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Home --> News Archive: June, 2007
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DisneyToons Sharon Morrill sacked over 'Tinkerbell' problems
From From Variety   Written by: Dave McNary and Peter Gilstrap with Ben Fritz
June 22, 2007

Disney has ousted Sharon Morrill, long-time head of its DisneyToons direct-to-DVD operations. Morrill was sacked on Monday from her post as president on returning from a vacation even though she has another year and a half on a five-year contract that she signed in late 2003.

A rep for the Mouse House said Morrill was being moved into another slot dealing with special projects, but would not elaborate. The key problem apparently stemmed from costs that had ballooned to nearly $50 million on the "The Tinkerbell Movie" project.

"Tinkerbell" has seen close to two dozen versions of the script and a dozen different directors. Multiple sources also said that Morrill, who had headed DisneyToons since its inception in 1994, has repeatedly clashed with Pixar Animation toppers John Lasseter and Ed Catmull over creative differences on "Tinkerbell" following Disney's puchase of Pixar early last year.

As part of that deal, Lasseter and Catmull were put on top of Walt Disney Animation Studios. Though the two did not directly oversee DisneyToons, they are said to have gotten increasingly involved in the unit's operations.

DisneyToons had announced a year ago at the Licensing Fair in New York that it had lined up Brittany Murphy to voice the Tinkerbell character. Other voices cast include Kristin Chenoweth, Cameron Bowen, Emma Hunton, Zach Shada and America Young.

Morrill began the division in 1994 with the marching orders of extending Disney's animated franchises. The operation produced several features, including "Piglet's Big Movie," "Pooh's Heffalump Movie," "The Jungle Book 2" and "The Tigger Movie" along with homevideo titles such as "Bambi II," "Brother Bear 2," "Lion King 2: Simba's Pride," "Lady and the Tramp 2," "Pooh's Grand Adventure" and "Lion King 1 ½."

Disney Channel orders more 'Pooh'
From From Variety   Written by: Michael Schneider
June 22, 2007

Sweet news for honey-loving Winnie the Pooh: Disney Channel has picked up a second season of its new preschool entry "My Friends Tigger & Pooh."

The first-ever computer-generated Winnie the Pooh series (coming on the heels of Disney Channel's hit CG entry "Mickey Mouse Clubhouse"), "My Friends Tigger & Pooh" launched last month to strong results among the potty-training set. The half-hour airs during Disney Channel's Preschool Disney block. Since its bow, "My Friends Tigger & Pooh" has ranked No. 1 among all TV shows in kids 2-5 (with a 5.2 rating). Show also ranks tops among kid series with women 18-49 (0.7 rating), according to the network.

"From day one, 'My Friends Tigger & Pooh' resonated with our audience, and we were able to introduce a new generation of preschoolers to these lovable characters," said Nancy Kanter, senior VP of original programming at Disney Channel. "We hope to continue to create fun-filled storylines that help encourage young minds to think, share and learn the importance of teamwork, community and friendship."

The show focuses on the classic A.A. Milne characters of Winnie the Pooh, Tigger, Piglet, Eeyore and others, but adds a young girl to the mix -- the curious 6-year-old Darby -- replacing traditional character Christopher Robin. Tigger, Pooh and Darby make up the "Super Sleuths," who stress thinking skills to solve problems. "My Friends Tigger & Pooh" has also started to launch internationally. The series is now airing in France and started running this week in Canada.

Brian Hohlfeld exec produces "My Friends Tigger & Pooh," which comes from Walt Disney Television Animation. Show airs weekends at 10 a.m.

Apted signs on to direct third Narnia featre
From a Disney press release  
June 21, 2007

Acclaimed filmmaker Michael Apted has signed on to direct Walt Disney Pictures/Walden Media's The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. Thi

s third installment in the epic film series that includes the 2005 worldwide blockbuster, The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, and the upcoming 2008 release of The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian, will begin filming in January 2008 and it is set for a May 1, 2009 release date.

Among the cast members set to reprise their roles in The Voyage of Dawn Treader are Ben Barnes (who stars in the title role of Prince Caspian), Georgie Henley (Lucy) and Skandar Keynes (Edmund). advertisement

Apted's directing credits include The World is Not Enough, Gorky Park, Gorillas in the Mist, and Coal Miner's Daughter (a seven-time Oscar nominee), as well as his most recent film Amazing Grace (for Walden Media's sister company Bristol Bay Productions), the first three episodes of the HBO dramatic series, Rome, and the latest installment in his landmark documentary, 49 Up.

