The Walt Disney Company
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|Founded||October 16, 1923|
|Headquarters||Team Disney Building, Walt Disney Studios, |
|Revenue||US$82.722 billion (2022)|
|US$12.121 billion (2022)|
|US$3.145 billion (2022)|
|Total assets||US$203.631 billion (2022)|
|Total equity||US$98.879 billion (2022)|
Number of employees
|c. 220,000 (2022)|
|Footnotes / references|
The Walt Disney Company, commonly known as Disney (//), is an American multinational mass media and entertainment conglomerate headquartered at the Walt Disney Studios complex in Burbank, California. Disney was originally founded on October 16, 1923, by brothers Walt and Roy O. Disney as the Disney Brothers Studio; it also operated under the names the Walt Disney Studio and Walt Disney Productions before changing its name to the Walt Disney Company in 1986. Early on, the company established itself as a leader in the animation industry, with the creation of the widely popular character Mickey Mouse, who is the company's mascot, and the start of animated films.
After becoming a major success by the early 1940s, the company started to diversify into live-action films, television, and theme parks in the 1950s. Following Walt's death in 1966, the company's profits began to decline, especially in the animation division. Once Disney's shareholders voted in Michael Eisner as the head of the company in 1984, the studio began to see an overwhelming amount of success during a period called the Disney Renaissance. In 2005, under new CEO Bob Iger, the company started to expand and acquire other corporations. Bob Chapek became the head of Disney in 2020 after Iger's retirement. Iger would be reinstated as CEO after Chapek was ousted in 2022.
Since the 1980s, Disney has created and acquired corporate divisions in order to market more mature content than is typically associated with its flagship family-oriented brands. The company is known for its film studio division Walt Disney Studios, which includes Walt Disney Pictures, Walt Disney Animation Studios, Pixar, Marvel Studios, Lucasfilm, 20th Century Studios, 20th Century Animation, and Searchlight Pictures. Disney's other main business units include divisions in television, broadcasting, streaming media, theme park resorts, consumer products, publishing, and international operations. Through these various segments, Disney owns and operates the ABC broadcast network; cable television networks such as Disney Channel, ESPN, Freeform, FX, and National Geographic; publishing, merchandising, music, and theater divisions; direct-to-consumer streaming services such as Disney+, Star+, ESPN+, Hulu, and Hotstar; and Disney Parks, Experiences and Products, which includes several theme parks, resort hotels, and cruise lines around the world.
Disney is one of the biggest and most well-known companies in the world and has been ranked number 53 on the 2022 Fortune 500 list of biggest companies in the United States by revenue. Since its founding, the company has won a total of 135 Academy Awards, with 26 awarded to Walt. The company has also been said to have produced some of the greatest films of all time as well as revolutionizing the theme park industry. Disney has been criticized for alleged plagiarism, depicting racial stereotypes in the past, and both including and lacking LGBT-related elements in its films. The company, which has been public since 1940, trades on the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) with ticker symbol DIS and has been a component of the Dow Jones Industrial Average since 1991. In August 2020, just under two-thirds of the stock was owned by large financial institutions.
1923–1934: Founding, Mickey Mouse, and Silly Symphonies
At Laugh-O-Gram Studio, a film studio in Kansas City founded by Walt Disney and his friend and animator Ub Iwerks, Walt made a short film entitled Alice's Wonderland. It featured child actress Virginia Davis interacting with animated characters. In 1923, soon after the short was made, Laugh-O-Gram Studio went bankrupt, but the short later became a hit after New York film distributor Margaret J. Winkler purchased it. Walt signed a contract to create six Alice Comedies series, with an option for two further series of six episodes each. Before the signing, Walt decided to move to Hollywood to join his brother Roy O. Disney because Roy had tuberculosis. This allowed them to co-found the Disney Brothers Studio on October 16, the official start of the company, to produce the films. Walt later convinced Iwerks and Davis' family to move to Hollywood as well. In January 1926, the Disney studio on Hyperion Street was completed, and The Disney Brothers Studio's name was changed to Walt Disney Studio. After producing several Alice films for the next four years, Winkler handed the role of distributing films to her husband, Charles Mintz. In 1927, Mintz asked for a new series of films under Universal Pictures to be made. In response, Walt created his first series of fully animated films, featuring the character Oswald the Lucky Rabbit. Walt Disney Studio would create 26 films with Oswald in them.
In 1928, Walt wanted a larger fee for his films, but Mintz wanted to reduce the price. Soon after Walt found out that Universal owned the intellectual property rights to Oswald, Mintz threatened to produce the films without him if he did not take the reductions in payment. Walt declined, and Mintz signed four of the Walt Disney Studio's primary animators to start his own studio; Iwerks would be the only top animator to stay with the Studio. Because of the loss of Oswald, Walt and Iwerks replaced him with a mouse originally named Mortimer Mouse. The character's name would be changed after Walt's wife urged him to change it to Mickey Mouse, who is now the company's mascot. In May, the studio made two silent films, Plane Crazy and The Gallopin' Gaucho, with the character as test screenings. Later, the studio created its first sound film and third short to the Mickey series Steamboat Willie. It was made with synchronized sound, creating the first post-produced sound cartoon. Pat Powers’ distribution company would distribute the film, and Steamboat Willie became an immediate hit, leading the way for the companies dominance in the animation industry. The sound was created using Powers’ Cinephone system, which used Lee de Forest's Phonofilm system. The company successfully re-released the two earlier films with synchronized sound in 1929.
After the release of Steamboat Willie at the Colony Theater in New York, Mickey Mouse became an immensely popular character. Disney would go on to make several cartoons featuring him and other characters. In August, Disney began the Silly Symphony series with Columbia Pictures signing on as the series' distributor, because Walt and Roy felt that they were not getting their share of the profits with Powers. Powers would then sign off Iwerks, who would later start his own studio. Carl Starling was said to have played a pivotal role in getting the series started and composed the music for the earlier films in the series, but would later leave the company after Iwerks did. In September, theater manager Harry Woodin requested permission to start a Mickey Mouse Club at his theater, the Fox Dome, to boost attendance. Walt agreed, but David E. Dow started the first ever club at Elsinore Theatre before Woodin could start his. It is unknown why Woodin did not create the first one, but on December 21, the first ever meeting for the club at Elsinore had around 1,200 children in attendance. The Mickey Mouse Clubs ended up spanning over 800 theaters across the country, with one million kids as members. On July 24, Joseph Conley, president of King Features Syndicate, mailed the Disney studio asking for them to make a Mickey Mouse comic strip. They started in November and sent samples of the strip to them, which were approved. On December 16, the Walt Disney Studios partnership was reorganized as a corporation with the name of Walt Disney Productions, Limited, with a merchandising division – Walt Disney Enterprises, and two subsidiaries – Disney Film Recording Company, Limited; and Liled Realty and Investment Company, for real estate holdings. Walt and his wife held 60 percent (6,000 shares) of the company and Roy owned 40 percent.
The comic strip Mickey Mouse debuted on January 13, 1930, in the New York Daily Mirror and by 1931, the strip was published in 60 newspapers in the U.S., as well as papers in twenty other countries. After finding out that coming out with merchandise for the characters would generate more revenue for the company, Walt met a man at a hotel in New York who asked him for the license to put Mickey Mouse on some writing tablets that he was manufacturing for $300. Walt agreed and Mickey became the first licensed character ever, beginning the start of Disney merchandising. In 1933, Walt asked a man who owned a Kansas City advertising firm named Kay Kamen to run Disney's merchandising. He agreed and was considered to completely transform Disney's merchandising. Within a year, Kamen had 40 licenses for Mickey and within two years, $35 million worth of sales were made. In 1934, Walt claimed that he made more money from the merchandising of Mickey than from the Mickey films. Later, as a part of Disney's merchandising push, the Waterbury Clock Company created a Mickey Mouse watch. It became so popular that it saved Waterbury from bankruptcy during the Great Depression. During a promotional event at Macy’s, 11,000 Mickey Mouse watches sold in one day and within two years, 2.5 million watches were sold. As Mickey started to become more of the heroic type instead of a mischievous mouse, Disney needed another character that could produce gags. When Walt was listing to the radio, he heard the voice of Clarence Nash and invited him to the studio. After hearing his voice again, Walt wanted to use it for a talking duck named Donald Duck, who would be the studio's new gag character. Donald made his first appearance in 1934 in The Wise Little Hen. Though he did not become popular as fast as Mickey did, he got his own featured role in Donald and Pluto (1936) and eventually got his own series.
After a fallout with Colombia Pictures for the Silly Symphonies, Walt signed a distribution contract with United Artist from 1932 to 1937 to distribute the series. In 1932, Disney signed an exclusive contract with Technicolor through the end of 1935 to produce cartoons in color, beginning with Flowers and Trees (1932), which was part of the Silly Symphonies. The film was the first ever full-color cartoon and won the Academy Award for the Best Cartoon later that year. In 1933, The Three Little Pigs became another popular Silly Symphonies and also won the Academy Award for Best Cartoon. The song from the film "Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?", composed by Frank Churchill, who also wrote other Silly Symphonies songs, became popular throughout the 1930s and remained one of the most well-known Disney songs. Films from Silly Symphonies would go on to win the Best Cartoon award from 1931 to 1939, except for in 1938 when another Disney film Ferdinand the Bull won it.
