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Disney – Why I Remain Intrigued

Hi everyone! I apologize for the lack of updating. School ran away with me and I’ve been trying to keep up. Here is a paper I wrote for my Disney class to peek your interest, and later today I will be posting my research paper on the Creative Process. Enjoy! Hopefully I will have lots more creative posts as the summer approaches.

Under Their Magical Spell: Why Disney Continues to Intrigue Me

Disney has always represented creativity, imagination and fantasy since my childhood. I grew up watching the Disney Channel, reading Disney related books and magazines, collecting Disney dolls, and visiting Disneyland with various school organizations. Disney was a place I could relax and ignore reality, even if for a few hours. This love of the imagination followed me through my adult years and into a job with the company. Even though I now see more of the reality than the fantasy, every visit to a Disney theme park has the ability to take me out of this current time and place and into a timeless world where it is okay for me to be a child again. This ability of the Walt Disney Company to create a magical world, where children of all ages can experience their wildest dreams in a safe environment, is one of the many reasons that I continue to be a Disney fan.

The experience of Disney as a place where adults can once again be children is often echoed by visitors to its theme parks. It was even mirrored by ten of the original mouseketeers when Disneyland celebrated its 50th anniversary. These mouseketeers who, at a young aged danced, acted, and entertained children through The Mickey Mouse Club, were once again inspired to perform like they had as kids. One even remarked that “We’re not old, we’re original” (Edds, 2005). This shows that people, no matter what their age is, can once again feel young and excited about the world of adventure when they allow themselves to be caught up in the magical environment of Disney.

My impression of Disney before I began this class was a favorable one. I have been employed by Disney for eight years and have worked in many different roles. While working for Disney has not always been a fairytale, there are many aspects of the company that I enjoy and which give me a continued hope for the future. Many different aspects of the company have already been explored and examined in this class. While this has not changed my status as a Disney fan it has given me a more varied outlook and has allowed me to clearly see the flaws of this company, which in turn allow me to examine it closer. It has given me a more accurate vision of Disney as a company that I would not have otherwise and has opened my eyes to some of the less attractive dealings that have taken place over the years. These dealings include Walt’s conflicts with the Unions and his participation in the Motion Picture Alliance (Wasko, 2001, p. 16-17).

Coming into this class, I was aware of the varied entertainment that Disney provides to its consumers. However, it was a surprise how Janet Wasko tends to emphasize Disney’s focus consumerism. Understanding Disney also provides an interesting critique of projects Disney was involved in during the past and is currently not involved in, such as Celebration, DisneyQuest, and the ownership of the Anaheim Angels baseball team as well as the Anaheim Mighty Ducks hockey team (Wasko, 2001). These different business dealings are well known; however a quick online search shows the many different Magazines and cable channels unrelated to Disney that is owned by the company. The most unusual are the variety of the magazines. I was unaware that Biography and U.S. weekly were both partially owned by Disney, not to mention multiple industry and news magazines and an automotive magazine. I was also unaware that there was a Disney Food, Health, and Beauty division of the company (“Who Owns What”, 2008). These revelations put into retrospect the range of the Walt Disney Company and just what a wide variety of business units they have, a surprise for someone who thought they were aware of all the different ventures Disney has been involved in. It also gives me faith in Disney by showing the company is acknowledging the need to step outside their comfort zone in order to remain competitive. They are acknowledging the changing audience and are attempting to create additional consumers they would not otherwise have, something that I, unlike Wasko, admire.

Diversification is a theme that Disney does extremely well. This is seen in various ways, including the rebranding of Disney Wide World of Sports as ESPN Wide World of Sports (Albright, 2008, para 1). While the company is hoping to house another sports team during their training sessions, it is more about gaining a larger reputation as a first class sports facility then the money from the teams themselves (Albright, 2008, para 6 & 7). The families traveling to a sports competition for one of their children or traveling to see a certain team is an idea that Disney has been using to its advantage since the opening of Wide World of Sports. Disney is incorporating current travel trends in order to further their status as a vacation destination. The company must hope that this rebranding furthers that goal.

