After Disney’s death, the film business was revived and expanded by Ron Miller and then Michael Eisner, by moving into adult feature production. Eisner recruited film producer Jeffrey Katzenberg from Paramount and subsequent Disney films such as Good Morning, Vietnam (1987), Dead Poets Society (1989), and Pretty Woman (1990) were all extremely successful at the box office. The studio’s cartoon features also improved artistically and commercially with The Little Mermaid (1989), Beauty and the Beast (1991; the first animated film to be nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture), and Aladdin (1992).

The Disney theme park concept continued to expand, including Disneyland, introduced in Japan in 1983, and Euro Disneyland (now Disneyland Paris) outside Paris, which opened in 1992.


Disney bought Miramax Films in 1993, and the studio went on to produce the popular films Pulp Fiction (1994) and the multi-Oscar winning The English Patient (1996). The Lion King, an animated film that Disney released in 1994, became the company’s most profitable film up to that time. The company’s television division produced a number of successful shows during this period as well, including Home Improvement (1991-1999). At the same time, Katzenberg left Disney to start a new studio, DreamWorks SKG, along with director Steven Spielberg and music executive David Geffen.

Disney explored computer animation in the mid-1990s, partnering with Pixar Animation Studios to produce the acclaimed children’s film Toy Story (1995). Pixar and Disney went on to more success with A Bug’s Life (1998), Toy Story 2 (1999), Monsters, Inc. (2001), Finding Nemo (2003), and The Incredibles (2004). Disney also ventured into live theatre in 1997 with a Broadway musical version of The Lion King. Featuring imaginative puppetry, the hit show won six Tony Awards and transferred to London’s West End in 1999.

In 1995 Eisner recruited Michael Ovitz to become the president of Disney. Before joining the company, Ovitz had founded and run Creative Artists Agency (CAA), which at the time was considered the most influential talent agency in the American film industry. After serving as president of Disney for just over a year, however, Ovitz resigned in December 1996. At a Disney shareholders meeting in early 1997, many investors expressed anger over the size of Ovitz’s severance package, which included Disney shares then valued at tens of millions of US dollars.

The company also suffered a decline at the box office, as Disney’s traditional animated films—including Hercules (1997), Atlantis: The Lost Empire (2001), and Treasure Planet (2002)—failed to meet financial expectations. In 2003 the company announced it was abandoning hand-drawn animation in favour of more popular digitally animated films, and went on to release its first computer-animated film Chicken Little in 2005.

As the studio struggled with change and the ABC television network’s fortunes fell, Disney shareholders became unhappy with the company’s disappointing stock-market performance. A further blow came in early 2004 when negotiations broke down between Disney and Pixar to extend their lucrative partnership. Shortly afterwards, Eisner was ousted as company chairman by the Disney board of directors, although he retained the title of chief executive officer. Eisner retired in October 2005, just as the company opened its newest Disneyland theme park in Hong Kong.

Eisner’s successor Robert Iger reached an agreement with Pixar chairman Steve Jobs in 2006 for Disney to buy Pixar for US$7.4 billion (£4.1 billion).