Disney safari tale alters a tad
From From the Orlando Sentinel   Written by: Dewayne Bevil
June 16, 2007
The buzz: We had heard that the narration had changed on Kilimanjaro Safaris at Disney's Animal Kingdom, and now we have firsthand confirmation. It's different, but not jarring.

What this means to you: Wilson, the warden reporting from a helicopter, is still in touch with your driver, but there's nary a peep from his former guest, the very British Ms. Jobson.

Sadly, that means no "Tommies . . . tommies" line to imitate for the rest of the day.

What we observed: It seemed Wilson was talking less frequently, and that the role of our driver, Alex, was enhanced. The poachers story line lives on but wasn't emphasized. Near the end, the safety of Little Red (who has wandered off) is demonstrated, and there's reference to making sure the mom is OK too.

Side note: Despite the heat, lots of animals were meandering during our Monday safari, including one aggressive giraffe whose head came very close to entering our vehicle.

"He's a little possessive of his girlfriend," explained Alex.

SoCal lawyer convicted of embezzling from Walt Disney's secretary
From From The Associated Press   Written by: Staff Writer
June 16, 2007

A Palos Verdes attorney was convicted of embezzling $150,000 from the trust fund he set up for an elderly woman who once worked as Walt Disney's secretary.

Superior Court jurors deliberated only two hours Friday before convicting Salvatore Patrick Osio, 69, prosecutor Sean Hassett said.

Osio said Saturday that he would appeal.

"They (jurors) didn't review any documents, transcripts or exhibits, which were considerable," Osio said. "They took the shortcut and rushed to judgment without proper deliberation. We are concerned that the prosecutor's very inflammatory closing argument and mischaracterization of the evidence was very prejudicial."

Prosecutors contended that Osio embezzled the money from a trust fund he was hired to set up for Alicia Waters and her husband, Henry, in 2002. She discovered the money missing after her husband's death, authorities said. She died in 2005 at age 92.

Osio was convicted of one count each of grand theft, theft from an elder, forgery and perjury.

He remains free on bail but could face up to six years and eight months in state prison when he is sentenced next month.

Back from the depths: Nine years after management deep-sixed it, Disneyland's submarine ride has returned.
From From the Los Angeles Times   Written by: Kim Yoshino
June 11, 2007

It was an underwater battle of epic proportions, pitting the creative types against the cost-cutting suits. But after nearly 10 years, Disneyland's classic Submarine Voyage was resurrected from the deep today.

Reinvented as the Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage, the long-dormant and eagerly anticipated attraction immerses riders in a 12-minute journey through a coral reef, exploding volcano and shark-infested wreck as they search for the orange-and-white clown fish of movie fame. With its impressive animation and spotlessly reconditioned bright-yellow submersibles, park-goers might just forget that the area of the theme park containing the ride — which Walt Disney himself helped conceive — was nearly paved over.

It was 1998 when Disneyland grounded the submarine fleet, calling it costly and dated. Then park President Paul Pressler, leader of the park bean-counters, wanted the ride shut down because it hogged space, proved too expensive to maintain and cycled riders through too slowly.

But the ride had its champions, including Marty Sklar, then Disney's creative chief. He publicly threatened to lie down on the busy street that fronts Disneyland to prevent the subs from being deep-sixed. It was a rare case of an internal Walt Disney Co. dispute being thrust into the public eye.

"Oh, I said it," Sklar said. "I meant it. I'm sure glad I didn't have to throw myself across Harbor Boulevard…. I never gave up."

Over the years, Disney so-called Imagineers lobbied for various overhaul ideas, such as redoing the attraction with a "Little Mermaid" theme, or a lost city of Atlantis vibe. When none stuck, concern grew that the ride couldn't be saved.

A similar attraction at Walt Disney World in Florida was paved over and turned into Pooh's Playful Spot, a glorified playground for toddlers. At Disneyland, the lagoon sits in a prime Tomorrowland location near Autopia and the Matterhorn.

Those who have followed its long journey back say the return is a testament to Disney's creative Imagineering arm and a nod to nostalgia.

"Never underestimate the power of Southern California baby boomers," said Jim Hill, who writes a popular Disney blog. "This was a piece of their childhood…. We're talking about nostalgia and all that. That's what's powering this."

The original ride opened in 1959, a year after the Navy's nuclear-powered Nautilus captured the public's fancy by becoming the first submarine to travel under the polar ice cap. In its honor, Disney named one of his eight 52-foot subs "Nautilus," and it remains today. Walt Disney was proud that he commanded the world's eighth-largest submarine fleet and even hoped to show it off to then-Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev, but that visit was canceled over security concerns.

