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Crimes and Corruption at the Walt Disney Co

cartoon c 2002 by charles amsellem
mickey_mouse.jpg
cartoon c 2002 by charles amsellem
by charles amsellem

The Walt Disney Co's mainstream wholesome image may finally be crumbling as some of their criminal and unethical behavior is coming to light. Industry insiders and those that get their information from something other than the evening news have long known of the odious politics of the entertainment giant. Now even the bewildered herd may be offended by their obstruction of justice, their slimey and arrogant maneuvers, and their contribution to the degradation of the environment.

Just like the stories of Aladin, Snow White, Pinnochio, Sleeping Beauty, Peter Pan, The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Cinderella, Tarzan and others, Winnie-the-Pooh didn't originate in the Walt Disney studios. Disney archives confirm that even their icon, Mickey Mouse, was created by animator, Ub Iwerks. Walt Disney, after being assailed with rumors that his artistic skills left much to be desired, admitted that Iwerks created the character. When speaking to the media, Disney assumed full credit for the creation of ever loyal and silent employee, Iwerks, even over the repeated objections from his brother, Roy Disney. Disney never actually drew Mickey Mouse and only admitted to the fact decades later. (1)

Pooh and his friends were the creation of A. A. Milne, who sold his United States merchandising rights to literary agent Stephen Slesinger in 1930. The stories about the stuffed animal characters were an immediate and enduring success and Walt Disney negotiated an agreement with the Slesinger and Milne heirs in 1961 for the North American merchandising rights. The continued success of the Pooh franchise, which is one of the largest revenue streams for the Walt Disney Co, left widow, Shirley Slesinger believing that she was seriously short changed out of owed royalties for years.(2)

After many years of this abuse, the widow made enough noise that in 1983 the company gave her a large settlement for the breach of agreement and upgraded her royalties to global status.(3) Was it ever after a world of laughter, for Slesinger's new deal with the people that brought you several replicas of The Happiest Place on Earth? Nope...it was a world of tears, and after continually being cheated on royalties for many more years she finally got fed up and sued the cheap bastards in 1991.(4)

Such is Disney's callous greed and slimey legal maneuvering that the case is still in court to this day: the longest on the docket in Los Angeles Superior Court history! Furthermore, until January 2002, the court filings were sealed on the grounds that they would reveal proprietary information. A successful challenge to the decision by the Los Angeles Times revealed that they had much to hide indeed. Judge Ernest Hiroshige fined Disney $90,000 for destroying documents that would have likely proved Slesinger's case.(5)

The judge stated, "...at the very least [destroying the files] amounts to gross negligence and raises a triable issue of fact as to whether Disney willfully destroyed and suppressed evidence in the case." Adding, "Disney misused the pretrial discovery process in this case by destroying evidence that it knew or should have known was sought by [Slesinger] in discovery."(6)

Disney's lawyers made the laughable claim that none of the files were relevant to the case including one box labeled "Winnie-the-Pooh legal problems". (7) Yet a 1967 memo proves top executives at the company forsaw legal challenges over the licence.(8) Disney corporate crumbs claimed that 40 boxes of documents were destroyed due to a clerical error! In fact, upwards of 400 boxes were destroyed.(9) This development so outraged judge Hiroshige that he barred Disney from disputing some of Slesinger's claims and gave directions to the jury that they can decide for themselves if Disney suppressed evidence. Disney is appealing the decision.(10)

Although it's true that the royalties that the Slesingers recieved have made them wealthy, they have spent millions fighting Disney to get the estimated $200 million and more that they claim they are owed.(11) Disney's own estimates of money earned from the Pooh franchise total $3.3 billion from the year 1998 alone. Stock analysts estimate they made $4.5 billion Pooh bucks in the year 2000 alone.(12)

When reporter, Nikki Finke, wrote about this story, Disney threatened her employer, the New York Post. She was subsequently fired, being accused of 'unnamed inacuracies', by editor in chief, Col Allen. The Post's sleazy tactics could well rival the studio that brought us such colloquial charm as Donald Duck and Goofy. Finke's lawyer sent a letter to summerize her complaint at the Post's attorneys' own request for settlement negotiations, and they used that document to sue her. Days later, as initially planned before this pusillanimous doublecross, Finke filed a $10 million suit against Disney and the NY Post for destroying her reputaion. (13)

Yet in spite of all of this Cruella Deville like nastiness, with such sentimental yarns as Pocahontas and The Lion King, and their earth-friendly messages, Disney still significantly contributes to the beauty in the world, right? Well, lets look under the sea of Hong Kong's waters for the answer. Dredging and dumping in association with construction activities in the area have been accelerated significantly by the Walt Disney Co. The building efforts such as that of of Hong Kong Disneyland and the Chek Lap Kok airport that will bring tourists to the region has virtually caused an environmental disaster.(14)

Several types of fish have already vanished from the region since construction began and put the majority of local fishing families out of work.(15) By some estimates, the imperiled population of the white dolphin, unique to the Pearl River Delta of mainland china, numbers fewer than that of the 101 dalmations in Hong Kong waters.(16) Although the dophin populations are being endangered more by the airport construction and other enviromental hazards, the Disneyland dredging is significantly threatening their food supply according to environmentalists and fishermen.(17)

Furthermore, the environmental impact assessment, which reported favorably to Disney interests, was conducted after the deal was agreed upon.(18) And to top it all off, Hong Kong taxpayers will pay $2.89 billion dollars, in comparison to the Walt Disney Co's $320 million for the project(19). Dumbo couldn't fly over that many dollar bills and Tinkerbelle's magic dust will not bring life back to a sea that local fishermen bemoan as quite dead.(20) Anyone that thinks that the Walt Disney corporation is or ever was an upright organization is living in Fantasyland.

(1)Eliot, Marc, Walt Disney: Hollywood's Dark Prince, Carol Publishing Group, New York, 1993
(2)Goldsmith, Susan, The Pooh Hits The Fan, New Times Los Angeles, March 21-27, 2002; p. 15
(3)ibid
(4)Goldsmith, p. 16
(5)Goldsmith, p. 12
(6)Goldsmith, p. 19
(7)ibid
(8)Meg, James, Roy Disney Forsaw Pooh Rights Dispute, Los Angeles Times, January 22, 2002
(9)Mokhiber, Russell, The Winnie The Pooh Files, Multinational Monitor, Washington, March 2002
(10)Goldsmith, p. 19
(11)Goldsmith, p. 12
(12)Mikhiber,
(13)Cotts, Cynthia, The Pusillanimous 'Post', The Village Voice, New York, April 30 2002, p. 36
(14)Lyn, Tan Ee, Disney Magic Turns Sour For Some In Hong Kong, Ashville Global Report, Nov 23 2001;
(15)ibid
(16)www.tesan.vuurwerk.nl/reports/bcelc/dolphin.htm
(17)Lyn
(18)Balfour, Fredrick, Building a Mouse House in Hong Kong, Business Week Online, April 11 2002
(19Emmons, Natashia and OBrian, Tim, Taxpayers to Foot Most of Hong Kong Disney Bill, Amusement Business, New York, Novemeber 8 1999
(20)Kan, Wendy, Smells a Little Fishy, Time Asia, December 25 2000-January 1 2001
 
 


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