JOE INSIDER - It's Tough Being King

If you've ever wanted to file legal action against Disney, 'tis the season. The king of the corporation may soon find his Magic Kingdom crashing down around him.

Written by Joe Lane
Published: August 31, 2004 at 5:49 PM

JOE INSIDER - It's Tough Being King
The Big Cheese Makes For A Big Target

It’s tough being king. Just ask Eisner.

His Majesty, the Disney CEO, has suffered many slings and arrows over the course of the past year. Many Disney purists might view these trials as the results of a decade of bad business decisions. The short-term profits are beginning to take their long-term effects. At this point in the drama, does the company have any hope of being rescued and rejuvenated? Is Disney too far gone to be pulled out of its downward spiral?

The family of the late Solomon Linda, a songwriter who penned the original version of “The Lion Sleeps Tonight”, is taking Disney to court over the brief rendition used in The Lion King. Linda’s family, residents of Pretoria, South Africa, only recently saw the Disney film for the first time and have decided to file suit. To make matters worse for the company, the family’s lawyers issued a court order last month, effectively holding hostage more than 240 trademarks in connection with the $1.6 million dollar suit.

After the Pooh controversy, this kind of copyright infringement comes as no big shocker, but I have to wonder if the Linda family realizes that hundreds of musical artists all over the world have produced covers of the Solomon Linda song.

Yep. It’s tough being king.

Remember Javier Cruz, a CM at WDW who was killed by a parade float in February? Few people do--the incident was soon followed by the historical investment meeting in Philadelphia and the entire accident was swept under the proverbial rug. TPI featured an entire thread dedicated to the accident. Questions ranged from the accountability of character leads to whether the same maintenance cutbacks that contributed to the Disneyland Big Thunder Mountain accident was responsible for this tragedy?

Ultimately, OSHA decided to fine Disney $6,300. Employees who are exposed to the hazard of motorized vehicles are a violation of OSHA standards and a company can face fines of $7,000 (although repeat offenders face upwards of $70,000).

When you're king, it's hard to hide.

The Village opened to mixed reviews. Some folks enjoyed it, saying it was more of what they loved from M. Night Shyamalan. Others felt differently, calling the movie uninspired and lackluster.

Kevin Baxter hated it so much he went into shock.

Disney and Shyamalan have been on edge for the past few weeks thanks to rumors of plagiarism of a children’s book. The publisher, Simon & Schuster, claim there are far too many similarities between Shyamalan's story and that of author Margaret Peterson Haddix's book, Running Out of Time--and at a first glance, there does appear to be some parallel.

And yet, why would a filmmaker like Shyamalan, who has met with great success with his previous films, want to willfully and knowingly steal someone else's concept? Besides, by the sound of things, the idea behind the twist in The Village and Running Out of Time has been done before--so much so that any Hitchcock/Twilight Zone/Outer Limits veteran could discern the surprise before it was even revealed.

Oh yes, my friend. Being king isn't all it's cracked up to be.

Readers' Opinions

From John Franklin on August 31, 2004 at 6:17 PM
Don't forget these other Disney problems as well:

1) The DL Paris possible bankruptcy.
2) The folding of the Disney Stores (or being sold).
3) ABC stuck in 4th place behind Fox (the only way to get wrose is if HB and UPN becomes more popular than ABC. Don't laugh, this may happen next month).
4) How run down the parks became during the last 10 years.

From Joe Lane on August 31, 2004 at 9:23 PM
I agree. Those are all major issues. What I wanted to bring to the forefront were other smaller altercations that folks may not be aware of.

Of course, I also didn't bother touching on the subject of the Pooh case. And you might want to consider the disbanding of Disney Feature Animation Florida, although there are no law suits involved in that fiasco, it's just as important as the major issues.

From Kevin Baxter on September 1, 2004 at 12:17 AM
The book thing is troubling. If it were just the ending, I would say, "Well that's not something I would brag about!" but the whole "preserve" part and the girl and the medicine and it gets to be a little much. Not that I think Shyamalan stole it knowingly, but he does have children so it is entirely possible the story of this book entered his subconscious without him having read it personally.

BTW, The Village has basically died after limping past the $100M mark. It's pathetic when a movie makes half its take in the first weekend. That right there tells you there were more people who agreed with me than disagreed!