But over time, the subs' allure waned. Paint on the colored fish faded. In the late 1960s, there was an effort to spice up the ride with live, bikini-clad mermaids. Before long, though, the maidens of the sea disappeared from the lagoon after too many over-eager visitors tried to swim out and have photos taken with them.

By the 1980s, maintenance had become a nightmare, with cracks in the lagoon allowing thousands of gallons of water to seep out daily, according to David Koenig, author of "More Mouse Tales." Park-goers began bypassing the ride in favor of more exciting attractions.

Veteran park watchers figured the subs' demise was inevitable, especially when park management in the mid-1990s shut down other attractions such as the skyway to Tomorrowland, people movers and the keel boats. Months before the sub ride closed in 1998 and amid rumors of its demise, Imagineers — most notably Bruce Gordon and Tony Baxter — attempted to pressure the budget-crunchers to commit to reopening the ride.

They quietly hoisted a flag and put up near the Submarine Voyage a sign reading "Atlantis Expedition Imagineering Preparation Base." The move set off a flurry of speculation and rallied fans, who became convinced that an announcement of a new ride was imminent.

"They were trying to plant — not even a subliminal hint, but low-key subtle encouragement, 'Don't worry, we're working on something new,'" Koenig said.

The two sides were "always locking horns behind the scenes," Koenig said. "But that was one of the rare times in public. They usually don't show it."

The empty lagoon's high-profile location became an eyesore that served as a constant reminder of the park's less-than-pristine condition.

"It just created this jungle [park executives] had to hack their way through," said Al Lutz, editor of miceage.com, a website about all things Disney. "Even when they closed the ride, the fight continued. Everybody that could throw themselves in the way [of closing the ride] — obstruct it, block it, or stop it — did."

One concept for the new ride called for retrofitting the submarines with motion seats, surround sound and fiber-optic effects. The subs would carry people on a search for Atlantis and a lost ship and dodge an attack by an underwater creature.

But Disney's "Atlantis: The Lost Empire" movie tanked at the box office in 2001, forcing the company's Imagineer division to dump that idea. And although it briefly pondered a tie-in with "The Little Mermaid," ride executive producer Kathy Mangum said Ariel's story seemed better suited to Fantasyland.

About that time, Sklar said Disneyland executives renewed their efforts to get rid of the submarines, complaining that they took up too much storage space.

"I said, 'Hold on a minute,' " Sklar recalled. "I told them we're going to hire a naval engineering firm … [which] came back and said, 'Fellas, there's 40, 50 years life left in these things.'"

It was another reprieve.

All the while, Imagineers in Glendale kept working.

"There has always been activity since the day the sub attraction closed," Mangum said. "Somebody here was thinking about how to bring it back."

It wasn't until the movie "Finding Nemo" struck box office gold in 2003, though, that the course ahead became clear.

An entire creative team began devising ways to incorporate Nemo into the submarine ride, Mangum said. It was the first time, Sklar said, that Disney had a solid story line to work with.

Meanwhile, fans continued their scrutiny. Sites popped up on the Internet, including the Submarine Voyage Recommissioning Society. Every little development was dissected, photographed and recorded.

In one September 2003 posting, a Disney fan reported that the lagoon had been drained 18 inches and that boat tests were occurring in the caverns. One month later, a monorail rider breathlessly reported spotting a submarine being moved halfway out of the cavern — only to be moved back in again.

A new Disneyland Resort regime, led by Matt Ouimet, helped bring it back, with an announcement of the new attraction made during the park's successful and lucrative 50th anniversary celebration in 2005.

Disney executives declined to divulge how much the high-tech overhaul — or the long period of dormancy — cost the company, though several park watchers estimate it at well over $70 million.

Many of the economic challenges that encouraged budget-conscious executives to shutter the attraction remain. For example, even with the addition of two seats to each sub, the ride will accommodate only about 1,000 riders an hour, compared to faster-loading attractions such as the Pirates of the Caribbean, which carries about 3,400 people an hour. On a busy weekend, with about 60,000 in daily attendance, only a fraction of park-goers will be able to ride the subs.

Even so, Disneyland is bracing for a booming summer. Internet message boards already are brimming with rave reviews from annual passholders and park employees who have taken early spins on the subs.

"IT WAS AWESOME!!!!! i would TOTALLY WAIT IN LINE for like 6 hours for it," wrote one satisfied rider. Another called it an "amazing experience" to be able to ride "one of my all-time favorite attractions at Disneyland with my two children. The moment absolutely made my day." And even before its official opening to the general public today, dozens of grainy, blurry and dark videos had surfaced on YouTube.