1934–1949: The Golden Age of Animation, strike, and World War II
In 1934, Walt decided to make Disney's first ever feature-length animated film, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, and told his animators by acting out the story. Roy tried to stop Walt from making it saying it would bankrupt the studio, and Hollywood called it "Disney's Folly", but Walt continued production on the film. Walt decided to go for a realistic approach to the film and created scenes from the film as if it were live action. During the process of making the film, they created the multiplane camera, which was pieces of glass with drawings on them set at different distances, to create an illusion of depth for the backgrounds. After United Artist attempted to attain future television rights to the Disney shorts, Walt signed a distribution contract with RKO Radio Pictures on March 2, 1936. They ended up exceeding their original budget for Snow White of $150,000 by ten times the amount at $1.5 million.
It took them three years to make, debuting on December 12, 1937. It became the highest-grossing film of all time up to that point at $8 million equivalent to $150,796,296 in 2021; after several re-releases, the film would gross a total of $998,440,000 in the U.S. adjusted for inflation. After the profits of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Disney financed the construction of a new studio complex of 51 acres (20.6 ha) in Burbank, California, which the company fully moved into in 1940. On April 2 of the same year, Disney had its initial public offering, with the common stock remaining with Walt and his family. Walt did not want to go public, but the company needed the money. Shortly before Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs' release, work on their next films Pinocchio and Bambi began, with Bambi being postponed. Though Pinocchio would win the Academy Awards for Best Song and Best Score, along with being said to have made groundbreaking achievements in animation, it would end up doing poorly in the box office during its release on February 23, 1940, because its international releases were cut off due to World War II.
Disney's next film Fantasia was also a box-office bomb, but made great achievements by creating Fantasound, an early development surround sound, to produce the films' soundtrack, making it the first commercial film shown in stereo. In 1941, Disney would have a major setback when 300 of its 800 animators, led mainly by one of the companies top animators Art Babbit, would go on strike for five weeks for unionization, because of the amount of payment some of them were getting. Walt thought that the people on strike were secretly Communist and would end up firing many of the studios' animators, including some of its best ones. Roy would try to get the company's main distributors to invest in the film company, trying to secure more production funds for the studio which could no longer afford to offset production costs with employee layoffs, but was unsuccessful in getting anyone. During the premiere of The Reluctant Dragon, Disney's fourth film where Robert Benchley would tour the Disney Studio, protesters from the strike showed up; the film would fall $100,000 short of its production cost.
While negotiations were being made for the strike, Walt accepted an offer from the Office of the Coordinator of Inter-American Affairs to make a goodwill trip, along with some of his animators, to South America, making sure Walt would be gone during the deal because he knew the results would not be in his favor. During the twelve weeks there, they would start plotting for films and were inspired by the music. As a result of the strike, the studio recognized the Screen Cartoonist's Guild after being compelled to by Federal mediators and loss several animators, leaving the company with only 694 employees. To recover from their financial losses, Disney would create their fifth animated film, Dumbo, in a rush with a lower budget. Dumbo performed successfully at the box office and would be a much needed financial gain for the company. After the bombing of Pearl Harbor, many of the companies animators would be drafted into the army. Later, 500 soldiers from the United States Army began to occupy the studio for eight months to protect a nearby Lockheed aircraft plant. While they were there, they would fix equipment in large soundstages and convert storage sheds into ammunition depots. On December 8, the Navy asked Walt to create propaganda films to gain support for the war. He agreed and signed a contract with them to create 20 war-related shorts for $90,000. Most of the company's employees got to work on the project and created films such as Victory Through Air Power and included some of the company's characters in several of the films.
In August, 1942, Bambi was finally released as Disney's sixth animated film and did not do well in the box office. In 1943, Disney would go on to make Saludos Amigos and The Three Caballeros after their visit to South America, but they would do poorly upon their releases. The two films were "package films", several short cartoons grouped together to make a feature film, which Disney would go on to make more of such as Make Mine Music (1946), Fun and Fancy Free (1947), Melody Time (1948), and The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad (1949) to try to recover from their financial losses. As less expensive to make, the studio started production on live-action films, with a mixture of animation, starting with Song of the South, which would later become Disney's most controversial film. Because the company was short on money, in 1944, they planned to re-release their feature films, which would create much needed revenue. In 1948, Disney began the nature documentary series, True-Life Adventures, which would run until 1960 and win eight Academy Awards. In 1949, while production on the animated film Cinderella was happening, the Walt Disney Music Company was founded in order to help with profits for merchandising, which the music from Cinderella was hoped to be a hit.
1950–1967: Live-action films, television, Disneyland, and Walt Disney's death
In 1950, Disney's first animated film in eight years Cinderella was released and was considered a return to form for Disney. It would be Disney's best box office success since Snow White, making a total of $8 million in its first year in the box office and costing $2.2 million to make. Walt had not been as involved as he was with the previous films because he was distracted with trains and made a trip to England to create Disney's first ever fully live-action film Treasure Island. Because it was a success, he went back to England to produce The Story of Robin Hood and His Merry Men. In 1950, the television industry began to grow, and Disney got in it on Christmas Day when NBC aired the company's first television production One Hour in Wonderland, which was a promotional program for Disney's next animated film Alice in Wonderland and sponsored by Coca-Cola. During his trip in England, Alice in Wonderland was released and came as disappointment to the company falling $1 million short of the production budget. Upon his return, Walt started thinking about an amusement park he wanted to build called Mickey Mouse Park, an eight-acre (3.2 ha) piece of land near the studio with attractions such as a steamboat ride, but business kept getting in the way and production for a third British film The Sword and the Rose began. Walt would only supervise over it, but it would be financed by a new subsidiary of Disney called Walt Disney British Films Limited.
Walt recalled that he first came up with the idea of an amusement park during one of his visits to Griffith Park with his daughters. He said that he watched them ride the carousel there and said that he thought there "should be... some kind of amusement enterprise built where the parents and the children could have fun together.” As Walt continued to think about Mickey Mouse Park, he changed the name to Disneylandia before changing it to its final name Disneyland. Because Roy was doubtful about the park, Walt would form a new privately owned company called Walt Disney Enterprise on December 16, 1952, to fund the park. Shortly after, its name would change to Walt Disney Incorporated before changing its name to WED Enterprises[a] (now Walt Disney Imagineering) in November 1953. He hired a group of designers to work on the plans and those who worked on it became dubbed as "Imagineers". Ever since Walt came up with the idea of a park, he and his friends would visit parks in the U.S. and Europe to get ideas on how to build one. His plan to have the park built in Burbank near the studio quickly changed when he realized that 8 (3.2 ha) acres would not be enough land. He acquired 160 acres (65 ha) of orange groves in Anaheim, southeast of Los Angeles in neighboring Orange County, at $6,200 per acre to build the park. As construction on the park began on July 12, 1954, Walt wanted it to be done by 1955, with storytelling attractions and areas, as well as being clean and perfect.
They designed the park to have guests enter into Main Street U.S.A., themed to resemble American small towns during the early 20th Century based largely off of Walt's hometown in Marceline, Missouri, and walk down the street into the central hub, from which different themed lands branched out. At the end of the street in the central hub, would be a 77 ft (23 m) tall Sleeping Beauty Castle inspired by the Neuschwanstein Castle in Germany and based on the castle from the Disney film of the same name, which would be released four years later. The four original different themed lands of the park that branched out from the hub would consist of Frontierland, themed to the American Frontier of the 19th century; Adventureland, resembling a wild tropical jungle; Fantasyland, based on Disney's animated fairy tale films; and Tomorrowland, depicting views of the future, especially that of the Space Age. In total, by the time the park opened, it cost the company $17 million to construct.
In February 1953, Disney's next animated film Peter Pan was released and had been a success, but Walt wanted to figure out how to improve animation without raising the cost. When Disney wanted to create a feature with two short films, The Living Desert, for the True-Life documentary, RKO's lawyer believed it would break the 1948 antitrust Supreme Court ruling if it sold as a package. Roy thought the company would do fine without RKO and the company created its own distribution company, Buena Vista Distribution, named after the street where the studio was located, to distribute their own films from then on. In 1954, Disney's first American live action film 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea was released, which was one of the first films to use CinemaScope. From the early to mid-1950s, Walt began to devote less attention to the animation department, entrusting most of its operations to his key animators the Nine Old Men, although he was always present at story meetings. Instead, he started concentrating on other things such as television and Disneyland.
To get money to create the park, the company decided to promote it through a television series. After trying to get NBC and CBS to sign on, in 1954, ABC made a deal with Disney for an hour-long weekly series starting in October called Disneyland, an anthology series consisting of animated cartoons, live-action features, other materials from the studio's library, and would go through four segments of the four different areas of the amusement park. The series was a success and garnered over 50% of viewers in their time slot, along with increasing audiences and praise from critics. In August, Walt formed another company Disneyland, Inc. to finance the theme park, with Disney, himself, Western Publishing, which had been the publisher of Disney books for over twenty years, and ABC all holding stock in the company.
