Reversing Disney's decline
In life, some people play checkers. Others play chess. On first glance, the agreement for Disney to buy Pixar Animation Studios for $7.4 billion seems like a move by a checkers player. A few Disney animated features do poorly at the box office, and the longtime Eden of Animation is bringing in outsiders to make cartoons for it? Walt must be spinning in his cryonic chamber.
Well, all of that thinking (including the urban legend surrounding Mr. Disney's remains) is nonsense. Disney President and CEO Robert Iger, dramatically acting to reverse the fortunes of his company, is thinking like a chess player. His acquisition of Pixar, which had produced such megahits in conjunction with the Mouse House as "Toy Story," "A Bug's Life" and "The Incredibles," will be paying dividends in any number of directions for the foreseeable future.
First, it cements the short term. Disney and Pixar are about to release "Cars," which seemed destined to be the last in the wildly successful collaboration between the two companies. Pixar's CEO Steve Jobs, of Apple Computer fame, had found it difficult to negotiate with Mr. Iger's predecessor, Michael Eisner, and the word on the street (Wall and others) was that the two companies would definitely go separate ways.
But when Mr. Iger took over for Mr. Eisner earlier than planned, and took hold of the negotiations himself, the divorce became less inevitable. Thinking like a chess player, someone who needs to see a number of moves ahead of the current board, Mr. Iger knew that losing Pixar could be disastrous. This became clearer when Disney's latest in-house attempt at a computer-animated hit, "Chicken Little," laid an egg at the box office. It was clear that for Disneytocontinueasa powerhouse in animated entertainment -- a field it had pretty much invented and perfected over six decades -- it needed Pixar, at least right now.