From Robert OGrosky on September 1, 2004 at 10:47 AM
So i guess m night's kids channeled the book to there father huh??? Or maybe they sent it to him by telepathy.
The movie while im sure not as successful as they had hoped, it is a movie that will make money, it already has 110 mill. in the US with oversea's still to come as well as dvd/vhs sales/pay per view/money for being on hbo/showtime/sale to network tv so it will make disney a good deal of money,
Apparently if every movie isnt as successful as Sixth Sense then some will consider it a bomb, of course these same people wont say thattom hanks is a has been because his last several movies lakykillers/terminal actually made little money or lost money and could only hope to make as much as shmalayan's least successful major release.
From Kevin Baxter on September 1, 2004 at 12:34 PM
Jeez, Robert, you give birth to Shyamalan or what? Because your argument is seriously starting to sound like a THC argument: "Those direct-to-video sequels made Disney millions and millions of dollars!!!! WAH!" So what if The Spillage makes money? Does that take away its suckage? Its now playing in big overseas markets, but it will probably only pick up another $100M there. And it certainly won't sell tons of DVDs, considering how bad word of mouth has been.

Fortunately for Shyamalan it was fairly cheap and will make its money back. It isn't a bomb, but it is most certainly a disappointment. A MAJOR disappointment. A movie with such bad feelings toward it will only hurt his next film. How many people who rushed out to see this will rush out to see his next one?

As for the book, who knows what happened? But something clearly did happen. Or do you deny the two tell practically the same story?

From Matt E on September 1, 2004 at 3:09 PM
Of course, one very recent bright note concerning Disney's box office was the news that Buena Vista's International distribution unit has already crossed the $1 billion mark in record time this year. This makes BVI the only studio to reach such numbers for 10 years straight...and they've still got Nicholas Cages' National Treasure and The Incredibles before the year is up. (Even the domestic bomb King Arthur has already crossed the 100 million mark internationally).

The Village, on its own right, will be quite profitable and a success. Unfortunately, The Village had more pressure on it than it probably deserved as it was Disney's last hope for something to save its poor domestic summer filled with some real duds. Princess Diaries is doing reasonably well also, especially for a sequel that probably never should have been made, and it MIGHT even cross the magical 100 million mark by the end of its run. But Disney's luckily still got The Incredibles and National Treasure before the year is up, both films which could do very well.

As for the potential suit against The Village, doesn't this sound similar to the claim that Pixar/Disney stole the idea of Nemo last year from some children's book? And if I'm not mistaken, wasn't that already dismissed in Disney's favor?

On another note, I personally see the selling of the Disney stores (of which a letter of intent from Children's Place has already been signed) as a positive for Disney. Having somebody else take upon the risk of operating a chain of mall stores while still selling your merchandise could be beneficial, if Children's Place maintains them well....its much like the successful OLC contract Disney has for Tokyo Disneyland and Japan's Disney Stores.

And in regards to the parks, I'd have to say that by the time May 5, 2005 comes around, Disneyland will be in better shape, both aesthetically and operational-wise, than it has in a LONG time. The work Matt Oiumet has done in his short time there is phenomenal, and the stuff still to be done will be as well...and I've never thought WDW, in general, looked neglected.

As for the 'Lion Sleeps tonight' lawsuit, it might be that I just have no clue what its about, but why are they suing Disney over this and not the countless artists and recording labels that have been involved with that song? In fact, didn't Disney get the rights to use the song from a recording studio who actually OWNS the song or does Disney now own all said rights? Again, it might be my ignorance here, but it sounds to me like another joke of lawsuit against Disney, just because they're "Disney".

From Kevin Baxter on September 2, 2004 at 12:04 AM
As for crossing the billion-dollar mark earlier than last year... that's yet another case of Disney trying to turn a molehill into a mountain. The reason they took so long to hit a billion last year is because Finding Nemo and Pirates were both released very late in the year internationally. Late last year was also when most studios tried out releasing their movies simultaneously worldwide in an attempt to foil real pirates. Since then, most Disney films have been released to international markets at or near the time they were released domestically.

Disney has been lucky that domestic stinkers Home on the Range and King Arthur have done okay overseas (still nothing spectacular) but once again it has benefited from distributing more product than almost anybody else. They've just now limped past a billion, meanwhile Warner Bros is already at $1.7B overseas.

