top selling books. Barnes & Noble's stores increased their pre-publication orders.

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    Eisner says Disney's sky isn't falling

    My favorite moment during the Walt Disney Co. annual shareholder meeting occurred when the company's top executives started touting "Chicken Little," an upcoming Disney animated feature.

    In retrospect, I wouldn't be surprised if it was Disney Chief Executive Michael Eisner's favorite part of the two-hour session as well. Perhaps the irony wasn't lost on him, either.

    In Eisner's world, the doomsayer Chicken Little has been played by the dissident shareholder and former board member, Roy Disney (He is also the nephew of the legendary founder Walt Disney).

    Roy Disney has been running around Burbank, Calif., where Disney is based, Wall Street and everywhere else for more than a year, shrieking that Disney's stockholders are getting a raw deal from Eisner. He has blasted Eisner's management record and blamed him for everything but starting the Great Chicago Fire.

    Roy's campaign helped force Eisner into a corner. Last year, at the company's 2004 shareholder meeting in Philadelphia, the shareholders showed so little confidence in Eisner that he took the hint. Eisner relinquished the cherished title of chairman, which he had held for two decades since arriving at the Magic Kingdom.

    Wishing upon a star

    But on stage Friday in Minneapolis at the 2005 annual meeting, Eisner sounded renewed.

    As I listened to the Webcast, I could envision him bounding around the stage as he happily recited the company's accomplishments.

    Eisner emphatically pointed out, for example, that the company's earnings and stock price had surged since last year's Philadelphia fiasco. He did everything but break out in a chorus of Elton John's "I'm Still Standing."

    No wonder Eisner was sticking his chest out. Disney's holdings are on solid ground. ESPN is doing phenomenally. For the first time in many years, Eisner can even brag that ABC, long a black hole for Disney, is on a roll. ABC has hit it big with the most talked-about new show and greatest hit of the season -- "Desperate Housewives" -- and the popular "Lost."

    With so many things going right, you couldn't blame Eisner if he had an urge to thumb his nose at his nemesis, Roy Disney.

    Eisner could shrug off complaints that Disney's stock price had lagged the results of other large-cap stocks over the years. Critics carped that Eisner's acquisitions, especially the Capital Cities/ABC deal, were questionable at best.

    But survival has been the name of Eisner's game for the past 20 years. Few CEOs are as resourceful. He remained the Teflon CEO, even when his executive partnerships with Jeffrey Katzenberg and Michael Ovitz fizzled and ended up costing Disney hundreds of millions of dollars.

    Goofy

    Still, I have a quibble with Eisner myself.

    This year, Disney brought its annual meeting to Minneapolis. In 2001, Disney held the meeting in Dallas. Then it was on to Hartford in 2002, Denver in 2003 (during a blizzard, no less) and Philadelphia a year ago. It seems to have a disdain for the largest city in the United States.

    As for Eisner, his task gets ever-more complicated because of the explosive new book "DisneyWar" by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist James B. Stewart.

    Stewart takes apart Eisner's record, not only deal by deal and controversy by controversy, but basically memo by memo.

    Simon & Schuster, the publisher of "DisneyWar," has moved up the publication date of Stewart's book. The company, a unit of Viacom, wants to cash in on the buzz that the book is beginning to garner.

    Eisner, really, has one task. He has to find a way to convince everyone, all over again, that, no matter what appears in "DisneyWar," the sky isn't falling.

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    Calling all Disney fans

    What's your favorite Disneyland memory?

    The Anaheim park celebrates its 50th birthday this year, and we know many Bay Area residents have chosen to celebrate the landmark moments in their own lives at the Happiest Place on Earth.

    We'd like to include a selection of your remembrances in an upcoming Travel section.

    Submissions of 125 words or less will be considered. Please e-mail to memories@mercurynews.com, or mail to Travel, Disneyland Section, San Jose Mercury News, 750 Ridder Park Drive, San Jose, Calif. 95190. Include your name, city and phone number (we will use phone numbers for verification only, not for publication).

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    Euro Disney sees sales, core profit up in 04/05

    Andre Lacroix, chairman of Euro Disney, expects sales and core earnings at the French theme park operator to rise in its 2004/2005 financial year, he said in an interview with daily La Tribune.

    "We are aiming for an increase in turnover and earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortization (EBITDA), which emerged at 1.05 billion euros ($1.35 billion) and 122.9 million, respectively, over the past year," Lacroix told the newspaper, when asked about the firm's aims for 2004/05.

    But he added that it would take the company, which launched a 253 million euro capital increase in January to help stabilise its finances and fund its development, several years to start making net profits.

    "We had a net loss of 145 million euros in the 2003-04 year. It will take several years to return to profit," he said.

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    The Tragic Kingdom

    At the annual Disney shareholders' meeting last week in Minneapolis, Minn., the hefty document that attendees were most eager to get their hands on was not an annual report. It was James B. Stewart's DisneyWar (Simon & Schuster; 572 pages), which chronicles how CEO Michael Eisner--who announced last year that he would step down in 2006--turned their pop-culture institution into a Tragic Kingdom.

    Bookstores around Minneapolis' Convention Center reportedly did not have it in stock, which was one scrap of good news for Disney president and COO Robert Iger. A leading candidate to replace Eisner, Iger cannot be helped in his bid by his portrayal in DisneyWar as Eisner's beaten cur--a disrespected, whiny No. 2 with poor judgment, serving a CEO who wanted a non threatening deputy to "take all the s___" of running a company. And Eisner says more than once that Iger is unfit to take his job. Iger, he says, "can never succeed me."

    But say this for Iger: at least he is not Eisner, who is to DisneyWar what Cruella De Vil was to 101 Dalmatians. Amazingly, Stewart--Pulitzer-prizewinning author of the insider-trading exposé Den of Thieves--had the cooperation of Eisner and Disney, having approached them in early 2003 to do a book on how Disney was adapting to the changing media world. Eisner granted him interviews; Stewart even wore a Goofy costume at Walt Disney World. But within a few months he had ringside seats as Roy Disney, nephew of founder Walt Disney, launched a shareholder revolt against the man he blamed for hobbling a thriving entertainment giant.

    That there was a thriving giant to hobble owes much to Eisner. Hired in 1984, he brought back the company--moribund and churning out flops like Tron--by turning out hit movies like Pretty Woman and Beauty and the Beast. The story gets good when things go bad, beginning in the early 1990s, as Disney falls to intracorporate civil war and Eisner's golden gut turns to lead. (Treasure Planet, anyone?)

    The major events in DisneyWar are familiar: Eisner's fallings-out with lieutenants Jeffrey Katzenberg and Michael Ovitz, the turbulence at the acquired ABC network. But Stewart gleans fantastic fly-on-the-wall reportage from his inside access, interviews and Eisner's revealing notes and e-mails. Some of these incidents put Iger in a bad light just as the Disney board is considering CEO candidates. At the end of an argument between him and ABC chairman Lloyd Braun, Iger gets so agitated that he accidentally hits a waiter, who spills coffee down Iger's shirt. Not that Iger's own treatment was better. During a rough patch, Ovitz suggests that Eisner give Iger a gift to shore up his confidence. Eisner balks. "Don't you want him to be comfortable, happy in his job?" Ovitz asks. A beat passes. "Not really," Eisner says.

    So it goes for hundreds of blistering pages. How do you know that somebody is about to be fired or forced out at Disney? When Eisner professes loyalty to him. How do you know when someone at Disney is about to have a great success? When she gets fired or forced out. Braun, for instance, is booted just before his brainchild Lost--derided by Eisner and Iger--becomes a Top 10 hit.

    Stewart's take is that while a successful jerk may be forgiven all, Eisner indulged his vanity and vindictiveness to his company's harm. He cost Disney millions of dollars and vast embarrassment by letting Katzenberg's departure deteriorate into a lawsuit. He even badmouths Lost--his own network's hit--to Stewart, to rationalize having opposed it. ("Lost is terrible," he says. "Who cares about these people on a desert island?")

    Last week's shareholder meeting ended quietly, but the nasty succession drama is far from over. Eisner calls the intrigue at Disney "Shakespearean," and Stewart likens the CEO to Lear and Richard III--though the literary comparison undeservedly puffs up DisneyWar and Eisner. A media leader squandering his company's worth, a tyrannical boss, a failure clinging to power--these are dog-bites-man stories that Stewart simply bundles up in a deliciously toxic, if under analyzed, package. It's not a tragedy worthy of the Bard, but it is a lusty roll in greed and spite. In other words, a good old-fashioned Hollywood production.

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    Automated Ticket vending machines now operational at TTC

    The new automated ticket machines Disney World's Ticket and Transportation Center are now up and running. This will allow guests to purchase tickets without queuing at one of the regular manned ticket booths.

                                    

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    In 25th Year, 'Nightline' at a Crossroads

    When George Stephanopoulos filled in as anchor to talk about the Iraqi elections recently, it may have been a peek into the future at "Nightline." In its 25th anniversary year, Ted Koppel's ABC News program is at another crossroads. While the situation may not be as dramatic as the high-stakes survival game when ABC courted David Letterman in 2002, the changes contemplated this year will probably be more far-reaching.

    One of the intriguing ideas being talked about at ABC is a swap, where Stephanopoulos takes over "Nightline" and Koppel lands at the struggling Sunday morning franchise "This Week."

    "There has been endless speculation about `Nightline,'" ABC News spokesman Jeffrey Schneider said. "I expect there will be more. I'm not going to add to that speculation, except to say we are doing the finest broadcast right now and expect to continue."

    It's an issue now because the network wants to decide the show's future by the end of the year, when Koppel's contract expires.

    The Letterman flirtation proved ABC wouldn't hesitate to replace "Nightline" with a program that could generate higher profits. If news is abandoned, ABC's entertainment or sports divisions could be enlisted.

    Ratings for "Nightline" are slightly up this year, countering a longtime trend. The show averages 3.8 million viewers a night, down from 6.3 million viewers 10 years ago, according to Nielsen Media Research. In that same stretch, Letterman's "Late Show" dropped from 6.3 million to 4.6 million. NBC's dominant "Tonight" show averaged 5.7 million viewers a decade ago and is at 5.8 million now.

    Once a relative novelty, "Nightline" now competes in a television environment saturated by news. People are also going to bed earlier and getting up earlier, as the increasing viewership for local early-morning news shows indicates.

    ABC executives prefer an hourlong show in that 11:35 p.m. time slot ("Nightline" is now 30 minutes, followed by Jimmy Kimmel), according to people at the network who spoke on condition of anonymity.

    But there's actually reason to believe ABC News may have an advantage in keeping the time slot to itself.

    For one thing, news represents a clear contrast to ABC's rivals at that hour. A late-night talk show would be a potential goldmine, but there are few proven commodities on the open market. Letterman, Leno, Conan O'Brien and Jon Stewart aren't available, and Kimmel's ratings make moving him up a half-hour risky.

    A sports highlight show would be extremely attractive to young men, a demographic advertisers pay a premium to reach. But would ABC parent Walt Disney Co. want to undermine one of its other properties, ESPN, with a "SportsCenter" competitor?

    Whether news hangs on to the time slot could depend on a new "Nightline."

    Many companies have tensions between headquarters and satellite offices, and that's frequently been the case with ABC News' New York office and the "Nightline" Washington base. It seemed ominous when "Nightline" co-executive producer Leroy Sievers resigned in November, saying the company was considering fundamental changes to the show and "we were unable to agree on those changes."

    Within the past few weeks, ABC has filmed some partial test runs in its Times Square studios of a potential new "Nightline," reportedly lighter in tone and containing multiple stories.

    The "Nightline" crew, in turn, plans to make its own hourlong prototype and hopes to reach some common ground.

    Koppel's reduced workload in recent years has hurt the show's identity, said Tom Rosenstiel, director of the Project for Excellence in Journalism. Koppel regularly works three nights a week, a schedule designed to pave the way for a successor but now widely considered a failure.

    ABC's New York office is said to favor bringing "Nightline" back to its live roots. It is now live only occasionally; people on the show say it's easier to book guests for a late afternoon or early evening taping than close to midnight.

    At issue, it seems, is the very identity of "Nightline."

    "If the notion of doing a single subject deeply in an authoritative way was lost, if they give that up to do a live magazine that is mostly talk, something will be lost in television," Rosenstiel said. "Because `Nightline' stands apart in a culture that is mostly hot air."

    In an age when many managers equate live television with excitement, "Nightline" and the evening news programs are old school. They give time to prepared reports with craft and editing. "Nightline" also takes pride in reporting on important topics that get relatively little attention on TV news. One example was last week's story about Rwanda, although the participation of "Hotel Rwanda" actor Don Cheadle gave it a Hollywood twist.

    An hourlong show that runs live every night is a grueling new workload that would seem to freeze out Koppel, who turned 65 last week. The show could be saved at the expense of the man who has been its sole full-time host.

    That adds logic to the idea of a potential Stephanopoulos-Koppel swap, first reported by Newsday's Verne Gay. Koppel would add instant gravitas to a Sunday political show now third in the ratings behind NBC and CBS. Stephanopoulos would have room to grow on "Nightline," and face a younger, more open-minded audience each night.

    Neither man was willing to talk about it last week. Those involved say all of the talk is very preliminary.

    "We're thinking about something that is basically a year off and a lot can happen between now and then," said Tom Bettag, "Nightline" executive producer.

    "All of us have put a lot of years into putting together a broadcast that is unique in television and is important to viewers," he said. "We'll do everything we can to make sure it will go on another 25 years." 

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    A honey of a movie

    That honey-obsessed bear, Pooh, and his friends are off on another adventure in Disney's new Pooh's Heffalump Movie.

    When Pooh, Piglet, Rabbit, Tigger and Roo decide to cross into Heffalump Hollow to catch a Heffalump, they get a more than they expected. Roo thinks he has always been too young or too small to do anything, so when he isn't allowed to go on the expedition, he takes matters into his own hands. He finds a new friend, Lumpy, a Heffalump. But not everyone is happy about Roo's new friend. In this new movie, Roo and all his friends learn not to judge a book by its cover!

    Winnie the Pooh has always been one of my favourite classics and my feelings haven't changed since I was young. Pooh stories have always been about making friends and this one is no exception.

    The special thing about this movie for me was the magical connection between Roo and his new friend Lumpy. Both of them, as children, have a child's spirit of playing as if nothing else mattered.

    There were a lot of young kids in the audience. For some it must have been their first movie. Amazingly, there were adults without any kids!

    I loved this movie! It makes a great first movie for kids. Enjoy the movie!

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    Prices going UP again

    Disneyland Paris - April 9th is not only the opening day for Space Mountain: Mission 2 but also the official start of the summer season as far as ticket prices are concerned. As it is a tradition already the Disneyland Resort Paris treats its guests to another price hike. This time the price for the one day, one park passport increases to 41,- Euro for Adults (up from 40,- Euro) respectively 33,- Euro for Children (up from 30,- Euro). The one day, two park hopper passport seems to stay unchanged at 49,- / 39,- Euro as do the prices for the Annual Passports (Dream: 159,- Euro; Fantasy: 119,- Euro; Proximity: 89,- Euro). But there might be more price hikes coming not yet announced. The official website lists the two day and three day park hopper passports as available till 8th of April only so far, which in the past indicated the release of new prices.

