With 2017 coming to a close, we wanted to share our list of the 10 most fascinating Disney personalities of the year — with "fascinating" being used in a variety of contexts. While we are saving our number one pick for our Person of the Year, which will be revealed in the coming days, here is our list of the remaining nine. Do you agree with our results?
Disney's connection to GM extended beyond sponsorship of Test Track when Mary Barra, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of General Motors Co. joined the Disney board this year. You can understand why Disney would want her in their stable as GM stock is up nearly 19% this year.
At the time of her election, Disney's chairman Bob Iger said “Beyond being an incredibly respected leader of a major US company, Mary is recognized as an agent of change with a relentless focus on quality, safety and, most importantly, consumers. Her ability to adapt to a changing technological and consumer-focused landscape makes her uniquely suited for the Disney Board.”
Barra went on the say, “I am honored to be associated with such an iconic organization as The Walt Disney Company. Under Bob’s visionary leadership, the Disney team has continued to set the benchmark for innovation, branding and the highest levels of customer service. GM has worked together with Disney on a number of projects over the years, and I look forward to helping contribute to the company’s ongoing success as the world’s premier entertainment and media enterprise.”
As a fellow "one company person," you can see why Iger would want Barra on the squad. She joined GM in 1980 when she was 18 as a General Motors Institute (Kettering University) co-op student at the Pontiac Motor Division. She worked her way through the organization until she was elected Chairman of the GM Board of Directors in January 2016. She has served as CEO of GM since January 2014. While her initial tenure was rocked by the GM recall scandal, she has appeared to steady the ship while investing in new technologies such as connectivity, electrification, autonomous vehicles and car sharing.
It has been a rough year at ESPN as the network adjusted itself for the digital future by cutting staff while investing in their upcoming ESPN Plus service. While this new direction was being charted, the group had to face the challenges of politics leaking into the world of sports in a way that we have not seen before. The man selected to transition ESPN for the future, shook up the world when he sent out this email a week before Christmas.
Today I have resigned from my duties as President of ESPN.
I have had a wonderful career at The Walt Disney Company and am grateful for the many opportunities and friendships. I owe a debt to many, but most profoundly Michael Lynton, George Bodenheimer and Bob Iger.
I have struggled for many years with a substance addiction. I have decided that the most important thing I can do right now is to take care of my problem.
I have disclosed that decision to the company, and we mutually agreed that it was appropriate that I resign. I will always appreciate the human understanding and warmth that Bob displayed here and always.
I come to this public disclosure with embarrassment, trepidation and a feeling of having let others I care about down.
As I deal with this issue and what it means to me and my family, I ask for appropriate privacy and a little understanding.
To my colleagues at ESPN, it has been a privilege. I take great pride in your accomplishments and have complete confidence in your collective ability to continue ESPN’s success.
Suddenly, the ESPN world was rocked with several on-air talent struggling to wrap their head around the news and what it meant for the future. Bob Iger released a statement saying, “I join John Skipper’s many friends and colleagues across the company in wishing him well during this challenging time. I respect his candor and support his decision to focus on his health and his family. With his departure, George Bodenheimer has agreed to serve as Acting Chair of ESPN for the next 90 days to provide interim leadership, help me identify and secure John’s successor, and ensure a smooth transition. I am grateful for George’s support and look forward to working with him again in this temporary role.”
To say this was unexpected is an understatement as it was just reported that he had signed a long-term extension to give ESPN some stability as it faces some pivotal years ahead of it. Skipper joined ESPN in 1997 and had led the worldwide leader in sports since 2012. It will be interesting to see will be given the tough job to address ESPN's challenges while also seizing the opportunities of their direct-to-consumer service and the possible integration of Fox's regional sports networks. We also wish Skipper the best as he faces his personal challenges.
Dave Mullins directed the latest Pixar short LOU. He joined Pixar in September 2000 and his first project was working as a pre-production animator on Finding Nemo. He went on to animate on a number of Pixar feature films, including Monsters Inc., The Incredibles and Ratatouille.
A life-long lover of movies, cartoons and drawing, Mullins was determined to land a job as an artist. While studying painting in art school, he found a RISC 6000 computer in the computer lab storage closet and taught himself how to use it. After creating his first animation of a walking coat hanger, Mullins was hooked. He graduated Rhode Island School of Design with a Bachelor’s of Fine Art in illustration. He secured his first job in the movies creating animated concession stand ads for theatres.
When it came to directing LOU, it ended up being a family affair. According to Mullins, “I enlisted my wife, Lisa, who is a stop-motion animator, and asked her to build an actual LOU maquette. I fell in love with it and we discovered this very cool thing about using real objects. You can get expressions just from turning the baseballs, so if you turn them in you’ve got an angry expression, you turn them out he’s kind of surprised. This is when LOU really started to come to life.” When he brought that maquette to John Lasseter and Pete Docter, they knew it would be a tough story to animate, but they wanted to face the challenge and ended up crafting another Pixar classic.
