Mickey slips off to Philadelphia for Disney's annual meeting

75 mouse statues missing from Kingdom

February 29, 2004|By Sean Mussenden | Sean Mussenden,ORLANDO SENTINEL

Jim and Pat Beech had planned a special trip to Walt Disney World just to see the 75 Mickey Mouse statues that were installed last fall in honor of the mouse's 75th birthday.

But Disney shipped the Mickeys out of town last Wednesday, angering some vacationers. The statues headed for Walt Disney Co.'s annual meeting in Philadelphia this Wednesday.

"I don't think having them at a shareholders' meeting is fair to all the vacationers who had hoped to see them. Personally, I think it's real poor," said Beech, a Northern Virginia computer specialist who estimates he and his wife have visited Walt Disney World 20 or 30 times since honeymooning at the park in 1983.

The annual shareholders' meeting comes at a critical juncture. Disney Chairman Michael Eisner is fending off a takeover bid from Comcast Corp. and a challenge to his leadership from former Disney directors Roy E. Disney and Stanley Gold.

Gary Foster, a spokesman for the Disney division handling the statues, said the move was a "collaborative decision" made by the people planning the annual meeting.

"We always like to do something special for our shareholders," he said. Besides showcasing the power of the Disney brand, the statues also advertise the broad nature of Disney's business empire, Foster said.

One statue was designed by staffers from ESPN, Disney's sports channel. Another was created by the art department at Disneyland Resort Entertainment.

Such branding talk, though, will likely provide little consolation to those who posted angry messages on Disney Internet chat boards Wednesday night.

"NOOOOOO!!!," lamented a couple named Kim and Chris. "A major highlight of our upcoming March vacation was to see the Mickey's 75th Anniversary statues. ... I'm so mad!"

When unveiling the statues on Mickey's 75th birthday - Nov. 18 - Disney promised to keep them up through the end of April. Even as the statues were being shipped out Wednesday, an official Disney Web site said the statues would remain through that date.

The 700-pound, 6-foot tall statues were designed by an odd mix of artists and celebrities and regular folks - everyone from former mouseketeer Annette Funicello to skater Tony Hawk to movie star Tom Hanks.

After their stint in Philadelphia, the statues are expected to get a two-week "refurbishing" before touring the country, Foster said. They are not expected to return to Walt Disney World before they are auctioned off in 2005.

The Beeches are not sure when they'll get to see them. They had planned a trip to see the Mickeys in mid-April.

When they first heard through the grapevine this week about the planned move, they considered flying down for one day just to see them.

"The more we thought about it, that sounded crazy. But since the public wasn't properly informed, we didn't have the opportunity to make other arrangements," Jim Beech said.

They canceled their trip to Walt Disney World, as a result losing a $139 "exchange fee" on a time share they had booked.

David Brady, a Walt Disney World spokesman, said the decision to send the Mickeys out of town on moving trucks Wednesday came at the last minute.

"The opportunity just came up. I don't think there was time to create any signs" or do anything to get the word out, he said.

The Orlando Sentinel is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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