10 biggest Disney moments of 2006

Disney historians will no doubt look back on 2006 as a pivotal year for the company. The question is which direction will it be pivoting. Before we answer that question, let’s look back at some of the biggest moments in 2006 for the Walt Disney Company.

The Walt Disney Studios released no animated films this year, but there was this juggernaut of a film called Pirates Of The Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest. P2 generated huge box office for the Mouse House and set up a banner 2007 when P3 arrives on scene.

The Pirates franchise also generated Pirates Of The Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest Cereal, a Record Breaking Opening Day, and a Record Breaking Opening Weekend. All in all Walt Disney Studios finished with $3.26 Billion in box office – best of all the studios this year. Not too shabby.

It’s been a good year for the themeparks too. The end of the 50th Anniversary Celebration and the start of something else. We’ll get to that in a bit. In Florida the year was neatly bookended by big changes at Disney’s Animal Kingdom. We had the addition of a major attraction in Expedition Everest and a brand new stage show in Finding Nemo The Musical. Both have been enormously popular and should draw crowd  to the park for many years to come.

This year’s answer to the 50 Celebration is the Year Of A Million Dreams promotion. It makes the list of big moments precisely because the impact it is making is so small. How many people outside the realm of Disney fans know about the promotion, let alone its details. Plus YOMD has introduced the new ‘Disney Parks’ brand. Something I hope they quickly abandon. Each park deserves it’s own unique identity. Blurring them altogether risks creating a blur in the markets eyes.

Sadly 2006 will also be remembered for the tragic deaths that occurred at the Orlando parks. Mission:Space at Epcot experienced it’s 2nd death in the space of one year. Now there is a non-spinning version. Still intense, just without the hidden g-forces. Crowds at Mission:Space have never re-materialized, I don’t know if they ever will now. I’ve written my comments on the sad state of affairs here.

The second death of the year was a 12 year old who died after riding the Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster at Disney-MGM Studios. As it turns out all the deaths had pre-existing conditions and were ruled death by natural causes. I’m hoping this is one trend that does not continue into 2007.

On the west coast the year was marked by huge crowds at the crown jewel park Disneyland and some slow changes at its nearby partner California Adventure. But to me the biggest moment of the year for Disneyland was the retirement of it’s Main Street Pianist, Rod Miller. Rod’s 36 years of entertaining the park’s guests coincided with my experience at the park, I’ve been seeing him there all my life and the place just won’t be the same without him.

In the world of television Monday Night Football moved to ESPN and the world kept spinning. Actually, it worked out pretty good for ESPN ratings wise with them winning the weekly ratings numbers game week after week. With NASCAR returning to ABC and ESPN in 2007, I think we can safely say ESPN will stay on the top.

The ABC Network returned to greatness with Dancing With The Stars, Ugly Betty, and the continued domination of Grey’s Anatomy. There’s a lot to be said about how poor ABC’s lineup was this year too, but this is a list of big moments so we’ll let that pass.

2006 was also the year of The Disney Channel. Specifically the year of High School Musical. HSM met the iPod Generation and it was love at first sight. Here’s the first mention on the blog. Then a post from Miss Zoot that attracted over 115 comments and when the show became the first full-length feature to be released on iTunes is signaled a new age for entertainment in this digital age. The show has been promoted in concert tours, licensed to schools for stage productions, and will be continued in a sequel that reunites the original cast and producers. HSM was made for about $8 million total and has grossed well over $400 million for the company.

I know I’m forgetting something… Oh yeah, there was the little purchase of a company called Pixar by Disney. What Disney is today was shaped in large part by the decision of Eisner to let Pixar go in the early 80s and then Eisner’s inability to make the deal to buy Pixar back in the 00s. Iger’s ability to make the match has set Disney on a corrected course for the future. There may still be a few unpleasant moments ahead in the transition, see the recent layoffs at WDFA and the return to 2D animation in Burbank, but the atmosphere is changed. (news round ups I, II, III, and IIII)

As important as setting Walt Disney Feature Animation on a corrected path, was the placing of John Lasseter and Ed Catmul over WDFA and of Lasseter as a creative consultant to Imagineering. They’ve been working hard to transplant the winning Pixar formula (importantly very similar to Walt Disney’s winning formula of ‘Quality will out’) to Burbank. Best of luck boys!

A big moment this year was the publication of Neal Gabler’s biography of Walt Disney. At 600+ pages it’s the longest and most comprehensive so far. But it’s had it’s share of controversy too. Those who knew Walt point out that Gabler paints a dark vision of the man and leaves out the fun and light. They also think that Walt’s motivation was not always as clear as Gabler makes it out to be. Still, it’s worth adding to your library. Just consider it one part of the puzzle, not the final piece.

What will 2007 hold? Hopefully a big EPCOT 25th celebration… but I’m not holding my breath for that. I’m running out of time today, going to head out to the parks for New Year’s Eve. So I’ll have to save my predictions for another post. If you think I’ve missed any big moments of 2006, please add your candidates to the comments below.

Finally, thanks so much for stopping by. It’s been my pleasure having you aboard. If you had a good time, my name is John and this is The Disney Blog. If not, my name is Sally and this is the Storybook Canal Boats.