Have a look at some changes at animal kingdom. The following snapshots are from Africa, Asia, and theater in the wild.
The three Toy Story movies from Pixar, for instance, raked in a combined total of more than $1.9 billion worldwide, including more than $1.06 billion from Toy Story 3 alone.
Then there's Marvel Entertainment's Iron Man franchise, which has taken in a combined total of nearly $2.2 billion to date -- and that includes more than $980 million in worldwide ticket sales from Iron Man 3 since its theatrical release less than two weeks ago. Also from Marvel, there's The Avengers, which itself took in more than $1.5 billion worldwide and has a sequel in the works.
Of course, it seems a foregone conclusion that Marvel's products will continue to deliver, and Jedi fans are looking forward to the fruits of Disney's recent acquisition of Lucasfilm with the 2015 release of Star Wars: Episode VII.
Perhaps most impressive so far, however, is the performance of the four Pirates of the Caribbean movies, which managed a combined box office gross of almost $3.73 billion.
The next big thing
With that in mind, Disney CEO Robert Iger also took the time during his company's latest earnings call to remind investors that Johnny Depp will star as Tonto in The Lone Ranger this July.
In case you're wondering, Depp's involvement is no coincidence; both Pirates director Gore Verbinski and producer Jerry Bruckheimer worked on The Lone Ranger, and Bruckheimer apparently first mentioned the role to Depp way back in 2008 while working on the set of one of the earlier Pirates films.
Believe it or not, I think The Lone Ranger has what it takes to become Disney's next huge franchise.
Before you go rolling your eyes, check out the trailer and tell me it doesn't look entertaining:
That's not to say The Lone Ranger will be able to outperform The Avengers or Pirates of the Caribbean, but if it can manage to achieve even a fraction of the success of Disney's earlier films, you can be fairly sure the House of Mouse won't hesitate to deem it worthy of multiple sequels.
In fact, it looks like Disney may already be expecting that success, considering the movie's budget was rumored to have run up to nearly $250 million, including the construction of several historically authentic trains and a five-mile circular railway built exclusively for the film in the middle of the desert.
Then again, Disney doesn't always succeed in its efforts; last year's John Carter only brought $283 million in worldwide ticket sales, failing to recoup its estimated $350 million budget for production and marketing.
In the end, one would hope the folks at Disney have learned some lessons from that debacle, but only time will tell which way The Lone Ranger rides.
By Liana B. Baker | Reuters
ESPN, the sports channel that is Walt Disney Co's most profitable unit, is cutting 300 to 400 jobs across the company and closing a small Denver office, a person with knowledge of the cuts said. The job cuts, comprising 4 to 6 percent of ESPN's staff of 7,000, include open positions that will not be filled, said the source, who asked not to be named because the information is not public.
But ESPN will continue hiring for other open positions, the person said. The channel has recently won rights to exclusive coverage of the U.S. Open Tennis tournament, and is starting a new channel focused on U.S. Southeastern Conference college football.
The Denver office only has "a handful" of employees, the person noted.
The cuts are part of an ESPN internal review, and are not related to similar measures at Disney, said a source familiar with Disney's thinking, who declined to be named because the information is not public.
ESPN informed its staff about the layoffs on its internal website, and encouraged employees to contact their supervisor with any questions.
ESPN's layoffs were first reported on Tuesday by Gawker Media's sports blog, Deadspin.
The cable channel declined to comment beyond saying in a statement that "we are implementing changes across the company to enhance our continued growth while smartly managing costs."
Reuters reported in April that Disney, which owns 80 percent of ESPN, was cutting 150 jobs at its studio and an undisclosed number at its consumer products division. The Burbank, California-based company also laid off about 150 employees at its newly acquired Lucasfilm unit in April.
In Disney's most recent fiscal half year, ended March 30, its cable operation - which ESPN dominates - accounted for 54.7 percent of overall operating income. Theme parks, its second largest money earner, accounted for just under 20 percent of operating income.
In May, ESPN said it would pay for the rights to U.S. Open Tennis that it did not already have for an amount widely reported to be $825 million. It also said in May that it was starting a new channel focused on the Southeastern Conference, or SEC, that will carry 45 college football games starting in 2014.
Like all sports channels, ESPN been struggling with rising sports programming costs, but it commands the highest affiliate fees paid by cable systems, which are on the rise.
ESPN receives $5.15 per subscriber per month and is seen in well over 101 million homes, according to the National Cable & Telecommunications Association. Disney's cable unit earnings rose by 8 percent, to $2.7 billion, in the latest fiscal 6-month period, the company said.