In October, with the success of Disneyland, ABC allowed Disney to produce another series The Mickey Mouse Club, a variety show specifically for kids, showing things such as a daily Disney cartoon, a children's newsreel, and a talent show. It would consist of a host and talented kids and adults called "Mousketeers" and "Mooseketeers", respectively. After the first season, over 10 million children and half as many adults watched it every day, 2 million Mickey Mouse ears, which the cast wore, had sold, and the shows theme song "Mickey Mouse March", written by Jimmie Dodd one of the show's main host, had become a classic. On December 15, 1954, Disneyland aired an episode of the five-part miniseries Davy Crockett, which starred Fess Parker as Crockett. According to writer Neal Gabler, "[It] became an overnight national sensation", selling 10 million Crockett coonskin caps. The shows theme song "The Ballad of Davy Crockett" had spread throughout American pop culture as much as the Three Little Pig's "Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf" did, selling 10 million records. The Los Angeles Times called it "the greatest merchandising fad the world had ever seen". In June 1955, Disney's 15th animated film, Lady and the Tramp, was released and did better in the box office than any other Disney films since Snow White.
On Sunday, July 17, 1955, Disneyland opened[b] with only Main Street completely done and the other lands offering some rides, coming to a total of 20 attractions. At the time, it cost $1 to get into the park and guests had to pay for each individual ride. They were ready for 11,000 guests, but around 28,000 people showed up, because of a rush of counterfeit tickets. The opening was aired on ABC with actors Art Linkletter, Bob Cummings, and Ronald Reagan, who were all friends of Walt, hosting it. It garnered over 90 million viewers, becoming the largest live broadcast to that date. The opening was so disastrous and rushed, it became dubbed as "Black Sunday" by the employees. Restaurants ran out of food, the Mark Twain Riverboat began to sink a little, several ride malfunctions occurred, and the drinking fountains were not working in the 100 °F. (38 °C) heat. Within its first week of being open, Disneyland had 161,657 guests show up, and by its first month of being open, the park had over 20,000 visitors each day. After its first year, 3.6 million people had visited the park, and after its second year 4 million more guests came, making it more popular than places such as the Grand Canyon and Yellowstone Park. That year Disney had a gross total of $24.5 million compared to the $11 million the previous year.
Though Walt was more busy with the park than the films, the company would stay busy and produce an average of five releases per year throughout the 1950s and 60s. The animated films created were features such as Sleeping Beauty (1959), One Hundred and One Dalmatians (1961), and The Sword in the Stone (1963). While Sleeping Beauty was a financial loss for the company, and Disney's highest production costs for a film up to that point at $6 million, One Hundred and One Dalmatians introduced a new way of animating using the xerography process to electromagnetically transfer the drawings to animation cels. In 1956, the Sherman brothers, Robert and Richard, were asked to create the theme song for the TV series Zorro. Disney would later hire them as exclusive staff songwriters, which would be a ten-year association. They wrote many of the songs for Disney's films at the time and some for the theme parks, with several of them being hits. In the late 1950s, Disney would venture into the comedy genre with the live-action films The Shaggy Dog (1959), which became the highest grossing film in the U.S. and Canada for Disney at over $9 million, and The Absent Minded Professor (1961), both starring Fred MacMurray.
Disney also made several live-action films based on children's books including Pollyanna (1960) and Swiss Family Robinson (1960). Child actor Hayley Mills would star in Pollyanna, where she would win the Academy Juvenile Award, and five other Disney films, including her dual role as the twins in The Parent Trap (1961). Another child actor Kevin Corcoran was a prominent figure in many of the live-action Disney films, first appearing in a serial for The Mickey Mouse Club, where he would play a boy named Moochie, a nickname that would stay with him. He worked alongside Mills in Pollyanna and starred in features such as Old Yeller (1957), Toby Tyler (1960), and Swiss Family Robinson. In 1964, the live action/animation musical Mary Poppins was released and became the highest grossing film of the year. It won five Academy Awards, including Best Actress for Julie Andrews as Poppins and Best Song for the Sherman Brothers', who also won Best Score for the film, "Chim Chim Cher-ee".
Throughout the 1960s, Dean Jones, who was called "the figure who most represented Walt Disney Productions in the 1960s" by The Guardian, starred in ten Disney films, which included That Darn Cat! (1965), The Ugly Dachshund (1966), and The Love Bug (1968) and its second sequel Herbie Goes to Monte Carlo (1977). Disney's last child actor of the 1960s would be Kurt Russell, who had signed a ten-year contract with the company. He featured in films such as The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes (1969), The Horse in the Gray Flannel Suit (1968) alongside Dean Jones, The Barefoot Executive (1971), and The Strongest Man in the World (1975).
In late 1959, Walt had an idea to build another park in Palm Beach, Florida, called the City of Tomorrow, a city that would be full of technological improvements. In 1964, the company chose land southwest of Orlando, Florida, as the area to build the park and quickly acquired 27,000 acres (10,927 ha) of land for it. On November 15, 1965, Walt, along with Roy and Florida's current governor at the time Haydon Burns, announced the plans for another park called Disney World, which included the Magic Kingdom—a larger and more elaborate version of Disneyland, with golf courses and resort hotels near it—and the City of Tomorrow, which would be at the heart of the park. By 1967, the company had made several expansions to Disneyland including a new area called New Orleans Square, which would be filled with mostly shops and would be based on the look of New Orleans, Louisiana. Through 1966 to 1967 they added three more rides It's a Small World, the Disneyland Railroad, and Pirates of the Caribbean. In all, the expansion costed $20 million, which was $3 million more than it cost to make the park. They also added several other rides before then such as Walt Disney's Enchanted Tiki Room, which was the first attraction to use audio-animatronics; Walt Disney's Carousel of Progress, which debuted at the 1964 New York World's Fair before moving to Disneyland in 1967; and Dumbo the Flying Elephant, which opened a month after the park did.
On November 20, 1964, Walt sold most of WED Enterprise to Walt Disney Productions for $3.75 million after being persuaded to by Roy, who thought that Walt having his own company would cause legal problems. Walt formed a new company called Retlaw to handle his personnel business, primarily the Disneyland Railroad and the Disneyland Monorail. When the company started looking for someone to sponsor the project, Walt renamed the City of Tomorrow to EPCOT, which stood for Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow. Because Walt had been a heavy smoker since World War I, his health started declining, and he visited the St. Joseph Hospital on November 2, 1965, for testing. The doctors discovered a walnut-sized spot on his left lung and removed it a few days later, finding out it was cancerous. After two weeks, he was released from the hospital, but overgrown lymph nodes showed that he did not have much longer to live. On December 15, 1966, at the age of 65, Walt died of circulatory collapse, caused by lung cancer.
1967–1984: Roy O. Disney's leadership and death, Walt Disney World, animation industry decline, and Touchstone Pictures
In 1967, the last two films Walt had worked on were released, the animated film The Jungle Book, which would be Disney's most successful film for the next two decades, and the live-action musical The Happiest Millionaire. After Walt's death, the company largely abandoned the animation industry, but would still make several live-action films. Its staff in the field of animation began to decline from 500 workers to 125 employees, with the company only hiring 21 people from 1970 to 1977. Disney's first post-Walt animated film The Aristocats was released in 1970, where Dave Kehr of Chicago Tribune said, "the absence of his [Walt's] hand is evident." That following year the anti-fascist musical Bedknobs and Broomsticks was released and won the Oscar for Best Special Visual Effects. By the time Walt had died, Roy was ready to retire, but wanted to keep Walt's legacy alive and became the first CEO and chairman of the board of the company. In May 1967, he got a legislation passed by Florida's legislatures to grant Disney World to have its own quasi-government agency in an area called the Reedy Creek Improvement District, and he later changed the name from Disney World to Walt Disney World to remind people it was Walt's dream. Over time, EPCOT became less of the City of Tomorrow and developed more into another amusement park. After 18 months of construction that cost around $400 million, Walt Disney World's first park the Magic Kingdom, along with Disney's Contemporary Resort and Disney's Polynesian Resort, opened on October 1, 1971, with 10,400 visitors. A parade with over 1,000 band members, along with 4,000 Disney entertainers and choir from the U.S. Army, marched down Main Street led by composer Meredith Wilson. Unlike Disneyland, the icon of the park would be the Cinderella Castle instead of the Sleeping Beauty Castle. Three months later on Thanksgiving day, cars wanting to get into the Magic Kingdom were stretched miles along the interstate.
On December 21, 1971, Roy died of cerebral hemorrhage at the St. Joseph Hospital. After Roy's death, Donn Tatum, who was a senior executive for 25 years and former president of Disney, became the first non-Disney family member to become CEO and chairman of the board of the company, with Card Walker, who had been with the company since 1938, becoming president of the company. By June 30, 1973, Disney had over 23,000 employees and had a gross total of $257,751,000 over a nine months period, which is a raise compared to the year before when they made $220,026,000. In November, Disney released another animated film Robin Hood, which became Disney's biggest international grossing movie at $18 million. Throughout the 1970s, Disney released several more live-action films such as The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes' sequel Now You See Him, Now You Don't, The Love Bug's two sequels Herbie Rides Again (1974) and Herbie Goes to Monte Carlo (1977), Escape to Witch Mountain (1975), and Freaky Friday (1976). In 1976, Card Walker took over as CEO of the company, with Tatum staying as the chairman until 1980 when Walker would replace him. In 1977, Roy E. Disney, Roy O. Disney's son and the only Disney working for the company, would resign from his job as an executive of the company because of disagreements with decisions the company was making.
