There is a book I’d like to write about one of the greatest businesses in the world, and I’d like to eventually publish it under Endever’s name. Thing is, it’ll take a few years to write, and the time expense will be big. So I’m throwing the mock-introduction out there to you readers to see if it is a book you would be interested in reading.
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INTRO TO BUSINESS BOOK:
In just over two centuries America has delivered a long line of legendary figures who have contributed mightily to the sustaining growth of creativity and innovation. Out of the collective brainchild of these American leaders, we have been given the telephone, baseball, model-T’s, cardiac pacemakers, and Cocoa Cola, to name a few. Business, imagination, and innovation have been the cornerstones of American greatness stretching as far back as the drafting of the Declaration of Independence.
When viewing American history in terms of industry clusters, there is one enterprise, one empire, that is larger than most of the others and has touched and inspired growth in more industries than any other. One would be hard-pressed to find a single person in America who does not know the name Disney, and probably very few people in the world who have not been touched by his creations in one way or another.
Walt Disney built the first-ever themed amusement park for millions to enjoy, make memories, get engaged, get married, and reconnect with their families. He invented the nature documentary, spawning a multi-billion dollar industry that is dedicated to documenting and preserving life forms we share planet earth with that we would otherwise not have known about.
More specifically, and most famously, he created the first feature-length animated film. He did this despite a plethora of naysayers and fierce criticism. And one man’s folly became a worldwide phenomenon, which evolved into a cultural obsession. Soon, animated films became the gold standard in entertainment. And so, on the shoulders of seven little men and a gullible princess, an empire was built.
Through vivid storytelling, state of the art technology, and sophisticated artistry, animated movies delighted audience members of all ages and magically touched the world one life at a time. People everywhere discovered that their deformities could propel them to heights above their peers as they marveled at Dumbo’s flight. Peter Pan reminded people that it’s okay to never grow up. Alice taught audiences to never stop exploring. And Walt himself implored everyone, no matter what, to “keep moving forward.”
But after the dark and dismal days following Mr. Disney’s death in 1966, his empire lived on, but only barely so. The men and women left behind to run it were, essentially, left without an emperor. They were lost and leaderless. Their fearless visionary had sailed away to new adventures on his pixie dust-coated pirate ship. The artists and storytellers left to run the kingdom struggled to match their leader’s expectations as they floundered to create one mediocre animated film after another. Slowly, the medium was dying out because of a lack of vision, and brick by brick, the kingdom that Walt had built began to crumble.
Animated movies, feeling like high-budget lengthier laugh-o-grams by that point, were being cast aside as no longer cinematic marvels for the masses, but as simple-minded childish affairs. This is a class of thinking Walt would have despised. Animation was never meant to be solely for children. It was meant to be experienced and enjoyed by all, despite class, race, gender, and especially age.
Hope was undoubtedly waning for the Disney Company. Artists packed up their bags. Desk lamps were shut off for the last time. Sketchpads were closed, and the dust began to settle. It seemed feature-length animation was now a thing of the past.
But somewhere in the distance, a wave began to form and it brought forth a ship that seemed to carry Walt Disney’s very spirit and it set anchor in Burbank, California, which would become the home to a humble grotto under the sea where a little mermaid would dazzle the world with her voice and bravery.
And so, like the prince-kissed maiden, the sleeping spell lifted and Beauty awoke. The dragon of despair was slain, and life and energy prevailed once more in the Walt Disney Studios.
With the release of The Little Mermaid, resurgence was under way. Ariel was Snow White for a new generation. Suddenly, the theater houses were packed with just as many adults as kids, just like in years past. That old forgotten magic filled the air and new songs filled people’s hearts and it wasn’t uncommon to hear someone whistle “Under the Sea” when you passed by them in the grocery store.
That infectious spirit of Walt Disney had been reborn and almost everyone was accepting of it. And that wasn’t all. In the mermaid’s wake rolled in even bigger box office and critical hits such as Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, and The Lion King—films that remain embedded in America’s psyche even decades later. People today teach their kids what Hakuna Matata means, just like their grandparents can still recite the significance of wishing on a star.
Parents took their families to see the latest animated movie with nothing less than childlike enthusiasm. The reigning king of animation, it seemed, had reclaimed its rightful place in the movie industry.
