I would say this is required reading for those who grew up in the 1990s, or if you like Disney, or if you think you want to enter the big time in any corporation. DisneyWar by James B. Stewart tells the tale of how Disney went from being greenmailed to the powerhouse it is today (owners of Marvel movies and Star Wars franchise to boot).
I always regretted that Disney was fading in my childhood. I was so envious of my maternal grandmother for getting to go to EPCOT it’s opening season. I didn’t get to DisneyWorld or EPCOT until I was in my 20s. Still Disney served a small touch stone of my childhood. I remember being at church retreat with our pastor’s family when news of the greenmail hit tv. I was in Orlando when the rebirth of the parks began. I remember the LOUD ker-flop of EuroDisney. I remember witnessing the animation renaissance through the eyes of my son. (I had to limit Lion King to quiet time only). I loved seeing the parks through the eyes of my son as we went every other year while he was growing up. I remember the horrid taste of the America themed park they proposed to build in Virginia and the outcry of how offensive it was to modern sensibilities. I remember Eisner coming and going. I remember on business news the kerfluffles of Katzenberg and Ovitz departures. So needless to say I was interested in the backstory of how this all went down. I will say DisneyWar delivered that and more.
The book draws heavily on internal documents and affidavits given in various lawsuits between former high ranking executives and the Mouse-poration. It sets up a chronology of backstabbing that would do Mean Girls proud. By the time I finished the book I decided not a single person in it would I want to have dinner with. I left contemplating maniacal, egocentric, arrogant, controlling, uncaring, greedy, self aggrandizing, immaturity, petty, cruel, and many other personality traits that seemed to be the common factor among the those at the head of the Disney “Team” that was anything but a team.
Eisner gets the brunt of the reveal. Partly because of his position and longevity in it and mostly because of his penchant for needing to e-mail or write his most intimate thoughts to someone. He is clearly a two-faced liar to put it politely and sometime if you meet me in a bar one evening ask me what I really think of him after this I’ll tell you. Heck I’ll tell you what I really think of all of ’em. I’m toning it down here and being honestly polite. He reveals that he spies on his allies more than his rivals. He calls friends worst names behind their backs and distrusts them more than those who oppose him. It’s not unusual to have these passing thoughts, we all have that inner snark (Okay some of us have a larger one than most) but for most of us it passes unremarked upon and we gain perspective. However, Eisner appears to have the need to write it down, and on top of that send it to someone. Then he stews on it for sometime before exploding on the person with whom he’s been acting like a friend and having holiday dinners with for years.
Yet the others in the book don’t give us quiet the intimate view of the psyche they still don’t come off as people with whom I’d want to associate. Actually I don’t think I’d let them into my house, much less sit at my dinner table. But yet I’d let their movies into my home and my child’s mind. Honestly, I’d rather have dinner with Scar than any of them, he’s openly all the things they value in their actions but not in their words.
Why did I enjoy this? The gossip factor I think. Also the same reason I like the behind the scenes of beloved movies, to understand how what is now a cultural icon came to be what it is. To know that honestly, if that’s what it takes to be a multi-million dollar success I’d rather not.
So maybe my son was right when I told him he should read it to get the true story behind his beloved childhood films. “I think I’d rather not.” Yeah when you look behind the curtain the fantasy is gone. Still I find how Oz did it much more interesting and entertaining than the myth any way. If you are that kind of person, then this is required reading. If not, don’t lift the curtain it’s not pretty back there.