With long lines anticipated, park executives are devising ways to keep guests occupied: They'll be selling extra snacks (cheddar fish crackers) and handing out activity guides. And the Finding Nemo will remain open for up to 2 1/2 hours after the park closes, adding up to what Disneyland calls an "eighth day" in the week.

After all this time, Sklar said, it was worth the wait.

"I had kind of a chill at first," he said of his first trip around the lagoon on the refurbished ride. "I just felt like it was deja vu. But then, everything is so much better than it ever was…. In this business, you never say never."

Famouse Mouse Head MP3 Player
From From the Slippery Brick   Written by: Darrin Olson
June 9, 2007

This small Disney Mplayer MP3 player inspired by Mickey Mouse features the shape of Mickey’s head and ears in a spherical design. The ears look to be actually functional controlling the volume with one and moving ahead or back in tracks with the other, possibly by twisting them.

The features here are pretty simple but the design is sure to catch on. There is no screen interface on this little device and by additional photos it appears to be quite small, maybe just 2-3 inches in diameter. There also doesn’t appear to be anyway to start it, stop it or charge it, but maybe plugging in the headphone jack just makes it go since it most likely is targeting kids. The headphone jack is located in the top of “head” between the “ears”.

This Disney Mplayer is expected to be available in parts of Asia yet this month, but no word on capacity, price or its availability any where else.

Disney's Haunted Mansion making room for new ghosts
From From the Orlando Sentinel   Written by: Scott Powers
June 9, 2007

Horror of horrors! Tourists hoping to experience The Haunted Mansion at Disney's Magic Kingdom are being greeted by a "Closed for renovations" sign tacked to a locked gate.

Disney plans its first major overhaul of the popular Humor-driven attraction this summer, including technology updates and a few new ghosts. The ride closed Wednesday and should reopen by mid-September.

Ride designers are promising revisions consistent with those made recently at other "classic" Magic Kingdom attractions such as the Pirates of the Caribbean ride last year and the It's a Small World ride the year before -- enhancing effects without altering the story or traditional features.

"It's going to be fabulous," said show producer Kathy Rogers of Walt Disney Imagineering.

Yet as with the Pirates and Small World attractions -- considered classics partly because of their roots to legendary Disney designers and even Walt Disney himself -- The Haunted Mansion's loyal following presents both a blessing and a curse.

On Friday, the locked gate at The Haunted Mansion's entrance drew a steady stream of visitors who approached, grumbled and moved on. For the Uhlir family from Lake Zurich, Ill., and the Saar family from Boston, the promise of improvements in three months was little consolation.

"It was a great ride. I really looked forward to it. Now it's closed," said Daniel Uhlir, 12, visiting with his parents, Jeff and Beth, and brother Kevin, 5.

"Why do they have to close it now?" asked Tanya Saar, who arrived with daughter Anastasia, 8.

When it comes to finding a three-month window to close the ride, the logistics are complicated, said Phil Holmes, Disney World vice president for Magic Kingdom.

"Off-season" crowds now are so strong that there is little difference with the summer season, Holmes said. During the summer, virtually all other attractions are open, so this wound up being the best possible time, he said.

Holmes, who was a ride attendant when the Magic Kingdom opened 36 years ago, said he is as fond of The Haunted Mansion as anyone.

He said he understands the consternation of park visitors confronted by the "closed" sign. He said Magic Kingdom got the same reaction when the Pirates and Small World rides were temporarily closed.

"Each time, I think, we came out the other side and people embraced and appreciated the fact that it was refreshed, even improved," Holmes said.

Imagination moving: New Orleans Band inks Disney deal
From From the Times Picyune   Written by: Dave Walker
June 8, 2007

It's official: The Imagination Movers are moving to Disney.

The Disney Channel is expected to announce today an October production start in New Orleans for a new TV series starring the local music group.

The show, which will emphasize creative problem-solving set to the Movers' catchy rock sound, will air during the network's Playhouse Disney programming block, which targets preschoolers. The group's music videos are already airing on the network.

The band first met with Disney to discuss a series more than two years ago. A pilot episode was shot in February.

"After seeing the musical group perform at Jazzfest 2005 in New Orleans, we were determined to find a way to bring their energetic and infectious music to preschoolers everywhere," said Nancy Kanter, senior vice president of original programming for the network. "They have already struck a resounding chord with our viewers through their music videos and we look forward to adding this talented group to our series lineup."

Disney will also announce an October release, on Walt Disney Records, for "Juicebox Heroes," a compilation of tunes from the group's existing albums originally scheduled for release in March. An album of new songs culled from the new series is now slated for a 2008 release.