All had thought Disney Animation was here to stay, but no on foresaw the slow and imminent second death the company would suffer for the next ten years. It would slowly decompose from a cancer eating it from the inside out. The magic was squelched once again, but not due to the vanishing of a great man, but this time because of the arrival of a man who was driven by pride and bureaucratic rituals.
Everyone, from the studio to the general public, watched the decline of the twice-great animation studio as year after year it produced films that displayed lesser and lesser artistic quality and lesser depth. It wasn’t noticeable at first. The Hunchback of Notre Dame broke new ground in animation by giving movement to every person in large crowd scenes to provide a sense of realism seen only in The Lion King. Tarzan provided memorable music and displayed beautiful animation by esteemed Disney artists.
But like plucking pedals off a rose, it seemed there was a certain magic, or touch, that was less and less prevalent in each subsequent feature animated film. The characters were becoming less relatable, the stories were no longer connecting with audiences, the tales were no longer as old as time but were just enough to make a quick dent in the weekend box office only to fall away into distant memory. More than ever the animation style was reminiscent of Saturday morning cartoons.
What was happening here?
What was the cancer that was destroying this vibrant, lucrative, creative machine? At one point it seemed as though the Disney empire was unstoppable, that it would continue to deliver memorable movies for generations to come. And now it was being pitifully bested by other, less experienced, animation studios.
Just when even the youngest children, it seemed, weren’t too thrilled with Disney’s latest cinematic attempts (does anyone remember a single line from Atlantis: The Lost Empire?), fate stepped in and offered a second revival for the company.
They say everyone deserves a second chance, and now the Walt Disney Animation Studios was being given a third. With fresh new management in place, a complete restructuring of the buildings, and the reimplementation of Walt Disney’s innovative spirit, the animation behemoth transformed from a Beast to a flourishing kingdom once again.
During these changes, Disney’s forty-eighth animated film was underway about a dog who believed he was a super hero. His nemesis was to be a Girl Scout cookie-selling zombie serial killer—quite a jump from the conventional tradition of family-friendly entertainment. But the new management arrived just in time to step in and reroute the project, shaping it into a much more acceptable premise with enduring characters and, ultimately, bringing in a nice sum for the studio (an impressive $310 million, almost doubling the previous film’s intake).
From there, the company’s prospects grew from good to better, and eventually to a greatness never known to the Walt Disney Animation Studios before in its seventy-nine year history. As of the very day of this writing, the media is exploding with exultations over Disney’s newest animated effort, Zootopia. And my social media notifications are about to burst my phone, alerting me that Zootopia has just become the highest-grossing animated Disney release ever—a record not easily broken considering the greatness that emerged from the studio’s previous resurgence.
HOLLYWOOD, CA – FEBRUARY 17: (L-R) Singer Shakira and actors Ginnifer Goodwin and Jason Bateman pose with Nick Wilde and Judy Hopps characters during the Los Angeles premiere of Walt Disney Animation Studios’ “Zootopia” on February 17, 2016 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Charley Gallay/Getty Images for Disney)
One has to ask, then, when looking at the long history of Disney animation, why is it back on top after years of muddling in the mire of mediocrity? Usually, as businesses go, they get one chance to pull off something great. One flub, one misstep, is enough to send the company off to file chapter thirteen. Why has Disney Animation been given so many chances to turn itself around? What caused the change? What does the management look like now compared to that of the abysmal late 90’s and early 00’s?
These are questions we will explore in the following pages. In hindsight, some answers may be obvious, but keep in mind, every business decision seems rational at the time. After all, the Walt Disney Animation Studios is more than a business. It’s one of the most trusted brands in the entertainment industry, and a beloved hallmark to millions across the world. In this book we’ll speak with Disney executives and employees and get their firsthand accounts of the changes the studio underwent that caused such a rollercoaster of highs and lows. We’ll examine the things that worked and the things that didn’t, and we’ll attempt to draw the conclusion of whether it was dumb luck that keeps getting them out of trouble or if it’s due to specific, proactive decisions and changes made on behalf of the management and cooperation of the employees.
This is more than just a business book or an interesting inside look at one of the most successful companies in the world. This is the story about an empire which was poisoned by an apple but then miraculously awoke. Then it lost its glass slipper, but in the eleventh hour, it was found. Through it all, it continues to reclaim its happy ending. This is the story of hope, courage, and reformation. This story is our story—America’s story. A story which Walt himself wanted to be infectious to millions across the globe: “…with the hope that it will be a source of joy and inspiration to all the world.”