Toys United the Disney-Pixar Merger, and the
Assertion of “Cultural” Authorship (1995-2010)
At the end of Walt Disney’s 1939 feature Pinocchio, an animated, artificial person, proven to be a money machine for the gypsy impresario Stromboli, becomes, thanks to the intervention of the Blue Fairy, a real boy. In 2006 Pixar, the little company that had demonstrated its capacity to be a money machine to new Disney CEO Robert Iger, became, thanks to the negotiating skills of Steve Jobs, CEO of Pixar, a real conscience for Walt Disney Productions. I shall argue that the terms of Disney’s acquisition of Pixar (consistently called a merger by the two parties), terms that commit Disney to “help maintain Pixar’s corporate ‘culture,’” reflect Pixar’s reading of Pinocchio as an allegory of corporate transformation and the development of something very much like a theory of the function of “culture” as a creative technology within Disney.
To pursue this argument requires a revision of the studio authorship thesis, which is anchored by two claims: (1) an adequate understanding of the historical development and contemporary importance of the Hollywood entertainment business demands an understanding of what still remains its preeminent product, motion pictures; (2) many of those motion pictures cannot be fully understood without interpreting them as corporate texts. The thesis unfolds as a series of entailments: no interpretation without meaning, no meaning without intention, no intention without an author, no author without a person, no person with greater right to or capacity for authorship than a corporate person, no corporate person who can act without an agent, whether executive, board of directors, or employee.1 This chapter adds a clause formulated to fit the circumstances of the transformative Disney-Pixar merger in 2006: the agent of a corporate principal may be its “culture,” acting as the conscience of the corporation.
The critical issue for corporate theory is no longer whether a corporation may speak as freely as any other person, just as Pinocchio magically does when first touched by the fairy’s wand. The U.S. Supreme Court has settled the question with its judgment for the plaintiff in Citizens United v. Federal Election