Prince of the Magic Kingdom

Joe Flower’s PRINCE OF THE MAGIC KINGDOM: MICHAEL EISNER AND THE RE-MAKING OF DISNEY focuses on Michael Eisner’s ascension to president and CEO of Disney Corporation and what he has accomplished in those positions once held by the beloved, even deified Walt Disney, creator of Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, Disneyland, Disney World, and EPCOT Center, as well as an entire filmmaking empire devoted to family films. Flower parts the Disney curtain in order to show how Walt Disney often rather ruthlessly made projects work and drove out competitors, much as Eisner has done. The point is made that Walt Disney would be happy with Eisner’s accomplishments, for the latter took the corporation out of its decade-long slump in prestige and prominence and made it the envy—and the terror—of rivals.

Eisner’s arrival at the company in 1984 at the behest of the Disney Board was greeted with hope and dismay, the latter being evinced primarily by oldtimers. Boyish and friendly, Eisner disarmed many enemies, then got to work transforming the company in his own image, leaving the dirty work of firing nonproductive staffers to others. Eisner had considerable experience in filmmaking as well as a wonderful sense of what people wanted form Disney—and that did not include stale versions of old plots. Eisner, knowing full well that he would be compared with founder Walt, took big chances with material, “buying” the best Hollywood talent and putting it on long-term contracts in the manner of the studio bosses of yesteryear. He also was not afraid to make an occasional “R” rated film if that was what it took to create something with viewer interest, a highly controversial move.

Eisner not only turned around the fortunes of existing theme parks, but also created new ones such as EuroDisney, outside Paris, while at the same time adding features to Disneyland, EPCOT, and Disney World. Disney’s touted cartooning excellence was revived by Eisner whose studios have produced masterpieces such as BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, every bit as artistically wonderful as Walt’s classics. Flower ends with a question: Will Disney be a company with a split personality—gracious and entertaining on one hand and piratical and grasping on the other? On the evidence provided, the answer is yes.