DirecTV, Dish Network Corp and Time Warner Cable Inc are just some of the cable and satellite TV operators that have complained about rising sports fees that ESPN and its rivals charge.
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Disney said on Monday it will produce a new "Star Wars" animated series to air on television in the fall 2014, giving fans of the science-fiction franchise fresh stories before the next live-action film hits theaters in 2015.
"Star Wars Rebels," based on George Lucas' multibillion dollar film franchise, will be set in the two decades between the events of the third and fourth films, where the Empire becomes a dominant force in the galaxy, Disney said.
"I think 'Star Wars Rebels' will capture the look, feel and fun that both kids and their parents love about 'Star Wars,'" Kathleen Kennedy, president of Lucasfilm, said in a statement.
The animated series, which will premiere on the Disney Channel and shown across Disney XD channels around the world, will come before a new "Star Wars" film in 2015.
"Star Wars: Episode VII," to be directed by J.J. Abrams, is the first of three new "Star Wars" films announced by Disney in October 2012, when it purchased George Lucas' Lucasfilm company for $4.05 billion.
"Star Wars" has become a cultural phenomenon since the first film was released in 1977, making characters such as Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia and Darth Vader, and phrases like "May the force be with you" part of popular culture.
Anticipation is building among the vast "Star Wars" community for the new film, which will be filmed in Britain. The six-film franchise has grossed more than $4.4 billion at the worldwide box office.
The Disney Channel, Disney XD and Lucasfilm are units of the Walt Disney Co.
From the outside, Disney World's famed topiaries are elaborate greenery shaped into characters in playful poses to entertain theme-park guests.
From the inside, they are engineering marvels, architectural challenges, math problems and horticultural success stories. They survive high winds and pesky squirrels.
The topiaries became part of Disney lore when they arrived at Disneyland 50 years ago this month. They blossomed with the addition of Walt Disney World, growing into a dominant feature of the Epcot International Flower & Garden Festival, an annual event that wraps up Sunday.
Erin Youngs, vice president for Epcot, remembers seeing the greenery during annual family vacations from Illinois.
"I remember as a child, driving around Disney World and seeing the topiaries in the distance," she said. "That was a very unique thing for my family to see. It was so special."
Walt Disney became enchanted with topiaries during a trip to Europe. He wanted some in Disneyland, but he wanted them quickly — faster than a tree could grow large enough to be trimmed into a fanciful design.
He called on Bill Evans, who had landscaped Disney's home in Southern California, according to Orlando-based Disney historian Jim Korkis.
"Walt was the idea guy," Korkis said. "Evans made it work."
Evans devised a shortcut, using steel-and-rebar frame to encourage trees to grow into shapes, Korkis said.
"The first topiaries were not going to be Disney characters," he said. "They were just going to be generic animals, which would theme into the animals you had in the attraction."
The first Disneyland topiary, seen in '63, was shaped like a hippo. Simple forms were trial runs for elephant topiaries at "it's a small world," said Korkis, author of "The Vault of Walt."
The topiary tradition carried over to Florida when Walt Disney World opened in 1971. The popular plantings became an expected feature of the new hotels and at special events, but they were difficult to move, said Renee Worrell, a Disney World topiary specialist and planner.
By the time Epcot opened in 1982, stuck-in-the-ground wooden topiaries were problematic, she said.
A moss-based solution made them more mobile. But then another problem surfaced: keeping them moist.
"Once the moss dries out, it's like concrete. It's hard to get hydrated again," Worrell said.
Character topiaries were equipped with elaborate, slow-drip irrigation systems inside them in the 1990s.
The plain green forms from the early days have given way to detailed designs made possible with natural elements such as begonias, seeds and palm fibers. Topiary faces must remain in character, according to Disney standards.
"Just the slightest change in Donald Duck's eyes can make him look angry or happy," Worrell said.
The steel frames are reused and modified. When a Flower & Garden Festival display called for Mickey Mouse in cookout mode this year, the frame was altered to raise his arm and add a fork. That led to recalculations of how much the arm would weigh — dry and wet — and if the structure could handle that. Designers also must know where the topiary will be located and how sunshine and wind will affect plant growth and hydration.
And there are problems with natural predators, such as squirrels — and people. Animals pull at the seeds used for eyes and attempt to nest in the moss. Two-legged paying guests like to handle the topiaries, causing wear, Worrell said.
"It seems like every single day, we've been repairing them," she said. "But people are curious, and they want to see how things are made."