"Whether on a concert stage, a music video or a CD, the Imagination Movers' creativity and unique musical vision is entertaining both to kids and their parents," said David Agnew, executive vice president and general manager of Disney Music Group. "Their blend of energetic rock and hip-hop is playful and great to dance to. Walt Disney Records is proud to be the Movers' partner in records, music publishing, concert tours and merchandise."

A Disney news release promises songs and skits by the band featuring "the same upbeat, quirky sound heard in their music."

It continues: "The series will feature band members as 'everyday guy' brainstormers working hard to solve 'idea emergencies' in their Idea Warehouse, a place of infinite inspiration. The idea emergencies take the Movers to varied locales including a bubble garden, a farm and a concert stage. Music video type performances by the band bring a rock¤'n'¤roll energy to every episode."

Times-Picayune music columnist Keith Spera, who witnessed a portion of the pilot shoot on a soundstage at the St. John the Baptist Parish Community Center in LaPlace, wrote: "Think the Monkees mixed with Monty Python, rendered in kid-friendly primary colors."

The band -- Rich Collins, Scott Durbin, Dave Poche and Scott 'Smitty' Smith -- will tune up for the start of production by playing a series of concerts around the country this summer. Gigs this month include the Vermont Balloon Festival, the Taste of Summer in Waukesha festival in Wisconsin and the Alameda County (Calif.) Fair. Their next local performance listed on their Web site (www.imaginationmovers.com) is the Gretna Heritage Festival on Oct. 6.

Disney Reaches Agreement With Largest Union
From From Central Florida News 13   Written by: Staff
June 8, 2007

Disney has reached an agreement with its largest union over a labor contract. Disney says members of the Service Trades Council voted to approve a new contract Wednesday night.

Highlights of the new contract include pay increases for cast members, a broad range of health care plans and a pension plan for service trades council cast members. The two sides will also work together to create schedules that offer greater flexibility and hours.

Not everyone was happy with the contract, in fact the teamsters voted against it, but in the end they were outvoted. The Service Trade Council is made up of six unions and represents 21,000 workers

Disney predicts strong quarter at theme parks
Based on an article in the Orlando Sentinel   Written by: Business Briefcase   Edited by: Gary J. Chambers
June 7, 2007

Walt Disney Co. predicts strong results from theme parks even as Disneyland in California faces difficult comparisons from 2006, its 50th anniversary year. "This quarter there are strong results across the board" at the parks, Tom Staggs, chief financial officer of the world's largest theme-park company, said Tuesday at an investor conference in New York. Theme-park profit rose 19 percent to $254 million last quarter on an 8.7 percent gain in sales to $2.45 billion, Disney said. Orlando's Walt Disney World set an attendance record for the 15-day Easter period.

Pirates Sets New Global Box Office Record
From From PR Newswire   Written by: PR Newswire Staff   Edited by: Gary J. Chambers
June 7, 2007

Dick Cook, Chairman of the Walt Disney Studios announced this week Disney has entered into an exclusive multi-year first look deal with "Spider-Man" creator and producer Stan Lee and his production company POW! Entertainment. Under the terms of the agreement, Lee and his production company will develop and produce all forms of entertainment.

Bob Chapek, president, Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment, was instrumental in bringing this deal to Disney and will work closely with Lee on many of his projects.

He said, "Stan is not only loved by fans of the genre, but is one of the most respected and admired figures in the entertainment industry. In fact, it's hard to think of another individual who has created as many memorable and appealing characters."

Union Contract Negotiations Continue at WDW
Based on an article from the Associated Press   Written by: AP staff   Edited by: Gary J. Chambers
June 1, 2007

Some cable TV customers could soon be able to book a trip to a Disney theme park with the click of their remote controls. The Walt Disney Co. later this month is launching an interactive video-on-demand travel channel on cable systems served by Time Warner Cable Inc. and Cablevision.

The channel will include original programs, including reality shows, such as "Max That Card" "Grand Floridian, You Wish!" and "Theme Park Obesity on a Budget", episodic programs, concerts and special events highlighting Disney's theme parks in Florida and California as well as its "adventure" travel business. The shows will be offered free to viewers and will include interactive features, including the ability to request more information using buttons on the TV remote control. Be careful not to drop that bag 'o potato chips, Maynard. That's Po-tay-to…without an 'e'.

The programs will reach more than 9 million suckers nationwide. Although the deals with Time Warner and Cablevision are structured differently, Disney will create the programming and pay the cable companies to air it. On Time Warner systems, viewers can use their remote to request brochures, DVDs and other information through the mail or via e-mail. Disney says Cablevision subscribers can use a remote control to trigger a phone call from a Disney travel representative within 15 minutes.

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