DisneyWar – James B. Stewart

disneywarAh Disney. A world of magic and wonder and pure happiness. For most people, anyway. This book, as implied by the title, isn’t about the joy of Disney, but instead the business side, boardroom dealings and back stabbings. I love Disney. A lot. To the point I had a run of Disney themed blog posts back in November, when I was off in Disneyland Paris for my 30th birthday. I was hoping for a glimpse into the inner workings of Disney itself, and yes, I was attracted by that title. But this is less a Disney cultural history that I was hoping for, and more a biography of former Disney CEO, Michael Eisner.

I listened to the audiobook for this, using my first ever Audible credit, and it took me months to actually work through it. Partly because I got distracted by the fantastic Into the Drowning Deep,and partly because I found a lot of aspects of this to be incredibly boring.

The narration was good. Patrick Laylor does manage to bring a lot of this to life, and with his inclusion I forgot sometimes I wasn’t listening to the actual author. The best moments were made even better by his narration, especially the opening, talking about the author working for a day at a Disney park. It was actually my favourite part of the book. There’s also a bit about the history of Disney, how Walt and his brother Roy formed the company, and the treatment of Roy Disney Jr when he started.

I actually kind of wished the book itself had been more focused on Roy. Instead, much of the book is about Eisner, his personal history, how he drove the company forward, his lack of give when it came to anyone. It does do a good, balanced job of presenting Eisner, but sometimes it feels a lot like the author is trying really hard to add an extra ‘good layer’ to him.

Eisner feels ruthless and sometimes, downright cruel. Over-ambitious, and focused so much on the bottom line, the actual core of Disney is missed. Prior to this, my main knowledge of Disney history came from the fantastic Waking Sleeping Beauty, which takes a look at Disney leading up to the renaissance at the end of the 80s and start of the 90s. So DisneyWar added a lot to my knowledge in some aspects, but mainly made me feel like for a long time, Disney was run by a bunch of bickering children.

The news broke recently current though exiting executive chairman Bob iger – who from DisneyWar was another person treated poorly by Eisner – and chief executive Bob Chapek, among others, are either forgoing their salaries or taking pay cuts due to the current crisis. And yes, these people get paid an incredibly, ridiculously high amount, the likes of which I will probably never see, but after listening to this audiobook, I couldn’t help but wonder, would Eisner have done the same, in this situation?

I feel like he would have, but he would have been pressed into doing so, likely wouldn’t have forgone his whole salary, and would have moaned to anyone listening about it.

Maybe it’s harsh, to judge someone I really don’t know, but Eisner tried so hard to be Walt Disney, while seeming to miss the magic of Disney itself. And the book delves pretty deep into his life, even explaining how he judged others for basically not having grown up in money (like he had) and not being educated to his highly educated standard.

He just sounded like an all round not nice guy.

Perhaps that had some impact on my ‘enjoyment’ of the book. In some ways it was good to get a look into the dirty side of Disney, and to see more of the business in that way, but for the most part I found the thing incredibly dull, with names shooting by so fast it was hard to keep track of who was who.

I think this is one more for people interested in business, in boardrooms and the like, than people interested in Disney.

And on that, if anyone does have some more Disney-focused recommendations for me, I would absolutely love to hear them.

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