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    Discoveryland Changes

    Disneyland Paris - The refurbishment and re-theming of the Space Mountain is making progress and work on Buzz Lightyear's AstroBlaster behind the construction walls is also going on as the noise clearly proves. But there are some more subtle changes too. David Ravenswood recognized new music used in the entrance area of the land, replacing David Tolley's score that had been in place since 1992 and was composed especially for Disneyland Paris. David Ravenswood describes the new music as more "ethereal" and featuring more "modern snyths" than the previous loop. Was this just a temporary change or is this going to last? Only time will tell ... but if you visit the resort anytime soon tell us, what you heard in the area.

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    Sunday February 13, 2005


    Only Mickey rivals him as company's face
     
    Friday's Walt Disney Co. annual meeting, coming one year after a shareholder revolt stripped Chief Executive Michael Eisner of the chairman's title, will probably be the last time he addresses investors while at Disney's helm.

    For people who know the 62-year-old Eisner, it's hard to imagine him severing his links to Burbank, Calf.-based Disney. He is a man whose attention to -- some would say obsession with -- the world's most famous entertainment company is legendary. In fact, his identity, both professional and personal, seems to be inextricably linked to the company he has run since 1984.

    From hosting Disney's signature TV shows to choosing the drapes for Disney hotel rooms, he has left an indelible imprint. And vice versa -- for years, he's rarely appeared in public without a Mickey Mouse tie.

    "Disney has been his life," said former Disney TV executive Rich Frank. Of Eisner's impending departure, Frank added: "It has to be unbelievably tough for him."

    Eisner announced last year he'll step down when his contract expires in September 2006. His exit, however, is expected to come much sooner: The Disney board has pledged to name a successor by June.

    Bill Mechanic, a producer and former movie chief at 20th Century Fox, predicted Eisner wouldn't be retired for long. "He's not a leisure-time guy," he said. "I don't think you'll ever see him go off into the sunset."

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    Iger's chance to lead Disney might have been helped by vote for board

    Walt Disney Co. directors on Friday won re-election with at least 92.2 percent of the shares voted, a year after investors withheld 45 percent of their ballots from Chief Executive Michael Eisner.

    Disney President Robert Iger, the only internal candidate to replace Eisner when he retires in September 2006, won the support of 94.6 percent of the shares voted, up from 83.5 percent last year.

    That endorsement by investors may signal approval for Iger, who shared the stage with Eisner at the Minneapolis Convention Center.

    "It would be good for the business" if Iger took over, said Richard Steinberg of Steinberg Global Asset Management in Boca Raton, Fla., which holds 72,000 Disney shares. "To have somebody start from scratch all over again would be a huge mistake."

    Directors at Disney, the second-biggest U.S. media company, haven't made a selection yet and are considering outside candidates, Chairman George Mitchell told shareholders. The board is working to find a successor by June, he said. Mitchell won votes from 93.1 percent of shares cast Friday, up from 74 percent a year ago.

    Since the last annual meeting in Philadelphia, Eisner fended off a $54.1 billion takeover bid by Comcast Corp., and Disney shares have risen 10 percent as revenue increased at its television business. Iger has boosted his profile by playing a larger role at company events, including a conference at Walt Disney World last week.

    On Friday, Iger and Eisner alternated speaking as they told investors that the company's television, film, theme parks and consumer-products divisions all have improved in the last year.

    Investors attending the meeting were greeted by actors costumed as Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, Mulan and Cinderella.

    Boyd Smith, 32, a librarian from Minot, N.D., who has held 313 Disney shares for about three years, was among those attending. Smith said Iger is capable of taking over from Eisner.

    "I think Iger can get more comfortable in the job," Smith said in an interview. "If he gets it, he'll get confidence in the job over time."

    Former Disney directors Roy Disney and Stanley Gold, who said they'd withhold support from Eisner, attended Friday's meeting.

    Last year, the dissident directors campaigned against the chief executive, calling a truce after he announced retirement plans. This year, Roy Disney, 75, and Gold, 62, didn't ask other shareholders to follow their lead.

    In trading Friday, shares of Disney, which is based in Burbank, Calif., fell 1 cent to $29.34.

    The shareholders' approval of the board was a vote of confidence in the directors, said Patrick McGurn, vice president of Institutional Shareholder Services, the largest U.S. proxy adviser to fund managers.

    "The board did a lot of work this year: new independent directors were added, the chairman and CEO roles were officially separated, a search for a new CEO began," McGurn said.

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    Small world after all

    The gold dust is once again swirling through the Magic Kingdom, also known as the Walt Disney Co.

    Disney shareholders, who gathered Friday in Minneapolis for their annual meeting, were a cheery bunch.

    Their mood was precisely the opposite of the scene at last year's annual meeting in Philadelphia, when one of the year's biggest corporate shareholder revolts reached its zenith.

    This time, only 8 percent of the shares voted went against chief executive Michael Eisner, who was up for re-election to the Disney board. A year ago, 43 percent thumbed him down — enough for directors to take away his chairman post and hand it to former U.S. Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell.

    Disney officials, who rotate the annual meeting to sites around the country, said they chose Minneapolis because the company has a strong shareholder base here — about 8,000 shareholders within 50 miles of the Twin Cities.

    The session, held at the Minneapolis Convention Center, drew a crowd about a third as large as last year's roughly 3,000. It lasted three hours, down from 5½ last year.

    And the audience was alive with chuckles, applause and boos.

    Shareholder gadfly Evelyn Y. Davis stirred laughter and jeers for her persistent questioning of Eisner and Mitchell. She needled them to select a low-profile outsider to succeed Eisner as CEO rather than what she called a "high-profile phony like Carly Fiorina," who was ousted this week from her job as Hewlett-Packard's chief executive.

    Mitchell repeated earlier statements that the board plans to name a new CEO by June to succeed the 62-year-old Eisner, whose employment agreement with the company expires on Sept. 30, 2006. Directors have hired the Heidrick & Struggles executive search firm to help find his successor.

    Shareholder dissidents Roy Disney and Stanley Gold, who led last year's uprising, withheld their votes for directors. They are concerned that the board will tap Disney President Robert A. Iger for the job without an adequate search beyond the company.

    Mitchell assured shareholders "there has been no prior determination. There are no preconditions."

    Roy Disney attended the meeting, but didn't speak.

    Eisner emphasized the company's rebound over the past year. He blamed Disney's struggles before 2004 on the lingering downturn that hit the lodging and entertainment industry since the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

    For the year ended Sept. 30, earnings per share rose to $1.12 from 65 cents. Revenue climbed to $30.8 billion from $27.1 billion. Cash flow reached record levels.

    And on Monday, Disney's stock price hit a three-year high of $29.99.

    Only six months ago, it was trading below $21.

    "It was very impressive," said Gregg Fishbein, a Minneapolis attorney, of the company's recent rebound. Fishbein went to the meeting with his wife, Leslie, who is a Disney stockholder.

    "When a company has good results, the shareholders are very happy," he added. "You certainly can't complain about Disney's results."

    Eisner noted the company's enormous growth since he became CEO in 1984.

    Its market capitalization has grown to $60 billion from $2 billion; revenue is 30 times what it was then; and Disney has many more hotel rooms, stage plays and theme parks.

    He predicted more growth, noting the company will open another Disneyland in September, in Hong Kong, to tap the burgeoning Chinese market.

    Flashy videos took up nearly half of the meeting. They saluted the company's massive commitment to spreading U.S. pop culture around the world through movies, plays, theme parks and resorts, broadcast entertainment and consumer products.

    Among those favorably portrayed were all four of Minnesota's professional sports franchises and KQRS, the Twin Cities radio market's top-rated outlet and one of six Disney-owned radio stations here.

    "I'm well aware that Disney is not just another company," Mitchell declared. "It's an American icon."

    However, much was left unsaid.

    Executives made no references to the high-profile trial that wound up last month in a Delaware state court. In that case, dissident shareholders are seeking to hold the Disney board liable for a $140 million severance payment to former President Michael Ovitz, who was fired after just 14 months. Directors around the country worry that a precedent could be set if the case goes against Disney.

    Nor was there any comment about author James Stewart's new book, "DisneyWar," an unflattering portrait of the drama at Disney in recent years. Among those portrayed unfavorably is Disney director Gary Wilson, who is chairman of Northwest Airlines.

    Despite their upbeat disposition, stockholders actually cast 56 percent of the shares voted to support Davis' resolution urging directors to bar greenmail — the company practice of warding off a takeover threat by paying off a raider to go away. The board opposed her resolution.

    As the meeting lumbered to a close, a shareholder from Vero Beach, Fla., asked: "Would you think about a warmer place for next year's meeting?"

    The audience reacted with lusty boos, then Eisner offered a suggestion: Juneau, Alaska.

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    New attractions mark Disney anniversary

    Disney parks are getting ready for a year-long party to mark the 50th anniversary of Disneyland, the company's flagship property in Anaheim, Calif. A celebration kicks off on May 5 with festivities there and at the other Disney parks in Florida, France and Japan.

    From a roaming animatronic dinosaur at Walt Disney World's Animal Kingdom in Florida to new rides and an on-line computer game, Disney will offer an array of new attractions (many swapped between parks) and spectacles at all of its parks.

    One of the biggest celebrations will be in Hong Kong on Sept. 12, when the newest Disney park opens on Lantau Island, offering both classic Disney attractions and regionally inspired design elements such as extensive gardens.

    Disney Cruise Line is also marking the anniversary with its first West Coast itinerary, departing Los Angeles for Mexico for 12 one-week cruises.

    An interactive computer game will be launched on May 5 on the Disney website, http://www.disney.com, allowing players to visit the virtual parks, design their own creations, accumulate points and status and even link their real-world Disney experiences to the game.

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    Disney to offer Subtitling in Singapore

    Walt Disney Television International (Southeast Asia/Korea) will begin offering simplified Mandarin subtitling for Disney Channel and Playhouse Disney in Singapore on StarHub Digital Cable, beginning Monday.

    Raymund Miranda, the managing director of Walt Disney Television International (Southeast Asia/Korea) and Walt Disney International (Southeast Asia), noted, "The dual language option on StarHub Digital Cable will give subscribers more choice in how they wish to view our channels, and we're delighted to be able to offer world-class Disney entertainment in both languages."

    He continued, "We see this development as helpful to the overall encouragement of the Singapore government to promote the use of Mandarin among Singaporeans. Our Mandarin feed could, in their own small way, help to engage the younger generation of English-educated Singaporeans to speak Mandarin more."

    Disney Channel and Playhouse Disney Channel will have all animation programming dubbed in Mandarin and all live action series subtitled in simplified Chinese.

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    Disney Shareholder Meeting is Low-Key

    In contrast to the Philadelphia rebellion of one year ago, Walt Disney Co.'s annual stockholder meeting Friday was a tepid, three-hour affair. It was last March that Eisner was roasting on the grill as big institutional shareholders slapped him with a 45 percent no-confidence vote that led to his being stripped of his chairman's title. This year, Eisner and Disney's 11 other directors got a warm reception in a city where Friday's 40-plus degree temperature seemed downright tropical compared to the sub-freezing days of late. Encouraged by better earnings, an improved stock price and a promise that Disney's board is searching for Eisner's successor, shareholders overwhelmingly elected each director. Disney President Robert Iger, who hopes to succeed Eisner, got a boost for his candidacy by garnering 95 percent of the shares voted for his re-election. Beyond that, the meeting touched on, but revealed little new, about such pending issues as the search for a potential successor to Eisner, its strained relationship with the company's Miramax film unit and Disney's falling out with Pixar Animation Studios, maker of such hits as The Incredibles and Finding Nemo.Indeed, the meeting, with more than 2,000 attending, had the air of a populist, grass-roots convention.

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    Shareholders Are Nice as Mice

    There were no protests this year, no pickets, no calls for Chief Executive Michael Eisner to pack his bags.

    In contrast to the Philadelphia rebellion of one year ago, Walt Disney Co.'s annual shareholder meeting Friday was a tepid three-hour affair perhaps best summed up by Nancy Walsh, a 54-year-old mother of four from Plymouth, Minn., who owns 375 shares.

    "I thought it was wonderful. I've never been to a meeting before," she said, after having her picture taken with "Aladdin" character Princess Jasmine. "People in the Midwest, we tend to be a lot gentler, not like the spitfire East Coasters."

    It was last March that Eisner was roasting on the grill as big institutional shareholders slapped him with a 45% no-confidence vote that led to his being stripped of his chairman's title. This year Eisner and Disney's 11 other directors got a warm reception in a city where Friday's 45-degree temperature seemed downright tropical compared with the often subfreezing weather of February. The company said it selected Minnesota because it likes to rotate the meetings around the country and because it has radio operations there.

    Encouraged by better earnings, an improved stock price and a promise that Disney's board is searching for Eisner's successor, shareholders overwhelmingly elected each director. Each received at least 9 out of 10 shares voted. Disney President Robert Iger, who hopes to succeed Eisner, got a boost for his candidacy by garnering 95% of the shares voted.

    Beyond that, the meeting touched on, but revealed little new about, such issues as the search for a successor to Eisner, the company's strained relationship with its Miramax film unit and Disney's falling-out with Pixar Animation Studios, maker of such hits as "The Incredibles."

    The meeting, with more than 2,000 attending, had the air of a populist, grass-roots convention. It also served as a reminder that many of the mom-and-pop shareholders who make up a good chunk of the company's ownership base care little about the issues Wall Street obsesses over, such as succession, the fallout from a bruising new book on Disney and quarterly earnings.

    One man complained at length about the design of Figment, a dragon character at Disney's Epcot. A nun asked about the status of Disney's smoking policy. A Vero Beach, Fla., shareholder asked, "Could you think about a warmer place for next year?"

    Both Eisner and Iger played to the Midwesterners. After showing a segment boasting of the success of the ESPN sports cable business, Iger said, "I'd be remiss if I didn't say, 'Go Timberwolves, go Vikings, go Twins!,' " naming Minnesota's basketball, football and baseball franchises.

    As for Eisner, he skirted succession topics, leaving them to Chairman George J. Mitchell, who promised a thorough search that would include external candidates. Friday's meeting at the Minneapolis Convention Center was likely to have been Eisner's last as Disney CEO, as company directors have promised to identify a successor by June.

    With the pressure off compared with a year ago, Eisner was relaxed. After repeated questions from longtime corporate gadfly Evelyn Y. Davis, he cracked, "If I stay here any longer, George is going to fire me. We're never going to be out of this room."

    Some stockholders said they hadn't even paid attention to the succession drama captivating Hollywood and Wall Street.

    "It doesn't really bother me who they select to run the company as long as he does a good job," said Kim Gardner, 46, of Cottage Grove, Minn., wearing a red Mickey Mouse jacket. The mother of three, who said she has visited Walt Disney World 13 times, bought a single Disney share online last year as a novelty.

