Disney’s Imagineers “Brain Trust” Leaving California for Florida’s “Business Friendly Climate”

(p. B3) Disney executives told roughly 2,000 workers in Southern California—including many members of its famed Imagineers force—that their jobs would be moving to a new campus in Orlando.

. . .

Though Disney’s narrative on Wall Street has lately focused on its streaming efforts, any change to the parks that are beloved by consumers and protected by employees carries symbolic resonance.

That is especially true for the Imagineers, which have become one of Disney’s most revered and mysterious workforces. Since their founding in the mid-20th century, the Imagineers have been credited by fans and Walt Disney himself with innovating some of the signature touches found in Disney theme parks, including beyond traditional entertainment.

. . .

The costly nature of Disney’s new office points to the sophistication of the tech operations moving there. The Imagineers in particular have come to be known as a Disney brain trust, with new employees joining from Google Inc. or the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

As the scope of Disney’s parks division has grown, smaller groups of Imagineers have been based in Florida, Shanghai and other parts of the world. With this most recent announcement, the largest concentration of Imagineers will no longer be based in Southern California for the first time since their founding.

Imagineer projects have included the Haunted Mansion and Soarin’ Around the World as well as newer additions such as the Avengers Campus and a “Zootopia”-themed land. Employees are immersed in the Imagineer way: to constantly “plus” their work—that is, make every detail a bit better—and think of each project in a “blue sky” way with no limitations.

Josh D’Amaro, the Disney executive overseeing the relocation, recently ended a parks presentation with a clip of Imagineers watching a walking robotic “Groot” from the film “Guardians of the Galaxy.” And then he wielded a “Star Wars” lightsaber.

“It’s real,” he added, two words that sent online fandoms into frantic speculation over what the Imagineers were cooking up. Patent applications routinely stream out of the division, many dissected by parks disciples for clues about what changes might be afoot.

In announcing the change, Mr. D’Amaro, head of Disney’s parks, experiences and products division since May 2020, said the decision didn’t come lightly since he had moved his own family across the country while climbing Disney’s ranks. He cited Florida’s business-friendly climate in announcing the move and pointed out to employees that the state offered a lower cost of living with no state income tax.

For the full story, see:

Erich Schwartzel “Disney Magic Makers to Relocate.” The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, July 24, 2021): B3.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date July 23, 2021, and has the title “Disney Looks to Relocate Its Theme-Park Magic Makers to Florida.” Where there is a slight difference in wording, the quotes above follow the online version.)

The Walt Disney Company Cheats Scarlett Johansson

Walt Disney is one of my heroes. The current Walt Disney Company is not.

(p. B1) The fight between actress Scarlett Johansson and Walt Disney Co. over her contract for the movie “Black Widow” has a new participant: the powerful Creative Artists Agency, which represents Ms. Johansson and many of Hollywood’s biggest stars.

On Thursday, Ms. Johansson filed a lawsuit against Disney alleging her contract was breached when the company decided to put “Black Widow” on its Disney+ streaming service at the same time it was released in movie theaters.

. . .

“They have shamelessly and falsely accused Ms. Johansson of being insensitive to the global Covid pandemic,” CAA Co-Chairman Bryan Lourd said in a statement.

Mr. Lourd blasted Disney for releasing details of Ms. Johansson’s salary and for attempting to tie (p. B2) her lawsuit to the pandemic. Disney “included her salary in their press statement in an attempt to weaponize her success as an artist and businesswoman, as if that were something she should be ashamed of,” he added.

Mr. Lourd said Disney’s response to Ms. Johansson is an attack on her character that is “beneath the company that many of us in the creative community have worked with successfully for decades.”

. . .

“They have very deliberately moved the revenue stream and profits to the Disney+ side of the company, leaving artistic and financial partners out of their new equation. That’s it, pure and simple,” Mr. Lourd said.

For the full story, see:

Joe Flint. “Johansson’s Agent Rips Disney Over Film Flap.” The Wall Street Journal (Sat., July 31, 2021): B1-B2.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date July 30, 2021, and has the title “Scarlett Johansson’s Agent Rips Disney Over ‘Black Widow’ Dispute.”)

