Continuing on with a special three-part edition of Disney In Depth, this second article (read part one here if you missed it) recognizes even more defining moments in The Walt Disney Company’s history over these past 50 years (1967 – 2016) since Walt died.
Let the (chronological) countdown move forward with 50 Defining Moments Since Walt Disney Died Part 2!
20. Euro Disneyland Opens To Much Fanfare and Financial Disappointment (1992)
One of the most beautiful Disney parks ever designed, Disneyland Paris, or known as Euro Disneyland early on, was Disney’s attempt at catering to European audiences. Unfortunately, France, plagued by recession issues, unemployment, and other problems, made the growth for such an infantile park stand still. Three years after its opening, the park experienced profits for the first time and debuted a new version of Space Mountain.
How it’s a defining Disney moment: Showed the creativity of many Disney Imagineers, including Disney Legend Tony Baxter, in crafting a uniquely European Disney park.
21. Frank Wells Dies In A Helicopter Crash (1994)
Disney’s president and C.O.O. for a decade, Wells was the top of his game when a tragedy took his life and spun the company in a frenzy. You see, Michael Eisner now had the job of naming a successor. It seemed that Jeffrey Katzenberg, who greatly contributed to the company’s resurgence in animation, would be slotted for the spot. Instead, internal frustration prompted Katzenberg’s resignation and a huge lawsuit.
How it’s a defining Disney moment: Wells’ death and the aftermath prompted a bitter Katzenberg to form DreamWorks SKG, whose animation division would later battle Disney movies.
22. Disney Starts Offering Broadway Productions (1994)
Disney’s biggest musical sensation in years was positioned as the first official theatrical show from Disney Theatrical Productions. Beauty and the Beast arrived on Broadway to critical acclaim, amassing nine Tony nominations, including a win for Best Costume Design.
How it’s a defining Disney moment: Disney Theatrical has since debuted more than a dozen shows, with many of them heading beyond The Great White Way through touring around the United States and internationally.
23. Indiana Jones Adventure Sets A New Standard In Attractions (1995)
Disney, Lucas, and company teamed up again after Captain EO and Star Tours to bring a heroic character to Disneyland. The Adventureland attraction, which occupies a gigantic 50,000 square feet show building, is one of the most advanced and innovative Disney attractions ever crafted. Its Enhanced Motion Vehicles allow for a unique ride experience each time. Beyond that, the intricate design and storytelling make for a signature ride guests continue to flock to more than two decades later.
How it’s a defining Disney moment: Influenced its sister attraction at Tokyo DisneySea, as well as the ride vehicles used for Dinosaur at Disney’s Animal Kingdom.
24. Toy Story Debuts In Theaters As The First Fully Computer-Generated Animated Film (1995)
Another technological masterpiece arrived the same year, but in film form. Pixar Animation Studios, a novel animation house specializing in computer animation, released its first film under Disney distribution. A little film called Toy Story ended up as one of the year’s biggest hits, even garnering a special Academy Award for John Lasseter.
How it’s a defining Disney moment: Inspired two hit sequels, an array of theme park attractions, and represents one of the company’s most respected brands that continues to deliver lovable experiences.
25. Disney purchases Capital Cities/ABC, Which Integrates ABC and ESPN Into The Company (1996)
Bringing ABC and ESPN, two popular networks, into the Disney fold allowed for new revenue streams for the entertainment giant. It was a pricy venture, but one that has paid off in a variety of ways. Disney has utilized ABC as a platform for many of its properties, including holiday specials and original shows. Additionally, ESPN Zone restaurants and game centers have populated many American metropolitan areas over the years.
How it’s a defining Disney moment: Set in motion Disney’s desire to acquire other lucrative entertainment entities.
26. Disney Launches Its Online Presence With Disney.com (1996)
Not too long ago, the idea of going on the World Wide Web was a new idea. Disney was quick to embrace the notion of entering this medium, delivering games and news about its slate of films on this official website. Two decades later, Disney.com continues to be a hub for parents, children, and families for learning about the latest Disney offerings.
How it’s a defining Disney moment: Established Disney as a leading provider of fun for children in digital spaces.
27. Celebration, Florida Brings In Its First Residents (1996)
Though Disney later exited the town it founded, the fact that Disney helped establish a community of thousands of residents was quite an undertaking. Almost like an extension of the EPCOT vision, albeit staying more in line with the charm of Main Street, U.S.A. than the advancements pictured for Walt Disney’s futuristic community, Celebration was viewed as a neo-urban paradise.
How it’s a defining Disney moment: Exhibited Disney’s hope to experiment with new concepts outside of its standard industries.
28. The Lion King Roars Onto The Broadway Stage (1997)
Simba and Scar seemed like they would never be limited to the silver screen based on the film’s popularity. Naturally, the Broadway stage appeared like a suitable setting for bringing the music of Elton John and Tim Rice, as well as the direction of Julie Taymor, to new audiences in a most spectacular way.
How it’s a defining Disney moment: This was the first, and only, so far, Disney production to win a Tony Award for Best Musical. It’s also one of the longest-running Broadway shows of all time. What a feat.
Preview the Tony-winning musical in this clip from the Disney On Broadway YouTube channel.
29. Disney’s Animal Kingdom Opens (1998)
Walt Disney’s longstanding love for nature was realized in his True-Life Adventure films, depictions of creatures in animated productions, and even in fictitious portrayals within the theme parks. Never, though, had Disney attempted to create a whole park with animals encompassing the primary theme. Disney’s Animal Kingdom was developed “nahtazu” (a play on “not a zoo,” as seen in early advertising), but as an immersive space with exhibits and rides, including the triumphant Kilimanjaro Safaris, where guests could see wild animals up close and personal.
How it’s a defining Disney moment: Elevated Disney’s commitment to conservation efforts in its theme parks.
30. Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride Closes, Setting A Precedent In Internet Campaigns (1998)
The departure of Disney rides is not a new concept. But with the rise of the Internet, a platform for individuals to demonstrate their devotion to niche properties, the announcement of Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride’s closure in favor of a new Winnie the Pooh ride, was just the thing to spin irate guests into madness. Rallies against this formed outside the attraction and on the web, but Disney went ahead and brought in Tigger and friends.
How it’s a defining Disney moment: Prompted Disney to more intentionally appease guests loyal to specific rides, in the form of tributes and events commemorating their closures.
31. Disney Cruise Line Sets Sail and Showcases Disney’s Private Island (1998)
It’s one thing to design a theme park. It’s quite another to take those components on a massive, moving vessel across hundreds of miles of open water each day. Then, to take an uninhabited island and transform it into an isolated paradise, just showed Disney’s commitment to making the Disney Cruise Line a comfortable vacation option for families yearning to board an ocean liner. With nods to classic cruises of decades past and some Disney magic, the Disney Cruise Line has been a vacation leader for almost 20 years.
How it’s a defining Disney moment: After the Disney Magic, three more ships have launched. Earlier this year, Disney Cruise Line announced two new ships for the beginning of the next decade. Disney has also taken guests to areas of the world, including the Mediterranean and across the Panama Canal, places where Disney lacks a theme park presence.
32. Fantasia 2000 Starts The Millennium On IMAX (2000)
A dazzling homage to Walt’s passion for experimenting with animation, this sequel to the classic was an unwavering mission of Roy E. Disney. The result was a startling piece of underappreciated cinema that unites classical music, including some “newer” ones, such as “Rhapsody in Blue,” with lovely and stirring animation. Playing it on humongous IMAX screens only enhanced the magic. I was one of those entranced by Fantasia 2000, seeing it on its opening day on January 1, 2000.
How it’s a defining Disney moment: Encouraged Disney artists to venture beyond typical concepts and touch on dramatic themes, like the destruction of a forest and The Great Depression, in accessible form.
33. Tokyo DisneySea Opens With Immersive Theme Park Environments (2001)
Whole lands dedicated to Aladdin and The Little Mermaid, in addition to an American harbor, uncharted tropical vistas, and even Jules Verne, enveloped guests in the second theme park as part of the Tokyo Disney Resort. It’s renowned as Disney’s finest example of a theme park in the modern age – sorry, Shanghai – and includes some of the more technologically sophisticated attractions in all of the Disney destinations.
How it’s a defining Disney moment: Proved that Disney could deliver another successful theme park, especially after the initial disappointment of both Disneyland Paris and Disneyland California Adventure.
34. Domestic Disney Theme Parks Close For First Time In Years Due To 9/11 Terrorist Attacks (2001)
Only during a few occasions had the theme parks shut down over the prior decade. But this horrible incident prompted quickness by the Disney company, which feared that it, too, could be a target.
How it’s a defining Disney moment: The economic recession following Sept. 11 caused many attractions to become seasonal, as well as entire concepts, such as the other half of Disney’s Pop Century Resort, to never take form.
35. Kingdom Hearts Changes The Way People View Disney Video Games (2002)
Disney’s collaboration with Square Enix, known for its dramatic Final Fantasy games, allowed for the creation of a complicated and strange new universe. Kingdom Hearts, an undeniable success story, inspired many other video games featuring characters from both brands.
How it’s a defining Disney moment: Represented one of Disney’s few very critically acclaimed and profitable video game ventures.
36. Pirates Of The Caribbean: The Curse Of The Black Pearl Premieres (2003)
Who would have guessed that a movie featuring Hollywood oddball Johnny Depp and Oscar-winner Geoffrey Rush would have resulted in Disney’s biggest live-action movie in years? The swashbuckling story, based on elements of the popular theme park attraction of the same name, was a smash in every sense of the word. Audiences loved it, reveling in its irreverence and new take on the pirates genre, which never seemed to work out well in film. So did critics. Depp earned an Academy Award nomination for his now iconic role as Captain Jack Sparrow.
How it’s a defining Disney moment: Resulted in several sequels, as well as redesigning the attractions, now featuring characters from the film.
Revisit the trailer for the 2003 film in this trailer from the DisneyMoviesOnDemand channel.
The final set of 50 Defining Moments Since Walt Disney Died will be revealed in a November 2016 edition of Disney In Depth.
This is Brett Nachman, signing off. Follow me on Twitter for alerts of new editions of Disney In Depth, released on the first and third Thursdays of each month on Geeks of Doom.