    Others such as Mary Clare Enger, 52, of St. Paul, Minn., had more personal concerns. She bemoaned the cost and level of cleanliness at the theme parks, which her father introduced her to when she was a child by taking her to Disneyland.

    "They used to be sparkling clean," Enger said. "The price is always going up. It's almost prohibitive for a family."

    Then there was Mike Klein, a 46-year-old systems analyst from Minneapolis who owns 100 shares. Klein, who proudly wore a Mickey Mouse T-shirt, said he attended because, "Where else can you walk around and see Goofy and Pluto?"

    The two dissident stockholders who dominated attention at last year's meeting — former directors Stanley P. Gold and Roy E. Disney — attended as expected, having previously announced they were not supporting any of the 12 directors. But, unlike Philadelphia, where the two provided the fireworks by taking the stage to skewer Eisner, both came and went without speaking publicly.

    That disappointed David Hoitmoit, a 55-year-old banker from Minnetonka, Minn. Intrigued by news accounts of last year's raucous meeting, he'd hoped at least to get a taste of corporate fireworks.

    "I came for the entertainment," Hoitmoit said. "I thought it was going to be like an all-star wrestling match."

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    Saturday February 12, 2005


    No hope for Pixar-Disney deal
     
    For many it was already over, but any chances of a reconciliation were dampened yesterday when Pixar chief Steve Jobs said that his blockbuster animation company would not renew their deal with Disney next year.

    Over the course of a 10-year relationship Disney has co-produced and distributed all six Pixar features from Toy Story in 1995 to current smash The Incredibles, which have earned more than $3billion in worldwide ticket sales.

    However Jobs is known to be dissatisfied with a profit-share arrangement in which Pixar and Disney split revenues 50-50 after Disney takes a hefty distribution fee.

    Reporting strong fourth quarter 2004 earnings that were largely attributable to the success of The Incredibles and excellent sales of Finding Nemo on DVD, Variety says Jobs told investors it was "likely we will not forge a new relationship with Disney beyond our current deal."

    The Pixar-Disney collaboration ended in January 2004 and talks to extend the relationship broke off, leaving Pixar free to talk to other distributors once it delivered its seventh and final picture, Cars. Disney recently put back the release of Cars from November 2005 to June 2006.

    Every Hollywood studio has been courting Pixar, whose world-beating stable of artists, writers and directors is akin to gold dust in a town where critical accolades and commercial success rarely go hand-in-hand.

    Under the existing agreement, Disney retains rights to distribute Pixar's first seven films and Pixar will continue to receive earnings on those titles. Disney is also allowed to produce sequels to any of those pictures on its own if Pixar chooses not to take part.

    Jobs indicated a decision on a new distribution partner was likely towards the end of the year, when Pixar would also unveil its first lineup of post-Disney titles with an eventual target of two releases each year.

    Meanwhile Disney animators are currently working on Toy Story 3 without Pixar's input. When asked why Pixar didn't want to get involved, Jobs told investors: "The question is: Should we fill the previous slots in our production schedule with sequels on which we will earn only 50% of the profits and will be forever controlled by Disney?

    "Or should we fill it with original Pixar films, on which we will earn 100% of the profits, fully own and control?"

    While a reunion with Pixar is not on the cards, negotiations with Disney's other troubled partnership, Miramax Films, have taken a brighter turn. Recent talks to renew the contract between Miramax co-founders Bob and Harvey Weinstein and their parent company have taken a more conciliatory tone with negotiations set to conclude at the end of this month. The Weinstein brothers' contract is up in September and their recent successes such as The Aviator and Finding Neverland give Miramax new leverage in the deal.

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    New Disney Hotel to Open in Tokyo Disney Resort

    Oriental Land Co, Ltd. has announced the signing of an agreement with The Walt Disney Company to open a third Disney hotel within Tokyo Disney Resort in 2008 (tentative). The nine-story high hotel will have about 700 guestrooms and will be larger than either of the other two Disney hotels, the Disney Ambassador Hotel and Tokyo DisneySea Hotel MiraCosta. A third Disney hotel is necessary to continue to provide a resort environment where Guest can stay longer to enjoy all that Tokyo Disney Resort has to offer, including two theme parks, dining, shopping and entertainment. Also, since the other two Disney hotels have annual occupancy rates of over 90%, there is growing demand for more room space.

                               

    The new hotel will be built in front of Tokyo Disneyland Park in the current Guest parking area with the Disney Resort Line 's Tokyo Disneyland Station situated between the hotel and the Park.

    The exterior of the new hotel will reflect the early 20th-century Victorian architectural style of the Park's World Bazaar themed land and Tokyo Disneyland Station. While grand and elegant, the hotel will generate a friendly, welcoming atmosphere that will give Guests a taste of the enchanting experiences that await them in Tokyo Disney Resort. The typical Guestroom will be spacious enough for a family to stay in comfort.

    A 1,800-car parking structure will also be built in near the hotel to accommodate Guests visiting Tokyo Disneyland Park.

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    Disney looks high and low for new CEO

    Walt Disney Co. chairman George Mitchell said Friday that the board is following through on its pledge to interview both internal and external candidates for the CEO position.

    The remarks, made at Disney's annual shareholder meeting Friday morning, refute recent charges that Disney President Robert Iger is the sole candidate for the top job.

    Earlier this week, longtime critics Roy Disney, nephew of founder Walt Disney, and Stanley Gold said they would withhold their votes on a new Disney board due to reports that directors have yet to interview any outsiders for the job.

    In related news, preliminary shareholder vote results released Friday afternoon showed that CEO Michael Eisner was overwhelmingly reelected to another one-year term as a director. The 11 other Disney directors were also reelected, based on unofficial results. Eisner and the company's slate of candidates were supported by about 92 percent of shareholders, according to the preliminary result.

    The support shown for Eisner Friday stood in stark contrast to last year's unprecedented no-confidence vote, when 45 percent of shareholders withheld their votes for him. Eisner was subsequently stripped of the post of chairman after 45 percent of shareholders withheld their votes for him. In September, Eisner announced he would retire by 2006.

    Disney directors plan to announce a successor no later than June.

    The board is "currently undertaking what could be its most important task," Mitchell told shareholders Friday. "We are confident that we're going to make a choice that is in the best interest of the company, shareholders and others."

    Responding to criticism of the secrecy surrounding the CEO search, Mitchell said that the board was determined to keep the search process private. "We have repeatedly been advised that (a public search) will limit our choices and make is less likely that we can achieve our objectives," said Mitchell.

    New Pixar deal unlikely

    Investors aren't the only ones looking for clues about the next Disney CEO. Steve Jobs, CEO of partner Pixar Animation Studios, said Thursday his company would wait until the next Disney CEO is named before picking a new distribution partner.

    Together Pixar and Disney have produced a string of six blockbusters, including "Toy Story," "Finding Nemo" and "The Incredibles." But their co-production deal is set to expire in 2006, after the release of "Cars."

    Under terms of the existing deal, Disney and Pixar co-finance movies and split the profits. Pixar now wants only to pay only a distribution fee, to keep the profits, and to own the rights to film titles. Disney currently has those rights.

    Jobs abruptly broke off talks over a new distribution deal with Disney a year ago. Jobs and Eisner reportedly don't get along and the two recently traded barbs, with Eisner first calling Pixar's human animation figures "pretty pathetic" and Job responding by calling Eisner a "loose cannon."

    On Friday, Eisner adopted a conciliatory tone, telling shareholders that Disney has a "tremendous amount of respect" for Jobs and "would love to continue" to do business with Pixar. But Eisner reiterated that the economics are holding up any deal and that Disney will push forward with its post-Pixar plans, which producing sequels to the existing Pixar films.

    Paul Kim, a media analyst with Tradition Asiel Securities, put the odds of a new Disney-Pixar deal at "less than 50-50."

    Pressure's off

    Friday's shareholder meeting, held in Minneapolis, lacked last year's fireworks. Eisner's announced exit, combined with significant improvements in results at the company driven by improved theme park attendance and strong gains at ESPN and other cable networks, have taken some of the pressure off the current leadership.

    But some investors and company critics remain wary amid the uncertainty over the CEO hunt and a new report that Eisner has expressed interest in being named chairman after giving up the CEO post. Roy Disney and Gold said they would like Eisner to step down earlier than the current 2006 plan.

    CalPers, the California pension fund for state employees which controls 9.5 million Disney shares, also said it would not vote for Eisner, and has said Disney needs new leadership.

    But a number of shareholders and investor groups that have been unhappy about Disney's leadership appear satisfied now.

    Institutional Shareholder Services, which advises investors in proxy votes, endorsed the full board after recommending last year that Disney shareholders withhold votes from Eisner. And the Connecticut state treasurer and New York state comptroller, who last year publicly opposed Eisner, voted for him and other directors this time around, spokesmen for both agencies said.

    Despite Mitchell's assurances that a full CEO search is underway, some analysts think the company's improved results will make it harder for the board to chose someone other than Iger.

    "It's clear that outside candidates have a high hurdle, not just because of Iger, but because of how well the company has turned around," said Kim, media analyst with Tradition Asiel Securities. "The divisions under his supervision are driving the company now." 

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    Disney Tome Describes Eisner's 'Nemo'-Phobia

    Walt Disney Co. boss Michael Eisner disparaged Pixar's "Finding Nemo" before it became one of the most successful animated films of all time, according to a revealing new book.

    Eisner predicted the movie would break Pixar's blockbuster streak — even though Disney stood to reap 50 percent of the profits for distributing the film — because he was jealous and resentful of Pixar's success, according to the book by James B. Stewart.

    "Yesterday, we saw for the second time the new Pixar movie 'Finding Nemo' that comes out next May," Eisner wrote in a memo to Disney's board. "This will be a reality check for those guys. It's OK, but nowhere near as good as their previous films.

    "Of course, they think it's great," Eisner added. "Trust me, it's not, but it will open."

    A source close to Disney defended Eisner, saying he wrote the memo based on an earlier version of the film before it was completed.

    The enormous success of "Nemo," with a worldwide box office approaching $1 billion, helped boost Disney's studio revenues to a record $3 billion in 2003.

    It also gave Pixar's chairman, Steve Jobs, added leverage in his negotiations to extend the profitable partnership with Disney.

    The release of "DisneyWar" has roiled the Mouse House with embarrassing anecdotes detailing Eisner's high-profile breakups with key partners like Jobs' Pixar as well as Miramax film studio, run by the Weinstein brothers.

    "We remain focused on excellent results, performance and a bright future, not on a one-sided depiction of past events largely told through the eyes of those with a clear bias and personal agendas," Disney said in a prepared statement.

    The book describes how Eisner grew increasingly irritated with Jobs and his refusal to extend their agreement on terms acceptable to Disney.

    Later, the frayed relations between the two men would result in Jobs abruptly calling off negotiations.

    Before talks over Pixar reached the breaking point, according to the book, Eisner had managed to anger Jobs, who also heads Apple Computer. When confronted, Eisner claimed he hadn't said anything about Apple.

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    Disney shareholders enjoy profit wonderland

    A year after serving as the stage for an unprecedented outpouring of shareholder anger, Walt Disney Co.'s annual meeting Friday was a veritable lovefest for Chief Executive Michael Eisner.

    Eisner was re-elected to Disney's board Friday with only about 8 percent of the company's shareholders withholding their votes from him. Last year Eisner was humbled when 43 percent of the company's shareholders withheld their votes. Eisner was also stripped of his chairman's position at that same meeting in Philadelphia, which lasted five hours and attracted at least 2,700 shareholders.

    Friday's Disney meeting in Minneapolis, by contrast, lasted about three hours and drew roughly 1,200. The tamer event was not unexpected for the entertainment behemoth--the force behind everything from the ESPN sports network to the hit show "Desperate Housewives" to Chicago's WLS-Ch. 7.

    Disney's financial performance perked up since last year--always a tonic for miffed shareholders. And the company has taken steps to improve corporate governance, a sore spot as a shareholder lawsuit proceeds over whether Disney's board adequately scrutinized the hiring and dismissal of Michael Ovitz.

    Ovitz was Eisner's friend and briefly Disney's president until being booted in 1996, although with a $140 million severance package. The closely watched suit recently went to trial and featured reams of embarrassing information about Eisner, one of the country's more powerful and well-paid chief executives, and head of Disney for 20 years.

    But Friday there was no talk of corporate skullduggery or lazy directors. Eisner took the occasion to remind shareholders how much Disney had blossomed since he took the company's helm.

    Profits rose from $98 million in 1984 to $2.3 billion in 2004.

    "Since our last shareholders' meeting, Disney's financial performance has been spectacular," Eisner said.

    Disney's net income jumped 85 percent during its fiscal year ending Sept. 30--albeit from a low mark--while sales rose 13.6 percent during the same time. The upbeat trend continued in the company's first quarter ending Dec. 31, as Disney beat Wall Street's forecasts with a 5 percent increase in profits.

    The good news has been reflected in Disney's stock: Since Sept. 30, it has risen about 30 percent compared to about 7.4 percent for the market as a whole as measured by the Standard & Poor's 500.

    Even ABC, Disney's long-struggling network, has seen a revival with a trio of popular new shows: "Desperate Housewives," "Extreme Makeover" and "Lost."

    "It's great to have one new hit, but ABC now has three," Disney President Robert Iger said Friday.

    Iger shared the stage in Minneapolis with Eisner. He is the internal candidate vying to replace Eisner, who is scheduled to retire in September 2006. Iger is said to be Eisner's choice for the position, although he is certainly not high on the list of Roy E. Disney, nephew of Walt Disney and a Disney board member until being forced to retire in 2003.

    Disney, one of the largest shareholders in the company, has come out against Iger as replacement for Eisner on his savedisney.com Web site.

    Disney and another former board member, Stanley Gold, led last year's revolt against Eisner.

    Earlier this week both said they would not support Disney board members up for re-election at Friday's meeting.

    They also said they questioned the credibility of the Disney board's search, reportedly out of concerns that no candidates outside of Disney had been interviewed for the job.

    Roy Disney attended Friday's annual meeting but did not speak during it, nor did he answer reporters' questions.

    Disney's board is expected to pick Eisner's successor by June.

    The search is the board's "most important task," Disney Chairman George Mitchell said at Friday's meeting. The company has hired Chicago-based Heidrick & Struggles executive recruitment firm to lead the search.

    The board is considering internal and external candidates, Mitchell said.

    "The full board is fully and actively engaged [in the search] and is right on target to do exactly what we said we'd do," Mitchell said.

    Friday's meeting was held in Minneapolis--not Disney's Southern California homeland--because the company regularly rotates the site of its annual shareholder get-together.

    Meetings have been held in recent years in Denver, Kansas City and Hartford, Conn.

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    Eisner avoids another Disney bloodbath

    Michael Eisner must have loved it when Carly Fiorina was fired from Hewlett- Packard this week. For a brief period at least, he was no longer the most talked about chief executive in California.

    Yesterday he was back in the limelight as he easily faced down another challenge to his authority at Disney's annual meeting in Minneapolis.

    All 12 executives up for re-election were returned to office by a margin of 92pc, despite rebel shareholders Roy Disney and Stanley Gold pledging to withhold their votes. The media group did not give tallies for individual board members, but pension fund Calpers is understood to have voted against the re-election of the chief executive.

