Roy Disney's death, today at 79, silences passionate advocate for animation arts
Published: December 16, 2009 at 12:59 PM
At a crucial moment in the history of the Walt Disney Company, Walt's nephew stepped forward to demand a change in leadership, one that ultimately led to a new management team and promising new creative initiatives.
Roy Disney died today in Newport Beach, at the age 79, after a battle with stomach cancer.
A passionate friend of Disney's animation division, Roy served the company as a director and internal advocate. He left active work within the company in the mid-1970s, to be brought back into the fold when Michael Eisner arrived as CEO in the early 1980s. Focusing on the animation division, his push for resources paid off as the company turned out a string of hits in the late 80s and early 1990s.
Eventually, his relationship with Eisner soured, and after Disney management didn't list him for renomination to the company's board, Roy in 2003 joined the PR war against the Eisner administration.
In the early years of this decade, online fans and critics were railing against the Eisner administration, following cutbacks in show quality, attraction development and staffing at the Disney theme parks. Two fatal accidents at Disneyland, the first to be the fault of the company, also brought severe criticism.
Still, many Disney fans continued to lap up whatever the company served, and a bubble-inflated economy fattened Disney's bottom-line. But with Walt's nephew now joining the critics, some institutional investors began to question the company's leadership. Eventually, Eisner left the company, handing leadership to Robert Iger, Eisner's designated successor.
Roy fought the Iger appointment, but later returned to the company. Despite Roy's initial opposition to the Iger appointment, I think Roy deserves credit for helping force the series of events that led to it. Eisner's departure cleared much of the internal acrimony that was sapping the company's progress. And under Iger's leadership, the Walt Disney Company repaired its fractured relationship with Pixar and brought Pixar's John Lasseter into Disney's leadership, which revived Roy's beloved animation division.
Roy also advocated Disney's recent return to nature films, and served as a long-time supporter of Walt's beloved Cal Arts. Without Roy's actions in 2003-5, I believe that the Eisner administration would have held on longer, with more damage to the company's reputation, internal talent development and long-term creative direction, as a result.
On a selfish note, though I never had the pleasure of meeting Roy individually, he was a good friend to Theme Park Insider, including it among the nine websites linked from the original "Save Disney" website. That helped raise TPI's profile among theme park critics at the time, connecting us with several friends are as passionate about promoting high quality and great value in the industry as we are.