The following is a rumor. But it is a rumor I have heard many times in the past decade or so. I have heard it enough to believe it is (a) one of those rumors that may be true or (b) a rumor that is just a rumor, but a rumor so widespread that it has begun to affect reality. Let's assume it is (b). If anyone out there has a solid news hook or interview that points to (a), please let me know. But let's assume (b).
The rumor is that the Pixar hierarchy -- near the top and in the talent pool -- includes more than a fair share of traditional Christian believers and that this has played at least some role in the company's stunning ability to make family films that appeal to and, just as importantly, do not offend millions of families in red zip codes all across America. Of course, it is also crucial that people laugh out loud in all zip codes -- red, blue, striped, polka-dotted, whatever.
Like I said, let's assume this is a rumor. But it is a rumor that will now be linked to several facts.
Fact No. 1: During the time that many conservative Christians (led by the alpha males of the Southern Baptist Convention) were very, very mad at Disney, millions and millions of those same traditional believers fell in love with Pixar, pouring out the kind of affection they once showered on Disney.
Fact No. 2: The end of the Michael Eisner era offered Disney a fresh chance to rebuild some old bridges. The Southern Baptists quickly ended their boycott. Perception is often reality.
Fact No. 3: Disney has entered into a very public and very profitable union with the faith-friendly Walden Media (and the C.S. Lewis estate) to take a journey into Narnia and The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe has been precisely the kind of success that both partners hoped it would be. A faith-friendly franchise?
At what point will some people in the paranoid Hollywood establishment start to get sweaty palms? Or, with the box office struggling, will everyone realize that it is perfectly OK to sell millions of tickets to people who go to church?
At the moment, "The Merger" is lifting spirits, as one can sense in the New York Times essay by the great Neal Gabler titled "When You Wish Upon a Merger." I was very disappointed that Gabler did not investigate some of the ghosts (cultural, if not religious) that surround this major event in Hollywood. But you can still sense the hope at the end of his piece. Here it is:
In the end, Disney is doing something that perhaps no other corporation of this size has ever done: actively de-corporatizing itself. It is reassigning authority from the bureaucracy to a small group of creative individuals. It is, in short, trying to resurrect Walt Disney and his early hands-on management style. ...
It has already begun to change the Disney company. In the years I have spent doing research in the Disney archives, I have heard numerous animators moaning Eeyore-like over the sorry state of Disney animation. After the deal's announcement last week, one animator practically floated in, beaming. "They won't let us make bad movies," he told me of the new Pixar crew. It was something an animator might have said many, many years ago at the studio, when Walt Disney held sway and everything was right with the world.
What's my point? Disney needed an infusion of talent, yes. But the company also needed to take care of business out there in Middle America. Can Pixar help Disney do that? Stay tuned.