Cars 3 director Brian Fee fell in love with the movies as a child when his parents took him to the local drive-in to see The Jungle Book and Star Wars. He took that inspiration to lead to a job at Pixar as a story artist in 2003. While there he worked on such films as the Cars movies, Ratatouille and Wall-E.
While an accomplished professional, it was his personal life that gave him the key to unlocking the story of Cars 3. “Like a lot of us, I struggled to find enough time to explore my passion projects—we all have responsibility at work and at home that don’t leave enough spare time,” said Fee. “Then one day, I spent a couple hours painting a simple picture to teach my daughters about art. Something changed after that. I found the experience so much more rewarding than I ever imagined. That’s what we’re trying to communicate in this movie with the relationship between Lightning McQueen and Doc.”
Fee was also the man behind including the "Humphry Hop" in the film. As he told Laughing Place, "Humphrey Hop is a childhood favorite of mine, I still hum that song, I hum that song at a fairly regular basis, so we re-wrote the lyrics, but really kept that jingle and let people kind of recognize it."
The co-director of Coco rose to the animation spotlight this year. Raised in Grass Valley, Calif., Adrian Molina found inspiration in making home movies with his three siblings when he was growing up. He credits his parents for encouraging him to embrace his artistic and creative instincts and his high school literature program for teaching him how to be critical and aware of storytelling and structure.
He began at Pixar as a story intern in the summer of 2006. He then went full-time and worked on films such as Ratatouille, Toy Story 3, and Monsters University.
Not only did he co-direct the film, he also wrote the screenplay and contributed to most of the songs. “Proud Corazón” hold a special place for the filmmaker. “The lyrics in this song are probably the most personal to me,” says Molina. “It’s about filling your heart with the
pride you have for your family, where you come from and who you’re connected to. [It] speaks to this connection across generations between the Land of the Living and the Land of the Dead. Our thoughts, the memories in our hearts make it possible that our loved ones are always with us.”
We expect Molina's future to be the future tales he will tell, but despite his success, he makes no secret that family is key to his existence. “We are all part of a family. Those relationships are beautiful and complicated. But our family shapes who we are."
Both Walt Disney World and the Disneyland Resort debuted big new attractions this year. While Pandora: The World of Avatar and Mission: BREAKOUT! are very different in terms of setting, pacing, and look, they do share a common link (besides Zoe Saldana) in Walt Disney Imagineering's Joe Rohde.
As the father of Disney's Animal Kingdom, Rohde is no stranger to Disney fans. What some fans might not realize is that his high energy and passion is not because he is the new kid on the block. He has been with Walt Disney Imagineering for nearly 40 years. In fact, you can see him in the Captain EO preshow and voiced Alexander Graham Bell in the American Adventure.
Recently, Rohde told the Disney Parks Blog his emotional connection with Walt Disney Imagineering. “I grew up in Hawaii, so I had only the faintest idea what Disneyland even was, and never really got to experience it until I was 11. But Pirates of the Caribbean was always my gold-standard attraction, from the first time I ever rode it. The quality of the illusions; the integration of music, sets, and action; the sense that the environment goes on and on—all of these were profoundly effective upon me when I was young, and all of them have remained design issues that I strive to express.”
It is unknown if Rohde will be involved the upcoming Marvel projects teased for Disney California Adventure. But with successes ranging from Disney's Animal Kingdom to Aulani and beyond, Disney fans can't wait to see what is next.
You must be doing something right when you are a director, and before your first big budget film is released, Lucasfilm hires you to work on three more. That is what happened when Star Wars: The Last Jedi director Rian Johnson was brought on to lead a new trilogy that takes place apart from the Skywalker saga. This fact is even more impressive considering Lucasfilm's much-publicized challenges seeing eye-to-eye with directors, having lost four since the new Star Wars era began.
“We all loved working with Rian on The Last Jedi,” said Kathleen Kennedy, president of Lucasfilm. “He’s a creative force, and watching him craft The Last Jedi from start to finish was one of the great joys of my career. Rian will do amazing things with the blank canvas of this new trilogy.”
“We had the time of our lives collaborating with Lucasfilm and Disney on The Last Jedi,” Johnson said in a statement with his producing partner “Star Wars is the greatest modern mythology and we feel very lucky to have contributed to it. We can’t wait to continue with this new series of films.”
Once The Last Jedi was released, it became widely debated yet incredibly successful. The film promised that it wouldn't be what fans expected, and there is no debate that it delivered on that oath. With the promise of a part of the galaxy that has yet to be touched, Johnson will have free reign to tell a story in the Star Wars mold, without being beholden to much of what has come before. Perhaps that will make it a little less controversial.
