Wednesday, December 16, 2009
Roy Edward Disney, nephew of Walt Disney and son of Roy O. Disney, died today at the age of 79. The LA Times has a thorough obit and photo gallery up, and the Walt Disney Company has put out a statement as well. In short, this is a seismic loss for both the company and for Disney fans everywhere. To many, Roy served as the conscience of the Walt Disney Company, a kind of Jiminy Cricket who vigilantly worked to protect the company's values and ensured that they would endure into the future. He saved the Walt Disney Company from near-certain ruin twice, both times ousting the existing executive leadership to force a change in the company's strategic direction. And he was particularly devoted to preserving the company's preeminent focus on animation. He presided over the Disney's animation renaissance in the late 80s and early 90s as head of the animation division, and he personally shepherded through Fantasia 2000, a labor of love that fulfilled Walt's ambition to continue the Fantasia experiment.
Roy bore a striking resemblance to his uncle, which lent him an air of celebrity (particularly with hard core Disney fans) and served him well as he waged his battles to protect the company created by his uncle and his father, especially the very public battle he fought from 2003 to 2005 that resulted in the departure of CEO Michael Eisner. With Roy's passing, it's unlikely that any other member of the Disney family will ever take such an active role in the company.
Roy Disney got his start with the Disney company by working on the "True-Life Adventures" films. It's bittersweet, then, that this year Disney returned to the tradition of those films under the new DisneyNature production banner. And just last week, Disney made its much anticipated and triumphant return to traditional hand-drawn animation with the release of The Princess and the Frog. And now, like his uncle and father, Roy E. Disney himself has become a part of the storied Disney legacy.