Walt Disney would never have imagined the Walt Disney Company as it exists today: theme parks across the world, corporate acquisitions of companies like Pixar, Marvel, and Lucasfilms. Thanks to global branding, Mickey Mouse is now one of the most recognized images on the planet.
Walt Disney was a storyteller. He was not particularly a businessman, preferring instead to become the driving creative force behind his company while leaving the practical bookwork to his brother Roy. Walt’s entire point behind creating Disneyland was to develop a place where families could have fun together. He wanted to give parents and children alike the chance to forget their troubles for a day by entering the world of make-believe. By the time the Florida Project rolled around, all Walt wanted was a place that was big enough to hold all the dreams that he could ever dream. Walt retained a childlike spirit and enthusiasm until the very end.
Walt’s passing left a palpable hole in the fabric of the Walt Disney Company. Some feared that the company could never go on without its founder, especially with such ambitious projects as the still-nebulous Progress City (which would later become Epcot). Walt’s brother Roy, the businessman, had been planning to retire. Roy agreed to postpone retirement and take the reins following his brother’s untimely death. Roy may have been a businessman heavily invested in the bottom line, but he was still Walt’s brother. It was important to Roy to follow his late brother’s plans for the company. Roy’s capable leadership lasted through the opening of the flagship Magic Kingdom park at the new Walt Disney World in Florida. Sadly, Roy Disney passed away only two months later.
After Roy’s death, the Walt Disney Company was again thrown into a state of turmoil. The corporate uncertainty lasted until 1984, when the team of Michael Eisner and Stanley gold was put in charge. At the time it seemed that Eisner, a former children’s programming director and Paramount executive, was ideally suited to change the Walt Disney Company’s fortunes.
Eisner’s reign began a new chapter in the company’s life. As a marketing genius, Eisner began to aggressively promote the Disney brand. During the Eisner era bold marketing strategies including Disney Stores and Disney Quest indoor interactive “theme parks” were attempted around the country. While the Disney Quest idea failed miserably and the Disney Stores limped along slowly for years before being sold to an outside company, much of Eisner’s branding was pure genius. Gradually, the American public and eventually the world made Walt Disney World one of the top-rated vacation destinations on Earth.
Meanwhile, Eisner built liberally. First Disney-MGM Studios then later Animal Kingdom opened to mixed reviews. Subtlety gave way to the juggernaut of “progress,” as Eisner became emboldened. The “New Tomorrowland” came first and was probably the least controversial of the in-park changes. Ever since Epcot opened, the company had struggled with how to keep Tomorrowland from becoming dated. The decision was finally made to let it be dated, but handle this in a kitschy, fun way. This change had a cohesive theme and worked well.
There were some successes. These years also played host to the birth of Disney’s entrants into the thrill ride category. Previous management had been unsure how the public would react to thrill rides at Disney. Eisner saw the competitive market created by the opening of two Universal thrill parks and decided to take the plunge. Some of Disney’s most enduring shows, such as Festival of the Lion King, were also born during this time.
Michael Eisner stepped down as CEO of the Walt Disney Company on September 30, 2005. Eisner’s replacement, Bob Iger, has pledged to return to Disney’s roots. Iger also had a strong plan for the future and a desire to see the company move forward while retaining the ideals that were so important to Walt.
Since then Disney has acquired new properties and lands. They expanded with Pandora, Toy Story, Marvel, and Star Wars in the parks to some success. The current parks are in a slow return to normal after the lockdown with the pandemic. Guests are still excited to come to the parks however the lockdown caused several issues with loss of revenue, staff shortage, and goods shortage.
But as Walt said, “Keep moving forward,: