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Why the Most-Hated Disney CEO of All Time Wasn't Actually That Bad

3. Second Golden Age of Disney Animation

Image: DisneyMichael Eisner was a studio boss before he became CEO at Disney. Some of his hits included Grease, Beverly Hills Cop, Footloose, and Raiders of the Lost Ark. As an observer of pop culture with skin in the game, Eisner understood how far Disney animation had fallen during the 1970s and early 1980s. He embarked on a place to revitalize one of the staples of Disney’s business model.

At Eisner’s behest, illustrators returned Disney to its roots. They mined several classic fairytales and fables for inspiration. Their combined output is like a who’s who of Disney’s greatest hits. Starting with The Little Mermaid, the animation arm produced blockbuster after blockbuster. Classics like Beauty and the Beast, The Lion King, Aladdin, and Mulan were released during a fruitful decade. Perhaps the only modern analogs are Pixar and the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Without these films, Disney theme parks wouldn’t have several wonderful attractions. Even worse, we’d live in a world without Mickey’s PhilHarmagic, and I shudder at the very thought of that. Under Eisner’s stewardship, Disney underwent a second golden age of animation. These same films have become the basis for live action remakes today, meaning that Eisner’s still making Disney lots of money.

4. Disneyland Paris

Image: DisneyYes, the opening of Disneyland Paris was famously described as a "cultural Chernobyl." Yes, Disneyland Paris is primarily perceived as underachieving for most of its time in operation. Let's throw such perceptions out of the equation and focus solely on facts.

During its first year of business, 8.9 million people visited EuroDisney. Folks, this happened in 1993. Universal Studios Florida wouldn’t experience that many visits until 2015! Islands of Adventure didn’t until 2016! The "disappointing" attendance that people reflexively reference at Disneyland Paris would have been good enough to qualify as one of the 15 most popular theme parks in the world…in 2016.

The Paris theme park wouldn’t suffer a decline in attendance in its second year, either. Many theme parks have this happen due to the opening year rush factor. Disneyland Paris would experience year-over-year growth throughout its first five years in operation. It would reach the 12-million guest plateau in 1997…and has never fallen under that level in the two decades that followed.

Image: DisneyAttendance at EuroDisney is as consistent as any place in the world. You just don’t hear about it because the numbers get reported individually for its two gates, Disneyland Park and Walt Disney Studios Park. The staggering attendance number is that 320 million people visited Disneyland Paris during its first 25 years in existence. It’s easily the most trafficked theme park in Europe and a world-renowned tourist mecca.

There's a reason why Disney purchased a controlling interest in June of 2017. The company recognizes that any place with that much foot traffic is a rare, lucrative business opportunity. And Michael Eisner was the one who pushed for this sort of international exposure. He didn't focus exclusively on Europe, either…

5. Hong Kong Disneyland

Image: DisneyHave you ever wondered why Disney movies perform so well overseas? At the time of publication, Disney owns seven of the top 10 global blockbusters ever. One of the keys to Disney’s success is their coordinated effort to indoctrinate other parts of the world about the glory of Team Mickey Mouse. A few years ago, Disney went so far as to release the entire Star Wars Holy Trilogy to show Chinese citizens what they’d been missing.

Eisner deserves a great deal of credit for these successes. He opened the door to relationships with China and several other countries who were historically icy with American corporations. Under Eisner's leadership, Disney brokered an unprecedented deal with Hong Kong officials. The city's government owns a controlling interest in Hong Kong Disneyland. While they own 53 percent of the park, Disney manages it and holds its own stake. 

Image: DisneyThe seemingly awkward relationship has worked well enough for the most part. The early knock on Hong Kong Disneyland was that Disney went too cheap on many aspects of it. As usual, Eisner pinched pennies to the detriment of the overall product. Even so, the park has had a halo effect on Hong Kong citizens, who have grown to love all things Disney, especially Marvel and Pixar movies/characters. Without the success of this park, the immediately successful Shanghai Disneyland wouldn’t have been possible, either.

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