Katz suit file reveals Mouse profit profile

The already colorful litigation between Jeffrey Katzenberg and the Walt Disney Co. took on some interesting hues this week as internal corporate documents added to the court file show the studio’s heavy reliance on animation and a checkered track record in live-action pics.

According to the internal Disney documents, without such animated fare as “Beauty and the Beast,” new film releases near the end of Katzenberg’s reign as Walt Disney Studios chairman would have lost the studio $92.6 million.

The accountings were added to the court file following a judge’s ruling last week and come just as the studio’s latest toon, “Hercules,” is hitting theaters.

Katzenberg, who was instrumental in kicking the studio’s output of animated fare into high gear and also oversaw live-action pics, has sued Disney for $250 million, representing allegedly unpaid incentive bonuses.

Although the studio continues to profit from homevid releases and ancillary income, such as from “The Lion King,” Disney claims Katzenberg left his contract early and, as a result, relinquished any claim to profits.

One previously confidential document connected to the litigation lists profits and losses for Disney’s movies released in the early 1990s. “Billy Bathgate,” a big-budget Dustin Hoffman movie released in 1991, lost a stunning $55.9 million, according to Disney’s accounting, while the failed musical “Newsies” cost Disney $42.8 million.

The unaudited numbers do not include total income from foreign releases and homevideo.

The court documents illuminate how much money Disney would have lost without the revenues generated by its animated film library. The 1992 worldwide homevideo release of 1940’s “Fantasia” brought in $184.4 million in profits, while the homevideo gains recorded by 1961’s “101 Dalmatians” totaled $96.8 million in North America. Animated re-releases contributed $415 million in Disney profits, more than half of the entire company’s $816.7 million income, the documents show.

At the same time, most live-action titles lost money. While “The Hand That Rocks the Cradle” generated a 1992 profit of $41 million, “Blame It on the Bellboy” and “Passed Away” lost $10.8 million and $18.9 million, respectively.

New animated releases, including “Beauty and the Beast,” barely kept the entire movie slate in the black, as new films made just $19 million on revenues of $1.3 billion, a profit margin of just 1.5%.

The docs were filed following Monday’s ruling by L.A. Superior Court Judge John Ouderkirk, who ruled in favor of attorneys for Katzenberg and ordered Disney to turn over key documents so Katzenberg’s bonus could be calculated (Daily Variety, June 24).

He also assigned retired judge Campbell Lucas to act as a discovery referee for future issues.

The next court hearing in the case is scheduled for July 14. Trial has been set for Nov. 18.

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