Then look at the other studios and you realize that Disney is doing its best to pretend it releases movies in a vacuum. DreamWorks is approaching half a billion ON ONE FILM. Sony is nearing a billion, with Spidey 2 almost at $400M, and no other big movies helping it. (The Terminal hasn't been released overseas and Collateral has JUST had limited release.) Just a lot of smaller films doing okay. Hell, even perennial also-ran Fox is in range with Day after Tomorrow doing gangbusters at about $350M and I, Robot already at $140M early in its run. And most of these studios have only two or three on the international market!

To delve even further into this something-that-isn't-really-anything, more than a quarter of this billion came from Miramax - the Kill Bill franchise and Cold Mountain - and Eisner is driving away the man behind them. The biggest overseas "hit" for Disney? Brother Bear with $140M. Making it less of a hit than the four already mentioned, plus Prisoner of Azkaban (duh... it's at $520M and still going!), Passion of the Christ ($239M), Troy ($358M), The Last Samurai ($340M), and a couple scary ones for you: Love Actually at $181M and VAN FREAKIN' HELSING at $148M.

Add to all this the fact that The Village seems to be dropping sharply after strong openings, like it did here, meaning it won't do much better overseas. How it will do on DVD is anyone's guess. I'd say not well, and that's where all the money is.

Disney can crow all they want, but it's all smoke and mirrors. When they can get their per-movie profit margin up, I'll be impressed.

From Kevin Baxter on September 2, 2004 at 2:00 AM
Oh, as for the song stuff... This case is a lot more complicated than certain media blurbs make it out to be. The song's writer, South African Solomon Linda, did sell rights to the song, but apparently South African law stated that rights revert to the creator's heirs 25 years after the death of the creator. Which would have been in 1987.

Even worse for Disney, South African courts have a kind of eye-for-an-eye going on, and the courts currently have denied Disney rights to their copyrighted characters in South Africa. Meaning, I guess, that if Disney doesn't start ponying up some cash, Mickey Mouse will be seen all over South Africa and Disney won't make a dime. If not this exact scenario, any alternate scenario certainly isn't making Eisner a happy man. (I find it more than a little hilarious that Eisner keeps begging the US government to extend copyright laws while doing whatever he can to take away others', like those in the Pooh case.)

Once again, Disney's moronic lawyers aren't helping matters. Instead of a quick payoff (a million would probably do), they instead publicly attack the case in a land where EVERYONE is on the plaintiff's side. An even dumber argument is this one: That there is no infringement, but if there is, Disney's subsidiaries should be in court, not the parent company. Say WHAT? Is this really the best this gargantuan company can do???

Other stuff... The Nemo "case" and the Village case are clearly not the same. Yes, people are constantly suing other people for stealing their ideas. But when the woman involved was told by her READERS that he stole the idea, then that means there is more to it than just "Mine had fish; theirs had fish!" I want to get my hands on the book to see how similar they are. Plus, I'm sure the book HAS to be better.

On the parks... I'm impressed with what Ouimet has gotten accomplished too. And the 50th will certainly be big there. But will that affect DCA, which isn't getting anything new? How about WDW, where they make the most of their money? Animal Kingdom certainly won't bring in a few million more with just a damn dinosaur! How about Disney/MGM with another stunt show? Epcot will probably have a good year with Borin'... I mean Soarin', and possibly MK, but that makes three out of six.

I agree that selling the Disney Stores the way they are doing it is a good idea. But that doesn't take away from the fact that the Stores USED to be HUGE moneymakers. Moving Pressler from there to the parks hurt not one but TWO big operations. Stoopid stoopid stoopid.

From Robert OGrosky on September 2, 2004 at 11:20 AM
I havent read the book, but just because some people have similiar idea's isnt evidence at all that shmalayan read the book and then intentionaly used the book as the basis of his moive. He wrote the scripts for Sixth Sense/Unbreakable/Signs and there is no evidence that any of these movies were based on someone else's idea, just someone tryingh to make money off something they had no hand at all in creating. Unless of course one actually has proof rather than idle conjecture.
From Matt E on September 2, 2004 at 2:24 PM
Not to beat a dead horse on topic of Disney's theme parks, but the 50th for DL is shaping up very nicely, much more so than even most said it would be after the official event details were announced. Especially if the apparent rumors to re-do the sub ride that apparently once again are in full swing actually happen this time around. As for DCA, its not really their big anniversary, so yes, I agree with how the money is being spent in that all that can is being directed more towards DL than DCA. The scale to which the park-wide rehab is being done can't be cheap...partly because some buildings need incredibly extensive rehabs beyond just a paint job because of the former "regime's" maintenance record. That doesn't mean they plan on letting DCA go to crap meanwhile. Unless something has changed, any needed rehabs to the only 4 year old park by that time are, to my knowledge, on the schedule before May 5th. And although it sounds like it didn't create the attendance bump expected, DCA just got DLR's biggest E-ticket in probably 10 years only 4 months ago with TOT, which should've been good for DCA at least for a year or two. DCA in its current form will always need more to do, no argument here, but the money for the 50th for DLR should not be directed towards DCA at this time.

