Walt Disney announces $7.4 billion purchase of Pixar


Year
2006
Month Day
January 24

By the end of 2005, Pixar had become a giant in the world of movie animation, and on January 24, 2006, the company that brought the world the blockbuster hits Toy Story (1995), A Bug’s Life (1998), Monsters, Inc. (2001), Finding Nemo (2003) and The Incredibles (2004) was sold to the Walt Disney Company, their longtime distributor, for a staggering $7.4 billion.

Since 1993, when Disney and Pixar signed their first three-picture deal, Pixar’s films had won 19 Academy Awards and grossed more than $3 billion at the box office. Their pioneering techniques in digital animation–Toy Story was the first animated film to be completely computer-generated–had set a new standard, blazing a trail that other companies had struggled to follow. In the same time period, Disney’s own animation unit had released more traditional animated films that were either modest successes, such as Lilo & Stich (2002), or flops, such as Home on the Range (2004). Its first completely computer-generated effort, Chicken Little (2005) was profitable, but had nowhere near the success of The Incredibles, which grossed $200 million domestically and won the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature Film.

Despite the success of the Pixar-Disney collaboration, Pixar CEO (and Apple co-founder) Steve Jobs had reportedly clashed with Disney’s longtime chairman and CEO, Michael Eisner, and in January 2004, Jobs announced that Pixar would begin talks with other distributors. Roy Disney, the nephew of Walt Disney subsequently led a shareholder revolt, and in the spring of 2004 Eisner received a 45 percent no-confidence vote from shareholders and was stripped of his chairmanship.

Eisner announced he would step down as CEO in September 2005, one year before his contract was set to expire. His replacement was the company’s president, Robert A. Iger. One of Iger’s first moves was to work on repairing the relationship with Pixar, whose latest contract with Disney was set to expire in June 2006, with the delivery of its next film, Cars.

Under the deal announced that January, and formally completed on May 5, Jobs would serve as a director on Disney’s board, while John Lasseter, a former Disney animator and the leading creative force behind Pixar’s films, would become chief operating officer of the animation studios, as well as the principle creative adviser at Walt Disney Imagineering, which designs and builds the company’s theme parks. In a conscious effort by Pixar to maintain its unique creative process and non-traditional corporate culture, the two companies remained physically separate, with Pixar maintaining its headquarters in Emeryville, California (Disney is based in Burbank).

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Disneyland opens

Disneyland, Walt Disney’s metropolis of nostalgia, fantasy and futurism, opens on July 17, 1955. The $17 million theme park was built on 160 acres of former orange groves in Anaheim, California, and soon brought in staggering profits. Today, Disneyland hosts more than 18 million visitors a year, who spend close to $3 billion.

READ MORE: Disneyland’s Disastrous Opening Day

Walt Disney, born in Chicago in 1901, worked as a commercial artist before setting up a small studio in Los Angeles to produce animated cartoons. In 1928, his short film Steamboat Willy, starring the character “Mickey Mouse,” was a national sensation. It was the first animated film to use sound, and Disney provided the voice for Mickey. From there on, Disney cartoons were in heavy demand, but the company struggled financially because of Disney’s insistence on ever-improving artistic and technical quality. His first feature-length cartoon, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1938), took three years to complete and was a great commercial success.

Snow White was followed by other feature-length classics for children, such as Pinocchio (1940), Dumbo (1941), and Bambi (1942). Fantasia (1940), which coordinated animated segments with famous classical music pieces, was an artistic and technical achievement. In Song of the South (1946), Disney combined live actors with animated figures, and beginning with Treasure Island in 1950 the company added live-action movies to its repertoire. Disney was also one of the first movie studios to produce film directly for television, and its Zorro and Davy Crockett series were very popular with children.