In 1977, Disney created the successful animated film The Rescuers, grossing $48 million at the box office. The live-acton/animated musical Pete's Dragon was released in 1977, grossing $16 million in the U.S. and Canada, but was considered a disappointment to the company. In 1979, Disney's first ever PG rated film and most expensive film up to that point at $26 million dollars The Black Hole was released, showing that Disney could also use special effects. Grossing $35 million, which was a disappointment to the company who thought it was going to be a hit like Star Wars (1977), the film was in response to other sci-fi movies that were being released. In September, 12 animators, which was over 15 percent of the department, resigned from the studio. Led by Don Bluth, they left because of a conflict with the training program and the atmosphere at the studio, starting their own company Don Bluth Productions (which later became Sullivan Bluth Studios). In 1981, Disney released Dumbo to VHS and Alice in Wonderland the following year, eventually leading Disney to release all their films to home media. On July 24, Walt Disney World on Ice, a two year tour of ice shows featuring Disney charters, made its premiere at the Brendan Byrne Meadowlands Arena, after Disney licensed its characters to Feld Entertainment. The same month, Disney's animated film The Fox and the Hound was released and became the highest grossing animated film to that point at $39.9 million. It was the first film that Walt had nothing to do with and was the last major work done by Disney's Nine Old Men, making way for the younger animators to do more.
As profits for the company started to slow down, On October 1, 1982, Epcot, then known as EPCOT Center, opened as the second theme park in Walt Disney World, with around 10,000 people in attendance during the opening. Costing the company over $900 million to construct, The park consisted of the Future World pavilion and the World Showcase, which represented nine countries including Mexico, China, Germany, Italy, America, Japan, France, United Kingdom, and Canada (Morocco and Norway would be added later in 1984 and 1988, respectively). The animation industry continued to decline and 69% of the company's profits were from its theme parks, with attendance of 12 million visitors to Walt Disney World which would decline by 5% next June. On July 9, Disney released one of the first films to majorly use computer-generated imagery (CGI) Tron, which would a big influence on other CGI movies, although it only received mixed reviews. In total, in 1982, the company lost $27 million. On April 15, 1983, Disney's first ever foreign park Tokyo Disneyland, similar to Disneyland and the Magic Kingdom, opened in Urayasu, Japan. Costing around $1.4 billion, construction on the park started in 1979 when Disney and The Oriental Land Company agreed to build a park together. Within its first ten year, the park had been a hit with over 140 million visitors. After an investment of $100 million, on April 18, Disney started a pay to watch cable television series called Disney Channel, a sixteen hour-long series showing things such as Disney films, twelve different programs, and two magazines shows for adults. Although it was expected to do well, the company lost $48.3 million after its first year, with around 916,000 subscribers.
In 1983, Walt's son-in-law Ron W. Miller, who had been president of the company since 1978, became CEO of Disney, and Raymond Watson became chairman. Ron would push for more more mature films from the studio, and as a result, Disney founded the film distribution label Touchstone Pictures to produce movies geared toward adults and teenagers in 1984. Splash (1984), was the first film released under the label and would become a much needed success for the studio, grossing over $6.1 million in its first week of screening. Later, Disney's first R-rated film, Down and Out in Beverly Hills (1986), was released and was another hit for the company, grossing $62 million. The following year, Disney's first PG-13 rated film, Adventures in Babysitting, was released. In 1984, Saul Steinberg attempted to buyout the company, holding 11.1% of the stocks in the company. He offered to buy 49% of the company for $1.3 billion or the entire company for $2.75 billion. Disney, which had less than $10 million, rejected and offered to buy all of his stock for $325.5 million. Steinberg agreed, and Disney paid it all with part of a $1.3 billion loan they got from the bank, putting the company at $866 million in debt.
1984–2005: Michael Eisner's leadership, the Disney Renaissance, merger, and acquisitions
In 1984, the company's shareholders, Roy E. Disney, Sid Bass, Lillian and Diana Disney, and Irwin L. Jacobs, who had a combined total of about 35.5% of the total shares of the company, forced Miller out as CEO and replaced him with Michael Eisner, who had previously been president of Paramount Pictures, as the new CEO, along with bringing in Frank Wells as president. Eisner's first move at Disney was to make it a major film studio, which at the time it was not considered. He brought in Jeffrey Katzenberg as chairman and Roy as head of the animation division to help with the animation industry. He wanted to produce an animated film every 18 months instead of every 4 years like the company had been doing. To help with the film division, they started making Saturday-morning cartoons to create new Disney characters for merchandising and producing several films through Touchstone. Eisner led Disney into the television industry more by creating Touchstone Television and producing The Golden Girls, which was a hit. The company also started to promote their theme parks for the first time at $15 million, raising the attendance rate by 10%. In 1984, Disney created the most expensive animated movie at $40 million, and their first animated film to feature computer-generated imagery The Black Cauldron, which was also their first PG rated animated film because of its darker themes. It ended up being a box office bomb, leading the company to move the animation department out of studio in Burbank and into a warehouse in Glendale, California. Organized in 1985, Silver Screen Partners II, LP financed films for Disney with $193 million. In January 1987, Silver Screen III began financing movies for Disney with $300 million raised, the largest amount raised for a film financing limited partnership by E.F. Hutton. Silver Screen IV was also set up to finance Disney's studios.
In 1986, the company changed its name from Walt Disney Productions to its current name the Walt Disney Company, stating that the old name only referred to the film industry. With Disney's animation industry declining, the animation department needed a hit with their next movie The Great Mouse Detective. During its release, it grossed $25 million, becoming a much needed financial success for the company in the animation industry. To generate more revenue from merchandising, the company opened their first retail store the Disney Store in Glendale in 1987. Because of its success, they opened two more stores in California, and by 1990 they had 215 stores throughout the country. In 1989, the company saw financial success with $411 million in revenue and a profit of $187 million. In 1987, the company signed an agreement with the French government to build a resort in Paris named Euro Disneyland, consisting of two theme parks named Disneyland Park and Walt Disney Studios Park, a golf course, and six hotels.
In 1988, Disney's 27th animated film Oliver & Company was released the same day as former animator Don Bluth's The Land Before Time. Oliver & Company beat out The Land Before Time, becoming the first animated film to gross over $100 million in its initial release and the highest grossing animated film from its initial run. At the time, Disney became the box office leader out of all the studios in Hollywood for the first time, with films such as Who Framed Rodger Rabbit (1988), Three Men and a Baby (1987), and Good Morning, Vietnam (1987). Gross revenue in 1983 was $165 million and went up to $876 million in 1987, and operating income went from a negative $33 million in 1983 to a positive 130 million in 1987. Their net income went up 66% along with a 26% growth in revenue. The Los Angeles Times called Disney's bounce back "a real rarity in the corporate world". On May 1, 1989, Disney opened their third amusement park at Walt Disney World, Hollywood Studios, which at the time went under the name Disney-MGM Studios. The park was mainly about how movies were made, until it changed by 2008 to make guests feel like they are in movies. Following the opening of Hollywood Studios, Disney opened water park Typhoon Lagoon on June 1, 1989; in 2008, the water park had a total of 2.8 million people in attendance. In 1989, Disney signed an agreement-in-principle to acquire Jim Henson Productions from its founder, Muppet creator Jim Henson. The deal included Henson's programming library and Muppet characters (excluding the Muppets created for Sesame Street), as well as Jim Henson's personal creative services. However, Henson died suddenly in May 1990 before the deal was completed, resulting in the two companies terminating merger negotiations the following December.
On November 17, 1989, The Little Mermaid was released and is considered to be the start of the Disney Renaissance, a period in which the company released hugely successful and critically acclaimed animated films. During its release, it became the animated film with the highest gross from its initial run and garnered $233 million at the box office; it also earned two Academy Awards, Best Original Score and Best Original Song for “Under the Sea”. During the Disney Renaissance, several of Disney's songs were written by composer Alan Menken and lyricist Howard Ashman, until Howard died in 1991. Together they wrote six songs that were nominated for Academy Awards, with two winning, "Under The Sea" and "Beauty and the Beast". To produce music geared for the mainstream music, including music for movie soundtracks, Disney founded the recording label Hollywood Records on January 1, 1990. In September 1990, Disney arranged for financing up to $200 million by a unit of Nomura Securities for Interscope films made for Disney. On October 23, Disney formed Touchwood Pacific Partners which would supplant the Silver Screen Partnership series as their movie studios' primary source of funding. Disney's first animated sequel The Rescuers Down Under was released on November 16, 1990, and was created using Computer Animation Production System (CAPS), a digital software which was developed by Disney and the computer division of Lucasfilm Pixar, becoming the first feature film to be fully created digitally. Although the film struggled in the box office, grossing $47.4 million, it received positive reviews from critics. In 1991, Disney and Pixar agreed to a deal to make three films together, with the first one being Toy Story.
