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Disney's Next Move: Who Will Replace Cook?

Photo of Anne Thompson By Anne Thompson | Thompson on Hollywood September 20, 2009 at 8:48AM

Something had to give at Disney. But motion picture chief Dick Cook was such a fixture at the studio that despite Disney chairman Robert Iger's public complaints about the quality of the movies, I figured production chief Oren Aviv would be the target. Disney's output has been suspect ever since Aviv replaced Nina Jacobson at the studio. Cook, who over 38 years rose up through the ranks to run distribution before he took over running movies, was clearly comfortable with Aviv, who came from the marketing side, but had written the high-concept hit, National Treasure. So Cook and Aviv were both strong marketers, but hit a rough box office patch in the last year.
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Thompson on Hollywood

Something had to give at Disney. But motion picture chief Dick Cook was such a fixture at the studio that despite Disney chairman Robert Iger's public complaints about the quality of the movies, I figured production chief Oren Aviv would be the target. Disney's output has been suspect ever since Aviv replaced Nina Jacobson at the studio. Cook, who over 38 years rose up through the ranks to run distribution before he took over running movies, was clearly comfortable with Aviv, who came from the marketing side, but had written the high-concept hit, National Treasure. So Cook and Aviv were both strong marketers, but hit a rough box office patch in the last year.

The studio came in fifth in 2009 market share; recent box office disappointments were Jonas Brothers 3-D Concert Experience ($23 million worldwide), rom-com Confessions of a Shopaholic ($108 million worldwide) and the remake Race to Witch Mountain ($106 million worldwide). (UPDATE: Here's Kim Masters and the LAT on Cook's unceremonious ouster.)

It makes sense that Iger would want some fresh blood. But it's surprising that he didn't give Cook some kind of face-saving job at Disney. The guy was a loyal company man, a lifer. Not that he's walking away with nothing. He's a wealthy man. But Cook lived and breathed Disney, he's an institution there, and a well-liked figure around town. It feels wrong, somehow.

Who will Iger pick to replace him?

[Photo: From left, Disney's Robert Iger, Dick Cook and John Lasseter with Ratatouille director Brad Bird.]

Thompson on Hollywood

Pixar/Disney animation chief John Lasseter is an obvious choice (and he was not happy with Disney's marketing of such animated films as Bolt). If the studio is chasing strictly Disney family label fare, Lasseter would make sense. He supervised summer blockbuster Up ($473 million worldwide) and the too-pricey G-Force ($197 million worldwide). He can handle Bob Zemeckis's ImageWorks movies, too. But DreamWorks and Marvel will demand care and feeding. And Lasseter is coming from another planet where Hollywood live-action is concerned. It's tough to imagine Lasseter negotiating deals, budgets and stars with the likes of Ari Emanuel, Jerry Bruckheimer and Scott Rudin.

But it's fun to imagine him applying his radical rules of the game to Hollywood studio moviemaking. Would it work, to try and generate an entire slate of Pixar-quality movies? Is it possible? One animated picture a year is one thing...

Here's another proposal. If the economic model for Hollywood big-budget live-action moviemaking is broken, maybe Disney is such a family brand that they could get away with opting out of live-action altogether. They could decide not to participate, and just make TV shows and movies, animated TV cartoons, theme park rides and animated and performance-capture movies. Let Pixar make the Marvel movies. Let DreamWorks and Miramax supply live-action. What about Bruckheimer and Pirates of the Caribbean? Neither are cost-efficient at this point, and Pirates star Johnny Depp isn't happy about Cook's departure, either. You could argue that the Pirates movies are pretty much CG-animated anyway.

But obviously, Disney isn't going to ditch live-action movies. Yet.

September 18, 2009

STATEMENT FROM RICHARD W. COOK, CHAIRMAN, THE WALT DISNEY STUDIOS

I am stepping down from my role as chairman of The Walt Disney Studios, effective immediately.

I have loved every minute of my 38 years that I have worked at Disney…from the beginning as a ride operator on Disneyland’s steam train and monorail to my position as chairman of The Walt Disney Studios. To wrap up my Disney experience in a neatly bundled statement is close to impossible. But what I will say is, during my time at the Studio, we have achieved many industry and Company milestones. Our talent roster is simply the best in the business. I believe our slate of upcoming motion pictures is the best in our history. But most of all, I love the people, my colleagues, my teammates, who are the most talented, dedicated and loyal folks in the world. I know that I leave the Studio in their exceptional hands.

I have been contemplating this for some time now and feel it’s the right time for me to move on to new adventures…and in the words of one of my baseball heroes, Yogi Berra, “If you come to a fork in the road, take it.”
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STATEMENT FROM ROBERT A. IGER, PRESIDENT AND CEO, THE WALT DISNEY COMPANY

“Throughout his distinguished 38-year Disney career, Dick Cook’s outstanding creative instincts and incomparable showmanship have truly enriched this company and significantly impacted Disney’s great legacy,” said Disney CEO Bob Iger. “We thank Dick for his tremendous passion for Disney, and his many accomplishments and contributions to The Walt Disney Studios, including a very promising upcoming film slate. On behalf of everyone at Disney, we wish him the best with all the future has to offer.”

This article is related to: Directors, Genres, Hollywood, Studios, Players, John Lasseter, Bob Zemeckis, Animation, Disney


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Thompson on Hollywood

Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.