In the early 1950s, Walt Disney began designing a huge amusement park to be built near Los Angeles. He intended Disneyland to have educational as well as amusement value and to entertain adults and their children. Land was bought in the farming community of Anaheim, about 25 miles southeast of Los Angeles, and construction began in 1954. In the summer of 1955, special invitations were sent out for the opening of Disneyland on July 17. Unfortunately, the pass was counterfeited and thousands of uninvited people were admitted into Disneyland on opening day. The park was not ready for the public: food and drink ran out, a women’s high-heel shoe got stuck in the wet asphalt of Main Street USA, and the Mark Twain Steamboat nearly capsized from too many passengers.

Disneyland soon recovered, however, and attractions such as the Castle, Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride, Snow White’s Adventures, Space Station X-1, Jungle Cruise, and Stage Coach drew countless children and their parents. Special events and the continual building of new state-of-the-art attractions encouraged them to visit again. In 1965, work began on an even bigger Disney theme park and resort near Orlando, Florida. Walt Disney died in 1966, and Walt Disney World was opened in his honor on October 1, 1971. Epcot Center, Disney-MGM Studios, and Animal Kingdom were later added to Walt Disney World, and it remains Florida’s premier tourist attraction. In 1983, Disneyland Tokyo opened in Japan, and in 1992 Disneyland Paris–or “EuroDisney”–opened to a mixed reaction in Marne-la-Vallee. Disneyland in Hong Kong opened its doors in September 2005.

READ MORE: 7 Things You May Not Know About Walt Disney

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Production begins on “Toy Story”


Year
1993
Month Day
January 19

On January 19, 1993, production begins on Toy Story, the first full-length feature film created by the pioneering Pixar Animation Studios. Originally a branch of the filmmaker George Lucas’s visual effects company, Industrial Light and Magic (ILM), Pixar first put itself on the map with special effects produced for films such as Young Sherlock Holmes (1985), which featured the first fully three-dimensional digital or computer-generated image (CGI). In 1986, Pixar became an independent company after it was purchased by Steve Jobs, the co-founder of Apple Computer.

The fledgling company’s inaugural product was the Pixar Image Computer, which the former Disney animator John Lasseter soon used to produce an animated short film, Luxo Jr. The film won Best Animated Short at the 1986 Academy Awards, raising Pixar’s profile considerably. Lasseter won another Oscar in 1989 for Tin Toy, an animated short featuring a mechanical drummer named Tinny maneuvering around in a baby’s playroom. (Tinny later became the basis for Buzz Lightyear, the spaceman toy who was one of Toy Story’s main characters.)

In 1991, based on the success of Pixar’s short films, the company signed a $26 million deal with the Walt Disney Company to develop, produce and distribute up to three animated feature films. The Little Mermaid (1989) had become Disney’s most successful film to date, and the company was ready to take more chances on innovative animation techniques. Approached by Lasseter about a possible Christmas program, Disney’s chief of film production, Jeffrey Katzenberg, instead responded with the three-picture deal.

Toy Story was the first Pixar-Disney collaboration, and the first feature-length animated film that was completely computer generated. Its plot revolved around the rivalry between the cowboy Woody, previously the favorite toy of a little boy named Andy, and Buzz Lightyear, a shiny new astronaut toy that Andy receives for a birthday present. Multiple Oscar-winner Tom Hanks lent his famous voice to Woody, while Tim Allen of TV’s Home Improvement was Buzz. Though Pixar’s long development process included drawings, paintings, sculptures and photographs, the final work for the film was all done on computers. The sophisticated animation created a vivid three-dimensional world full of color and movement, where toys–including such childhood classics as toy soldiers, Mr. Potato Head and Etch-a-Sketch–come to life.

Released in November 1995, Toy Story received universally positive reviews, and would eventually gross more than $192 million at the domestic box office and $358 million worldwide. Lasseter received a special Academy Award for leading the Pixar team, and the movie became the first animated feature ever to score an Oscar nomination for Best Original Screenplay. There have been three sequels, all of them critically-acclaimed: Toy Story 2 (1999), Toy Story 3 (2010) and Toy Story 4 (2019). 

