Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Roy E. Disney, 1930-2009

With Add Ons.

Roy E. Disney, the nephew of Walt Disney who led a shareholder revolt resulting in the unseating of studio executives and the revival of the studio's feature animation unit, died this morning at the age of seventy-nine after battling cancer.

Add On: I got to know Roy pretty well after Eisner replaced Ron Miller at Disney. He was involved in animation up to his elbows, sitting in on story-reel screenings, and pitching in ideas about how sequences should go.

He was always easy-going and approachable. When he got into his corporate wrestling match with Michael Eisner a few years back, he began showing up at union Christmas parties and mingling with members, and he was warmly welcomed.

A shame that Roy has now passed on.

-- Steve Hulett

Add On Too: I was having lunch today with a Disney Feature Animation veteran and we reminisced about Roy. And we agreed that, if not for Mr. Disney, the whole "Second Golden Age" of animation thing might not have happened, because it was Roy who pushed to keep Disney Animation open when the new live-action guys (Mr. Eisner and Mr. Katzenberg) came in from Paramount and wanted to close the department.

In fact, you could make a compelling case that there might not be Pixar, and there certainly wouldn't be DreamWorks Animation if Roy Disney were missing from the equation. For without a Disney feature animation division in 1984, the gent that founded DreamWorks Animation a decade later wouldn't have owned the hot hand of Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, and Lion King on which to float it, nor would he have had the interest.

It's kind of the whole "It's a Wonderful Life" scenario. If Roy Disney hadn't been there to lobby on behalf of Disney Animation in 1984, then ... dot dot dot.

-- Steve Hulett

Details from the Los Angeles Times website.


CHARLES said...


mark pudleiner said...


Matthew Scheuerman said...

Roy. Thank you for all you've given us. I followed you through your "Disappointed" campaign, and applauded your return to Disney, and your revival of traditional animation. You will be missed.

Michael said...

Extremely, extremely sad to hear this...

Floyd Norman said...

You kept your promises. Thanks, Roy.

Anonymous said...

A gallant knight of the sad, sad Magic Kingdom known as the "Disney Company" (Walt's name has apparently been dropped)is no more. He fought hard to bring back the creativity and legacy of the company his uncle worked so hard to build. Now that company seems more interested in buying characters instead of creating them and allowing them to infest Walt's kingdoms. I'll never forget the near-nausea I felt when I saw Kermit the Frog promoting the parks instead of Mickey.

Yes, the White Knight is gone. Now the knaves are free to fully take over.


Anonymous said...

Before we get too gushy about ol' Roy we might want to keep in perspective what he did good and what he did that was bad. While he was the one initially responsible for bringing Disney back from the dead by bringing in Eisner, Wells and Katzenberg (Katzenberg was ultimately responsible for the 'real' renaissance) Roy was also resposnible for destroying what he had set in motion initially.
Nikki Finke puts it into perspective...
"It was Roy who was the first at the company to want to show Jeffrey Katzenberg the door. Roy was titularly the head of Disney animation, but everyone knew it was Katzenberg who did all the work. At the same time, Eisner heaped fuel onto the fire by constantly flattering Roy that he, Walt’s nephew, more than Jeffrey, “had a keener sense of what a Disney movie ought to be than any of the rest of us,” as Eisner postured in his autobiography. Roy felt ignored by Katzenberg, and his complaints to Eisner reached a crescendo after Frank Wells’ accidental death in 1994: Not only would Katzenberg not be promoted into Wells’ job, but for all Roy cared, Jeffrey could exit the company now that Joe Roth was on the lot. To this day, conventional wisdom has it that Eisner might never have had the guts to dare get rid of Katzenberg, and all that implied, if Roy had not been behind it. Even after Katzenberg resigned, Roy re-cut a “making of” documentary on The Lion King, removing all but a few frames of Katzenberg’s fingerprints on the hit project."

And while his second attempot at fixing things by getting rid of Eisner is in theory good it's still not clear if it will result in success.