With Dow Jones & Company looking to replace three companies in its industrial average, Disney was chosen to fill one of the spots in May, with the statement saying that Disney reflects "The importance of entertainment and leisure activities in the economy". Disney's next animated film Beauty and the Beast was released on November 13, 1991, and grossed nearly $430 million. It was the first animated film to win a Golden Globe for Best Picture, and it received six Academy Award nominations, becoming the first animated film to be nominated for Best Picture Oscar; It won Best Score, Best Sound, and Best Song for "Beauty and the Beast". The film was critically acclaimed, with some considering it to be the best Disney film. To coincide with their new release The Mighty Ducks, Disney founded NHL team The Mighty Ducks of Anaheim in 1992. Disney's next animated feature Aladdin was released on November 11, 1992, and grossed $504 million, becoming the highest-grossing animated film up to that point, and the first animated film to reach the half-billion-dollar mark. It won two Academy Awards for Best Song for "A Whole New World" and Best Score; "A whole New World" was the first and only Disney song to win the Grammy for Song of the Year. For $60 million, Disney broadened their more mature films by acquiring independent film distributor Miramax Films in 1993. In a joint venture with The Nature Conservancy, Disney purchased 8,500 acres (3,439 ha) of Everglades headwaters in Florida in 1993 to protect native animals and plant species, establishing the Disney Wilderness Preserve.
On April 3, 1994, Frank Wells died in a helicopter crash, while on a vacation to go skiing. He, Eisner, and Katzenberg helped the company's market value go from $2 billion to $22 billion since taking office in 1984. On June 15, The Lion King was released and was a massive success. It became the second highest-grossing film of all time behind Jurassic Park and the highest-grossing animated film of all time, with a gross total of $968.5 million. It garnered two Academy Awards for Best Score and Best Song for "Can You Feel the Love Tonight" and was critically praised. Soon after its release, Katzenberg left the company after Eisner would not promote him to president. After leaving, he co-founded film studio DreamWorks SKG. Wells' spot was later replaced by one of Eisner's friends Michael Ovitz on August 13, 1995. In 1994, Disney had been looking to buy one of the big three networks, ABC, NBC, or CBS, which would give them guaranteed distribution for its programming. Eisner sought out to buy NBC, but the deal was cancelled once he heard General Electric wanted to keep a majority stake. In 1994, Disney reached $10.1 billion in revenue, with the film industry being 48% of the total, the theme parks being 34%, and 18% of it from merchandising. Disney's total net income was up 25% from the year before at $1.1 billion. Grossing over $346 million, Pocahontas was released on June 16, garnering the Academy Awards for Best Musical or Comedy Score and Best Song for "Colors of the Wind". Pixar and Disney's first release together was the first-ever fully computer-generated film Toy Story. It was released on November 19, 1995, to critical acclaim and an end-run gross total of $361 million. The film won the Special Achievement Academy Award, as well as being the first animated film to be nominated for Best Original Screenplay.
In 1995, Disney announced a $19 billion acquisition of Capital Cities/ABC Inc., which at the time was the second largest corporate takeover in US history. Through the deal, Disney would obtain broadcast network ABC, an 80% majority stake in sports network ESPN and ESPN 2, 50% in Lifetime Television, a majority stake of DIC Entertainment, and a 37.5% minority stake in A&E Television Networks. Following the deal, the company started a radio program focused for youth on ABC Radio Network called Radio Disney on November 18, 1996. The Walt Disney Company launched its official website disney.com on February 22, mainly to promote their theme parks and give information on its merchandise. On June 19, the company's next animated film The Hunchback of Notre Dame was released, grossing $325 million at the box office. Because Ovitz's management style was different from Eisner's, Ovitz was fired as president of the company in 1996. Disney lost a $10.4 million lawsuit in September 1997 to Marsu B.V. over Disney's failure to produce as contracted 13 half-hour Marsupilami cartoon shows. Instead, Disney felt other internal "hot properties" deserved the company's attention. With a 25% stake in the California Angels, Disney bought out the team in 1998 for $110 million, renaming the team the Anaheim Angels and renovating their stadium for $100 million. Hercules was released on June 13 and underperformed at the box office compared to the previous films, grossing $252 million. On February 24, Disney and Pixar signed a ten-year contract to make 5 films together, with Disney as the distributor. They would share the cost, profits, and logo credits, calling the films a Disney-Pixar production. During the Disney Renaissance, film division Touchstone Pictures also saw success, with film such as Pretty Woman (1990), which has the highest number of ticket sales in the U.S. for a romantic comedy and grossed $432 million; Sister Act (1992), which was one of the more financially successful comedies of the early 1990s, grossing $231 million; action film Con Air (1997), which grossed $224 million; and the highest-grossing film of 1998 at $553 million Armageddon (1998).
At Disney World, the company opened the largest theme park in the world covering 580 acres (230 ha) Disney's Animal Kingdom on Earth Day, April 22, 1998. It is made up of six lands based off zoological themes, with the Tree of Life as the park's centerpiece and over 2,000 animals. Receiving positive reviews, Disney's next animated films, Mulan and Disney-Pixar film A Bug's Life, were released on June 5 and November 20, respectively. Mulan became the sixth highest-grossing film of 1998 at $304 million, and A Bug's Life was the fifth highest at $363 million. In a $770 million transaction, on June 18, Disney bought a 43% stake of Internet search engine Infoseek for $70 million, also giving Infoseek earlier acquired Starwave. With negotiations between Carnival and Royal Caribbean not going well, in 1994, Disney announced they would start their own cruise line operations starting in 1998. The first two ships part of the Disney Cruise Line would be named Disney Magic and Disney Wonder and would be built by Fincantieri in Italy. To accompany the cruises, Disney bought Gorda Cay as the line's private island and spent $25 million on remodeling it and renamed it Castaway Cay. On July 30, 1998, Disney Magic set sail as the line's first voyage. Starting web portal Go.com in a joint venture with Infoseek on January 12, 1999, Disney later acquired the rest of Infoseek that year.
Marking the end of the Disney Renaissance, Tarzan was released on June 12, garnering $448 million at the box office and critical acclaim; it also claimed the Academy Award for Best Original Song for Phil Collins' "You'll Be in My Heart". Toy Story's sequel and Disney-Pixar film Toy Story 2 was released on November 13 as a successful film, garnering praise and $511 million at the box office. Filling Ovitz spot, Eisner named ABC network chief Bob Iger president and COO of the company on January 25, 2000. In November, Disney sold DIC Entertainment back to Andy Heward, although still doing business with them. Disney had another huge success with Pixar when they released Monsters, Inc. in 2001. Later, Disney bought children's cable network Fox Family Worldwide for $3 billion and the assumption of $2.3 billion in debt. The deal also included 76% stake in Fox Kids Europe, Latin American Fox Kids, more than 6,500 episodes from Saban Entertainment's programming library, and the Fox Family Channel. In 2001, Disney's operations declined with a net loss of $158 million in fiscal, a decline in viewership on the ABC television network, as well as decreased tourism due to the September 11 attacks. Disney earnings in fiscal 2001 were $120 million, heavily reduced from the previous year's $920 million. To help with costs savings, Disney announced they would be laying off 4,000 employees and closing 300 to 400 Disney stores. After winning the World Series in 2002, Disney sold the Angels to businessman Arturo Moreno for $180 million in 2003. In 2003, Disney became the first studio to garner $3 billion in a year at the box office. Roy Disney announced his retirement in 2003 because of the way the company was being ran, calling on Eisner to retire; the same week, board member Stanley Gold retired for the same reasons, forming the "Save Disney" campaign together.
In 2004, at the company's annual meeting, the shareholders, in a 43% vote, voted Eisner out of his position as chairman of the board. On March 4, George J. Mitchell, who was a member of the board, was named as Eisner's replacement. In April, Disney purchased the Muppets franchise from the Jim Henson Company for $75 million, founding the Muppets Holding Company, LLC in the process. Following the massive success of Disney-Pixar films The Incredibles (2004) and Finding Nemo (2003), which became the second highest-grossing animated film of all time at $936 million, Pixar looked for a new distributor once their deal with Disney ended in 2004. After the Disney Stores were struggling, Disney sold the chain of 313 stores to Children's Place on October 20. Disney also sold the Mighty Ducks NHL team to Henry Samueli and his wife Susan in 2005. Roy decided to rejoin the company and was given the role of a consultant with the title of "Director Emeritus".
2005–2020: Bob Iger's leadership, expansion, and Disney+
In March 2005, it was announced that Bob Iger, president of the company, would become CEO of Disney after Eisner's retirement in September; Iger was officially named head of the company on October 1. Disney's eleventh theme park Hong Kong Disneyland opened in Hong Kong, China, on September 12, costing the company $3.5 billion to make. On January 24, 2006, Disney made a move to acquire Pixar from Steve Jobs for $7.4 billion. Iger made Pixar CCO John Lasseter and president Ed Catmull the head of the Walt Disney Animation Studios. A week later, Disney traded ABC Sports commentator Al Michaels to NBCUniversal to get back the rights to Oswald the Lucky Rabbit and the old 26 Oswald shorts. On February 6, the company announced they would be merging its ABC Radio networks and 22 stations with Citadel Broadcasting in a $2.7 billion deal. Through the deal, Disney also acquired 52% of television broadcasting company Citadel Communications. Disney Channel movie High School Musical aired, and its soundtrack went triple platinum, becoming the first Disney Channel film to do so.