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Michael Eisner resigns as Disney CEO

Year
2005
Month Day
September 30

On September 30, 2005, Michael Eisner resigns as the chief executive officer of the Walt Disney Company. During Eisner’s 21-year tenure with Disney, he helped transform it into an entertainment industry giant whose properties included films, theme parks and a cruise line, television networks and sports teams. Eisner also presided over a “golden age” of animation, during which Disney produced such blockbuster films as Beauty and the Beast and The Lion King and became a merchandising powerhouse.

Michael Eisner was born on March 7, 1942, in New York. After graduating from Denison University in 1964, he worked his way up through the programming ranks in network television. In 1976, the chairman of the board of Paramount Pictures, Barry Diller, hired Eisner as the company’s president and CEO. During Eisner’s time at Paramount in the late 1970s and early 1980s, the studio produced such hit films as Raiders of the Lost Ark, Flashdance, Saturday Night Fever, Grease, Footloose, Ordinary People, Trading Places, Beverly Hills Cop, Terms of Endearment and An Officer and a Gentleman.

Amidst all his success, Eisner became involved with a lawsuit concerning the former Disney movie studio head Jeffrey Katzenberg and a multi-million dollar severance package given to Michael Ovitz, who briefly served as Disney president under Eisner. In 2004, Roy Disney, nephew of the company’s founder, resigned his board seat to protest what he reportedly perceived as Eisner’s mismanagement. At the time, Disney’s stock was down and its ABC TV network was doing poorly in the ratings. At a March 2004 meeting, 43 percent of the voting shareholders expressed their lack of confidence in Eisner, and a new chairman of the board was appointed. Eisner stayed on as the company’s CEO for the next year and a half, until formally stepping down on September 30, 2005. His former second-in-command, Robert Iger, succeeded him. Iger stepped down in 2020 and was replaced by Bob Chapek. 

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Disney’s “Cinderella” opens in theaters


Year
1950
Month Day
February 15

On February 15, 1950, Walt Disney’s animated feature Cinderella opens in theaters across the United States.

The Chicago-born Disney began his career as an advertising cartoonist in Kansas City. After arriving in Hollywood in 1923, he and his older brother Roy set up shop in the back of a real-estate office and began making a series of animated short films called Alice in Cartoonland, featuring various animated characters. In 1928, he introduced the now-immortal character of Mickey Mouse in two silent movies. That November, Mickey debuted on the big screen in Steamboat Willie, the first fully synchronized sound cartoon ever made. Walt Disney provided Mickey’s squeaky voice himself. The company went on to produce a series of sound cartoons, such as the “Silly Symphony” series, which included The Three Little Pigs (1933) and introduced characters like Donald Duck and Goofy.

Disney made a risky bet in 1937 when he championed–and put $1.5 million of his own money into–Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, the first-ever full-length animated feature film. The risk paid off in spades after the film grossed $8 million at the box office, an incredible sum during the Great Depression. Four more animated hits followed in the growing Disney canon–Pinocchio (1940), Fantasia (1940), Dumbo (1941) and Bambi (1942)–before full-scale production was stalled by wartime economic problems. By the end of the decade, audiences were eagerly awaiting the next great Disney offering, having had to satisfy themselves with so-called “package films” like Make Mine Music (1946) and Melody Time (1948).

Cinderella, based on another Brothers Grimm fairy tale, was chosen for its similarity to the Snow White story. The film’s immediate source was Charles Perrault’s French version of the fairy tale, which tells the story of a young girl whose father dies, leaving her at the mercy of her oppressive stepmother and two unsympathetic stepsisters. As in Snow White, Cinderella gets the help of a few friends–in this case singing mice and birds as well as a Fairy Godmother–to escape the prison of her servitude and win the heart of Prince Charming. Along the way to its happy ending–a Disney trademark–the film featured lively animation sequences and enduring songs like “A Dream is a Wish Your Heart Makes” and the Oscar-nominated “Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo.”