Another successful example of Disney diversification is their entry into Broadway shows. These include the reimaginings of some of their most popular animated movies, such as Beauty and the Beast and The Lion King, as well as a successful reimagining of the opera Aida with music written by Elton John. It has been said that Disney has elevated the cultural experience of attending a Broadway production to “vacation status”, using big name directors, composers, and actors, and of course charging a premium price (Pressley, 2008, para 13). Offering their consumers varied ways of accessing their most popular properties has been a successful tactic that Disney has employed since the creation of Disneyland in 1955. This continued use of their well known properties is what makes Disney what other companies strive to become, rather then just a play on the consumer.

It is my belief that in order for Disney to succeed in the current world of entertainment they must continue to diversify and incorporate new ideas and technology into their theme parks and media ventures. Bob Iger has proven to be an intelligent choice as CEO of the Walt Disney Company due to his favorable attitude toward new media, creative ways of thinking, and focus towards family entertainment (Siklos, 2009). These are the ideas that Disney strives on and what, in my opinion, makes the company successful.

As talked about previously, the range of Disney’s properties was not unfamiliar, however the acknowledgement of Disney influence over what is produced in the media was an idea that I had yet to think about. Disney has more of a profound influence over the media then I initially thought. From offering trips so reporters can experience the new attractions in a park to the various Disney Voluntear events held over the course of the year, Disney attempts to hold a strong control over their public image. This idea of control is something that Wasko mentioned frequently in her book Understanding Disney and has been echoed by Disney executives as well. One example of the company’s desire to maintain control is illustrated in the Copyright Extension Act of 1998. During this time period Disney successfully lobbied to extend copyrights, which allowed the company to maintain control over Mickey, Minnie and other characters that Walt Disney created during his life (Wasko, 2001, p 85-86). This is an attempt by Disney to maintain control of the images associated with them and ensure they are not used for any improper materials. While this revelation seemed drastic to me, I understand Disney’s desire to maintain the quality and image that they have taken so many years to acquire.

Another example of Disney’s desire to maintain control is seen when Disney, under the influence of Michael Eisner, begins to get involved with the reimagining of Times Square. The first impulse is to gate the area that they will be controlling, which is unreasonable in a commuter city like New York. Peter Rummell, Disney Chairman, states “The question in these urban environments really becomes: ‘Is there a way you can have enough control?’ Because we are control freaks” (Business Week, 2004). Even Disney acknowledges their attempts to maintain as much control of any given situation as possible. They are aware, yet perhaps maintain that this control is necessary to create entertainment of as high a quality as is expected of them as well as to maintain their relationship with the public that trusts them.

The study of the Walt Disney Company as a media conglomerate has made me hyperaware of the products Disney produces on their many different platforms. Disney continues to produce high quality entertainment for kids, as well as for the family to experience together. But they also are beginning to offer more unique, audience specific forms of entertainment. This class has allowed me to look at these products with a more subjective eye and yet still enjoy them for what they are: wholesome, moral family entertainment designed primarily for the entire family to enjoy.

References

Albright, M. (2008, September 25). Disney Adds ESPN Cachet. St. Petersburg Times. Retrieved March 15, 2009, from ProQuest Newspapers (1561244551).

Edds, K. (2005, October 4). Mouseketeers celebrate 50th anniversary. Orance County Registrar. Retrieved March 15, 2009, from ProQuest Newspapers (907085791).

Pressley, N. (2008, June 29). A Roaring Success and Its Effects on Broadway. The Washington Post. Retrieved March 15, 2009, from ProQuest Newspapers (1502226921).

Siklos, R. (2009, February 3). Bob Iger rocks Disney. Retrieved March 1, 2009, from http://money.cnn.com/2009/01/02/news/newsmakers/siklos_eisner.fortune/index.htm

The Mouse Takes Manhattan. (3878, April 12). Business Week. Retrieved March 15, 2009, from ProQuest Newspapers (612372051).

Wasko, J. (2001). Understanding Disney. Maldon, MA: Polity Press.

Who Owns What – Walt Disney Company [Electronic version]. (2008). Columbia Jouralism Review.