Did Walt Disney ever make a mistake? The answer is a resounding ‘Yes’, but then, who wouldn’t have when taking so many risks to create great entertainment?
So what follows is a list of some of those mistakes, or lost opportunities:
Oopsy Number 1
Oswald the Lucky Rabbit. The character was a hit. The deal was a dud. Walt failed to retain the rights to a character that his studio created from scratch and so had it taken away from him, along with most of his studio! But never one to stay down, Walt learned from his mistake, and vowed never to repeat it. And with the creation of Mickey Mouse, he built an empire all his own that no one ever took from him! So who had the last laugh, Mr. Mintz?
Of course, long after Walt’s passing, Oswald returned to the Disney family! Last laugh: Disney.
Oopsy Number 2
The Animator’s Strike. May 29, 1941. A day that will live in Disney infamy and that would forever change how Walt interacted with his staff. Said to be over wages and credit, there is obviously more to the story than we will ever know! Would things have turned out differently if Walt had stayed to negotiate instead of heading for South America to gather material for future features? We’ll never know. What we do know is during the strike, Walt called the strikers ‘Communists’ and they burned him in effigy. Yikes!
Following the strike, irreparable damage to the psychology and mood of the studio had been done. Before the strike, the number of employees had been about 1200, but after it ended, it was reduced to 694. One letter of the period quotes Walt as saying, about the strike, that “it cleaned house at our studio” and got rid of “the chip-on-the-shoulder boys and the world-owes-me-a-living lads”. Ouch.
It’s a shame this couldn’t have ended better.
Oopsy Number 3
Doreen as the Patchwork Girl and Bobby as the Scarecrow
Rainbow Road to OZ. Walt had always loved the stories of OZ and eventually bought the rights to the books. He planned to make an animated film but then later decided to do a live-action version using the talented kids from the Mouseketeers. You can see a short clip of what it may have looked like on the Walt Disney Treasures collection entitled Your Host, Walt Disney.
This would have been a great vehicle for the Mouseketeers and a way to thank them for all of their hard work. Also, it would have made a fine companion to movies like Babes in Toyland, also starring a (by then) former Mouseketeer: Annette Funicello.
It may have taken until 2013 to pull it off, but Disney did finally realize Walt’s dream and put Oz on the screen with the major motion picture Oz, the Great and Powerful.
Oopsy Number 4
Zorro/Mickey Mouse Club. Why? That’s all I can say about the cancellation of two of the best and most popular, not to mention watched, programs in Disney history. WHY? The short answer is that Walt got into a bitter series of legal challenges with ABC over the ownership of both series. Unable to come to terms, it was decided to pull both shows from the air. With high ratings and viewer loyalty at all time highs, I think there must have been some way to resolve the dispute. This lost opportunity cost us perhaps years of quality entertainment.
Oopsy Number 5
Not hiring Lee Beatens. OK, I was only about 1-year-old when Walt passed, but that’s no excuse for overlooking great talent!
Disney’s California Adventure. Not Walt’s fault, but certainly a swing and a miss by the company that bears his name! The concept of a theme park dedicated to California arose from a meeting of Disney executives in 1995. Construction of the park began in 1998, and was completed by early 2001. But the crowds never really came. After all, who’d want to fly to California and pay to enter a Theme Park about… California? Why not just… oh, I don’t know, tour the real California? The other problem that I can see was that the Imagineers filled it with rides that were reminiscent of the rides that Walt rejected for Disneyland! Epic fail.
But now with the re-Imagineering of the Park and the addition of Carsland, it’s finally on the right track, and attendance figures show it.
Disney PhotoPass Stock Photo
So we’ve seen that not all of these mistakes, or lost opportunities, were fixable. But most of them were addressed in some way years later, with a nice resolution.