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By Charles Lam
Wondering what you missed at Disney's California Adventure this Memorial Day? Of course you aren't. And that's the problem, according to SaveDisney.
Headed by disgruntled nephew and former member of the Disney board of directors, Roy Disney, SaveDisney says its mission is to restore Disney to the glory it enjoyed when Uncle Walt's body temperature was still a healthy 98.6 degrees. That's its official mission. In more concrete terms, SaveDisney has only one mission: get Michael Eisner fired and wipe his seed from the face of the Happiest Place on Earth.
SaveDisney spearheaded the shareholders revolt in March, which prompted board members to strip Eisner of his chairman's title and to name a new chairman: former Senator George Mitchell, last seen trying to establish peace in Northern Ireland.
So far, Mitchell's selection has been a great success, at least by Belfast standards—no letter bombs in the Disney executive suites, no kneecappings in the parking garage. But SaveDisney's campaign against Eisner continues. And now it has turned its attention to perhaps the most glaring failure of Eisner's reign: Disney's California Adventure, America's least-favorite theme park.
SaveDisney has posted on its website an amusing and rather damning photo essay of conditions in Disney's California Adventure this Memorial Day (see them for yourself). A photographer identified as "Merlin Jones" (a nod to Walt Disney-era absent-minded professor films) was in the park late Memorial Day afternoon to check out Twilight Zone, Tower of Terror, the new ride Eisner said would improve attendance at California Adventure. Strictly speaking, "new" may not be the correct word, since the same ride opened in Florida's Disneyworld 10 years ago. That's what things have come to: in a desperate attempt to shore up its sinking fortunes, the park that was built as an imitation of California's many attractions is now trying to imitate Orlando.
It takes Jones just 26 minutes to walk from the park's entrance to the new attraction, and he certainly doesn't have to fight the crowds. In fact, the only thing that slows his progress is stopping to take photos of the empty park. There is a line at the Tower of Terror, though it hardly qualifies as a line by Disneyland standards: waiting in line, riding the ride—the whole thing takes only 39 minutes.
In addition to SaveDisney's calls for Eisner's head, ominous rumblings can be detected lately under almost every major entertainment news story. Michael Moore wins the Palme d'Or for Fahrenheit 9/11, a movie Eisner refused to release, making him look like a heavy-handed reactionary or, worse, like a fool who can't spot a hot movie in his own studio. Producer Jeffrey Katzenberg—head of Disney's film division until Eisner drove him out—releases Shrek II and dominates the box office, reminding shareholders that Eisner sometimes goes out of his way to destroy Disney's chances of producing a hot movie. Mel Karmazin steps down as president of Viacom, and rumors immediately circulate that he's angling for Eisner's job. Karmazin's credentials as the head of a major media conglomerate are considered impeccable, and best of all from the perspective of SaveDisney, he's not Michael Eisner.
Still, Eisner has his supporters, lukewarm though they may be. On June 1, Mitchell issued the following statement: "The board has complete confidence in the current management."
Perhaps Eisner could earn a less anemic vote of confidence if he turns California Adventure around. And since looking to Florida hasn't worked, maybe it's time to look at the upside to the downside: Dismal attendance figures? That just means that California Adventure is the only Disney theme park in the world without long bathroom lines. The new advertising slogan practically writes itself: "Disney's California Adventure, the Bladder-Friendliest Place on Earth."