Can new Disney Studios chief Alan Horn help heal a battered Magic Kingdom?
“I fully expect to be a stabilizing force,” Horn told TheWrap. “All I want to do is be helpful and keep the waters as calm as they can be.”
The veteran film executive tapped Thursday as chairman of Disney's movie studio has been tasked with steadying a company rocked by the ouster of Rich Ross, whose tenure lasted less than three years and was marked by a series of costly flops like “John Carter.”
Unlike his predecessor Ross, who was weaned on Disney's television unit, Horn comes with impressive bona fides and a real understanding of filmmakers and films. Over more than a decade, Horn helped transform Warner Bros. into a hit-making studio responsible for such blockbuster franchises as Harry Potter and “The Dark Knight” before stepping down as president and COO in 2010.
But at his former home, the job was very much about finding the next Batman and boy wizard, while at Disney the position involves acting more like a ringmaster.
“There is a really extraordinary mix of companies," Horn said."I just found myself excited about coordinating these activities."
Also central to Horn’s portfolio, no doubt, will be managing and occasionally soothing the egos of the major players who oversee many of Disney’s top brands — a group that includes Marvel Chief Executive Ike Perlmutter, Pixar Chief Creative Officer John Lasseter and DreamWorks’ Steven Spielberg, whose studio distributes its films through Disney. Horn's many years in the movie business will have its advantages. For example, he describes the director of “Jaws” as a friend of 40 years.
“I love movies and the movies these guys make at Pixar and at Marvel," Horn said. "These are just fabulous films."
In return for taking on a demanding new job at a point in life when many might be thinking about dialing down work, the 69-year-old Horn said he will have the freedom to put his own mark on Disney’s live-action division. And he said there will be no set rules about the number of films the live action division will create annually.
In fact, he said there will be few restrictions on the types of films he can make, and that he will be allowed to produce movies of varying budgets, not just behemoth productions.
“I fully expect to be involved in all kinds of movies,” Horn said. “It should be a good movie and movie that appeals to families. I’m not going to do a horror film.”
Under Ross, the mandate was to produce fewer films and focus on movies with blockbuster potential that could be seamlessly integrated across the company's sprawling entertainment empire — from its merchandising division to its theme parks.
In the process, Disney’s live action unit has been dramatically reduced in importance. While divisions like Marvel and Pixar are producing the showy offerings like “The Avengers” and the upcoming “Brave,” at the studio that bears company founder Walt Disney’s name’s output has withered to just two films in 2012 — “John Carter” and the family drama “The Odd Life of Timothy Green.”
Also read: 'Potter' to 'Dark Knight' to 'Inception': The Legacy of Alan Horn (slideshow)
Horn balks at naming his favorite Disney movie, saying it is analogous to picking a favorite child. Nevertheless, the one that springs to mind should bring a smile to John Lasseter’s face.
“I love ‘Finding Nemo,’” he offers. “It just makes me laugh.”
"Finding Nemo" aside, the question remains: Why this and why now? After all, Horn left Warner Bros. on a high note, enjoying a string of creative and critical triumphs like “Million Dollar Baby,” “Inception” and “Happy Feet.”
Through his advocacy of so-called tentpole productions, the studio found itself at or near the top of the box office throughout his reign. But Horn said he was not ready to retire.
“Over the past year, I’ve had plenty of time to ruminate around the house,” he said. “I’m not a golfer, and my wife is a busy lady. We’re empty nesters, and our girls are all college graduates, so I found myself with lots of free time.”
Horn said that when Walt Disney Company Chairman and CEO Bob Iger reached out to him, he jumped.
“There are not a lot of positions to run a studio in Hollywood,” he said. “This was one of those rare opportunities, and they don’t come around very often.”