Video of Diamond Q&A on Innovation Unbound Posted to YouTube

On 3/17/21 Derek Yonai posted my 3/16/21 live Q&A session related to my “Innovation Unbound” lecture that was recorded on 3/1/21 and posted on 3/9/21. Some of my lecture and some of my answers in the Q&A, were related to my book:

Diamond, Arthur M., Jr. Openness to Creative Destruction: Sustaining Innovative Dynamism. New York: Oxford University Press, 2019.

Disney Cancels Canaro for Daring to Defend Free Speech

(p. B2) Lucasfilm said it is no longer working with Gina Carano after the actress’s social-media posts angered fans.

Ms. Carano played the character Cara Dune on “The Mandalorian,” a television series inspired by the Star Wars franchise that is available to stream on Walt Disney Co.’s Disney+ service. Lucasfilm is a unit of Disney.

“Gina Carano is not currently employed by Lucasfilm and there are no plans for her to be in the future,” a spokeswoman for the studio said. “Nevertheless, her social media posts denigrating people based on their cultural and religious identities are abhorrent and unacceptable.”

On Tuesday [Feb. 9, 2021], Ms. Carano shared an Instagram story, or a post that disappears, that read in part: “most people today don’t realize that to get to the point where Nazi soldiers could easily round up thousands of Jews, the government first made their own neighbors hate them simply for being Jews. How is that any different from hating someone for their political views,” according to a report in Variety on Wednesday [Feb. 10, 2021].

For the full story, see:

Micah Maidenberg. “‘Mandalorian’ Drops Actress Over Her Posts.” The Wall Street Journal (Friday, Feb 12, 2021): B2.

(Note: bracketed dates added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date February 11, 2021, and has the title “‘The Mandalorian’ Drops Actress Gina Carano Over Social-Media Posts.”)

Early Animation “Followed Only One Rule”: “Anything Goes”

(p. C5) The story of Disney Studios is a central strand in Mitenbuler’s narrative; Disney became the formidable force that the other animation studios would look toward, compete with and rail against. Max Fleischer, whose studio was responsible for the likes of Popeye and Betty Boop, groused that Disney’s “Snow White,” released in 1937, was “too arty.”  . . .  The wife of one of the Fleischer brothers, though, said they had better watch out: “Disney is doing art, and you guys are still slapping characters on the butt with sticks!”

But what if those slapped butts were part of what had made animation so revolutionary in the first place? Mitenbuler suggests as much, beginning “Wild Minds” with the early days of animation, in the first decades of the 20th century, when the technology of moving pictures was still in its infancy. Like the movie business in general, the field of animation contained few barriers to entry, and a number of Jewish immigrants shut out from other careers found they could make a decent living working for a studio or opening up their own. Even Disney, who grew up in the Midwest, was an outsider without any connections.

The work created in those early decades was often gleefully contemptuous of anything that aspired to good taste. Until the movie studios started self-censoring in the early ’30s, in a bid to avoid government regulation, animators typically followed only one rule to the letter: Anything goes.

For the full review, see:

Jennifer Szalai. “BOOKS OF THE TIMES: Ehh, What’s Animation, Doc?” The New York Times (Thursday, December 17, 2020): C5.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Dec. 16, 2020, and has the title “BOOKS OF THE TIMES: ‘Fantasia,’ ‘Snow White,’ Betty Boop, Popeye and the First Golden Age of Animation.”)

The book under review is:

Mitenbuler, Reid. Wild Minds: The Artists and Rivalries That Inspired the Golden Age of Animation. New York: Atlantic Monthly Press, 2020.

Disney’s Mulan Movie Credits Chinese Communists Who Force Uighur Muslims Into Prison Camps

(p. A10) Disney’s live-action remake of “Mulan” has drawn a fresh wave of criticism for being filmed partly in Xinjiang, the region in China where Uighur Muslims have been detained in mass internment camps.

The outcry, which has spread to include U.S. lawmakers, was the latest example of how the new film, released on Disney+ over the weekend, has become a magnet for anger over the Chinese Communist Party’s policies promoting nationalism and ethnic Han chauvinism.

. . .

The film was already coming under fire months ago, facing calls for a boycott by supporters of the Hong Kong antigovernment protests after the movie’s star, Liu Yifei, said she backed the city’s police, who have been criticized for their use of force against pro-democracy demonstrators.