Disney's 2006 live-action film Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest was Disney's biggest hit to that date and the third highest grossing film ever, making a little over $1 billion at the box office. On June 28, the company announced they would be replacing George Mitchell as chairman with one of their board members and former CEO of P&G John E. Pepper Jr. In 2007. The sequel High School Musical 2 was released in 2007 on Disney Channel and broke several cable rating records. In April 2007, the Muppets Holding Company was moved from Disney Consumer Products to the Walt Disney Studios division and renamed the Muppets Studios as part of efforts to relaunch the division. Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End became the highest-grossing film of 2007 at $960 million. Disney-Pixar films Ratatouille (2007) and WALL-E (2008) were a tremendous success, with WALL-E winning the Oscar for Best Animated Feature. After acquiring most of Jetix Europe through the acquisition of Fox Family Worldwide, Disney took full control of the company in 2008 for $318 million.
Bob Iger introduced D23 in 2009 as Disney's official fan club, with a biennial exposition event D23 Expo. In February, Disney announced a distribution deal with DreamWorks to distribute 30 of their films over the next 5 years through Touchstone Pictures, with Disney getting 10% of the gross. With the release of the widely popular film Up, Disney garnered $735 million at the box office, with the film also winning Best Animated Feature at the Oscars. Later, Disney launched a television channel geared towards older children named Disney XD. Disney bought full control of Marvel Entertainment and its assets in August for $4 billion, adding superheros available for its merchandising. In September, Disney partnered with News Corporation and NBCUniversal in a deal to each get 27% equity in streaming service Hulu, adding ABC Family and Disney Channel to the streaming service. On December 16, Roy E. Disney died of stomach cancer as the last person in the Disney family to actively work for Disney. In March 2010, Haim Saban reacquired the Power Rangers franchise, including its 700-episode library, from Disney for around $100 million. Shortly after, Disney sold Miramax Films to an investment group headed by Ronald Tutor for $660 million. During that time, Disney released the live-action Alice in Wonderland and Disney-Pixar film Toy Story 3 which both grossed a little over $1 billion, making it the sixth and seventh film to do so, with Toy Story 3 becoming the first animated film to make over $1 billion and highest-grossing animated film. That year, Disney became the first studio to release two $1 billion films in a single year. After starting ImageMovers Digital with ImageMovers in 2007, Disney announced that it would be closing by 2011 in 2010.
The following year, Disney released their last traditionally animated film Winnie the Pooh to theaters. The release of Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides took in a little over $1 billion, making it the eighth film to do so and Disney's highest-grossing film internationally, as well as the third highest ever. In January 2011, Disney Interactive Studios was downsized, laying off 200 employees. In April, Disney broke ground on new theme park Shanghai Disney Resort, costing $4.4 billion to build. Later, in August, Bob Iger stated on a conference call that after the success of the Pixar and Marvel purchases, he and the Walt Disney Company were looking to "buy either new characters or businesses that are capable of creating great characters and great stories." On October 30, 2012, Disney announced that they would be buying Lucasfilm Ltd. for $4.05 billion from George Lucas. Through the deal, Disney gained access to franchises such as Star Wars, which they said that they would make a new film for every 2 to 3 years with the first one being released in 2015, and Indiana Jones, as well as visual effects studio Industrial Light & Magic and video game developer LucasArts. The sale was later completed on December 21, 2012.
Later, in early February 2012, Disney completed its acquisition of UTV Software Communications, expanding their market further into India and Asia. By March, Iger assumed the role as chairman of the board. Marvel film The Avengers became the third highest-grossing film of all time at an initial release gross of $1.3 billion. Making over $1.2 billion at the box office, Marvel film Iron Man 3 was released as a huge success in 2013. The same year, Disney's animated film Frozen was released and became the highest-grossing animated film of all time at $1.2 billion. Merchandising for the film became so popular that they made $1 billion off of it within a year and a global shortage of merchandise for the film occurred. In March 2013, Iger announced that there were no 2D animation films in development and a month later the hand-drawn division of animation was closed, with several veterans being laid off. On March 24, 2014, Disney acquired Maker Studios, an active multi-channel network on YouTube, for $950 million.
On February 5, 2015, it was announced that Thomas O. Staggs had been promoted to COO. In June, Disney stated that its consumer products and interactive divisions would merge together to create new a subsidiary of the company Disney Consumer Products and Interactive Media. In August, Marvel Studios was reorganized and placed under division Walt Disney Studios. After the release of the successful animated film Inside Out, which grossed over $800 million, Marvel film Avengers: Age of Ultron was released and grossed over $1.4 billion. Star Wars: The Force Awakens was released and grossed over $2 billion, making it the third highest-grossing film of all time. In October, Disney announced that television channel ABC Family would be changing its name to Freeform in 2016, with the goal to broaden its audience coverage. On April 4, 2016, Disney announced that COO Thomas O. Staggs, who was thought to be next in line after Iger, and the company had mutually agreed to part ways, effective May 2016, ending his 26-year career with the company. After breaking ground in 2012, Shanghai Disneyland opened on June 16, 2016, as the company's sixth theme park resort. In a move to start a streaming service, Disney bought 33% of the stock in MLB technology company BAMtech for $1 billion in August. In 2016, Disney had four films that made over $1 billion, which were the animated film Zootopia, Marvel film Captain America: Civil War, Pixar film Finding Dory, and Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, making Disney the first studio to surpass $3 billion at the domestic box office. Disney also made an attempt to buy social media platform Twitter to market their content and merchandise on, but ultimately dropped out of the deal. Iger stated that the reason was because he thought the company would be taking on responsibilities it didn't need to and that it didn't "feel Disney" to him.
On March 23, 2017, Disney announced that Iger had agreed to a one-year extension of his term as CEO through July 2, 2019, and had agreed to remain with the company as a consultant for three years after stepping down. On August 8, 2017, Disney announced it would be ending its distribution deal with streaming service Netflix, with the intent to launch its own streaming platform by 2019 built off BAMtech's technology. During that time, Disney made an investment of $1.5 billion to acquire a 75% stake in BAMtech. Disney also planned to start an ESPN streaming service with about "10,000 live regional, national, and international games and events a year" by 2018. In November, CCO John Lasseter said that he would take a six-month absence from the company because of "missteps", which was later reported to be sexual misconduct allegations. The same month, Disney and 21st Century Fox started negotiating a deal where Disney would acquire most of Fox's assets. Beginning in March 2018, a strategic reorganization of the company saw the creation of two business segments, Disney Parks, Experiences and Products and Direct-to-Consumer & International. Parks & Consumer Products was primarily a merger of Parks & Resorts and Consumer Products & Interactive Media, while Direct-to-Consumer & International took over for Disney International and global sales, distribution, and streaming units from Disney-ABC TV Group and Studios Entertainment plus Disney Digital Network. While CEO Iger described it as "strategically positioning our businesses for the future", The New York Times considered the reorganization done in expectation of the 21st Century Fox purchase.
In 2017, Disney had two films go over the $1 billion mark, the live-action Beauty and the Beast and Star Wars: The Last Jedi. Disney launched subscription sports streaming service ESPN+ on April 12. In June 2018, Disney declared that Lasseter would be leaving the company by the end of the year, staying as a consultant until then. As his replacements, Disney promoted Jennifer Lee, co-director of Frozen and co-writer of Wreck-it Ralph (2012), as head of Walt Disney Animation Studios, and Pete Docter, who had been with Pixar since 1990 and directed Up, The Incredibles, and Inside Out, as head of Pixar. Later that month, Comcast offered to buy 21st Century Fox for $65 billion over Disney's $51 billion bid, but withdrew from their offer after Disney countered at $71 billion, with Comcast shifting their focus to buy Fox's Sky plc instead. Disney also obtained an antitrust approval from the United States Department of Justice to acquire Fox. Disney made $7 billion at the box office again like they did in record-breaking year 2016 with three film that made $1 billion, Marvel films Black Panther and Avengers: Infinity War and Pixar film Incredibles 2, with Infinity War surpassing $2 billion and becoming the fifth highest-grossing film ever.
On March 20, 2019, Disney acquired 21st Century Fox's assets for $71.3 billion from owner Rupert Murdoch, making it the biggest acquisition in Disney's history. After the purchase, The New York Times described Disney as "an entertainment colossus the size of which the world has never seen." Through the acquisition, Disney gained 20th Century Fox, 20th Century Fox Television, Fox Searchlight, Fox Networks Group, Indian television broadcaster Star India, and streaming services Star+, Hotstar, and a 30% stake in Hulu, which brought its total up to 60% ownership of the company. Fox Corporation and its assets were excluded from the deal because of antitrust laws. Disney also became the first film studio to have seven films gross $1 billion, which were Marvel's Captain Marvel, the live action Aladdin, Pixar's Toy Story 4, the CGI remake of The Lion King, Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, and the highest-grossing film of all time up to that point at $2.797 billion Avengers: Endgame, before Avatar (2009) was re-released in China in 2021. On November 12, Disney's subscription video on-demand over-the-top streaming service Disney+, which had 500 movies and 7,500 episodes of TV shows from Disney, Pixar, Marvel, Star Wars, National Geographic and other brands, was launched in the United States, Canada, and the Netherlands. Within the first day, the streaming platform had over 10 million subscriptions and by 2022 it had over 135 million subscribers and was in over 190 countries. At the beginning of 2020, Disney dropped the Fox name from all its assets rebranding it as 20th Century Studios and Searchlight Pictures.
