Disney | Michael Jackson

Disney Chaos: $140 Million and a Saudi Problem

Remember back in June when “Fahrenheit 9/11” was about to be released? Disney wouldn’t put it out, and critics said the reason was they feared that Florida Gov. Jeb Bush would hurt the company’s tax breaks at Walt Disney World in Orlando.

The tussle was so bad that it led to an onerous break between Disney and Miramax’s Weinstein brothers. Since then, Miramax has been in furious cutbacks and internal strife, with Disney claiming in print that the small studio lied to them about the financing of the Michael Moore movie. But a recent report in New York magazine claims that Miramax never lied and Disney always knew they were financing “9/11.”

But was it really all about tax breaks in Florida? Maybe not. The rush to point fingers for blame may have overlooked the obvious.

In June, just as “Fahrenheit 9/11” won the top prize at the Cannes Film Festival and was heading into what would be its $125 million box office take, something else altogether was going on at Disney. According to published reports in the New York Times and business papers, EuroDisney – Disney’s financially challenged theme park — was in grave trouble.

On July 1, just a week after “Fahrenheit 9/11” opened, the Times reported “Disney Gives Details of Plan to Aid European Parks.” The story details the financial history of EuroDisney, including this one important fact that has somehow been overlooked: In 1994, two years after the theme park opened and was already plunged into financial chaos, one man saved it. That was Prince Walid bin Talal of Saudi Arabia. His investment, valued at above $24 million, literally saved EuroDisney from closing and created a bond between the Saudi royal family and Disney CEO Michael Eisner that lasts until this day.

Of course, one of the major subjects of “Fahrenheit 9/11” is the connections between the Saudi royal family and the Bush administration, in which the prince is perhaps the most visible international businessman. According to my sources, Eisner was keenly aware of this when he banned Miramax from releasing the movie. Disney was also trying to get the prince to take part in the financial restructuring of EuroDisney this summer, according to my sources, which would have been severely hindered by the company’s release of the Moore film.

Meanwhile, the Disney shareholders' lawsuit against Eisner and the company’s board concerning how ex-Disney president Michael Ovitz earned $140 million for about a year's worth of work continues in Delaware. Eisner is also facing a soon-to-be-released book by former Wall Street Journal reporter James Stewart, which should be published when the trial is completed. The book, “Disneywar,” is said to have explosive information about inner workings of Eisner’s office, including his backroom tactics in dealing with both Miramax and animation giant Pixar of “Toy Story” fame.

Jacko Defense Lawyer Shakeup?

I told you the other day that the upheavals in Michael Jackson's defense team emanated from Brian Oxman, attorney for Randy Jackson. Rumor has it that Oxman had Michael’s longtime lawyers Steve Cochran and Zia Modabber forced off the case. Watch how things start to happen in the next few days. Weekend meetings at Neverland may have awakened Michael from his Peter Pan slumber. Oxman could be on his way out now too, but getting Modabber and Cochran to return may not be so easy. According to my sources, they haven’t been paid for their work in some time. They join a long list of people that Randy Jackson has simply not dealt with, and that effort to cut costs by avoiding bills has made a lot of enemies of former friends and Jackson loyalists, my sources say.