Last month, as Disney ramped up promotion for the new film, supporters of the Hong Kong protests anointed Agnes Chow, a prominent democracy activist who was recently arrested under the territory’s new national security law, as their own, “real” Mulan.

Rayhan Asat, an ethnic Uighur lawyer in Washington whose younger brother, Ekpar Asat, has been imprisoned in Xinjiang, said in an interview that Disney giving credit to Xinjiang government agencies “runs counter to the ideals of those in the artistic, business and entertainment communities.”

“Devastatingly, Disney’s support amounts to collaboration and enables repression,” she added. “Those who claim to champion freedom in the world cannot afford to ignore such complicity.”

. . .

Last year, Mr. Pence criticized American companies for trying to silence speech in order to maintain access to the Chinese market. He accused Nike of checking its “conscience at the door” and owners and players in the N.B.A. of “siding with the Chinese Communist Party” by suppressing support for the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong.

In July [2020], an ESPN investigation described reports of abuse of young players at the National Basketball Association’s player-development training camps in China, including in Xinjiang. After the investigation was published, the N.B.A. acknowledged for the first time that it had ended its relationship with the Xinjiang academy more than a year earlier, but declined to say whether human rights had been a factor.

On Monday, calls to boycott “Mulan” began growing on social media. Among the critics was Joshua Wong, a prominent Hong Kong pro-democracy activist, who accused Disney of bowing to pressure from Beijing. Supporters in Thailand and Taiwan had also urged a boycott of the movie, citing concerns about China’s growing influence in the region.

For the full story, see:

Amy Qin and Edward Wong. “Calls Grow to Boycott ‘Mulan’ Over China’s Treatment of Uighur Muslims.” The New York Times (Wednesday, September 9, 2020): A10.

(Note: ellipses, and bracketed year, added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Sept. 8, 2020, and has the title “Why Calls to Boycott ‘Mulan’ Over Concerns About China Are Growing.” Where the online and print versions differ, the passages above follow the print version.)

Agnes Chow Is “the Real Mulan”

The first “Mulan” below is the Disney actress Liu Yifei, who has expressed support for the suppression of freedom in Hong Kong. The third “Mulan” below is Agnes Chow, the 23 year-old Hong Kong freedom activist who the Beijing communists arrested under their new Hong Kong “security” law.

Meme viral on Twitter.

(p. A10) HONG KONG — Soon after one of Hong Kong’s best-known democracy activists was arrested this week under the national security law imposed on the city by the Chinese government, supporters turned her into a “Mulan” meme.

The social media storm around the activist, Agnes Chow, coincided with Disney’s online campaign for its upcoming movie “Mulan,” about the Chinese folk heroine who disguises herself as a man to stand in for her ailing father in the army. Disney’s slogan: “The legend arrives.”

Supporters on Twitter quickly anointed Ms. Chow, 23, “the real Mulan.” One meme featured three images, each accompanied by text: the “Mulan” star Liu Yifei (“I want the real Mulan”); the cartoon version of Mulan from Disney’s animated 1998 film (“I said the real Mulan”); and Ms. Chow (“Perfection”).

. . .

Ms. Chow, a former leader of the now-disbanded pro-democracy group Demosisto, was among 10 people arrested on Monday [August 10, 2020] on suspicion of violating the security law. She was detained hours after 200 police officers converged on the newsroom of Apple Daily, a publication owned by the media mogul Jimmy Lai, who is a vocal critic of the Chinese government. He, his two sons and other executives from his company were arrested.

. . .

Ms. Liu, the Chinese actress who plays Mulan in the movie, drew a backlash last August when she sided with the Hong Kong police against the protesters on the microblogging platform Weibo, where she had nearly 66 million followers at the time. The police have been accused of excessive force in dealing with the protests.

When Ms. Liu shared the quote “I support the Hong Kong police, you all can beat me up now,” adding a heart and a bicep emoji, the blowback was swift, with supporters of the protests calling for a boycott of “Mulan.”

For the full story, see:

Elaine Yu. “Supporters of Activist in Hong Kong Draft Mulan.” The New York Times (Friday, August 14, 2020): A10.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date August 13, 2020, and has the title “After Agnes Chow Is Arrested in Hong Kong, a ‘Mulan’ Meme Is Born.” Where there are slight differences in wording between the versions in the passages quoted, the online version appears above. The online version does not list an author. I cite James Barron, who is listed as the author in the print version.)