2020–2022: Bob Chapek's leadership, and COVID-19 pandemic
Bob Chapek, who had been with the company for 18 years and was chairman of Disney Parks, Experiences and Products, became CEO of Disney after Iger stepped down on February 25, 2020. Iger said that he would stay with the company as an executive chairmen until December 31, 2021, to help with the company's creative strategy. In April, Iger resumed operational duties of the company as executive chairman to help the company during the COVID-19 pandemic and Chapek was appointed to the board of directors. During the COVID-19 pandemic, Disney closed all of its theme parks, delayed several movies that were to be released, and stopped all operations on their cruise line. Due to the closures, Disney announced that they would stop paying 100,000 employees, but would still provide full healthcare benefits, along with urging the U.S. employees to apply for government benefits through the $2 trillion stimulus check, saving the company $500 million a month. In addition, Iger gave up his entire $47.5 million salary and Chapek took a 50% reduction in his salary.
In the company's second fiscal quarter of 2020, Disney reported a $1.4 billion loss, with their earnings dropping by 91% from the previous year's $5.4 billion down to $475 million. By August, two-thirds of the company was owned by large financial institutions. In September, the company had to fire 28,000 employees, 67% of which were part-time workers, from its Parks, Experiences and Products division. Chairman of the division Josh D'Amaro wrote, "We initially hoped that this situation would be short-lived, and that we would recover quickly and return to normal. Seven months later, we find that has not been the case." Additionally, Disney lost a total of $4.7 billion in its fiscal third quarter of 2020. In November, Disney laid off another 4,000 employees from the Parks, Experiences and Products division, rising the total to 32,000 employees. The following month, Disney named Alan Bergman as chairman of its Disney Studios Content division to oversee its film studios. Due to the COVID-19 recession, Disney shutdown 20th Century Studios' animation studio Blue Sky Studios in February 2021. With Touchstone Television ceasing operations in December, Disney announced in March 2021 that it would be launching a new division of the company 20th Television Animation to focus on mature audiences. In April, Disney and Sony agreed to a multiyear licensing deal that would give Disney access to Sony's films from 2022 to 2026 to air on their television networks or stream on Disney+ once Sony's deal with Netflix ends. Although it did not do well at the box office because of COVID-19, Disney's release of the animated film Encanto was one of the biggest hits during the pandemic, with its song "We Don't Talk About Bruno" becoming immensely popular.
After Iger's term as executive chairman ended on December 31, he announced that he would also be stepping down as chairman of the board. To replace him, the company brought in an operating executive at The Carlyle Group and current board member Susan Arnold as Disney's first ever woman chairman. On March 10, Disney ceased all operations it was doing in Russia because of Russia's invasion of Ukraine. Disney was the first major Hollywood studio to halt the release of a major motion picture due to Russia's invasion, and other movie studios followed soon after. In March 2022, around 60 employees protested the company's response about staying silent on the Florida Parental Rights in Education Act, also dubbed the Don't Say Gay Bill, which prohibits classroom instruction on sexual orientation or gender identity in a manner that is not age appropriate in Florida's public school districts. Dubbed as the "Disney Do Better Walkout", the employees protested near a Disney studios lot for about a week, with other employees voicing their concerns through social media. With employees calling on Disney to stop campaign contributions to Florida's politicians who supported the bill, to help protect employees from it, and to stop construction at Walt Disney World in Florida, Chapek responded by stating that the company had made a mistake by staying silent and said, "We pledge our ongoing support of the LGBTQ+ community".
Amid Disney's response to the bill, Florida legislatures passed a bill to remove Disney's quasi-government district Reedy Creek, with Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signing the bill effective June 1. On June 28, Disney's board members unanimously agreed to give Chapek a three-year contract extension. In August, Disney Streaming passed Netflix in total subscriptions with 221 million subscribers compared to Netflix's 220 million.
2022–present: Bob Iger's return
On November 20, 2022, Iger accepted the position of CEO, replacing Chapek who was dismissed following a poor earnings performance. The board announced that Iger would serve for two years with a mandate to develop a strategy for renewed growth and help identify a successor.
The Walt Disney Company operates six primary business segments, with two primary divisions and four content groups:
- Disney Media and Entertainment Distribution (DMED) is responsible for all global distribution, operations, sales, advertising, data, and technology functions for the company's four content production groups, as well as management of the company's direct-to-consumer businesses, including its multiple streaming services (Disney+, Hulu, ESPN+, and Star+), theatrical exhibition unit, home media distribution, Disney Music Group, ABC Owned Television Stations and domestic television networks.
- Disney Parks, Experiences, and Products (DPEP) oversees the company's theme parks, cruise line, travel-related assets, consumer products, and publishing divisions. Disney's resorts and diversified related holdings include: Walt Disney World, Disneyland Resort, Tokyo Disney Resort, Disneyland Paris, Hong Kong Disneyland Resort, Shanghai Disney Resort, Disney Vacation Club, Disney Cruise Line, and Adventures by Disney. The division is led by Josh D'Amaro.
- The Walt Disney Studios consists of the company's filmed entertainment and theatrical entertainment businesses, including Walt Disney Pictures, Walt Disney Animation Studios, Pixar, Marvel Studios, Lucasfilm, 20th Century Studios, Searchlight Pictures, Disneynature, and Disney Theatrical Group. The division is led by Alan Bergman.
- Disney General Entertainment Content (DGE) consists of the company's entertainment-centric television channels and production companies in the United States, including Walt Disney Television (consisting of the ABC television network, Disney Television Studios – ABC Signature, Searchlight Television, 20th Television and 20th Television Animation – and Freeform), Disney Branded Television, FX Networks, ABC News, and 73% ownership of National Geographic Partners. The division is led by Dana Walden.
- ESPN and Sports Content focuses on ESPN's live sports programming, as well as sports news and original and non-scripted sports-related content, for the cable channels, ESPN+, and ABC. The division is led by James Pitaro.
- Disney International Content and Operations focuses on overseeing local and regional contents that pipelined with global market through managing ad sales, distribution, productions, and operations for its international linear channels and streaming services, split into four different hubs: Asia-Pacific, Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA), India, and Latin America. The division is led by Rebecca Campbell.
- Board of Directors
- Susan Arnold (Chairman)
- Mary Barra
- Safra Catz
- Amy Chang
- Francis deSouza
- Carolyn Everson
- Michael Froman
- Bob Iger
- Maria Elena Lagomasino
- Calvin McDonald
- Mark Parker
- Derica W. Rice
- Bob Iger, Chief Executive Officer
- Alan Bergman, Chairman, Disney Studios Content
- Rebecca Campbell, Chairman, International Content and Operations
- Jennifer Cohen, Executive Vice President, Corporate Social Responsibility
- Josh D'Amaro, Chairman, Disney Parks, Experiences and Products
- Horacio Gutierrez, Senior Executive Vice President and General Counsel
- Jolene Negre, Associate General Counsel and Secretary
- Alicia Schwarz, Senior Vice President and Chief Compliance Officer
- Ronald L. Iden, Senior Vice President and Chief Security Officer
- Christine McCarthy, Senior Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer
- Carlos A. Gómez, Senior Vice President and Treasurer
- Diane Jurgens, Executive Vice President, Enterprise Technology and Chief Information Officer
- Alexia S. Quadrani, Senior Vice President, Investor Relations
- Brent Woodford, Executive Vice President, Controllership, Finance and Tax
- James Pitaro, Chairman, ESPN and Sports Content
- Paul Richardson, Senior Executive Vice President and Chief Human Resources Officer
- Latondra Newton, Senior Vice President, Chief Diversity Officer
- Kristina Schake, Senior Executive Vice President and Chief Communications Officer
- Dana Walden, Chairman, Disney General Entertainment Content
- Executive chairmen
- Bob Iger (2020–2021)
Walt Disney stepped down as chairman in 1960 to focus more on the creative aspects of the company, becoming the "executive producer in charge of all production."
After a four-year vacancy, Roy O. Disney became chairman.
- Walt Disney (1945–1960)
- Roy O. Disney (1964–1971)
- Donn Tatum (1971–1980)
- Card Walker (1980–1983)
- Raymond Watson (1983–1984)
- Michael Eisner (1984–2004)
- George J. Mitchell (2004–2006)
- John E. Pepper Jr. (2007–2012)
- Bob Iger (2012–2021)
- Susan Arnold (2022–present)
- Vice chairmen
- Walt Disney (1923–1945)
- Roy O. Disney (1945–1968)
- Donn Tatum (1968–1971)
- Card Walker (1971–1980)
- Ron W. Miller (1980–1984)
- Frank Wells (1984–1994)
- Michael Ovitz (1995–1997)
- Michael Eisner (1997–2000)
- Bob Iger (2000–2012)
- Chief executive officers (CEO)
- Roy O. Disney (1929–1971)
- Donn Tatum (1971–1976)
- Card Walker (1976–1983)
- Ron W. Miller (1983–1984)
- Michael Eisner (1984–2005)
- Bob Iger (2005–2020; 2022–present)
- Bob Chapek (2020–2022)
- Chief operating officers
- Card Walker (1968–1976)
- Ron W. Miller (1980–1984)
- Frank Wells (1984–1994)
- Thomas O. Staggs (2015–2016)
The Walt Disney Company is one of the world's largest entertainment companies and is considered to be a pioneer in the animation industry, having produced 790 features with 122 of the being animated films. Many of their films are considered to be the greatest of all time, including films such as Pinocchio, Toy Story, Bambi, Ratatouille, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Mary Poppins, and more. As of 2022, the company has won a combined total of 135 Academy Awards, with 32 of them coming from Walt. They have won 16 Academy Awards for Best Animated Short Film, 16 for Best Original Song, 15 for Best Animated Feature, 11 for Best Original Score, 5 for Best Documentary Feature, 5 for Best Visual Effects, and several others as well as a various amount of special awards. In addition, Disney has also won 29 Golden Globe Awards, 51 British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) awards, and 36 Grammy Awards as of 2022.[d] Disney has also created some of the most influential and memorable fictional characters of all time, such as Mickey Mouse, Woody, Captain America (MCU), Jack Sparrow, Iron Man (MCU), and Elsa.
