“The magic is gone.”
“Disney’s not what it used to be.”
“We’re going to Universal!”
“Chapek is running the company into the ground.”
“It’s time to replace Chapek.”
“Disney got rid of the wrong Bob.”
“Fire Bob Chapek!”
“Get rid of Bob Chapek!”
Enough already. And not because any of the above sentiments is wrong or off-base. Not hardly.
Like you, I’m a lifetime member of the Disney fan club. I’ve been going to the parks since I was little, and by the age of eight, I could easily recite the entire scripts from Disney’s Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs . . . you get the idea. I’m what you’d call a classic Disney fan; I’m not old, but old-school Disney is the only Disney for me. I appreciate the ways in which Walt Disney conducted his growing business, and I admire his affinity for thoroughness in exchange for corner-cutting. It’s just too darn bad that Mr. Disney passed away when he did.
Hey, it’s a crying shame Mr. Disney had to ever pass away. Perhaps the smiles and joy and magic and hope his characters, stories, and parks brought to millions even by the time of his death should have netted him some sort of mantle of immortality. Because you know and I know and they know that Disney would be just as successful (if not more so) as it is today, and we’d more than likely live in a constant consciousness of Disneyana for the rest of time, had Walt himself been here to oversee it all.
Additionally, you know and I know and they know that Bob Chapek was not the company’s best bet for the role of CEO. And you and I know that they know that, as evidenced by the company’s knee-jerk reaction in retrieving Bob Iger the moment he was to step away in early 2020 when Chapek took the helm and all foreseeable pandemic hell broke loose over the globe as the coronavirus was determined to show its might and its muscle in every facet of daily life, and all the pixie dust in the kingdom couldn’t keep Disney immune.
Full disclosure: it has always seemed to me that the company freaked out at the inception of the pandemic, and they had second, third, and fourth thoughts about the man they’d prematurely installed as chief executvie officer for one of the largest, most successful, and furthest reaching companies on planet earth. Solution: beg, plead, demand that Iger stay on as Chairman of the Board; maybe he could keep the proverbial ship upright and away from the icebergs.
But we can’t fault the 71-year-old Iger, who no doubt grew weary of the seven-day-a-week grind in his role as king of the Disney empire. I wouldn’t want that job, and neither would you. No matter what decision is made, it’s met with backlash. No matter which park gets the next upgrade, loyal fans to another park feel slighted. No matter the production of content overseen, that content should’ve been more conservative, more liberal, with more diversity, more music, less music, different actors. At the end of the day, it’s an enormously thankless job that somehow Mr. Iger, with all his business prowess, diplomacy, tact, and patience, was able to pull off for close to 20 years.
And we were never grateful for his leadership until Mr. Chapek came to CEOTown.
Chapek showed us Iger’s greatness in a way we hadn’t considered. Chapek showed us Iger’s good business sense. Chapek showed us the sheer miracles that took place in Iger’s ability to acquire a myriad of brands and somehow keep both parties relatively content–at least on speaking terms. (George Lucas still gives input on every piece of Star Wars content that comes out.)
It’s an old adage in motion, playing out before us, about our weakness–our inability as humans to truly appreciate anything we have until it’s not only gone, but also devoid of the hope of ever returning to us. Such is our plight with Mr. Chapek, and an unsightly plight it is, indeed.
We are stuck, if you will. Thanks, but no thanks, Change.org; no petition on earth will ever garner the signatures we need to give ol’ Bob the boot. You and I and my aunt, my uncle and cousins, your grandmother, my supervisor, and all four of my children (and yours too) could write a letter a day to Disney for an entire year, and though their mail is answered, the letters we pen that drip with complaints against Mr. Chapek will do little more than decorate the desk of an assistant in California, blessing the poor dear with the task of acknowledging each of them.
The constant, unending, unrelenting rhetoric about The Walt Disney Company’s CEO has become white noise. And not just to Disney.