    However the meeting was a relatively sedate affair in sharp contrast to last year's turbulent gathering. In 2004 a sizeable vote against Mr Eisner forced him to relinquish the chairmanship to former senator George Mitchell and promise to step down as chief executive by the middle of next year.

    Yesterday Mr Mitchell insisted the board was interviewing both internal and external candidates, despite the feeling among investors and analysts that president Bob Iger is almost certain to clinch the post.

    Mr Eisner has been embarrassed this week first by leaks from DisneyWar – a new book which promises to reveal the internal wranglings of the Magic Kingdom. In addition, the New York Post yesterday published a memo purportedly written by Mr Eisner in which he was scathing about Finding Nemo – the animated film made in conjunction with Pixar – that then became a box office blockbuster.

    In discussing the search for a new CEO, Mr Mitchell said the board is "considering internal as well as external candidates." He added that the board was determined to keep the search process private and is on track to pick a new CEO no later than June. "We are confident that we're going to make a choice that is in the best interest of the company, shareholders and others," he said.

    One person watching the situation closely is Steve Jobs, head of animation studio Pixar, which has fallen out with Disney and refused to be involved in any sequels to the films the companies produced together.

    He described Mr Eisner as a "loose cannon" this week and suggested their partnership would not be renewed. Mr Eisner's announced exit, combined with significant improvements in the company's results, driven by improved theme park attendance, have taken some of the pressure off the leadership. However critics remain concerned about recent reports that Mr Eisner has expressed interest in being named chairman after giving up the chief executive's job.

    Yesterday he and Mr Iger insisted the company was focused on "producing world-class creative content".

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    Soft Opening for 'Light, Motors, Action Extreme Stunt Show'

    Disney MGM Studios latest attraction is currently aiming to begin soft openings on March 13th 2005. Be advised that this is not officially released information, and there  is no guarantee that you will be able to see the show that day.

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    Destino showing at the Philadelphia Museum of Art

    Feb. 16-May 15: "Dali and the Cinema" will be presented in the museum's video gallery. Films include "Destino," a Dali-Disney collaboration that was nominated for a 2003 Academy Award, and "Un Chien Andalou," Dali's collaboration with director Luis Bunuel. Check the museum's Web site for more details.

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    The Vogons of Hitchhiker's Guide

    Images of the Vogons in Touchstone's Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.

                                            
                                            
                                            
                                            

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    Egmont wins Disney Special Collection publishing rights

    Egmont Magazines has been commissioned by the Disney Corporation to launch a series of monthly magazines for kids, aged three to seven year old.

    The Disney Special Collection series will feature a different a character from the movie and cartoon giant each month, with “interactive and educational” themes such as Animal World and Activity Zone.

    The first edition will have a print run of 65,000 copies and every subsequent issue will have a themed cover mount.

    Debbie Cook, Publisher of Egmont Magazines said: "Disney Special Collection has been created as a truly ‘must have’ magazine for Disney fans, following research and focus groups.

    “The magazine includes their favourite characters, plus entertaining lifestyle sections to encourage them to play and learn. While each magazine works on its own, the series will build together to create a classic Disney collection."

    Siobhan Geraghty, Disney publishing manager said: "Egmont’s publishing expertise and unrivalled knowledge of the target market has resulted in a high-quality magazine which offers entertainment and education, plus contains the most important properties for any Disney fan."

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    'DisneyWar' rushed to stores

    "DisneyWar," James B. Stewart's expose of Michael Eisner's 20-year tenure at Disney, arrived in bookstores Wednesday -- three weeks ahead of schedule.

    Publisher Simon & Schuster, which had sought to preserve a publicity campaign tied to the original release date of March 7, decided earlier this week to accelerate publication.

    Several Disney executives and reporters had seen early drafts of the manuscript, which paints a decidedly unflattering picture of Eisner's time atop the Mouse House Mouse House.

    The leaks generated so much publicity for "DisneyWar" that industry insiders have begun to speculate whether the accelerated schedule was an elaborately choreographed PR stunt.

    Sources at Simon & Schuster denied the publisher was behind the leaks. "We would never plan a campaign like this," said S&S spokeswoman Rachel Nagler, adding that breaking a publication date can lead to plenty of confusion, particularly with regard to book reviews and TV appearances timed to the release of the book.

    The publisher sent copies of "DisneyWar" to most media outlets on Wednesday and Thursday, receiving splashy coverage from the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times on Thursday. The Journal published an extensive excerpt; the Times ran on the front page of the Arts section a long, lukewarm review comparing the book to "a PowerPoint boardroom presentation" and an analysis of Stewart's findings on the front page of Business Day.

    Shelves emptied

    Some Los Angeles bookstores sold their stock of "DisneyWar" in one day, including Dutton's locations in Brent wood and Beverly Hills, as well as Barnes & Noble at the Grove. Each bookstore got roughly 80 copies and has already put in a new order for the weekend.

    "I wish we had more of them. We got some Wednesday and sold out within an hour," Dutton's general manager Ed Conklin said. "We got more in today, which also sold within an hour.

    "We knew it would be a big book, but we had no idea it would be this big," Conklin said. "Obviously, this is an industry town. People were buying multiple copies."

    Barnes & Noble in New York's Union Square said Thursday the book was in the store but not yet on display.

    Simon & Schuster spokeswoman Victoria Meyers said the crash publication schedule was motivated by rising demand from retailers. "Accounts were clamoring for it. It was really to meet the interest we felt was there among consumers as well as our customers."

    Shareholders interested

    Rising interest in the book can be attributed in part to the Disney shareholders meeting, which gets under way this morning at the Minneapolis Convention Center.

    Stewart's saga of corporate squabbles and mismanagement could be a point of reference during the shareholders' question period in Minneapolis. The Barnes & Noble near the Convention Center did not have the book in stock on Thursday, but booksellers said numerous people have come there looking for it.

    Stewart, who was skedded to appear for an exclusive interview on NBC's "Today" in early March, began scrambling this week to revise his promotional schedule. He's now expected to appear on "Today" next Tuesday and Wednesday.

    In the past, publishers have threatened legal action against news organizations that ran early excerpts of embargoed books. Simon & Schuster threatened to slap the AP with a lawsuit after it published juicy tidbits of Sen. Hillary Clinton's memoir in 2003.

    The leaks of "DisneyWar" demonstrate that reporters have grown more intrepid about unearthing copies of embargoed books -- and that the attendant publicity is a useful marketing gimmick.

    "It's very difficult to keep a book under strict embargo," an exec at a rival publishing house said Thursday. "Publishers have become more nimble and adept at accelerating publication dates. And some embargoes are wink-wink nudge-nudge."

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    Friday February 11, 2005


    Disney directors re-elected at annual meeting

    Walt Disney Co.’s board of directors was re-elected by a margin of 92.2 percent in a preliminary count of a shareholder vote announced at the media giant’s annual meeting Friday.

    Disney did not give tallies for individual board members at the meeting, which comes a year after a shareholder revolt roiled Disney and led to Chief Executive Michael Eisner being stripped of his role as board chairman.

    Disney’s annual meeting for shareholders, which is taking place in Minneapolis, contrasts greatly with last year’s confab in Philadelphia, which at times resembled a heavyweight bout with dissident ex-director Roy E. Disney taking the stage to challenge the leadership of company CEO Michael Eisner.

    Since then, the company has delivered on its promise to grow earnings more than 50 percent and the stock has also seen a double-digit rise in value.

    A hostile all-stock takeover bid from cable TV giant Comcast Corp., which hung over last year’s meeting, has since disappeared as Disney’s stock has outperformed that of its rival.

    Eisner joked about the year gone by at a recent analyst meeting, a gathering that last year “was punctuated by a vacation postcard from [Comcast CEO] Brian Roberts,” Eisner said.

    “The card was returned to sender,” he said, noting that the past year Disney has delivered “stellar performance that defied the gravity of a year ago.”

    But as shareholders gather Friday in Minneapolis, they will also hear the echoes of the troubles that roiled last year’s meeting, when investors delivered a stinging vote of no confidence to Eisner, who later relinquished his role as board chairman.

    In contrast to last year, most proxy consulting firms have endorsed Disney’s board and lauded the company for the corporate governance strides it has made.

    Yet just in time for the meeting, a hefty new book, written with Disney’s cooperation, paints an unflattering portrait of Eisner and his heir apparent, President and Chief Operating Officer Bob Iger.

    The book, “DisneyWar,” by James B. Stewart, shows Eisner unsure about the qualifications of his second-in command and Iger complaining about his lack of visibility in the company.

    “No one takes me seriously,” Iger said to one executive outside of Disney, according to the book. Iger’s comment came in the midst of his effort to turn around Disney’s troubled ABC network, which was fourth in the ratings and, according to the book, Eisner’s growing impatience with that effort.

    ABC has since rebounded on the strength of hits such as “Desperate Housewives” and “Lost.”

    Stewart is a former reporter and editor at The Wall Street Journal, where he won a Pulitzer prize for his stories about insider trading. He is the author of several books, including “Den of Thieves,” which examined the Wall Street insider-trading scandals, and “Blood Sport,” which looked at the Clinton Whitewater investigation. He was given access to top Disney executives over a two-year period for this book.

    “DisneyWar” is filled with stories of company intrigue and gossipy tidbits, such as a scene caused in a restaurant when Iger confronted former ABC chief Lloyd Braun. Iger soon fired Braun, then fired co-ABC head Susan Lyne after first promising that her job was safe, according to the book.

    The book also retells the contentious relationships Eisner had with former studio chief Jeffrey Katzenberg and short-term Disney President Michael Ovitz. Many of those details were painstakingly revealed earlier last year during a shareholder lawsuit at which Eisner and Ovitz testified.

    Disney has dismissed the parts of the book generating the most discussion.

    “We remain focused on excellent results, performance and a bright future, not on a one-sided depiction of past events largely told through the eyes of those with a clear bias and personal agendas,” the company said in a statement Thursday.

    While the book’s publication next month is sure to generate juicy stories, analysts say it will have little or no effect on the search for a new CEO.

    Eisner has said he will step down when his contract expires in 2006. Disney’s board has pledged to name his successor by June.

    “It won’t affect the decision-making at all,” said Paul Kim, an analyst for Tradition Asiel Securities. “I think everyone knows what they’re getting from Bob Iger. All the things they needed to do in the last year or so, they did, ensuring the likelihood that Bob Iger will be chosen.”

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    Disney's Eisner gets shareholder support at meeting

    Walt Disney Co.'s board of directors, including Chief Executive Michael Eisner, were easily re-elected at an upbeat annual meeting on Friday, a sharp turn from last year's widespread shareholder protest.

    Eisner, whose re-election to the board was opposed by 45 percent of votes cast at the 2004 event, on Friday won 92.2 percent, while other directors scored slightly more, according to results read to shareholders.

    Donald Duck and other characters waited outside the meeting to take pictures with fans and shareholders, which was clearly the highlight for many.

    President Bob Iger, who was supported by 94.6 percent of votes in the preliminary count, was given equal footing with Eisner as the two gave a joint presentation to an audience of hundreds of shareholders, many of whom left after the presentation and before the results of the votes were announced.

    Iger is vying to succeed Eisner. He is the only internal candidate, although Chairman George Mitchell, who took his job last year after the board stripped the role from Eisner, was at pains to say the search was open and would be fair.

    He told the meeting the board was on track to name its choice by June.

    "I'd like Eisner gone," said one man from Minneapolis, who wore a skunk-skin cap and accompanied his teenage son. But the shareholder, who declined to give his name, said he expected a fair search, given improvement and changes on the board.

    "There are enough outsiders on the board at this point," he said, adding that he thought Iger would be a capable CEO.

    Others praised Eisner, and there were no boos for company officials this year. Instead the audience frequently applauded the managers. Roy Disney and Stanley Gold, who sparked the revolt last year, did not actively protest.

    A board-supported long-term compensation plan passed, while a shareholder proposal recommending measures to stop Disney from paying above-market rates to buy off companies trying to take it over -- greenmail -- passed despite the board's opposition.

    Mitchell said directors supported the point of the non-binding proposal and would clarify their position on greenmail soon.

    Mitchell was opposed by 6.9 percent of votes cast.

    Roy Disney and Stanley Gold had said this year they would be withholding support for the board due to lack of clear progress finding a replacement for Eisner.

    State funds which last year opposed key board members were less confrontational this year. The nation's largest fund, the California Public Employees' Retirement System, opposed Eisner but supported the rest of the board, while New York state retirement funds voted for all directors. (Additional reporting by Peter Henderson in Los Angeles)

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    Mitchell: 'Open mind' in picking CEO

    Speaking at Disney's annual meeting in Minneapolis, Mitchell told attendees that the company still is conducting its search for the entertainment giant's sixth chief executive.

    "There's been no prior determination," the chairman said. "We want the best possible person to decisively and creatively lead this company."

    Disney shares were up by a penny to $29.36 in afternoon trading.

    Eisner announced last year he would step down when his contract expires in 2006. The company said it will name a successor by this June, and it's likely there will be a transition period.

    The gathering Friday is the first since last year's meeting in Philadelphia, when 45 percent of Disney shareholders voted to oust Eisner from the company's board. As a result, Eisner lost his standing as chairman but retained the chief executive title.

    Observers are waiting to see whether Disney President Robert Iger, considered one of the leading candidates, will ultimately ascend to the top job. Eisner opponents have said Iger's appointment would result in more of the same.

    Mitchell pointed out at the meeting that he would step down from the company's board in 2006, after reaching the mandatory retirement age.

    This year's annual meeting stands in marked contrast to last year's, when dissension not only contributed to Eisner's demise as chairman, but most board members received a higher-than-normal number of votes in opposition.

    On Friday, all 12 directors received at least 92.2 percent affirmative votes in a preliminary count.

    Eisner got the lowest vote total, with Mitchell right behind getting 93.3 percent of the proxies cast. Iger received 94.6 percent of the vote.

    Officials said of the 1.8 billion proxies cast beforehand, proxies representing 1.66 billion shares were in support of all the directors ahead of the meeting. The count does not include those cast during the meeting.

    The total shares eligible to be cast is 2.04 billion.

    But investors approved a shareholder proposal that would preclude the company from paying off potential raiders with greenmail premiums to thwart a takeover.

    A 56-percent majority of the proxies cast on the proposal were in favor of it. That came despite Disney's recommendation that the proposal be rejected.

    Mitchell said Disney is philosophically opposed to greenmail but said the shareholder proposal was unworkable. He stressed the initiative was non-binding.

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    Disney Trains Chinese Workers For New Hong Kong Park
     
    Walt Disney World in Orlando is helping to prepare for the grand opening of a new Disney theme park in China.

    About 500 Chinese visitors are being trained in Orlando to staff Disneyland Hong Kong, WESH NewsChannel 2 reported.

    Disney broke ground on Disneyland Hong Kong two years ago, and the new theme park is set to open in September.

    Daniel Lai, a Disney trainee, plans to be in Hong Kong for the opening. He's only been in town for two weeks, but Disney has always been a part of his life.