Disney has also been recognized by revolutionizing the animation industry. Den of Geek has said that the risk of making the first animated feature Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs has "changed cinema." The company, mainly through Walt, has been said to introduce more advanced techniques for animating, technological breakthroughs, as well as adding personalities to characters. Some of Disney's technological breakthroughs for animation include the creation of the multiplane camera, xerography, CAPS, deep canvas, and RenderMan. Many Disney songs from the films have also become extremely popular, with several appearing at the number one position on Billboard's Hot 100. Other songs from the Silly Symphonies series became immensely popular and were heard all throughout the nation.
Disney has been ranked number 53 in the 2022 Fortune 500 list of the largest United States corporations by total revenue and number 4 in Fortune's 2022 "World's Most Admired Companies". Smithsonian Magazine declared that there is very "few symbols of pure Americana more potent than the Disney theme parks", and that they are "well-established cultural icons", with the company name and Mickey Mouse being "household names". Disney is also one of the biggest competitors in the theme park industry with 12 parks, all of which were the top 25 most visited parks in 2018. Disney had over 157 million visitors at their theme parks worldwide, making it the most visited theme park company in the world, doubling the attendance number of the company in second. Of the 157 million visitors, the Magic Kingdom made up a total of 20.8 million of the guests, making it the most visited theme park in the world. When Disney first started getting into the theme park industry, CNN stated, "It changed an already legendary company. And it changed the entire theme park industry." Walt Disney World has also been said to have "changed entertainment by showing how a theme park could help make a company into a lifestyle brand" by The Orange County Register.
Criticism and controversies
The Walt Disney Company has been criticized for the purportedly sexist and racist content in the past as well putting LGBT elements in their films and not having enough LGBT representation. There has also been controversies over alleged plagiarism, offering poor pay and working conditions, and treating animals poorly. Several films of Disney have been considered to be racist. One of Disney's most controversial films, Song of the South, was criticized for having wrongful stereotypes portrayed as racist. For that reason, the film was never released to home video or Disney+. Other things that have been called out as racist are Sunflower, the black centaurette who serves a white centaurette from Fantasia, the Siamese cats from Lady and the Tramp, who are considered to be overly exaggerated as Asians, stereotypes of the Native Americans tribe in Peter Pan, and the crows from Dumbo, who are depicted as African Americans that use jive, with their leader being named Jim Crow, which is considered to be a racist term referring to segregation laws. When watching a film on Disney+ considered to have wrongful racist stereotypes, Disney added a disclaimer before the film starts to help avoid controversies.
Disney has also been accused a number of times for plagiarism in their films from already existing works. Most notably, The Lion King has been accused of having many similarities in its characters and events to an animated series called Kimba the White Lion by animator Osamu Tezuka. Another film that Disney got criticized for having many similarities to the anime show Nadia: The Secret of Blue Water was Atlantis: The Lost Empire. The similarities were considered so prevalent that the studios' creator Gainax was going to sue Disney but was stopped by its series' network NHK. Creator of the short The Snowman (2014), Kelly Wilson, filed two lawsuits, one which came after the first one was dropped, against Disney for copyright infringement of her short in their animated film Frozen. Disney later settled the lawsuit and made a deal with her, allowing the company to create a sequel for the film. Screenwriter Gary L. Goldman sued Disney over their creation of Zootopia, claiming that he had pitched a same-titled story exactly like it to them in the past. A judge later dismissed the lawsuit stating that there was not enough evidence to prove any plagiarism.
Disney has received criticism for both putting LGBT elements into their films and not putting enough LGBT representation in its media. In the live-action film Beauty and the Beast, director Bill Condon announced that LeFou would come out as a gay character. This caused Kuwait, Malaysia, and a theater in Alabama to ban the film, along with Russia giving it a stricter rating. In Russia and several Middle Eastern countries, the Pixar movie Onward was banned for having Disney's first openly lesbian character, Officer Specter, while others said that Disney needed to put more representation of LGBT into its media. Because of a scene featuring two lesbians kissing, Pixar's Lightyear was banned in 13 predominantly Muslim countries, with the film barely breaking even at the box office. In a video of a leaked Disney meeting, participants talked about pushing LGBT themes in the company's media, making some people angry at Disney saying that they are "trying to sexualize children", while others applauded their actions.
Some Disney princess films have been considered to be sexist towards women. Snow White is said to be too worried about her appearance, while Cinderella is deemed to have no talents. Aurora is also said to not be strong, as she is always waiting to be rescued. Other things in princess films that are regarded as sexist are that in some of them men have more dialogue and have more speaking characters. Disney's newer films are considered to be an improvement when it comes to sexism than their older ones.
In 1990, Disney paid US$95,000 to avoid going to court over 16 animal cruelty charges for beating vultures to death, shooting at birds, and starving some of them at Discovery Island. They did so because they were attacking other animals and taking their food. When Animal Kingdom first opened, there were concerns about the animals because a few of them died. Protest from animal rights groups occurred, but the United States Department of Agriculture found no violations of animal-welfare regulations. Disney is also said to have poor working conditions. A protest of 2,000 workers occurred at Disneyland for poor pay at an average of $13 an hour, with some saying that they were evicted from their home or apartment. In 2010, at a factory in China where Disney products were being made, workers went over the law by three times for working hours and one of the workers committed suicide.
|Year||Studio Entertainment[e]||Disney Consumer Products[f]||Disney Interactive Media||Parks & Resorts[g]||Disney Media Networks[h]||Total||Source|
|Year||Studio Entertainment||Direct-to-Consumer & International||Parks, Experiences and Products||Media Networks[h]||Total||Source|
|Year||Media and Entertainment Distribution||Parks, Experiences and Products||Total||Source|
|Year||Studio Entertainment[e]||Disney Consumer Products[f]||Disney Interactive Media||Parks and Resorts[g]||Disney Media Networks[h]||Total||Source|
|Year||Studio Entertainment||Direct-to-Consumer & International||Parks, Experiences and Products||Disney Media Networks||Total||Source|
|Year||Media and Entertainment Distribution||Parks, Experiences and Products||Total||Source|
|Rank||Title||Year||Box office gross|
|2||Star Wars: The Force Awakens||2015||$2,064,615,817|
|3||Avengers: Infinity War||2018||$2,048,359,754|
|4||The Lion King||2019||$1,654,367,425|
|7||Avengers: Age of Ultron||2015||$1,395,316,979|
|9||Star Wars: The Last Jedi||2017||$1,331,635,141|
|10||Beauty and the Beast||2017||$1,273,109,220|
|13||Iron Man 3||2013||$1,215,392,272|
|14||Captain America: Civil War||2016||$1,151,918,521|
|16||Toy Story 4||2019||$1,073,080,329|
|17||Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker||2019||$1,072,848,487|
|18||Toy Story 3||2010||$1,068,879,522|
|19||Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest||2006||$1,066,179,725|
|20||Rogue One: A Star Wars Story||2016||$1,055,135,598|
|22||Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides||2011||$1,045,713,802|
|23||Alice in Wonderland||2010||$1,025,491,110|
|Rank||Title||Year||Box office gross|
|4||Toy Story 4||2019||$1,073,080,329|
|5||Toy Story 3||2010||$1,068,879,522|
|8||The Lion King||1994||$986,214,868|
|14||Big Hero 6||2014||$649,657,407|
|23||Ralph Breaks The Internet||2018||$529,290,830|
|24||Toy Story 2||1999||$511,358,276|
- Lists of films released by Disney
- List of Disney television series
- Disney University
- Buena Vista
- Mandeville-Anthony v. Walt Disney Co., a federal court case in which Mandeville claimed Disney infringed on his copyrighted ideas by creating Cars
- List of conglomerates
- List of acquisitions by Disney
- "WED" is from the initials of Walter Elias Disney.
- Although July 17 was supposed to be preview opening foregoing the public opening the next day, Disneyland uses July 17 as its official opening day.
- His official title was co. vice chairman.
- List of references for Grammy Awards: 
- Also named Films and Film Entertainment
- Merged into Creative Content in 1996, merged into Consumer Products and Interactive Media in 2016, which merged with Parks & Resorts in 2018
- Called Walt Disney Attractions (1989–2000), Walt Disney Parks and Resorts (2000–2005), Disney Destinations (2005–2008), and Walt Disney Parks and Resorts Worldwide (2008–2018)
- Broadcasting from 1994 to 1996
- Following the purchase of Capital Cities/ABC Inc.
- First year with Marvel Entertainment as part of results
- Not linked to WDIG, Disney reported a $300M loss due to financial modification regarding real estate
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