There have only been three "Editors-in-Chief" at Marvel in the last 17 years, so when they name a new one, it is an event. However, when Marvel named C.B. Cebulski as the new EIC, a controversy came to light. There is no question that during his more than 15-year tenure at Marvel, Cebulski has established himself as one of the industry’s top editors, storytellers, and talent recruiters. His editorial and writing highlights include the hit comic book series, Runaways by Brian K. Vaughn and Adrian Alphona, and Marvel Fairy Tales. He is also a renowned talent recruiter, helping to sign the industry’s top talent including Skottie Young, Adi Granov, Sara Pichelli, Phil Noto, Steve McNiven and Jonathan Hickman, among others. More recently Cebulski served as VP, Marvel Brand Management and Development, Asia overseeing groundbreaking deals with manga publisher Kodansha in Japan, webcomics platform Daum in Korea and content creator NetEase in China, bringing Marvel to Asian markets through localized stories and characters.
“C.B. is one of the most well-known, liked and respected editors and personalities in the comics industry. He has a keen understanding of the Marvel brand, and knows the importance of publishing within the larger Marvel ecosystem,” said Dan Buckley, President, Marvel Entertainment. “As our characters continue to reach unprecedented levels of global popularity, we need to ensure our core comic business sets the standard with fresh and compelling graphic storytelling that excites both our longtime fan base and new fans. Marvel has set a high bar for superhero stories for over 75 years, and we believe C.B. is perfectly positioned to take Marvel Comics to new heights.”
Shortly after the announcment, it was revealed that Cebulski had written under the name Akira Yoshida. This wasn't a simple pen-name as Cebulski participated in an elaborate ruse to write comics when he was prohibited to as a Marvel editor. "Yoshida" did work for other publishers, but was then approached by Marvel and ended up being hired for the company he already worked for. “I stopped writing under the pseudonym Akira Yoshida after about a year. It wasn’t transparent, but it taught me a lot about writing, communication and pressure,” Cebulski told Bleeding Cool, which first reported the news. “I was young and naïve and had a lot to learn back then.”
Despite the controversy, Cebulski seems excited about his new job:“Spending these last 18 months in Asia, and introducing more fans here to the depth of the Marvel Universe, I’ve seen firsthand how our comics and characters constantly bring joy into people’s lives all over the world. I hope to continue capturing that creative magic here at home, and deliver inspirational and entertaining stories that are true to the classic Marvel DNA, but built with an expanding global mindset.”
Despite a long legacy of making a huge impact at The Walt Disney Company, Lasseter makes this list for unfortunate reasons. After a disappointing performance at the D23 Expo, many Disney fans were wondering if everything was ok with Disney and Pixar's Chief Creative Officer. As it turns out, it was not.
Here is John in his own words:
I have always wanted our animation studios to be places where creators can explore their vision with the support and collaboration of other gifted animators and storytellers. This kind of creative culture takes constant vigilance to maintain. It’s built on trust and respect, and it becomes fragile if any members of the team don’t feel valued. As a leader, it’s my responsibility to ensure that doesn’t happen; and I now believe I have been falling short in this regard.
I’ve recently had a number of difficult conversations that have been very painful for me. It’s never easy to face your missteps, but it’s the only way to learn from them. As a result, I’ve been giving a lot of thought to the leader I am today compared to the mentor, advocate and champion I want to be. It’s been brought to my attention that I have made some of you feel disrespected or uncomfortable. That was never my intent. Collectively, you mean the world to me, and I deeply apologize if I have let you down. I especially want to apologize to anyone who has ever been on the receiving end of an unwanted hug or any other gesture they felt crossed the line in any way, shape, or form. No matter how benign my intent, everyone has the right to set their own boundaries and have them respected.
In my conversations with Disney, we are united in our commitment to always treat any concerns you have with the seriousness they deserve, and to address them in an appropriate manner. We also share a desire to reinforce the vibrant, respectful culture that has been the foundation of our studios’ success since the beginning. And we agree the first step in that direction is for me to take some time away to reflect on how to move forward from here. As hard as it is for me to step away from a job I am so passionate about and a team I hold in the highest regard, not just as artists but as people, I know it’s the best thing for all of us right now. My hope is that a six-month sabbatical will give me the opportunity to start taking better care of myself, to recharge and be inspired, and ultimately return with the insight and perspective I need to be the leader you deserve.
I’m immensely proud of this team, and I know you will continue to wow the world in my absence. I wish you all a wonderful holiday season and look forward to working together again in the new year.
In a statement Disney said, "We are committed to maintaining an environment in which all employees are respected and empowered to do their best work. We appreciate John’s candor and sincere apology and fully support his sabbatical."
It is unknown what the future will hold for Disney and Lasseter. Would he be able to return after facing his issues? Will the studio, creative community, and audience welcome him back? Who will be the creative leader of Pixar and Disney for the near-future and possibly beyond?
Lasseter has been credited with creating the magic of Pixar that has made them so successful and leading the rebirth of Disney Animation. When Disney bought Pixar, much of what they were paying for was his creative leadership. Now we will find out if Disney and Lasseter have done the most important part of leadership: developing the talent to replace you.
Stay tuned to find out who our pick for the most fascinating person — our Disney Person of the Year — of 2017 is.