The topiaries work on multiple levels, said Epcot VP Youngs.
"You can appreciate it from the science and logistics of how they made it. You can appreciate it for the pure beauty of it. You can appreciate it because it's a story that you remember," she said.
"Or it's a child who just responds to the fact that they're standing in front of a 14-foot Goofy."
Richard Bilbao Reporter- Orlando Business Journal
This is it, Star Wars fans: Disney’s Hollywood Studios’ Star Wars Weekends is in full effect starting today.
My geek sense is going wild knowing Walt Disney World will host several familiar faces from the Star Wars universe signing autographs for fans throughout the next month. The event also will host several other activities for fans.
For example, this weekend's headliners include Ray Park (who played Darth Maul from Star Wars Episode I), Jeremy Bulloch (Boba Fett in Star Wars Episodes V and VI) and Dee Bradley Baker (voice of Captain Rex in Star Wars: The Clone Wars).
Theme park events like Disney’s Star Wars Weekends tend to provide a bump during non-peak tourism seasons generating business for Orlando. Industry standards show these events help towards drawing tourists to the region, which are expected to be responsible for more than $32 billion in economic impact.
Be sure to check back as our resident Star Wars expert and OBJ photographer, Jim Carchidi, is on-site and has been covering it in-depth between the geek outs and bags of Star Wars merchandise he’s likely hauling around. Follow him on Twitter @MediaLife_OBJ for more.
— Rich out
Oh yeah, and you can click here for more of my blogs. Go ahead — you know you want to do it.
By Josh Levs, CNN
CNN) -- Disney World is looking into reports that some wealthy visitors are hiring disabled people to pretend to be family members so that they can skip lines. "It is unacceptable to abuse accommodations that were designed for guests with disabilities," spokesman Bryan Malenius told CNN Wednesday. "We are thoroughly reviewing the situation and will take appropriate steps to deter this type of activity."
Reports of the alleged practice sparked fury on social media, with some people calling the actions "crazy," "awful," and "despicable."
But others defended the idea, arguing it's a way to help some disabled people make good money.
The debate began with an article in the New York Post.
"The black-market Disney guides run $130 an hour, or $1,040 for an eight-hour day," the report said.
Social researcher Wednesday Martin "caught wind of the underground network" while working on a book about practices among New York City's Park Avenue elite, the Post reported.
"It really is happening," Martin told CNN's "Starting Point" Wednesday.
"I live among the privileged and powerful parents of New York City," she said, "and once in a while I come across a practice that's really surprising."
She added, "It's not my job to judge."
Disney for the '1%'
The Post anonymously quoted one mother as saying, "My daughter waited one minute to get on 'It's a Small World' -- the other kids had to wait 2 1/2 hours. You can't go to Disney without a tour concierge. This is how the 1% does Disney."
The woman said she hired a company called Dream Tours, the Post reported.
The Florida company did not respond immediately to CNN's requests for comment. But it posted a note on its website saying, "Due to inaccurate press and slander, Dream Tours is not offering VIP tours at this time. Our focus has primarily always been providing magical vacations for adults with special needs and helping their dreams to come true."
Ryan Clement runs Dream Tours, and Jacie Christiano is assistant director, according to the website. The Post reported that Christiano served as a tour guide for the mother whom the paper quoted anonymously. Clement told the Post that Christiano has an auto-immune disorder and uses a scooter on the job, the report said.
Disney offers official ways to avoid long lines
It's unclear how often the alleged practice may have actually taken place.
The theme park offers VIP tours and FastPass service allowing people to avoid long lines.
Martin said the wealthy people she spoke with found that hiring a disabled guide can cost less and allow people to skip straight to the front of lines.
Disney World has also been rolling out bracelets designed in part to inform visitors when it's their turn to come to a ride.
Anger erupts, but some defend the idea
People took to social media to express outrage at the idea of wealthy able-bodied people using money to take advantage of a benefit preserved for the disabled.
"This has blood shooting from my eyes this morning," Twitter user Kaneshow wrote.
"Wow, I can't even..." wrote Allison Cole.
And Twitter user Ruth summed up her take in two words: "Con artists!"
But others had a different view.
"At least they are sharing the wealth and providing the less fortunate with over $1000 a day to go to Disney World," one of the first comments on this CNN.com story said, from user "blindliberal."
And jessied44 wrote, "$1040 for a day spent having fun -- not a bad job. Pretending they are part of the family isn't a good example for the children, but providing work for someone who is disabled isn't a bad thing to do."