    "The movies, the cartoons, have stayed with me as I've grown up," Lai said.

    Lai is in Walt Disney World learning the trade.

    The staff for the Walt Disney World training program are very impressed by the dedication of the trainees at the theme park.

    "The trainees are so interested in immersing themselves in our culture," the teacher said.

    There's already a Hong Kong attraction in Disney World at Orlando, and now the mission is to bring a bit of Orlando to Hong Kong.

    The company hopes the interest and devotion of the trainees is a good sign of the energy and excitement that will come with the opening of Disneyland Hong Kong.

    Disney hopes the cultural exchange program will cement its popular image in the Far East, as Disney expands internationally.

    Trainees can be identified by a large red ribbon with a star below their nametags.

    Most trainees will be leaving to Hong Kong late May and others will be leaving late June.

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    Magic Kingdom Castle Decorations

    Here's a closer look at some of the decorations being placed on the Castle at WDW's Magic Kingdom.

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    Disney's MGM Studios new park map

    The Studios new map now contains the all new Lights, Motor, Action Stunt Spectacular. Below is a portion of the new map. 

                                                

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    Pooh's Heffalump Movie

    Pooh's Heffalump Movie opens in theaters today as the first Pooh film there in...less than two years, actually. While it's not expected to put up a fight for the top spot against the Will Smith romantic comedy Hitch, Heffalump has received some favorable early reviews.

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    Jobs Jabs at Eisner, Disney Again

    Michael Eisner is still getting under Steve Jobs' skin.

    During a conference call with analysts on Thursday, Jobs took aim at the Walt Disney Co. chief executive, referring to him as a "loose cannon."

    Jobs, the chief executive of both Pixar Animation Studios and Apple Computer Inc., was asked about a dig Eisner took at Pixar last week at an investor conference at Walt Disney World in Florida. Responding to a question about the Burbank entertainment giant's own digital efforts, Eisner described as "pretty pathetic" the computerized human characters created by Pixar, compared with the ones Disney itself is working on with veteran animator Glen Keane, director of the studio's forthcoming film "Rapunzel Unbraided."

    Jobs said sarcastically: "Our films don't stack up to 'Atlantis,' 'Emperor's New Groove' or 'Treasure Planet.' "

    All three were hand-drawn Disney disappointments.

    Jobs then made the loose-cannon reference, saying he figured that it explained why Eisner would say such a thing.

    A Disney executive didn't return a call seeking a comment on Jobs' remarks.

    The tussle between the executives underscored the continuing Disney-Pixar tensions. Despite teaming up to release six blockbusters — "The Incredibles," "Finding Nemo," "Monsters, Inc.," "A Bug's Life" and two "Toy Story" films — the two companies are headed for divorce over money and other issues.

    Last year, Pixar broke off talks with Disney and the gloves came off, with Jobs challenging Eisner's version of their negotiations and adding that "there has been little creative collaboration with Disney for years."

    Jobs' comments Thursday shared the spotlight with Pixar's fourth-quarter financial results. The Emeryville, Calif.-based company's earnings fell 34% to $55.2 million, or 91 cents a share, mainly because a year earlier Pixar was reaping a fortune from "Finding Nemo" DVD sales. Revenue also dropped 34% in the quarter, to $108.9 million. Earnings, announced after the market closed Thursday, still beat analysts' expectations. A Wall Street favorite, Pixar rose $1 to $89.88 on Nasdaq.

    For 2004, Pixar reported its most profitable year, thanks to continuing "Nemo" DVD sales and box-office revenue from "The Incredibles" about a family of superheroes. Earnings rose 13.5% to $141.7 million, or $2.38 a share, on revenue of $273.5 million.

    In the conference call, Jobs kept the focus on Disney. He repeatedly asserted that Pixar — with $850 million in cash and no debt — was ready for a life outside the Magic Kingdom should Pixar and Disney fail to resuscitate their partnership.

    Jobs sprinkled his comments with several references to the "post-Disney era," noting that Pixar currently had eight new directors busy at work on non-Disney projects, the first of which will be released in theaters in the summer of 2007.

    He also reaffirmed Pixar's seemingly immovable position that the company would "not actively participate" in any sequels to its movies that are made by Disney, including "Toy Story 3" and future installments to "Monsters, Inc." and "Finding Nemo."

    Jobs also mentioned Pixar's next release, "Cars," due out in June 2006. He called it "the seventh and final film we will likely make for Disney."

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    ToonStudios ... Official Artwork

    In the wake of the AGM of The Walt Disney Company, taking place today, the top tier management of TWDC took part in the Walt Disney Investor Conference on Tuesday, first of February. Jay Rasulo represented the Walt Disney Parks and Recreation Department and presented the strategy for the five resorts, the Disney Vacation Club, Disney Cruise Lines and ESPN Zone. Certainly the main emphasis was put on the 50th anniversary celebration of Disneyland Anaheim, but Jay Rasulo also offered a first glimpse of the upcoming attractions for the Disneyland Resort Paris. Besides photos taken at the other Disney theme parks to showcase the Tower of Terror and the interior of Buzz Lightyear's AstroBlaster he also presented for the first time a new, official artwork for the Toon Studios section of the Walt Disney Studios Paris.

                       

    The rather atmospheric drawing is only a snapshot of how this area might look like under ideal conditions, but it shows some neat details. And I am not talking about the outdoor bumper car like ride next to the Art of Animation building, but about the Finding Nemo dark ride. The ride which is supposed to be a mixture of a dark ride with coaster elements similar to a wild mouse, maybe even including spinning elements, seems to feature an elevated out door part in front of the building. Interestingly the track in the drawing looks more like a normal coaster with tilted curves instead of a wild mouse like set up. But then this is a promotional drawing not meant to present the exact future look. Anyway while this looks cool such feature is more commonly known from traveling fun fair ghost trains. It needs to be seen how it is integrated into the story of the ride experience.

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    Disney Epcot's Original Fountain Prism on EBay

    The original fountain prism from Epcot's Space Ship Earth is now up for auction at E-Bay.

                                                   

    LINK

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    Former Disney animator takes company to task in his own movie

    A film that uses hand-drawn animation is being shown in downtown Minneapolis Thursday, one day before the Walt Disney Company -- which pioneered the technique -- opens its annual shareholder meeting in the city.

    But the movie isn't a celebration of the company's hand-drawn animation unit that created box office hits like "The Lion King." Instead, it's a film about Disney's decision almost three years ago to lay off its entire team of 300 animation artists, and kill a movie-making art form that Disney pioneered. Disney has decided instead to rely on computerized animation for its films.

    The film which will be shown at the Block E theaters, "Dream on Silly Dreamer," was made by Dan Lund, who was one of the animators that was laid off.

    Lund talked about his film with Morning Edition host Cathy Wurzer. He says he started thinking about making it as rumors of layoffs circulated among co-workers.

    To listen to their interview, choose the audio link in the right column.

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    Tokyo Disneyland Resort Announces Wedding Photo Package Including Cinderella Castle Location

    Have your wedding photos taken against the breathtaking backdrop of Cinderella Castle at Tokyo Disneyland Castle Photo in Fantasyland beginning April 11,2005

    The Disney Ambassador Hotel, which in July 2005 will celebrate five years of operation at the Tokyo Disney Resort, announces the "Castle Photo in Fantasyland", an option exclusive to Disney Fairytale Weddings, allowing couples to take wedding photos at Tokyo Disneyland prior to their wedding day.

                                                                        

    Couples choosing this new option will have photographs taken at various photo spots around Fantasyland at Tokyo Disneyland, and these memories of their special day presented in an original photo album. Having photos taken in front of Cinderella Castle in a dress inspired by the Disney princesses in particular is the cherished dream of many a bride. "Castle Photo in Fantasyland" is sure to be the perfect addition to an unforgettable Disney Fairytale Wedding.

    Castle Photo in Fantasyland

    • April 11,2005~July 15, 2005
    • September 1, 2005~December 29,2005
    • January 4, 2006~March 31,2006 (weekdays only)

    Package Includes:

    Twenty snapshots at Fantasyland in Tokyo Disneyland, original photo album, wedding attire for bride and groom, beauty salon/grooming services for bride and groom plus assistance with dressing, bouquet, attendant, transport by Disney Resort Cruiser to and from Tokyo Disneyland, exclusive souvenirs

    Price: 700,000

    Reservations begin: February 15,2005

    • Option is available exclusively to couples booking weddings at the Disney Ambassador Hotel.
    • Option is for the bridal couple only.
    • Please note that even if the date chosen for "Castle Photo in Fantasyland" falls within the allotted period, operational concerns at Tokyo Disneyland may preclude availability on that date.
    • Photographs will be taken in the period from 31 days to one day prior to the ceremony.
    • Wedding bookings are available from the same month one year before the desired date, and "Castle Photo in Fantasyland" bookings from six months to two months before the date on which the option is scheduled.

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    3rd Annual Pin Trading by the Pond Event
     
    Tom Tumbusch, President of Tomart Corporation, the publisher of Disneyana Update Magazine and the Pin Trading Guides, is pleased to announce that the 3rd annual Pin Trading by the Pond event will be held in Dayton, Ohio on Saturday, June 25 and Sunday, June 26, 2005.

    This year's activities will be hosted by the (Dayton) Plane Crazy Chapter of the NFFC, the club for Disneyana enthusiasts. Individual sponsorships will be made available as additional details are determined.

    Like last year, Saturday will be devoted to pin trading and games. Sunday will be a strictly Disneyana show & sale of pins and other collectibles. All events will be held in the same spacious 10,000 square foot space in the Town & Country Shopping Center that was used last year, located at the corner of Far Hills Avenue (Ohio S. R. 48) and Stroop Road in south suburban Kettering, Ohio, about five minutes north of Interstate 675 (exit #4).

    Once again, the official pin trading hotel will be Hampton Inn South (I-675, exit #2), 8099 Old Yankee, 937-436-3700. The tentative group rate is $79 per night and they will provide a complimentary hospitality suite for pin traders if we book enough rooms under the NFFC block. Ask for Emily if you have any questions.

    On Saturday, pin traders will have an opportunity to visit the Pond at the home of Tom Tumbusch, in small groups, to trade with a special pin Board and meet Tom.

    Several different pin games will be scheduled throughout the day. A pin trading area will also be available on Sunday.

    There will also be a children's pin trading area like last year and a television for kids to watch Disney movies.

    We are hoping to soon be able to announce a special guest or two.

    A special limited edition event pin will be available at a nominal cost to the first 100 people attending the event.

    There is no cost to attend pin trading activities. Parking is free. Vendor tables for Sunday will be available at a cost of $35 per table which includes two chairs. Admission to the Show & Sale will also be free.

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    Mouse Board 'Family' Feud
     
    Disney's board may be on the brink of an internal battle over the much-criticized purchase of the Fox Family Channel in light of revelations from a new book.

    Some directors were outraged to read in "DisneyWar," by James B. Stewart, that top executives failed to disclose information to the board that could have allowed the company to recoup millions on the acquisition, sources told The Post.

    According to the book, Disney executives chose to forego huge potential tax savings rather than write down the value of the channel on its books - an admission that the company had vastly overpaid. Fox Family was owned by News Corp., the parent company of The Post.

    Disney Chairman George Mitchell met with the board yesterday ahead of the company's annual meeting scheduled for today in Minneapolis. Through a spokesman, he denied that some directors were considering asking for a review of the 2001 purchase.

    "This is patently false," he said. "I personally asked every board member this afternoon, and each of them confirmed that this is false and unfounded."

    The channel — now renamed ABC Family — has failed to live up to the expectations of Disney executives, who predicted the purchase would boost ad revenue for its media networks division by 50 percent within two years. Disney Chief Executive Michael Eisner also has conceded the company overpaid for the assets.

    Critics have said Disney — which laid out $3 billion in cash and assumed $2.3 billion in debt for Fox Family Channel — overpaid by as much as $2 billion, making the buy a prime example of Eisner's mismanagement.

    Stewart's book describes how Disney Chief Financial Officer Tom Staggs launched a highly confidential valuation to determine if the channel was worth far less than the company had paid for it. If so, Disney could save big on its tax bill.

    According to the book, the report estimated the company could have saved about $400 million. Based on that analysis, Disney had overpaid $1.8 billion for the channel alone, excluding programming and other assets.

    But the project was halted before Staggs and his staff could finish their work.

    They were told that Staggs had presented the results to chief strategic officer Peter Murphy, who had rejected the low valuation as inconsistent with the company's rosy projections, according to the book.

    In addition, the timing was bad because then-board members Roy Disney and Stanley Gold were extremely critical of the Fox Family, the book said. Disney and Gold would later resign from the board and lead a shareholder revolt that resulted in Eisner losing his chairman's role.

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    Eisner's Post-Disney Life Hard to Picture

    By his own admission, Michael Eisner isn't ready to imagine life beyond the wonderful world of Disney.

    He has said he'll soon retire as chief executive. But beyond that, "I'm not thinking about it," he said in a recent interview with the Los Angeles Times. "I have pushed it out of my mind." 

    As Walt Disney Co. shareholders gather today in Minneapolis, reality may start to sink in. The annual meeting, coming one year after a shareholder revolt stripped Eisner of the chairman's title, will probably be the last time he addresses investors while at Disney's helm.

    That said, it isn't easy for people who know the 62-year-old Eisner to imagine him severing his links to Burbank-based Disney. He is a man whose attention to — some would say obsession with — the world's most famous entertainment company is legendary. In fact, his identity, both professional and personal, seems to be inextricably linked to the company he has run since 1984.

    From hosting Disney's signature television programs to choosing the drapes for Disney hotel rooms, he has left an indelible imprint. And vice versa — for years, he's rarely appeared in public without a Mickey Mouse tie.

    "Disney has been his life," said former Disney TV executive Rich Frank, who is now chairman of The Firm, a talent management and production company. Of Eisner's impending departure, Frank added: "It has to be unbelievably tough for him."

    Eisner announced last year that he would step down when his contract expired in September 2006. His exit, however, is expected to come much sooner: The Disney board has pledged to name a successor by June.

    Bill Mechanic, a producer and former movie chief at 20th Century Fox, predicted Eisner wouldn't be retired for long. "He's not a leisure-time guy," he said. "I don't think you'll ever see him go off into the sunset."

    There's a chance, of course, that Eisner will welcome the chance to spend more time with his wife and three sons while plotting the next chapter of his career. "The last person in this world that I'm ever going to worry about is Michael Eisner," said retired agent Sue Mengers, who has known him since his early days in the industry. "Michael has to deal all day with idiots, or certain people not up to his level. How many people is he going to miss?"

    During a recent trial over Disney's hiring and firing of former President Michael Ovitz, Tom Murphy, former Capital Cities chairman, suggested that it was the corporation itself that Eisner would miss.

    "Let me tell you about Michael Eisner," he said. "There are only two things that interest him in life — his children and Disney."

    That seemed to raise the question: Can a man whose self-image and psyche are so intertwined with Disney really cut the cord?

