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Disney War by James B. Stewart

Disney War (2005)

by James B. Stewart

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5901325,936 (4.02)2
""When You Wish Upon a Star," "Whistle While You Work," "The Happiest Place on Earth" - these are lyrics indelibly linked to Disney, one of the most admired and best-known companies in the world. So when Roy Disney, chairman of Walt Disney Animation and nephew of founder Walt Disney, abruptly resigned in November 2003 and declared war on chairman and chief executive Michael Eisner, he sent shock waves through the entertainment industry, corporate boardrooms, theme parks, and living rooms around the world - everywhere Disney does business and its products are cherished." "DisneyWar is the inside story of what drove America's best-known entertainment company to civil war, told by one of our most acclaimed writers and reporters." "Drawing on unprecedented access to both Eisner and Roy Disney, current and former Disney executives and board members, as well as thousands of pages of never-before-seen letters, memos, transcripts, and other documents, James B. Stewart gets to the bottom of mysteries that have enveloped Disney for years: What really caused the rupture with studio chairman Jeffrey Katzenberg, a man who once regarded Eisner as a father but who became his fiercest rival? How could Eisner have so misjudged Michael Ovitz, a man who was not only "the most powerful man in Hollywood" but also his friend, whom he appointed as Disney president and immediately wanted to fire? What caused the break between Eisner and Pixar chairman Steve Jobs, and why did Pixar abruptly abandon its partnership with Disney? Why did Eisner so mistrust Roy Disney that he assigned Disney company executives to spy on him? How did Eisner control the Disney board for so long, and what really happened in the fateful board meeting in September 2004, when Eisner played his last cards?" "Here, too, is the creative process that lies at the heart of Disney - from the making of The Lion King to Pirates of the Caribbean. Even as the executive suite has been engulfed in turmoil, Disney has worked - and sometimes clashed - with a glittering array of stars, directors, designers, artists, and producers, many of whom tell their stories here for the first time." "Stewart describes how Eisner lost his chairmanship and why he felt obliged to resign as CEO, effective 2006. No other book so thoroughly penetrates the secretive world of the corporate boardroom. DisneyWar is a tale of one of America's most powerful media and entertainment companies, the people who control it, and those trying to overthrow them."--BOOK JACKET.… (more)
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I'm a pretty big fan of Disney content. For the past year and a half, I have been diving more into Disney history, specifically, Disney Theme Park history. Defunctland, Expedition Theme Park, Podcast: The Ride and Jenny Nicholson are just some of the creators where I've been watching/listening to hours of content. One name that keeps popping up, especially in context to the Disney from my childhood (1990's) is:

*cue dun dun dun noise* Michael Eisner.

The man that was Chairman and CEO of the Walt Disney Company during the Disney Renaissance, Euro Disney, the fall of Disney after the Renaissance, the acquisition of ABC, Fox Family (which became ABC Family and the creation of Go.com. A mix of success and failures. Plus, he enraged Jeffery Katzenberg so much that Shrek's Lord Farquaad's appearance is rumored to be based off of Eisner.

Regardless of how much truth is in this rumor, the resemblance is definitely there.

He's a bit of a joke in most of the Disney Park groups I'm in. As the man responsible for Euro Disney, Alien Encounter and many cost cutting measures, it's not surprising. I wanted to know more about Michael Eisner and what happened from the start of his career at Disney to the end, but wasn't sure where to start. Then, I saw Lindsay Ellis' video essay of the 2017 Beauty and the Beast movie (a remake I REALLY didn't like of a movie I love). She used this quote from Michael Eisner in her essay: "We have no obligation to make history. We have no obligation to make art. We have no obligation to make a statement. To make money is our only objective." At the end of the essay, she mentioned this book as one of her sources in her video. She also mentioned listening to the audiobook version of this title. I decided to check it out, opting for the eBook version of this title instead of the audiobook.

The story of Michael Eisner's tenure at Disney is full of drama. Reading about how Eisner got the company back up from its late 70's, early 80's slump, with the help of other employees, including Katzenberg, Frank Wells and other talented people. Talented people, who, for the most part, Eisner isolated and iced out of their jobs. Who ended up leaving to go work at other companies. The more and more people Eisner lied to and betrayed, the more and more his control and micromanagement over different departments grew. Throw in some lawsuits and successful and failing projects and you've got one interesting story.

James Stewart was granted access to different departments and people within Disney to write a book. His narration sometimes borders on sensationalist. It's hard to tell if it's fact or embellishment. Eisner is written as a very charming and manipulative individual, which both seems like an exaggeration, but also has to have some truth to it, based on how many former Disney executives are now at different companies who do not have a great view of Eisner. There's a lot of interesting stories and tidbits about how Eisner ran Disney, putting choices made by the Disney company into a narrative that makes sense. The choices themselves do not (see EuroDisney and Go.com), but the reasons why they were made does. Personally, I just wasn't as big a fan of the embellishments made to the narration. The number of people that Stewart describes as "stunned" or "shocked" got to be ridiculous. The story has plenty of intrigue and drama and could probably stand on its own.

At 593 pages, it will probably only appeal to the hardcore Disney fans. The ones who watch or listen to many hours of Disney content. Who want to know more about what on Earth could've been going through Eisner's mind during his tenure at Disney. And, if he could've predicted what would happen when he pissed off Jeffery Katzenberg so much that he, along with David Geffen and Steven Spielberg, created one of Disney's biggest competitors- Dreamworks Pictures.