Bob Chapek isn’t going anywhere, and Disney doesn’t really need your approval or mine to maintain his installation. Disney is a private organization, though publicly traded, and contrary to what you read online over the last week, individual Disney fans can do very little with their respective Disney shares to oust Mr. Chapek. (It’s his Board seat that’s up for renewal anyway–not his paid role as chief executive officer.) We are in this for the long haul because Mr. Chapek sure is. And I grow dreadfully weary of the constant griping and complaining about him that attacks my eyes every time I log in to Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and the like.
You’re fully entitled to your opinion about Mr. Chapek. I’m not on Team Chapek either. But for the love of hope, I wish some fans would first just zip it for just 60 seconds and take a good, hard second look at their own behaviors.
(Pausing for effect.)
Tell me again why the magic is gone. Tell me again how Disney just isn’t the same. The way some Disney fans have behaved lately makes me sad, and I think it would have made Walt sad too. The truth is that the unmagical behaviors of those who profess a love for Disney will ultimately lead to a downfall–a downfall and a breakdown. Self-proclaimed Disney fans are ruining the magic. (Not all of them, but some.)
Look back at 2021. It could quite easily go down in the history books as The Year of the Disney Parks Disturbances. It sounds funny, but it’s not funny because it’s true. There were so many instances of fist-fighting, confrontations, and flagrant displays of disrespect among and between Guests in the parks that some fans reconsidered their family vacations, fearful of finding themselves in the middle of flying fists and profane verbal assaults exchanged between other Guests as they disembarked from their ride vehicles.
American Disney Parks queues served as makeshift battlefields more than once over the past year. In the fall of 2021 alone, a fight broke out on a Magic Kingdom ferry, two men physically assaulted each other in the exit queue for Toy Story Mania at Hollywood Studios, a verbal altercation nearly led to a huge brawl at the Flight of Passage attraction at Animal Kingdom, and another altercation broke out at the Living with the Land attraction at EPCOT–and all while children were nearby, watching, taking in every moment of what was happening.
Behavior like this is inexcusable anywhere. But it’s especially deplorable when it’s around children and at Disney. It’s literally the stuff of nightmares. And if we had been able to ask those involved about that which began those altercations, I guarantee you not one of them would have said Bob Chapek’s name anywhere in the conversation. Bob Chapek isn’t making people fight at Disney World. Only those involved are responsible–those Disney fans, remember?
There are any number of things that you and I could mention as reasons for our dislike for Mr. Chapek and his decisions. And if the Chairman and Board were to request Mr. Chapek’s resignation tomorrow, there would be no Disney fan uprising. But it’s simply not fair to lay blame for missing magic solely at the feet of the CEO of The Walt Disney Company. There’s far more work to do.
There’s a saying that goes, “Don’t point out other people’s faults; you have to look in the mirror before you can look out the window.” Another is like it and says, “People will blame anyone for their misery sooner than take the responsibility to own it and make it better.” And I think both apply here: to those who profess to be fans but ruin the magic for others, whether by fist-fighting in the parks or crushing souls online.
Again, Bob Chapek isn’t going to abandon ship anytime soon. Disney is a for-profit business, and CEOs who produce profits don’t get replaced simply because fans don’t agree with his operating decisions. But this piece certainly shouldn’t be read as a promo for the emblazoned king of the company. So far, Mr. Chapek has shown fans that he’s far more interested in the bottom line and in impressing Wall Street’s finest on those quarterly earnings calls than in preserving the magic or in making that magic more accessible to everyone.
But Disney magic is like the candle given to Abuela in Disney’s Encanto; it must be protected, it must be cherished, and above all, it must be shared. And long before we lay the blame for missing magic at the feet of the CEO of the company, we’d do good to take a look inside and be absolutely sure we’re doing all we can to keep that magic alive–and to share it with others. That, above all else, will honor Walt’s memory and keep his legacy alive for generations to come.