Steve Hulett said...

But Nikki misses a larger point.

Roy kicked off the rebirth at Disney in 1984-85 by bringing in Eisner and Katzenberg.

Yes, he had a large hand in Katzenberg -- whom he disliked -- leaving the lot in 1994 when Eisner wanted to get rid of him.

But Katzenberg's firing in '94 is the reason that DreamWorks Animation exists ... and thrives ... today. Roy helped push Katzenberg out.

Whether it was all purposeful on Roy's part or not is beside the point. The current animation boom can largely be attributed to the gears Roy set spinning in 1984 and 1994. Do you think there's really any question about that?

I don't.

Anonymous said...

No question whatsoever and he accidentally made animation a better place for all those who work in it - unless you work ironicly enough at Disney. I doubt his purpose in ousting JK was to create other studios and bidding wars for talent. AND he certainly had not intention of destroying Disney animation, but that is also his legacy after he and Eisner removed JK because of their egos.
Disney animation would very well be a much better place today if he had pushed for JK to take Wells' position.
Of course, animation in general might not be doing as well. Though I doubt he wants to be known for creating a studio like DW which, in a way, begat Blue Sky (at least).

Anonymous said...

How did DW have a hand in making Blue Sky?

Anonymous said...

I think what he was implying is that because of DW's success Fox took a chance when they might not have if Pixar was the only one being successful in theaters.

Steve Hulett said...

Fox actually set up the Bluth Phoenix Studios first, in a bid to replicate Aladdin, Lion King grosses. That didn't pan out.

Blue Sky was an acquisition studio that started making a smallish film called Ice Age.

Before IA was completed and released (but in production), Fox made an effort to unload the studio, deciding that it didn't want to be in the animation bizness.

(I get this from a former Fox exec.)

Then Ice Age came out and made a fortune, and Fox reversed course.

Anonymous said...

Roy was a great advocate within the Disney studio for animation. He could've chosen to ride through life on the good fortune of his birth - but he didn't. His corporate battles are well-known, but maybe not so well-known, are his kindnesses to individual animators. He understood the animation process and loved being around it. He encouraged ideas and was a wonderful audience for a pitch. He wasn't beholden to whatever politics were in play at the studio, and used his clout to promote talent when he saw it.

Roy wasn't perfect human being (who is?) But he lived his life joyfully and passionately and generously.

Anonymous said...

I'm truly saddened by news of his passing.

The campaign he ran to oust Eisner out of Disney was one of his greatest achievements and I'm glad to know he lived to see Pixar as part of the Disney family.

Hats off to restoring a little magic back to the world.

Anonymous said...

Actually it remains to be seen if removing Eisner and replacing him with Lasseter, et al will make any difference whatsoever. So far nhothing...other than to make Pixar a permanent part of Disney and to MAYBE temporarily return 2D to the screen. If Frog doens't do better than Lasseter will have the unfortunate job of telling everyone 2D is going to go bye-bye again.

His greatest acheivement THAT ACTAUALLY BORE FRUIT was the replacement of Ron Miller with Eisner, Wells and Katzenberg.

Anonymous said...

2D isnt going anywhere. Pooh is next, then another film (cant say what, cuz Im not allowed)

Give em time to get stuff going again. I know its fun to hate Disney, but give them a chance. Big ships are hard to turn.

Rapunzel looks good. I thought Bolt was good (cue "Bolt sucks" from some asshole). Its going the right direction...

Anonymous said...

You can bet the next 2D will be an even cheaper made Princess film. Since they shelved Elves.

Anonymous said...

"Give em time to get stuff going again. I know its fun to hate Disney, but give them a chance. Big ships are hard to turn."

I think you misunderstand our tone -- we don't hate Disney (not as much as many of the employees who are treated like shit do, at least). We hate the decisions that are made there and want Disney to succeed, but I have serious doubts about that at this point. Hopes were so high when Lasseter was put in far none have been realized.

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