HOLLYWOOD — Sometimes words can wound. Sometimes it’s what you don’t say that’s even more brutal.
In last week’s conference call to allegedly discuss Pixar’s year-end earnings, topper Steve Jobs missed no opportunity to blast Disney’s Michael Eisner — though he pointedly avoided mentioning the exec by name.
“After 10 frustrating months, we ended our talks with Disney,” Jobs said. “It is not without regret. We will miss Dick Cook and his (studio) team.”
The tenor of Jobs’ comments lends credence to the theory that it was personality conflicts, more than deal points, that derailed talks between the two companies.
On Jan. 29, Pixar announced a halt in negotiations to extend the Disney-Pixar co-production relationship. The two can still collaborate on sequels to their past hits, but Pixar rejected an overture to make a “Toy Story 3.”
But Jobs, in perhaps his most pointed barb, said last week: “We feel sick about Disney doing sequels, because if you look at the quality of sequels like ‘The Lion King 1 ½’ and the ‘Peter Pan’ sequels, it’s pretty embarrassing.”
Jobs expressed confidence Pixar can find a new partner that will provide better terms and that has marketing prowess equal to Disney’s. And Jobs rejected any suggestion there will be a loss of creative quality from ending Pixar’s relationship with the Mouse.
“The truth is, there has been little creative collaboration with Disney for years,” Jobs said.
Jobs did mention his esteemed colleague once: He noted Eisner’s reported skepticism over box office prospects for “Finding Nemo.” The family tooner — most recent in a string of five Disney-Pixar co-productions — ultimately cruised well north of $300 million in domestic B.O., making it the most successful toon ever.
Disney issued a statement after the conference call.
“It is unfortunate that Steve Jobs has grossly mischaracterized good faith negotiations to reach agreement on an extension of the present, successful partnership that has been beneficial to shareholders of both Pixar and Disney,” a spokeswoman said. “It’s also sad and unfortunate that he has resorted to insults and name-calling in the wake of the disagreement. We expected better of him.”
A Disney exec, speaking anonymously, says Jobs’ suggestion that the Mouse wasn’t a creative partner was particularly galling.
Just days ago, a Disney rep participated in a “frame by frame” review of work to date on “Cars,” the Mouse insider says.