    Some are skeptical. Former Walt Disney directors Roy E. Disney and Stanley P. Gold have charged that Eisner is backing Disney President Robert Iger, the lone inside candidate to succeed him, because he believes that, like a puppet master, he can continue to guide the company from behind the scenes.

    Eisner's deep identification with Disney has also prompted widespread speculation that he would like to continue playing a formal role after he steps down as CEO, either as a board member or as a kind of chief creative officer who would advise the new CEO.

    In the upcoming book "DisneyWar" by James B. Stewart, Eisner suggests he would serve if asked.

    "I didn't say I didn't want to be chairman. Zenia has been saying that," Eisner says, referring to Zenia Mucha, Disney's corporate spokeswoman.

    "I don't want to be irrelevant," Eisner continues. "I'm not going to ask the board to be named chairman. I'm not going to beg for it. But the board might come to me. Then I'd have to consider it."

    Mucha said the quotes, although accurate, shouldn't be interpreted as meaning that Eisner was actively seeking the chairmanship.

    Eisner himself said in his interview with The Times that he wasn't seeking a board seat or the chairman's job and wasn't interested in becoming a creative advisor. He preferred, he said, to focus for now on running the company and laying the groundwork for a smooth transition. And he dismissed suggestions that he wanted to use Iger to retain his power.

    In any event, Disney Chairman George J. Mitchell has strongly suggested that directors won't offer Eisner the job of chairman after Mitchell leaves. And some investors, including the California Public Employees' Retirement System, have opposed allowing Eisner to remain on the board in any capacity after his retirement, warning that he could wield undue influence.

    For now, Eisner is working determinedly to secure his legacy, especially in the wake of the bruising shareholder revolt, the trial involving Ovitz's short tenure as president and now Stewart's book.

    At an investor meeting last week in Orlando, Fla., Eisner delivered a speech that was as much a retrospective of his accomplishments as it was an accounting of Disney's recent financial gains. He described how under his watch Disney had transformed from a struggling company worth $2 billion in 1984 into what is today nearly a $60-billion global entertainment empire that boasts 10 theme parks, a library of more than 900 movie titles and 32,000 hotel rooms.

    "That's pretty satisfying," he said after leaving the podium. "We've done extremely well."

    Notably, Eisner didn't directly address the succession question during the two-day meeting. Nor did he discuss when or how he would leave Disney. In the interview, he discounted speculation that he might become a college president, saying he planned to continue to work in the entertainment industry.

    "I like what I do — the nitty- gritty of the creative process," he said.

    In recent months, Eisner said, he has been advising one of his sons, director Breck Eisner, as he completes "Sahara," a feature film starring Matthew McConaughey that Paramount Pictures will release in April.

    The elder Eisner has also made time to put final touches on a book of reminiscences about Camp Keewaydin, which he attended as a child in Vermont. The book, titled "Camp," is due in bookstores in June.

    "I'm not a golfer," Eisner said when pressed on his thoughts about life after being CEO. "I'm not a sitter at the beach."

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    Thursday February 10, 2005


    Eisner open to staying on as Disney Chair

    Walt Disney Co.'s Michael Eisner would be willing to stay on as chairman after relinquishing his chief executive post next year, according to published reports.

    "I didn't say I didn't want to be chairman," Eisner said late in 2004, the New York Times said on Thursday, citing the book "DisneyWar: The Battle for the Magic Kingdom," by James B. Stewart.

    "I don't want to be irrelevant. I'm not going to ask the board to be named chairman ... But the board might come to me. Then I'd have to consider it," Eisner said, according to the book.

    Moreover, the book asserts that Eisner believes Disney President Robert Iger could not become chief executive or get another job in Hollywood until he fixed Disney's ABC television network, which has suffered lagging ratings in recent years, the Times said.

    "DisneyWar" also said that Lloyd Braun, the former ABC executive who helped develop current ABC hits "Desperate Housewives" and "Lost," once confronted Iger and accused him of incompetence.

    He accused Iger of "taking credit for things you had nothing to do with; and running away from decisions you made," according to a report in the Wall Street Journal.

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    California pension group opposes Eisner re-election

    California Public Employees' Retirement System, the nation's largest public pension fund, says it will not vote its 9.44 million shares of Disney stock in favor of Michael Eisner's re-election as chief executive officer at the company's annual meeting in Minneapolis on Feb. 11.

    Bloomberg News is reporting that the group does plan to support re-election of the other board members, including President Robert Iger and Chairman George Mitchell.

    The fund, along with seven other state pension groups, withheld support for Eisner at last year's meeting.

    Former directors Roy E. Disney and Stanley Gold say they will also withhold their votes for Eisner as well as the company's entire board. The pair say they are unhappy with the company's effort to find a replacement for Eisner, who has announced plans to step down at the end of his contract in September 2006. Roy Disney owns 16.5 million shares, which makes him the company's largest individual holder.

    Meanwhile, the New York Times says a new book about Eisner, DisneyWar: The Battle for the Magic Kingdom by James Stewart, indicates Eisner "still harbors a desire" to stay on as chairman after his contract expires.

    He is quoted in the book in an interview six months ago with Stewart as saying, "I don't want to be irrelevant. I'm not going to ask the board to be named chairman. I'm not going to beg for it. But the board might come to me. Then I'd have to consider it."

    Early drafts of the book have been circulating in Hollywood for several weeks and the publisher, Simon & Schuster, will begin selling the book in Los Angeles and New York to coincide with Disney's annual meeting.

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    Pixar 4Q Profits Fall, Beat Expectations

    Profits at Pixar Animation Studios dropped 34 percent in the fourth quarter, but still beat analyst expectations and crowned a record fiscal year at the company.

    The Emeryville, Calif.-based company posted net earnings of $55.2 million, or 91 cents per share, in the quarter ended Jan. 1, compared to $83.9 million, or $1.44 per share in the same period last year.

    Analysts surveyed by Thomson First Call had expected earnings of 77 cents per share.

    Revenue also dropped to $108.9 million compared to $164.8 million in the same quarter last year.

    The studio gained revenue during the quarter from the box office performance of its latest movie, "The Incredibles," which opened last November and will be released on home video next month.

    Pixar co-finances its films and splits revenue with The Walt Disney Co. "The Incredibles" is the fourth film to be delivered under a five-film deal with Disney. Pixar will deliver its last film under the deal, "Cars," in 2006.

    For the full year, Pixar reported net income of $141.7 million, or $2.38 per share, compared to $124.8 million, or $2.17 for the previous year.

    Revenue for fiscal 2004 rose to $273.5 million from $262.5 million the previous year.

    Shares of Pixar rose $1 to $89.88 at the end of regular trading on the Nasdaq Stock Market. The shares gained 57 cents more, to $90.45, in after-hours trading.

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    Disney ad does an end run on game
     
    That cagey Al Weiss.

    When I caught up with the chief of Walt Disney World last week, he was awfully careful with what he said about the company's advertising plans.

    Now I know why.

    Two weeks ago, I told you that the Mouse, for the first time in 18 years, was not doing one of its "I'm going to Disney World!" ads with a player from the Super Bowl.

    And it didn't. But what Disney didn't tell me was that it was borrowing heavily from that theme to make an ad using actors rather than a real sports star.

    In the spot that began airing over the weekend, a pee-wee football player who's obviously not the star of the team scores a touchdown in the big game. The boy's dad, pretending to be a TV announcer, asks the kid what he's going to do next.

    The answer: Go you-know-where.

    "Everyone who watches the ad should really see themselves -- no matter their gender, their age," said Michael Mendenhall, the company's executive vice president of global marketing. " . . . We are all our own MVP."

    Fortunately, Mendenhall has never seen me play sports, but I get his point.

    The ad uses the company's 50th anniversary, "Happiest Celebration on Earth" slogan that will be the theme of much of this year's advertising.

    One analyst said the commercial may have been cheaper than the usual Super Bowl ad, which costs Disney tens of thousands just to get a player to utter the magic words.

    On the other hand, no telling what the Mouse paid to pull director Jim Gartner away from Glory Road, the Disney-Jerry Bruckheimer film he's been working on, to do the ad.

    The 30-second spot ran at least a dozen times Saturday through Tuesday, on ABC -- starting with a Desperate Housewives rerun -- and on ESPN, Fox and other outlets. It didn't run during the Super Bowl but appeared in Fox's pre- and post-game shows.

    The ad may continue to run this week on ESPN. And a version may reappear during football season next fall -- or there may be one with the tyke going to Disneyland.

    But the real measure of an ad is its effectiveness. Doubtful that this spot gets the buzz of the usual Super Bowl ads -- but were the Disney reservation lines ringing madly? Was there a flood of business to the Web site?

    No word on either -- or whether Weiss can say, "I'm going to the bank!"

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    Statement by NY State Comptroller Alan G Hevesi

    "In light of a number of positive developments at Disney, including improved performance, the separation the positions of chair of the board and CEO, the commitment to find a new CEO and the addition of independent directors, the New York State Common Retirement Fund will vote in favor of all the directors. For the future, we will judge Disney's management on the basis of its performance in continuing to improve the company's profitability. We believe those efforts would be substantially aided if Disney made renewed efforts to repair its extremely profitable relationships with Pixar and Miramax."

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    Disney Store Western HQ Moving to Historical Pasadena Complex
     
    Children's Place Retail Stores Inc., a Secaucus, N.J.-based specialty retailer, has agreed to lease the historical Royal Laundry in Pasadena for use as the Western regional headquarters of its Disney Store subsidiary.

    Disney Store offices will occupy 72,000 square feet in a three-building complex on Raymond Avenue near Old Pasadena, according to brokerage Colliers Seeley International, which represented the lessee in the 13-year, $23-million agreement.

    Royal Laundry buildings include a 1920s Spanish Colonial Revival-style building and a 1930s Art Deco addition designed by architect Gordon Kaufman, who also designed the Athenaeum at Caltech, the Santa Anita racetrack and the Los Angeles Times building. The Royal Laundry closed in the 1980s, leaving the buildings empty.

    A partnership led by Lee Group Inc. of Los Angeles acquired the property in 1995 and performed an $8-million renovation in 2001 to convert it to office space. Disney Store will be the Royal Laundry's first office tenant when it moves in this fall.

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    Bonus Time for "Housewives"

    Certain Wisteria Lane residents may be feeling a little less desperate about the size of their paychecks.

    The principal stars of ABC's Golden Globe-winning Desperate Housewives--Teri Hatcher, Marcia Cross, Eva Longoria and Felicity Huffman--are each raking in a $250,000 bonus for a job well done.

    Slightly lesser players Nicollette Sheridan and James Denton will reportedly be rewarded with slightly less hefty pay hikes. The remainder of the cast will also be getting an increase in salary.

    A spokesperson for Touchstone Studios refused to confirm the reported pay hikes, stating "it is against studio policy to comment on the salary of our actors."

    However, since Desperate Housewives has earned monster ratings from the time it premiered, helping to boost the Alphabet net out of a long-standing slump, it seems only fitting that the star power behind the show be rewarded for their efforts.

    It may also have been the surest way of averting a mutiny. The 'wives have reportedly expressed discontent with their low (by Hollywood standards) salaries in recent months, some more pointedly than others.

    Sheridan, who plays Edie, the show's resident vixen, got straight to the point by informing People magazine that she was "the poorest actress on television."

    "I heard [the cast of] Friends got cars when they had such amazing ratings," Sheridan griped. "But I got flowers. I'm still waiting for the Porsche."

    We're thinking that with her recent change in fortune, Sheridan can shell out for her own wheels.

    In other Desperate Housewives news, Cross, who plays the tight-laced Bree Van De Kamp, publicly dismissed a recent deluge of rumors that she plans to come out as a lesbian.

    The Internet has been abuzz with gossip on Cross' supposed outing ever since a Feb. 1 message board posting at gay gossip forum DataLounge.com by an individual using the handle Your Friendly Spy at ABC suggested that an unnamed actor on the show would be coming out to gay magazine The Advocate, just in time for May sweeps.

    The thread had garnered over 900 responses by Wednesday; most of them theorizing that Cross was the closeted actor in question.

    However, Cross, previously known for her villainous turn as Dr. Kimberly Shaw on Melrose Place, was apparently not on board with the general consensus regarding her same-sex leanings.

    "In response to the recent rumors about Marcia Cross, they are completely untrue," her spokeswoman, Heidi Slan, said in a statement Tuesday. "She is, however, very supportive of the gay and lesbian community."

    Cross denied the lesbian allegations in person when she filled in as guest host on Wednesday's episode of The View, saying she was "happy" but "not gay."

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    McDonald's launches biggest mobile campaign with Disney
     
    McDonald's tomorrow (Friday) launches its biggest mobile marketing campaign to date in the UK.

    The campaign, run in association with Disney, is the first major mobile marketing campaign in the UK since the company's text and win push to promote the film Monsters Inc in January 2002.

    The new campaign is to promote the launch of the movie The Incredibles and runs until 6 January. It will also promote the launch of a new product from McDonald's, Twisty Fries.

    Cups will be printed with eight-digit codes, which consumers will be encouraged to text in to win a range of mobile content prizes. The mobile content is being provided by Disney Mobile and includes logos, ringtones, movie soundbites and Java games, with every entrant a winner.

    The text and win campaign will be promoted via TV activity.

    The mobile numbers of consumers entering The Incredibles promotion won't be used to create a database for future mobile marketing activity.

    This flies in the face of the majority of mobile marketing activity and illustrates the company's continuing caution in adopting mobile marketing in the UK.

    A McDonald's spokeswoman said the company would use the results of the new campaign to help determine its future use of mobile marketing.

    "We'll see how it goes and evaluate it going forward," she said. "But mobile is a very relevant way to communicate with consumers."

    Last year the company shut down its McDs;-]TXT text club, launched the year before to send regular offers to its registered members.

    The Incredibles campaign will run across Germany, Italy, Austria and Spain. The company continues to be more active in mobile marketing in Europe than the UK, with campaigns including MMS.

    The campaign is run by 12snap.

    mcdonalds.co.uk

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    Coca-Cola/Disney deal in jeopardy
     
    Coca-Cola Great Britain has axed its drink for toddlers, Winnie The Pooh Roo Juice, putting its partnership with Walt Disney in the UK in jeopardy.

    Coca-Cola signed a global deal with Walt Disney in 2001 to develop drinks that tie up with Disney characters. Brands still exist in other territories, but a spokeswoman says there are no plans to launch any new products in the UK. Roo Juice, a juice, water and natural flavorings drink, is aimed at under-fives, but under self-imposed guidelines Coca-Cola does not market to children under 12.

    The drink was launched in the UK in July 2002 following the global deal with Disney. There was an initial trial with Tesco before the drink was rolled out to other retailers and Soul was appointed to create advertising.

    However, stockists began delisting the product last summer with Boots and Woolworths the last multiples still to carry the line (MW July 22, 2004).

    Retailers say that the drink sold poorly. Coca-Cola's spokeswoman says: "It had a loyal following but found it really hard to survive in a competitive grocery environment."

    She adds that juices are still an important part of Coca-Cola's range. In the UK it offers Five Alive and speculation persists that it will launch its Minute Maid brand in the UK this year.