Six years in the making, Cinderella became one of Disney’s best-loved films and one of the highest-grossing features of 1950. As with Snow White and other classic animated features, the studio held periodic re-releases of Cinderella in 1957, 1965, 1973, 1981 and 1987, keeping its popularity alive among new generations of moviegoers.

READ MORE: 7 Things You May Not Know About Walt Disney

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Disney names Robert Iger as new chief executive


Year
2005
Month Day
March 13

On March 13, 2005, the board of directors of the Walt Disney Company officially announces that Robert Iger, Disney’s president and chief operating officer, will succeed Michael Eisner as the company’s chief executive officer (CEO).

As Disney’s chief executive since 1984, Eisner was credited with expanding the company’s reach into diverse realms of the entertainment industry–including animated and live-action films, theater and theme parks–with phenomenal success. By the spring of 2004, however, Disney was struggling to emerge from a bit of a slump: Its ABC television division was struggling, while its once-dominant animation department was being outpaced by innovators such as Pixar, producers of the massive 2003 hit Finding Nemo. Shareholders voted to strip Eisner of his chairmanship of the Disney board that March, and Eisner announced in September that he would leave Disney in two years.

The following March, the announcement came that Iger, Disney’s president and Eisner’s loyal second-in-command since 2000, would succeed Eisner as the company’s CEO. Iger worked as a weatherman and news reporter in Ithaca, New York, before joining ABC in 1974. He rose through the ranks there and was eventually named president and chief operating officer of Capital Cities/ABC.

Iger had officially joined Disney’s senior management team in 1996 as chairman of the ABC Group; in 1999 he was named president of Walt Disney International. The following January, Iger was named Disney’s president and chief operating officer.

Things were looking up for Disney at the time of Iger’s promotion, as ABC had scored recent hits with Lost and Desperate Housewives and its movie division had showed strong results. From the time his succession was announced, Iger worked to give Disney’s various business units more autonomy. Seeing the enormous potential of advances in technology and new media, Iger also made it a priority to guide Disney into the future of entertainment. Less than two weeks after he officially took over as CEO on October 1, 2005, Iger announced a deal that made Disney and ABC-owned TV show episodes available through iTunes. Rivals such as NBC and CBS hastened to follow suit and provide their programs for iTunes or on-demand viewing.

On February 25, 2020, Iger announced he would be stepping down as CEO of The Walt Disney Company. He was succeeded by Bob Chapek. 

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Disney releases “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs”


Year
1938
Month Day
February 04

“See for yourself what the genius of Walt Disney has created in his first full length feature production,” proclaimed the original trailer for Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, released on February 4, 1938.

Based on the famous fairy tale by the Brothers Grimm, Snow White opened with the Wicked Queen asking her magic mirror the question “Who is the fairest one of all?” The mirror gives its fateful answer: Snow White, the queen’s young stepdaughter. Ordered by the queen to kill the young princess, a sympathetic woodsman instead urges Snow White to hide in the forest; there she encounters a host of friendly animals, who lead her to a cottage inhabited by the Seven Dwarfs: Sleepy, Dopey, Doc, Sneezy, Grumpy, Bashful and Happy. Eventually, in the classic happy ending viewers would come to expect as a Disney trademark, love conquers all as the dwarfs defeat the villainous queen and Snow White finds love with a handsome prince.

READ MORE: Disneyland’s Disastrous Opening Day

Walt Disney’s decision to make Snow White, which was the first animated feature to be produced in English and in Technicolor, flew in the face of the popular wisdom at the time. Naysayers, including his wife Lillian, warned him that audiences, especially adults, wouldn’t sit through a feature-length cartoon fantasy about dwarfs. But Disney put his future on the line, borrowing most of the $1.5 million that he used to make the film. Snow White premiered in Hollywood on December 21, 1937, earning a standing ovation from the star-studded crowd. When it was released to the public the following February, the film quickly grossed $8 million, a staggering sum during the Great Depression and the most made by any film up to that time.