As for WDW getting stuff, once again, this is DL's big event, not WDW's, even though its a "global celebration". Then again, it might just be my optimistic mood right now, but I still think its impressive that in the span of DL's 50th anniversary WDW will open Expedition Everest, Soarin', the already proven hit Lights! Motors! Action! stunt show, Cinderellabration at MK (the hub in front of the castle and castle stage are reported to undergo a huge transformation sometime after the holidays just to accomodate the show that's been amazing crowds at Tokyo Disneyland)...and perhaps even Stitch's Great Escape could be included as part of the celebration too...that doesn't sound to shabby to me. Especially since less than a year ago they 'opened' three of WDW's most popular things according to guest surveys..Mission:Space, Mickey's Philharmagic and Wishes!. There is also quite a bit of construction at Typhoon Lagoon that MIGHT turn into the yet unannounced/rumored new "water coaster" type slide. I don't see any other theme park vacation resort doing so much quality stuff within a span of 2 1/2 years unless they were building a new park...not even in WDW's own history. And not even DL, where all the attention should be for the 50th. WDW is in fine shape if you ask me and no "spinning the story" to make it sound negative because some are clones and some are "just shows" rather than rides (despite the expense to set them up) and whatnot will make me see it any differently. Even WDW is seeing some great rehabs recently as the May 5th date approaches...some of them minor (like finally removing that gaudy Tomorrowland stage) to major (ripping out the 20,000 leagues area or the all-out rebuilding of IASW basically from scratch).

From Matt E on September 2, 2004 at 6:46 PM
To add to things coming to DL, if Al Lutz can be trusted, the Jungle Cruise will also be re-worked to lose the 1930's theme that was introduced to correspond to the fact that Indiana Jones now loomed over part of the ride and a new well-themed wall will now separate the two, guns will return to the captains and many of the animal animatronics will be updated in a fast approaching rehab. There is a lot of "spiffing" up going on at DL right now that too many are taking for granted as not substantial things for the 50th, when after so many years of neglect, it really is the best birthday present of all for DL. A new, modern Space Mountain; a new, modern Tiki Room; a re-energized Jungle Cruise; re-invigorated Tomorrowland with Buzz Lightyear and possibly a new Sub ride; the park-wide beautification project from re-painting to re-building buildings to re-paving walkways, etc; plus the number of specific 50th stuff such as what sounds to be a very impressive parade going back to Disney standards of wowing audiences to what should be an equally impressive fireworks show to the most meaningful tribute to the history of DL specially for the 50th....I know I'm making the trip across country next year to be part of it....
From John Franklin on September 2, 2004 at 9:51 PM
Right now the 50th Anniversity is shaping up great.
Think about what Disneyland will be adding next year:
1) The Enchanted Tiki Room is being rebuilt from the ground up with state of the art effects.
2) Buzz Lightyear will open in Tomorrowland.
3) Space Mountain will reopen next year.
4) Looks like the subs will reopen as well for the 50th.
5) New Monorails are being built to keep the Monorails running for many years to come.
Think about it, DL will be adding 4 new attractions next year. The new Tiki is expected to be a lot better than the one that Walt built while retaining the spirit of the original show. Remember, right now, the first four locations are closed while the Monorails for a while looked like they were going down for the count.
And we have Matt O. to thank for all of this plus much needed rehabs for the park as a whole.
Note: A new brake system has been aproved for the Tea Cups as well to return this ride to its wild former glory as well.
Now, if only Matt can come up with new solutions to the Magic Eye Theater (the Honey show), the Peoplemover track, Star Tours, and Innoveation (the attraction that people love to hate).

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