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    ABC Plans Trump Biopic
     
    Last fall, ABC tried to clone the success of Donald Trump's "The Apprentice" with Mark Cuban in "The Benefactor." Despite that show's failure, though, ABC hasn't given up on Trump. The network has given the green light to a new two-hour biopic about The Donald.

    Not surprisingly, the NBC-affiliated Trump won't be involved in the project, which reportedly covers the last 25 years of his life, not including his NBC hit.

    "Donald Trump is the American version of royalty," Quinn Taylor, ABC's senior vice president of movies and miniseries, tells The Hollywood Reporter. "He's probably one of the most fascinating and intriguing men of my generation, who has continually kept himself at the top of his game. That he was able to do it is worth exploring."

    The basis for the ABC film is Gwenda Blair's book "The Trumps: Three Generations That Built an Empire." Keith Curran wrote the script, which will be directed by John David Coles ("Desperate Housewives"). Robert Greenwald (CBS' "The Crooked E: The Unshredded Truth About Enron") and Barbara Lieberman (CBS' "Gleason") will executive produce.

    According to the trades, production could begin by March, though finding the right actor to play Trump may cause some problems.

    "Casting will be challenging because it's somebody that everybody thinks they know, so we'll have to do a big search to find a person who can pull it off," Taylor notes.

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    Disney launches cartoon channel in Telugu

    Walt Disney Television International, the world's largest kids and family entertainment company, Wednesday formally launched 'Toon Disney', the first 24-hour Telugu language kids channel.

    Aimed at reaching out to one of the largest markets in the country, the all-cartoon channel will showcase the best of Disney animation as well as the greatest animated series ever made.

    The Telugu television channel was launched at a glittering ceremony here in the presence of Mickey Mouse, Disney's most celebrated character, who flew down especially for this occasion from Disneyland.

    Rajat Jain, Managing Director, Walt Disney Television International India, said the company had launched Disney channels in English and Hindi and Toon Disney channels in Tamil and Telugu in December last year.

    While Disney channel offers a mix of animations, movies and live action, Toon Disney is all-cartoon channel.

    "India is a priority market for Walt Disney. It is central to our emerging market growth strategies," said Jain.

    Disney, the world's largest media brand, has been in India for the last decade. "However, it was not in full force. Now it will be present with full force in television," he said and pointed out that India was the first market in the Asia Pacific region to introduce a Toon Disney channel.

    Jain said the company planned to reach 15 to 20 million cable and satellite homes in India by the end of 2005. "India is a huge market. There are estimated 350 million kids below the age of 15 years," he said. Disney also plans to launch Toon Disney channel in Hindi this year.

    Jain said the company planned to focus on strengthening its presence in the television sector. "Once we strengthen ourselves in this sector we can evaluate business opportunities in other sectors like movies, internet, theme parks," he said hinting the company may look beyond kids' entertainment and foray into other areas.

    The $30 billion corporation, which is the sixth largest global brand in the world, has its presence in the wide spectrum of activities, including entertainment and sports television channels, studios, toys, apparels and publishing. The company has four theme parks in the US and Europe. The fifth theme park is scheduled to open in Hong Kong in September.

    Jain said the company would also look for increased local content. The Disney channel is already showing some programs based on local stories.

    "With over 1,800 episodes dubbed in Telugu for one year, Toon Disney will significantly enhance age-appropriate viewing options for kids in their native language," he said.

    "With cutting edge content based on the Disney principles of decency, fun, community, storytelling, optimism, innovation and quality, programming on Toon Disney has been customized to the cultural sensibilities and discerning audience needs of India's cartoon loving audiences," Jain said.

    The need for a Telugu channel was felt as the television viewing data revealed that less than four percent of kids in the age group of 4-14 in Andhra Pradesh viewed children's television and more time on non-kids programs, said Jain.

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    A Tale of Treachery in the Magic Kingdom

    "I am committed to making this a win-win situation, to keep our friendship intact, to be positive, and to say and write only glowing things," Michael D. Eisner wrote to Michael S. Ovitz, his best friend of 30 years, at a key juncture in the history of the Walt Disney Company. It was the fall of 1996, and the 50th birthday of Mr. Ovitz, then the company's president, was approaching. Mr. Eisner, chief executive and chairman, was preparing to give a party in his honor.

    He was also preparing to fire Mr. Ovitz, fob him off on Sony, or otherwise get rid of him while shredding the remains of Mr. Ovitz's Olympian reputation as Hollywood's leading power broker. "Attitude in general," Mr. Eisner noted to himself, as he collected one spy's assessment of how Mr. Ovitz was handling these difficulties, "equals 'wounded animal in a corner.' " Yet even after the ax fell, Mr. Eisner offered truth-free assurances that the firing would not come between friends.

    These are the Disney characters of James B. Stewart's two-decade history of corporate squabbling, "DisneyWar." The only traditional Disney figure they bring to mind is Pinocchio. The book describes an Eisner-dominated atmosphere of nonstop conflict and bickering, punctuated by the occasional stinker ("Pearl Harbor"), gold mine ("The Lion King") or missed opportunity ("The Sopranos"). It tells a messy, fractious story complete with its own Seven Dwarfs: Sneaky, Screamy, Pushy, Greedy, Grabby, Nasty and Snarky. Snow White is nowhere to be seen.

    Mr. Stewart has some nice things to say about Mr. Eisner. ("Eisner is intelligent, charming and funny.") He saves these for the epilogue. The rest of the book is a litany of corporate back-stabbings, couched in language that captures the spirit of the organization:

    ("You've got to fire him."

    "I'm not going to fire him. You hired him. You fire him.")

    The most heated of these stories do not come as news, since the most prominent and angry Disney exiles (Mr. Ovitz and Jeffrey Katzenberg, deposed chairman of the Walt Disney Studios) have a tendency to wind up testifying in public about their former boss.

    However much they have been hashed over, some of these details still bear repeating. One memorable question (from testimony in the lawsuit Mr. Katzenberg filed against Mr. Eisner), apparently echoing Mr. Eisner's weirdest boasting: "Did you consider yourself the cheerleader and Mr. Katzenberg merely the tip of your pompom?"

    The book describes Disney's Darwinian corporate culture. ("What Michael likes to do is put six pit bulls together and see which five die.") It presents this on a Monopoly board of dizzying scope: it has space for film, theater, television, theme parks, sports, merchandising, publishing, the Internet and more. This great success, much of it arriving under Mr. Eisner's aegis if not at his instigation, becomes both a point of pride and an excuse for unbridled executive arrogance.

    "Michael Eisner rejected in less than five minutes a $50 billion offer," an executive aligned with Roy E. Disney, Walt's nephew and now Mr. Eisner's bitter enemy, complains about Comcast's recent offer to acquire Disney. "He summarily rejected it without consulting any board member." Mr. Disney is part of the contingent that will have 572 pages' worth of ammunition when the board, which has already stripped Mr. Eisner of his chairmanship, meets in Minneapolis tomorrow.

    What was Mr. Stewart's vantage point? He got reasonably close, but appears not to have been co-opted. He was sufficiently welcome in the Disney organization to work as a Goofy impersonator at Disney World and to be invited to accompany Mr. Eisner to less-than-vital staff meetings. (Hot topics at one: sequels to "The Santa Clause" and "The Princess Diaries.") And he had access to notes for the autobiography that Mr. Eisner wrote with Tony Schwartz, as well as to remarkably frank memos written by Mr. Eisner to his lawyer.

    "And of course there is always the truck that could hit him," Mr. Eisner wrote, when trying to hire a replacement for Mr. Katzenberg while Mr. Katzenberg was still around.

    "It was very exciting, intoxicating," observes one party to Disney's golden era after Mr. Eisner's 1984 ascension but before the defections and firings started. "There was real, not fake, synergy. One idea would spark another. Everything turned to gold." This was the period when Disney reinvented the animated musical and when its low-ball casting philosophy yielded a string of hits. (Robin Williams "joked that Disney cast its movies by hanging out at the back door of the Betty Ford Center.") It was when the colossally profitable idea of releasing Disney classics to home-video audiences was brand-new.

    Mr. Stewart recapitulates all this with more studiousness than flair, to the point where the book comes to resemble one of the PowerPoint boardroom presentations that it describes. It presents a nonstop round of musical chairs, with frequent ego jousts over who "reports to" whom. Some of these shifts are more important than others, but all are recounted exhaustively here. "DisneyWar" has no artful structure, relying instead on flatly chronological chapter and verse.

    Because of the high degree of tattletaling in these stories and the requisite anonymity, the book is sometimes unclear about whose version is being presented. Sometimes Mr. Stewart delivers what he calls an amalgam of two warring perspectives; sometimes he may be repeating gossip or exaggeration. It is by no means certain that Mr. Eisner's dissembling remarks are all verbatim, although some of his greatest whoppers appear on paper.

    "Michael Ovitz joined me in Paris," he wrote to family and friends. "Let me just say right here, boy are we lucky!!!!" And boy, those were four more exclamation points than the situation turned out to warrant.

    In the end Mr. Stewart aspires to put a Shakespearean spin on such acts of treachery - even if Disney is a company that has "Gnomeo and Juliet" in the works. ("Can we get three hits out of Elton?" Mr. Eisner asks about the score.) But this is no real tragedy: Most Disney victims now oversee other companies. And it may not even be a cautionary tale, since rumors of Mr. Eisner's professional demise are greatly exaggerated, at least for now. However implicitly this book compares him to Macbeth and Lear and Richard III, it's Godzilla that comes to mind.

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    Meet Disney Live! Winnie The Pooh stars

    Winnie The Pooh is touring the UK for the first time and The Star is bringing him and his pals to Sheffield's Hallam FM Arena.

    To celebrate we are giving you the chance to meet the characters backstage and win four tickets.

    Four runners-up will also get four tickets each to the opening night. Disney Live! Winnie The Pooh On Stage, is at the Arena from Wednesday to Sunday, February 23 to 27.

    The venue will be transformed into Hundred Acre Wood, with a much-reduced capacity to create a child friendly environment.

    The Winnie the Pooh characters are from the books of AA Milne.

    In this stage show Tigger, Piglet, Eeyore, Rabbit, Kanga, Roo, Owl, the Storyteller and the Hunny Helpers discover what makes a perfect day as they plan a surprise party for Pooh in the Hundred Acre Wood.

    Along the way, audiences are taken on a musical journey. A cast of 15 performers will have parents and children alike singing and bouncing along to songs such as The Wonderful Thing About Tiggers, Rumbly in My Tumbly and the Whoop-De-Dooper Bounce.

    For a chance to win our fantastic prizes simply collect two of the tokens we are printing in The Star - one every day from February 8 to 11.

    Attach them to one of the entry forms we will also print, along with full terms and conditions, on the last two days.

    You can also download an entry form with a free web token attached, only one per household allowed, by clicking here.

    Then answer the simple question on the entry form and get it to us by Wednesday, February 16, at 12 noon. No photocopies allowed. Our winners will be the first correct entries drawn at random after deadline.

    Post to: Meet Disney Characters, The Star, PO Box 693, Promotions, York Street. Sheffield S1 1 PU.

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    ABC Plans Time Delay for Oscar Telecast

    ABC will use a time delay during this year's live broadcast of the Oscars on Feb. 27 in an effort to screen out any scandalous wardrobe malfunction or foul language, a network spokeswoman said on Wednesday.

    "We are going to have a delay, but we can't confirm how long it will be," the spokeswoman said.

    The trade newspaper Variety said the delay would last seven seconds, the usual time broadcasters use to check a live program before letting it go out.

    The telecast for the U.S. film industry's top honors, awarded by the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences, is one of the most-watched television programs and a major source of advertising revenue for the Walt Disney Co.-owned network.

    Following Janet Jackson's "wardrobe malfunction" at last year's Super Bowl, in which her breast was exposed, ABC initiated a seven-second delay to the live Oscar telecast.

    The delay was not used amid a relatively tame telecast.

    Since the Jackson scandal, the Federal Communications Commission has levied major fines against companies whose stars have pushed boundaries. In November, it fined Viacom Inc. $3.5 million to settle complaints it broadcast indecent material on its radio stations.

    Oscar host Chris Rock, 39, is known for his sharp tongue and raw language in stand-up comedy routines, as well as his appeal to younger audiences and fans of hip-hop music.

    The Los Angeles-based Academy chose Rock to host this year's show, in part, to bring in younger viewers. The academy wants stars appearing on the show to be spontaneous -- although not profane -- to some add excitement to the telecast.

    An academy spokesman said the decision to use a delay was ABC's. "There is no requirement that they do it (the delay), and we don't want them to do it. But they are the ones that have the control," an academy spokesman said.

    Separately, the Federal Bureau of Investigation has said it is looking into the illegal copying of a "screener" of Oscar-nominated drama "Million Dollar Baby," but would not give out any details about its probe.

    A "screener" is a video or DVD of a movie sent by studios to Oscar voters, so they can see the film at home. In recent years, some these films have been illegally copied for sale on the black market or Internet download.

    Last year, federal officials prosecuted a Los Angeles resident and academy member for allowing his "screener" DVDs to be copied and posted on the Web. The man was fined $600,000, and kicked out of the Motion Picture Academy.

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    Disney Shareholders Meet Amid Good Results

    When shareholders of The Walt Disney Co. gather in Minneapolis Friday, they will hear the company tout its solid financial performance over the past year, its rising stock price and rosy outlook for double digit growth in the future.

    Yet hanging over the meeting will be echoes of the troubles that roiled last year's shareholders meeting in Philadelphia, when investors delivered a stinging vote of no confidence to CEO Michael Eisner, who later relinquished his role as board chairman.

    In contrast to last year, most proxy consulting firms have endorsed Disney's board and lauded the company for the corporate governance strides it has made.

    And while many state pension funds that opposed Disney's board last year will support it this year, the country's largest fund, representing less than 1 percent of Disney's shares, will oppose it.

    "Things are definitely calmer," said Janna Sampson, director of portfolio management for Oakbrook Investments, which owns about $24 million worth of Disney stock.

    Yet just in time for the meeting, a hefty new book, written with Disney's cooperation, paints an unflattering portrait of Disney CEO Michael Eisner and his heir apparent, President and Chief Operating Officer Bob Iger.

    The book, "DisneyWar," by James B. Stewart, shows Eisner unsure about the qualifications of his second-in command and Iger complaining about his lack of visibility in the company.

    "No one takes me seriously," Iger said to one executive outside of Disney, according to the book. Iger's comment came in the midst of his effort to turn around Disney's troubled ABC network, which was fourth in the ratings and, according to the book, Eisner's growing impatience with that effort.

    Stewart is a former reporter and editor at The Wall Street Journal, where he won a Pulitzer-prize for his stories about insider trading. He is the author of several books, including "Den of Thieves" and "Blood Sport," a book about the Clintons and the Whitewater investigation. He was given access to top Disney executives over a two-year period in the writing of this book.

    "DisneyWar" is filled with stories of company intrigue and gossipy tidbits, such as a scene caused in a restaurant when Iger confronted former ABC chief Lloyd Braun. Iger soon fired Braun, then fired co-ABC head Susan Lyne after first promising that her job was safe, according to the book.

