Remember Who You Are

Remember the touching scene in "The Lion King" when Mufasa speaks to his son, Simba from the hereafter? The words, "remember who you are"  was a needed reminder to the troubled heir who had lost his way. And, it’s something the large entertainment company in the San Fernando Valley might also keep in mind. Let's go back to the nineteen sixties and a story meeting with the Old Maestro himself. A sequence in an upcoming motion picture was being pitched to Walt by the writer and director of the film. The male lead and his female companion had accidentally been moved into a very funny, but somewhat provocative situation. The director, knowing that the situation would ultimately prove to be innocent, felt safe in pitching the rather sophisticated scene to Walt. In case some of you are unaware, let me state that Walt Disney was no prude. As a matter of fact, Walt thought the "business" was cute and funny, and laughed out loud at the gag. Not known for effusive compliments, the boss thought that the idea was good. And then - he cut it from the picture. Walt Disney knew his audience and what they expected from a movie that bore his famous name. He knew that his audience would be made up of everyone from junior to grandma and he wasn't about to risk making anyone even slightly uncomfortable while viewing his movie. The scene was cut from the film because Walt Disney was the final arbiter of taste at his company and he took that responsibility seriously. It had taken decades to build the Disney name. A name that people knew meant quality, creativity and most of all - family entertainment. Why would anyone risk damaging something so important? Why alienate the very market the master story teller took so long to build? Why try to be something you're obviously not? When the "smart guys" took over Disney in the early eighties they thought Disney could be all things to all people. In their MBA wisdom they saw the Mouse House restricting itself to primarily one market. Why settle for one market when you can have it all? Clearly, they were treading on dangerous ground and those other deeply coveted markets never did yield what was promised. Unfortunately, what was was gained was a lot of disenchantment from the Disney faithful who saw their beloved family company inching ever closer to the "Dark Side." While I have no beef with brilliantly conceived films such as "Pulp Fiction" and "Sin City," would Walt Disney have made them? Of course, we know the cutting edge films were not released under the Disney label, so your point is well taken. However, I wonder how many of you would have felt comfortable pitching those movie ideas to Walt? 

Of course, staying ahead of the competition is something all companies deal with. I'm sure you're well aware of other animation houses that always seem to have a movie somewhat similar to the mouse's offering. Well, a few years ago I sat in a meeting as two hyped up Disney executives explained how they were going to blow away the competition by doing something that would catch the "copy cats" by surprise. Disney was going to move in a bold new direction. They were going to explore new ideas and techniques and catch the competition totally off guard. They came up with a bold new movie alright. And, true to their word it was unlike anything we had seen before. Unfortunately, in doing so they headed in the wrong direction. A sad fact the film makers learned the hard way when Roy Edward Disney shut their picture down. When working for the Walt Disney Company, one might be advised to make a Disney movie. Of course, the company is hardly lacking in resources and an idea conceived back in the sixties continues to bring in tons of money for the Disney Company today. I was next door to Marc Davis when the Disney Master was doing his first sketches for a proposed theme park ride called, "Pirates of the Caribbean." Eventually, Marc left D-Wing and moved to Walt Disney Imagineering in Glendale where this incredible attraction was brought to life by hundreds of talented Disney artists, craftsmen and technicians. But, the magic didn't end there. Decades later, "Pirates of the Caribbean found new life as a Disney motion picture franchise bringing in even more money. Perhaps this, more than anything else was the wake up call Disney needed. Why waste time pursuing cutting edge and sleazy adult films when there is a waiting and eager market for family themed entertainment? Add to that, these projects generate all kinds of additional product that enhance the bottom line. Toys, music, books, and apparel are only the tip of the iceberg. Isn't it clear that when Disney does what it does best, good results are bound to follow?

Hopefully, the Mouse House will continue to focus on their core business. With “Frozen” and other movies proving to be hits, family friendly films seem like a pretty good idea, don't you think? It's almost as though some executive popped a copy of "The Lion King" in the DVD player and heard Mufasa remind Simba, "Remember who you are." Good advice for a company that needs to focus on legacy. Provide quality family entertainment and the audience will always be there for you. Of course, Walt Disney could have told you the same thing over fifty years ago.