Disney Will Only Re-Open a Park When It Can “Cover Its Variable Costs”

(p. B14) Disney Chief Executive Officer Bob Chapek has maintained that the company wouldn’t reopen a park without at least the ability to cover its variable costs, but analysts expect more will be needed to get parks fully back into the black. Bernstein analyst Todd Juenger estimates Disney’s parks would need to be at 60% of their “normal run-rate attendance” to reach break-even on a pretax basis.

. . .

On Thursday, [June 25, 2020] UBS reported results of a survey of 2,000 U.S. consumers conducted earlier this month. In that survey, among the respondents who had cited worries about social distancing as keeping them from visiting, nearly two-thirds said they would only consider attending a Disney park once a vaccine is available.

For the full story, see:

Dan Gallagher. “The Magic Kingdom Is Losing Its Spell.” The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, June 27, 2020): B14.

(Note: ellipsis, and bracketed date, added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date June 26, 2020, and has the title “Disney’s Parks Need a Cure.”)

“The Ever-Evolving Standards of Wokeness”

(p. A6) . . . I was pleased this month when “Hamilton” became available to watch on the streaming service Disney+. But now the show is being criticized for its portrayal of the American Founding by many of the same people who once gushed about it. Is it a coincidence that affluent people loved “Hamilton” when tickets were prohibitively expensive, but they disparage it now that ordinary people can see it?

. . .

The upper classes are driven to distinguish themselves from the little people even beyond art. This explains the ever-evolving standards of wokeness. To become acculturated into the elite requires knowing the habits, customs and manners of the upper class. Ideological purity tests now exist to indicate social class and block upward social mobility. Your opinion about social issues is the new powdered wig. In universities and in professional jobs, political correctness is a weapon used by white-collar professionals to weed out those who didn’t marinate in elite mores.

. . .

To understand the neologisms and practices of social justice, you need a bachelor’s degree from an expensive college. A common refrain to those who are not fully up to date on the latest fashions is “Educate yourself.” This is a way of keeping down people who work multiple jobs, have children to care for, and don’t have the time or means to read the latest woke bestseller.

For the full commentary, see:

Rob Henderson. “‘Hamilton’ Loses Its Snob Appeal.” The Wall Street Journal (Weds., July 15, 2020): A19.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date June 14, 2020, and has the same title as the print version.)

When Khrushchev Voted With His Feet for Freedom

(p. A23) Sergei N. Khrushchev, a former Soviet rocket scientist and the son of Nikita S. Khrushchev, the Soviet leader during the Cold War of the 1950s and ’60s, died on June 18 [2020] at his home in Cranston, R.I.

. . .

“I’m not a defector,” Sergei Khrushchev told The Providence Journal in 2001. “I’m not a traitor. I did not commit any treason. I work here and I like this country.”

Still, he said, he felt that becoming an American citizen had given him a new lease on life. “I’m feeling like a newborn,” he told The A.P. “It’s the beginning of a new life.”

. . .

Americans had a close-up look at the Soviet leader and his family in 1959, when he visited the United States at the invitation of President Dwight D. Eisenhower.

. . .

Sergei Khrushchev said years later, in the interview with The Providence Journal, that during that trip his family felt as if they had landed on Mars, seeing things they had never imagined. “It was palms, cars, highways, everything,” he said. He took home movies of it all, including Times Square.

They were especially baffled by the concept of Disneyland, then four years old but already a top attraction in Southern California. When told that his family would not be allowed to visit the park out of concerns for their safety, the premier exploded in anger: “What is it? Is there an epidemic of cholera there or something? Or have gangsters taken hold of the place?”

For the full obituary, see:

Katharine Q. Seelye. “Sergei N. Khrushchev, 84, Rocket Scientist and the Son of a Former Soviet Premier.” The New York Times (Thursday, June 25, 2020): A23.

(Note: ellipses, and bracketed date, added.)

(Note: the online version of the obituary has the date June 24, 2020, and the title “Sergei Khrushchev, Son of Former Soviet Premier, Dies at 84.”)