    The book also has Eisner grousing about the prospects of the ABC show "Lost," even though the show premiered with high ratings and critical praise.

    As is the case with such books that attempt to recreate actual incidents and conversations based on hundreds of interviews, Stewart notes that passages of dialogue "are not necessarily a quotation from an interview with me." He also cautions that readers should not assume that one or more people quoted in the book is a direct source.

    The book also retells the contentious relationships Eisner had with former studio chief Jeffrey Katzenberg and short-term Disney President Michael Ovitz. Many of those details were painstakingly revealed earlier last year during a shareholder lawsuit which saw days of testimony from Eisner and Ovitz.

    While draft copies of the book have been circulating in entertainment circles and the book is sure to generate juicy stories, analysts say it will have little or no effect on the search for a new CEO.

    Eisner has said he will step down when his contract expires in 2006. Disney's board has pledged to name his successor by June.

    "It won't affect the decision-making at all," said Paul Kim, an analyst for Tradition Asiel Securities. "I think everyone knows what they're getting from Bob Iger. All the things they needed to do in the last year or so, they did, ensuring the likelihood that Bob Iger will be chosen. They've executed pretty well on that."

    Iger is expected to take a lead role at Friday's shareholder meeting, giving him a high-profile platform in the months before the board's June target date.

    This year's meeting promises to be quieter than last year's, when dissident ex-board member Roy E. Disney took the stage to enthusiastic applause and directly challenged Eisner's leadership.

    This year, Roy Disney and fellow ex-board member Stanley Gold decided not to nominate a challenge slate of directors. They recently said they would withhold their votes from the company's director nominees to keep pressure on the board to conduct a thorough search for a new CEO. But the pair have not mounted a campaign to convince others to do likewise.

    And influential proxy consulting firms, which last year recommended withholding votes from Disney's board, this year recommend supporting board members, including Eisner.

    "The fact that the company has taken positive steps is a gain for shareholders," a report prepared by Institutional Shareholders Services said.

    Yet critics remain.

    The California Public Employees Retirement System said Wednesday it would withhold its votes from Eisner.

    And the proxy firm Glass Lewis & Co. has recommended withholding votes for board chairman George Mitchell's re-election.

    The firm said Mitchell's prior work as a consultant to Disney compromised his independence.

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    Wednesday February 9, 2005


    It's dress-up time at Disney

    The Magic Kingdom is already getting dressed up for the 50th anniversary of Disneyland, even though the event is still three months off. Disney Co. is putting on a mammoth marketing blitz to drum up interest in the celebration, which is stretching beyond California to all of its parks worldwide.

    Here in Orlando, workers began dressing up Cinderella Castle for the occasion last week, attaching gold overlay Monday night after the parks had closed for the day. The dress-up will continue piecemeal through March, with all of the work taking place after hours. The 50th anniversary celebrations begin in May.

    When finished, the castle will be trimmed with gold and "pixie dust" and dotted with golden statues of some of Disney's more popular characters.

    The decorations will stay up through 2006.


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    Where the Walls are
     
    Walls for rehabs and construction are up all over Walt Disney World.

    Magic Kingdom:
    Astro Orbiter under rehab

                                                

    Dumbo under rehab
    it's a small world under extensive re-construction and rehab
    The Timekeeper - open seasonally
    Castle hub under rehab
    Castle decorations for the 50th
    Magic Kingdom Exit under construction
    Magic Kingdom Monorail Station under construction for automatic gates

    Epcot:
    The Land closed for major construction and rehab for Soarin'
    Wonders of Life - open seasonally
    Body Wars - open seasonally
    The Making of Me - open seasonally
     
    MGM Studios:
    Sounds Dangerous - Starring Drew Carey will not be operating February 23 - 28, 2005

    Animal Kingdom:
    Construction continues on Expedition Everest.




    Interested in a large detailed photo of Expedition Everest? Click the small photos below.

    20905lgeea.jpg (916653 bytes)  20905lgeeb.jpg (409088 bytes)
     
    Ticket and Transportation Center:
    Construction for additional kiosks/ticket booths (ticket purchase machines).
     
    Downtown Disney:
    Lego store closed for construction of new Lego Store opening in Spring
    Disney Home Store Closed will reopen as Goofy's Candy Co.
    Jazz Club closed at Pleasure Island will reopen as Irish Pub
     
    Typhoon Lagoon:
    Closed for seasonal rehab
    Construction continues on the new Crush n' Gusher ride opens Spring

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    Euro Disney shares slump 11.76 percent
     
    The price of shares in Euro Disney slumped by 11.76 percent to 0.15 euros in trading here on Tuesday shortly before an offer for a capital increase closed.

    The capital increase on a basis of shares issued at 0.09 euros and launched on January 31, was to end later in the day.

    When the issue was launched the shares had surged by 16.67 percent in initial trading to 0.14 euros.

    The issue is the last stage of a rescue refinancing for the company. The Walt Disney Company has said it will subscribe for 1.11 billion shares and Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, an important shareholder, was to acquire 217.3 million shares.

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    Honda And Disneyland

    Honda, in the form of American Honda Motor Co. Inc., has announced a ten-year deal with Disneyland which will involve the former sponsoring the latter's 50th anniversary celebrations and annual Grand Nite events.

    But there's more to it than that. Honda will also be designated as Disneyland's "official" product for cars, motorcycles and selected power equipment. And the two companies are finalising an agreement to develop a new exhibit at Innovations In Tomorrowland. This would perhaps include ASIMO, Honda's highly advanced humanoid robot whose most recent public appearance was in front of a number of MEPs at the European Parliament.

    Despite their obvious differences, the two companies make heavy use of similar themes in their marketing campaigns. Honda's advertising catchline at the moment is "The Power Of Dreams", while in May this year Disneyland will start presenting a new show called "Remember . . . Dreams Come True" which is a fireworks display based on new air-launch technology.

    "Our two companies hold a common belief in the importance of dreams," says American Honda's President and CEO, Koichi Kondo. "It is particularly exciting to enter this partnership as Disneyland celebrates its 50th anniversary in 2005.

    "We look forward to sharing our cutting-edge technologies, like ASIMO, with Disneyland Resort guests and working with Disney to discover new business, marketing and promotional opportunities in all areas of our respective businesses."

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    Davis Scores Lead in ABC's 'Soccer' Pilot

    "Sex and the City" alumna Kristin Davis will star in the tentatively titled ABC drama pilot "Soccer Moms," which revolves around two suburban housewives who team up as private investigators.

    Davis, who received an Emmy nomination for her role as the idealistic Charlotte on HBO's hit comedy "Sex and the City," will play one of the women.

    On the film side, Davis recently wrapped Robert Rodriguez's "The Adventures of Shark Boy and Lava Girl in 3-D" opposite David Arquette, and next appears in Disney's remake of "The Shaggy Dog" opposite Tim Allen.

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    "The Best of Pooh & Heffalumps, Too" Compilation and "Pooh's Heffalump Movie" Read-Along Set for Release on Walt Disney Records February 8th

    Walt Disney Records welcomes families back to the Hundred Acre Wood with "The Best of Pooh & Heffalumps, too," the newest audio addition to the world's largest and most beloved character franchise. In stores February 8, 2005, the ultimate Winnie the Pooh collection features five new songs written by Academy Award(R)- and Grammy(R) Award-winning singer/songwriter Carly Simon for the film "Pooh's Heffalump Movie," plus nine classic Pooh favorites, all on one CD! "The Best of Pooh & Heffalumps, too" CD compliments the movie that opens in theaters nationwide on February 11th.

    The Hundred Acre Woods crew is together again in "Pooh's Heffalump Movie." This time they learn the life lessons of accepting differences and the value of true friendship. Awakened by a rumbling that could only be made by the much-feared Heffalump, Pooh, Piglet and Tigger set out to capture the creature once and for all. Disregarded as too young to partake in such a dangerous expedition, Roo opts to search on his own with far greater success than his friends. In meeting a young, playful Heffalump name Lumpy, Roo quickly learns important lessons: Heffalumps are nothing like what he's been told, and he has much more to gain by befriending Lumpy than by fearing him. They strike up a sweet friendship and work together to dispel the unfounded fears of their respective friends and families.

    In addition to "The Best of Pooh & Heffalumps, too" compilation, on February 8th Walt Disney Records will release "Pooh's Heffalump Movie Read-Along." The read-along includes a CD plus a 24-page book featuring colorful images from the film telling the tale of the newest character in the Pooh franchise, Lumpy the loveable Heffalump.

    "The Best of Pooh & Heffalumps, too" compilation track listing:

    1. "Winnie the Pooh" from Disney's "Piglet's Big Movie," performed by Carly Simon with Ben Taylor

    2. "The Horribly Hazardous Heffalumps!" from Disney's Pooh's Heffalump Movie, performed by Winnie the Pooh, Tigger, Rabbit, Eeyore, Piglet, Roo and Carly Simon

    3. "Little Mr. Roo" from Disney's "Pooh's Heffalump Movie," performed by Carly Simon and Kanga

    4. "The Name Game" from Disney's "Pooh's Heffalump Movie," performed by Lumpy and Roo

    5. "Shoulder to Shoulder" from Disney's "Pooh's Heffalump Movie," performed by Carly Simon and The Heffalump Chorus

    6. "In the Name of the Hundred Acre Wood / What Do You Do?" from Disney's "Pooh's Heffalump Movie," performed by Carly Simon and The Heffalump Chorus

    7. "With a Few Good Friends" from Disney's "Piglet's Big Movie," performed by Carly Simon with Ben Taylor and Sally Taylor

    8. "The Promise" score from Disney's Pooh's Heffalump Movie, composed and conducted by Joel McNeely

    9. "Heffalumps and Woozles"

    10. "The Wonderful Thing About Tiggers"

    11. "Up, Down, and Touch the Ground"

    12. "Rumbly in My Tumbly"

    13. "Little Black Rain Cloud"

    14. "Luv-a-Bye"

    15. "Winnie the Pooh"

    "The Best of Pooh & Heffalumps, too!" compilation will be available on February 8, 2005 for a suggested retail price of $12.98 wherever music is sold. All Walt Disney Records audio products also can be ordered by visiting DisneyRecords.com.

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    Walt Disney aims for a slot in top three

    The world's largest media brand, Walt Disney Television International, expects India to become one among its top three markets in a year's time with a viewership of 20 million.

    The company is also seriously looking at original production in India after its recent success with the short story series 'Legend of the Ringfire', produced in Asia.

    On the sidelines of the launch of Toon Disney, a kids channel in Tamil, Rajat Jain, managing director, Walt Disney Television International (India) said, "This the first time in the world that Walt Disney Television International is launching its Toon Disney channel in a local language. This shows that it wants to meet the gap in the Indian kids channel."

    Jain said that the reason for localising kids channels in Tamil and Telegu was that the average television viewership in Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh was double the national average viewership. Incidentally, Toon Disney will be the first Tamil and Telegu kids channel to be launched.

    The other factors that determine content localisation are the size of the regional market, viability of business, the extent of viewership and the need to meet the gap in the market, he added.

    Television viewing data reveals that less than four per cent of kinds in the age group between four and 14 in Tamil Nadu view children's television and spend as much time on non kids genre programming.

    Another subsidiary company of Walt Disney Television, Disney Characters Voices, has the mandate to convert English in to local languages. Jain said that over 1,800 hours of fully dubbed content in Tamil for the next one year has been done by the company.

    "We source the talent from various dubbing vendors in the specific regions without compromising on quality," he added.

    The new Tamil kids channel is targeted primarily at kids aged between four and fourteen will feature Disney classics, movie series and contemporary cartoon, among others.

    Meanwhile, Star Network the authorised distributor of Walt Disney Television India, is in talks with multi-system operator-Sun Cable Vision for a free preview period of Toon Disney in Chennai.

    Jain said that the free preview period will enable large population of Chennaities to view the new channel otherwise who will not have the opportunity to watch them without set top box. In a week's time we expect the negotiations to get firmed up and the free preview period to be operational, he added.

    Chennai is the only city in India which has CAS. Toon Disney, the newly launched Tamil kids channel is a pay channel cannot be viewed unless aided by a set top box.

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    The Mania Continues with "Disney's Karaoke Series: Disneymania" Set for Release February 15, 2005

    Be part of the mania with "Disney's Karaoke Series: Disneymania," available February 15th on Walt Disney Records! "Disney's Karaoke Series: Disneymania" features the best of "Disneymania" and "Disneymania 2" all on one CD so tweens can sing along to their favorite Disney's songs as made popular by some of today's hottest artists.

    "Disney's Karaoke Series: Disneymania" is the newest addition to Walt Disney Records' exciting line of CD + Graphics (CD + G) products that allow the song lyrics to appear on a television screen when played in a CD + G machine. "Disney's Karaoke Series: Disneymania" includes sixteen tracks, both with and without vocals. In addition to playing in karaoke machines, this versatile CDG also can be used in traditional CD players, making it perfect for car trips, parties and family get-togethers.

    "Disney's Karaoke Series: Disneymania" contains both the instrumental and vocal versions of eight updated Disney classics: "Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah," "Welcome," "Hakuna Matata," "Kiss the Girl," "Part of Your World," "He's a Tramp," "The Second Star to the Right" and "True to Your Heart."

    "Disney's Karaoke Series: Disneymania" will be available on February 15, 2005 for a suggested retail price of $9.98. All Walt Disney Records audio products can be ordered by visiting DisneyRecords.com.

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    Disney Sound Presents They Might Be Giants' "Here Come the ABCs" DVD & CD in Stores February 15

    They Might Be Giants triumphantly return to the kids' section, following up the success of their "No!" CD and their "Bed, Bed, Bed" book & CD set. With "Here Come the ABCs," TMBG's new DVD & CD, the band has raised the bar of creativity to new heights. The songs teach the ABCs, but with an energy and a sense of fun that will have adults happily signing up for a refresher course. "Here Come the ABCs" is an instant perennial -- guaranteed to be a favorite with families for years to come.

    Like its predecessor "No!," "Here Come the ABCs" features a parade of inventive, original songs. From the happy, globe-trotting "Alphabet of Nations" to the propulsive "Pictures of Pandas Painting" to the joyfully simple "C is for Conifers," this album is overflowing with unforgettable melodies and ideas that will spark the imaginations of kids everywhere.

    On the DVD project, TMBG enjoyed 100% creative control. Flansburgh and Linnell corralled a huge creative team of illustrators, animators and puppeteers, which included folks from MTV, Disney, and innovative graphic artists from "The Incredibles" and "Finding Nemo" camps. The band collaborated directly with each animation team, casting each group with songs that complimented their unique style, and worked with them from story-boards to final.

    The "Here Comes the ABCs" DVD also introduces the Deeply Felt Puppet Theater, created by Flansburgh's wife Robin Goldwasser (also known for her wicked vocals on "Dr. Evil," the theme from "Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery"). The John and John puppets serve as hosts to the show, and the three main characters of Deeply Felt perform a number of songs. The resulting DVD is one of the freshest looking children's projects in recent memory.

    In Ja