Disney – part 1 (of 13)

Our Disney 2013 Project spent 18 months in planning, of which the last 12 months were focused on finance and detail (with loads of research!). During this time – as one naturally do – you speak to friends/family/colleagues and through this I have learned that people in general carry little knowledge on Walt as a person or his various theme parks … let alone the vast multi-national that it is today (in 2012 they have posted net income of $9,964 million, of this $937 million came from merchandise!). Most notably people get confused between the smaller Disney Land in California and the much bigger Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida.

Walter Elias Disney was born on 5 December 1901. He had two failed business enterprises before his bother Roy bought into his vision and started what is known today as the Walt Disney Company.

Oswald the Lucky Rabbit was in 1927 an instant success for Walt, but he lost the rights to the character to Universal Pictures. He felt the need to develop a new character to replace Oswald, which was based on a mouse he had adopted as a pet earlier. One of the animators reworked the sketches made by Disney to make the character easier to animate, although Mickey’s voice and personality were provided by Walt Disney himself until 1947. Originally named ‘Mortimer’, the mouse was later renamed ‘Mickey’ by Lillian Disney (Walt’s wife), who thought that the name Mortimer did not sound appealing. Mortimer eventually became the name of Mickey’s rival for Minnie. It took 78 years to get back the rights to the Oswald character when in 2006 the Walt Disney Company reacquired the rights to Oswald the Lucky Rabbit from NBC Universal.

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During his lifetime, Disney received 248 awards in total, (including 7 Emmys and 22 Academy Awards). He also has 2 stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame (1 for motion pictures and 1 for his TV work).

Disney Land California opened in 1955. It was successful, but Walt was not happy with the lack of more free land for expansion and the unpleasant weather. He wanted to open another theme park on the East Coast and was doing aerial surveys around Orlando’s forest and swamp lands in the state of Florida. He wanted the park away from the coastline, as to not having to compete with the ocean for tourists. Disney kept his plans quiet and set up dummy corporations to secretly buy the land for his park so that speculators could not run up the price. He was successful. By the time plans for the park were revealed, Disney’s lawyers had purchased 27,400 acres straddling the Orange-Osceola county line at an average price of only $182 per acre. In the mid 60’s there were less than 50 000 people living in central Florida – mostly farmers (oranges and cattle). In comparison Walt Disney World Orlando employs today 64 000 staff …. or ‘cast members’ as they are called. To have the blessing of space Disney paid for the last pockets of land (to take the property up to 30 000 acres) up to $80 000 per acre. Only 1/3 is developed (into parks, resorts, golf courses, etc.), with a 1/3 empty and the last 10 000 acres earmarked for conservation.

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Lake Buena Vista, along with its sister city of Bay Lake, is part of the Reedy Creek Improvement District, a quasi-governmental entity created by The Walt Disney World Co. The district and the two cities were authorized by the Florida Legislature in May 1967 after the Disney Company presented lawmakers with a set of requests to give it unprecedented administrative jurisdiction over zoning, road construction, utilities, building codes, drainage and environmental protection. Eager for the tourist dollars and jobs that Disney World would bring, the Legislature agreed. Thus, as result Walt Disney World [“WDW”] carries the same status as a city and reports to themselves. WDW is roughly the same size as San Francisco, or two Manhattan Islands.

Sadly, Walt died in 1966 before construction began on WDW, therefore never seeing his dream realised. His brother Roy stepped up, oversaw construction and opened the Magic Kingdom on 1 October 1971. Roy died 3 months later, on 20 December 1971.

Apart from the vast list of business units owned by Disney they also have Pixar, Marvel and Lucasfilm in their stable. OK, enough with the history lesson!

Continue reading Disney – 2 (of 13).