Walt Disney: Ruler Of The Magic Kingdom

The first multimedia empire was built on animation, but its happy toons masked the founder's darker soul

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His insistence on the upbeat also possibly served as an anodyne for the bitterness he felt when an ugly 1941 labor dispute ended his dream of managing his studio on a communitarian basis with himself as its benign patriarch.

Commercially, this worked out beautifully for him. Most people prefer their entertainments to embrace the comfortably cute rather than the disturbingly acute--especially when they're bringing the kids. Movie critics started ignoring him, and social critics began hectoring him, because his work ground off the rough, emotionally instructive edges of the folk- and fairy-tale tradition on which it largely drew, robbing it of "the pulse of life under the skin of events," as one critic put it.

Disney didn't give a mouse's tail about all that. As far as he was concerned, the whole vexing issue of content was solved, and though he enjoyed being a hero to the culturally conservative, he was free to focus on what had always mattered most to him, which was not old pieties but new technologies.

Predictably, he became the first Hollywood mogul to embrace television. The show with him as host for over a decade became not just a profit center for his company but also a promotional engine for all its works. These included chuckleheaded live-action comedies, nature documentaries that relentlessly anthropomorphized their subjects, and, of course, Disneyland, which attracted his compulsive attention in the '50s and '60s.

Disneyland was another bet-the-farm risk, and Disney threw himself obsessively into the park's design, which anticipated many of the best features of modern urban planning, and into the "imagineering" by which the simulacrums of exotic, even dangerous creatures, places, fantasies could be unthreateningly reproduced.

These attractions were better than any movie in his eyes--three dimensional and without narrative problems. They were, indeed, better than life, for they offered false but momentarily thrilling experiences in a sterile, totally controlled environment from which dirt, rudeness, mischance (and anything approaching authentic emotion) had been totally eliminated. All his other enterprises had to be delivered into the possibly uncomprehending world. When Disneyland opened in 1955, that changed: he now had his own small world, which people had to experience on his terms.

Before he was felled by cancer at 65, it is possible to imagine that he was happy. He had at last devised a machine with which he could endlessly tinker. The little boy, envious of the placid small-town life from which he was shut out, had become mayor--no, absolute dictator--of a land where he could impose his ideals on everyone. The restless, hungry young entrepreneur had achieved undreamed-of wealth, power and honor. Asked late in life what he was proudest of, he did not mention smiling children or the promulgation of family values. "The whole damn thing," he snapped, "the fact that I was able to build an organization and hold it." These were not the sentiments of anyone's uncle--except perhaps Scrooge McDuck. And their consequences--many of them unintended and often enough unexplored--persist, subtly but surely affecting the ways we all live, think and dream.

Richard Schickel, a TIME film critic, wrote The Disney Version: The Life, Times, Art and Commerce of Walt Disney

Coca-Cola: The World Brand Ascendant

There are few brands whose image and products have no national borders. They are world brands, as welcome in Delhi as they are in Detroit, and in this century, achieving that status has been every marketer's dream.

If Walt Disney was a tad, uh, aggressive, in protecting the use and image of his name, he was pretty smart to have been so. Owning a world brand such as Disney, Xerox, Sony, Gillette, Chanel or Nike is a status that can be worth billions in extra sales. By many measures the world's best-known brand is Coca-Cola. The company has been selling on foreign shores since 1900, and it got a huge boost during World War II when 64 plants were set up to supply the troops. By 1960 Coke's muscular distribution and ubiquitous advertising, signaled by the hobble-skirt bottle and the bell-shaped fountain glass, had brought its bottlers to 88 countries. Today Coke sells 1 billion servings a day in nearly 200 countries and closely tracks its market penetration in each country, measured in servings per capita. Highest: Luxembourg, at 453 servings a year. Lowest: Turkmenistan, at 1 serving a year. Coke's challenger for world brand supremacy is McDonald's, but that's not a bad thing, either. McDonald's sells just one brand of cola: Coke.

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