Critics were virtually unanimous in their admiration for Snow White. Charlie Chaplin, who attended the Hollywood premiere, told the Los Angeles Times that the film“even surpassed our high expectations. In Dwarf Dopey, Disney has created one of the greatest comedians of all time.” The movie’s innovative use of story, color, animation, sound, direction and background, among other elements, later inspired directors like Federico Fellini and Orson Welles. In fact, Welles’ Citizen Kane features an opening shot of a castle at night with one lighted window that is strikingly similar to the first shot of the Wicked Queen’s castle in Snow White.

Disney won an honorary Academy Award for his pioneering achievement, while the music for the film, featuring Snow White’s famous ballad, “Some Day My Prince Will Come” and other songs by Frank Churchill, Larry Morey, Paul J. Smith and Leigh Harline, was also nominated for an Oscar. The studio re-released Snow White for the first time in1944, during World War II; thereafter, it was released repeatedly every decade or so, a pattern that became a tradition for Disney’s animated films. For its 50th anniversary in 1987, Snow White was restored, but cropped into a wide-screen format, a choice that irked some critics. Disney released a more complete digital restoration of the film in 1993. Its power continues to endure: In June 2008, more than 60 years after its U.S. release, the American Film Institute chose Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs as the No. 1 animated film of all time in its listing of “America’s 10 Greatest Films in 10 Classic Genres.”

READ MORE: 7 Things You May Not Know About Walt Disney

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Disney-MGM Studios becomes Disney’s Hollywood Studios


Updated:
Original:
Year
2008
Month Day
January 06

At the close of business on January 6, 2008, the Walt Disney World Resort theme park known as Disney-MGM Studios officially shut its doors after almost a decade of operation. Fans didn’t have to worry too much, however, as the park would reopen the next morning under its new name, Disney’s Hollywood Studios.

Debuting on May 1, 1989, Disney-MGM Studios was the third theme park to open at Disney World in Lake Buena Vista, Florida, after the Magic Kingdom in 1971 and Epcot Center in 1982. The project began with an idea for a movie-themed pavilion, resembling a film soundstage, to be built at Epcot; it was later expanded into its own theme park, which now stretches over 135 acres. The name of the park was the result of a 1985 licensing contract between Disney and the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer film studio, which allowed Disney the right to use the MGM name and logo for a studio-themed park.

In its original conception, Disney-MGM Studios was to operate not only as a theme park, but also as a fully functioning television and movie production studio. Several feature films, including the lightweight comedy Ernest Saves Christmas (1988), were produced there before its opening as a theme park. This caused trouble with MGM, who filed suit against Disney in 1988 alleging that using the park as a working production studio violated the terms of their contract. Disney later countersued, and the case was settled in 1992. The verdict allowed Disney to continue using the MGM name and logo on films produced at the theme park facility and MGM to open a movie-themed theme park of its own, which it did in Las Vegas in 1993 (the park closed in 2000).

On opening day in May 1989, Disney’s then-president, Michael Eisner, dedicated Disney-MGM Studios to Hollywood, which he called “not a place on a map, but a state of mind that exists wherever people dream and wonder and imagine.” By 2007, the sprawling theme park was hosting close to 10 million visitors in six themed areas, including the “Hollywood Boulevard” main entrance; the Great Movie Ride, a tribute to classic films such as Casablanca; and a motion-simulator ride based on the Star Wars movies.

The change in the name of the park in January 2008 was clearly intended to reinforce the openly symbiotic relationship between the theme park and the movie capital of the world. As Meg Crofton, president of Walt Disney World, put it in the press release announcing the change: “The new name reflects how the park has grown from representing the golden age of movies to a celebration of the new entertainment that today’s Hollywood has to offer–in music, television, movies and theater.” In addition to the name change, the resort announced an ambitious roll-out of new and upcoming attractions, including interactive exhibits based on the mega-hit movie High School Musical and its sequels, the animated award-winner Toy Story from Disney and Pixar Entertainment, the big-screen version of The Chronicles of Narnia and the blockbuster TV reality show American Idol.

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