Mickey & Woody – Finally Friends!

Steve Jobs’ 2006 is starting with an atomic bang…

First Apple is fresh on the heels of a record-setting sales period, most notably due to the introduction of the video iPod just in time for Christmas. Then just a few days ago, the Intel-based Mac was rolled out and set the personal computer industry all abuzz. Now Apple’s CEO has become a board member – and single largest shareholder – in the Walt Disney Company.

In a surprising move, the board of Pixar Animation Studios approved the company’s $7 billion sale to the Walt Disney Company today. Having been approved by the boards of both companies, the deal needs only the vote of Pixar’s shareholders to go through and given that Jobs owns more than 50% of Pixar’s shares… its practically a done deal.

Ironically, Pixar’s founding member and chief creative officer John Lasseter had left his animation job at Disney in 1984 to join the computer animation team at Lucasfilm Ltd. That division was purchased for $10 million by Steve Jobs in 1986. Although not widely known, Pixar actually got it’s start as a maker of graphics designing computer hardware used for the medical visualization. But in an effort to demonstrate the computer’s graphics power and bolster lagging sales of the system, Lasseter began creating short computer-generated animations.

Industry analysts predict that John Lasseter will take the creative reins – which would be the first time an artist has been head of animation at Disney since Walt died – and subsequently reinvigorate Disney’s animation division with some much-needed vision, innovation, and (most notably) a large dose of soul.

Although Disney developed a bad rep in recent years, the vast majority of that has been attributed to former CEO Michael Eisner. (Roy E. Disney publicly accused Eisner of turning Disney into a “rapacious, soul-less” company.) But since his appointment as CEO in Octobr 2005, Bob Iger made bold strides to rid the company of Eisner’s bad baggage and was responsible for restarting negotiations with Pixar.

As for Steve Jobs, it could be argued that he is this generation’s Walt Disney. Both men are known as forward-thinking and gutsy perfectionists who eschewed formal education in favor of self-taught smarts. Both are know for radically expanding and diversifying the boundaries of their businesses and Jobs’ latest move certainly puts him in a pivotal position to rapidly advance the convergence of new and old media. BusinessWeek’s Ronald Grover summed it up nicely:

“The acquisition will usher in a new era in which Disney, with Jobs and [Iger] allied, could rewrite the rules of how entertainment is distributed digitally via new consumer technologies.”