So, all in all, if like me, you want to learn more about Disney during Eisner's tenure and more about Eisner himself, I recommend this book. Just take some of the embellishments with a grain of salt. ( )
  rkcraig88 | Jul 15, 2019 |
This was a great read and had my hair standing on end much of the time. I guess we all know that those in power in Hollywood behave badly, but this close examination is alarming. What I appreciate most is that in popular discourse we talk about "Disney" as if it is a single-minded monolithic entity. This book reveals the dozens of personalities, agendas, and aspirations at play behind the scenes, and all of the projects that might have been but weren't. It also makes clear what I tell my students all of the time: the company's products and projects fail more frequently than they succeed. It's a vivid lesson in the long-term strength of a conglomerate. ( )
  DFratini | Apr 23, 2018 |
I just finished this book and I was amazed at how much detailed information and juicy gossip about the workings of one of the world's biggest companies during a period of turmoil and crisis. I choose to read the book because I have always had an interest in the Disney Company and have always wanted to work for their Consumer Products division one day (the book covers the Disney Co. during CEO Michael Eisner’s tenure, with background on the start of the company by the Disney brothers).

I wanted to do a little background reading on the history of the company for any future reference (possible job interviews, etc) and I expected to be bored out of my mind reading a lengthy business biography; however, at times I could not put the book down! I would be reading and wouldn't want to stop when something unexpected or especially scandalous came along! I love how much evidence Stewart was able to get, from first-hand experiences, conversations with actual people involved and physical paperwork, memos, e-mails, etc.

Another interesting thing was reading about what was happening behind the scenes of some of Disney’s business hits and flops, including the acquisition of ABC, the Pixar controversy and Eisner turning down some of the bigger TV hits like CSI and Survivor.

I definitely recommend this book for anyone either interested in the Disney Company or business studies (or those just intrigued by a little office gossip!) ( )
  elle-kay | Jan 27, 2016 |
A pretty fascinating recounting of the last two or three decades of Disney history, although it suffers somewhat from predating the Iger-era. I would have loved to hear about Pixar's acquisition, but what's in the book is more than enough drama.

Eisner is pretty vividly portrayed as a guy who was a big shot of creativity and energy that the company needed at a crucial time, but who was best when kept in check and when a string of hits staved off the infighting that later consumed the company. From the mid-90s on, the company culture comes across as deeply perverse and it's amazing that it continued to survive as well as it did (largely thanks to the Pixar deal, the ascendancy of ESPN, and Bruckheimer's event-films).

The sections of the book covering the early years were the most interesting to me, if only because it described the process by which some of the company's best work was done. Later on, the book shifts significantly toward corporate intrigue and chronicling how executive after executive fell victim to Eisner's paranoia (or worse, adopted it for themselves). Even Iger doesn't come off as spotless, though the whole thing has a similar premise to Mad Men: people trying to be good in a morally-perverse environment, and deciding which parts of their personal morality they can sacrifice to survive.

The prose itself is workable, but the research is impressive and piecing it together into a coherent story must have been endless amounts of work. Not a great book, but worth your time. ( )
  gregorybrown | Oct 18, 2015 |
I listened to this on audiobook, so I'll discuss the content and the production separately.

Maybe it's because I'm a trained historian, but I found myself mumbling, sometimes shouting at my kindle: "according to who?" "says who?" "you can't know that was what happened!" There was just too much dramatization in this non-fiction book, too much certainty about people's thoughts, beliefs and conversations to which the author was not privy. I couldn't relax and trust it. Some dialogue is needed to break up non-fiction, sure, but that should be clear transcriptions of interviews about the incidents (preferably from more than one point of view), or recordings from the time. If the author is going to insist upon dramatizing conversations and phone calls (including stage directions!), it needs to made clear upon whose information the author is crafting his scenes - without such attribution, the reader can neither trust the information as truth, nor enjoy it as biased gossip.
I hate to say this (as someone who directed audio books for seven years) but I might have to get a print copy out of the library to see if it works better on the page than in audio - perhaps Stewart used footnotes to attribute/explain the liberties he took with dramatizations (though it should be in the main text.)

Audio production:
The production is not great. Every gap between sentences, paragraphs and even chapters has been viciously removed, often disturbing the flow of the narration and allowing no space for the reader to reflect and absorb. I, personally, found the Lawlor's accent and timbre a little strident for long listening, but that's subjective. What was disturbing was Lawlor's raging case of 'tag lag' - when a narrator allows the emotion of dialogue to continue into the tag so, " "Oh no!" she said." becomes " "Oh no," she said!" It's not a problem on occasion (though a good director aims not to let any slip through) but it's constant in this book (and probably made worse when the listener is pissed off by the dramatization anyway!)

All in all, I think this book probably suffered for being made into audio :(

( )
  Darcy-Conroy | Sep 28, 2015 |
Showing 1-5 of 13 (next | show all)
Eisner was also interviewed for the book, but Stewart carefully notes that Eisner and Disney itself extended only "a degree of cooperation." But even that gave Stewart a telling glimpse of the full Eisner treatment.
Mr. Stewart has some nice things to say about Mr. Eisner. (''Eisner is intelligent, charming and funny.'') He saves these for the epilogue. The rest of the book is a litany of corporate back-stabbings, couched in language that captures the spirit of the organization.
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