We’ve all had that experience of watching a new movie, shifting our attention for just a minute and missing a major detail. But that’s potentially much higher stakes when you’re the man responsible for overseeing Disney movies.
Michael Eisner was the chairman and CEO of Disney from 1984 until 2005, during which time the company put out some of its best animated movies, including The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast and of course The Lion King.
It was during a special screening of the latter movie that Eisner found himself looking the other way at a very important moment, which left him baffled over some of the plot.
Disney director and voice star Chris Sanders told the story in a retrospective look back at Lilo & Stitch, which Sanders directed and provided the voice for Stitch.
He told Vulture that he was relieved to be able to make that comedy movie away from the tight focus of the Disney bosses, especially after an experience with Eisner at a screening of The Lion King – on which Sanders worked on the story and production design – after the boss had a bad day of meetings.
Sanders said: “At that pivotal moment — when Simba has grown up and runs into Rafiki, who tells him to look into the water, Simba says: ‘I see nothing’. Rafiki says: ‘No, look harder’. At that moment, Michael Eisner looks down. So Mufasa’s ghost appears, and he says: ‘Simba, you are more than what you have become. You are the one true king’, and Michael looks down the entire time. Mufasa says: ‘Remember who you are’. The clouds recede. And then Michael looks up.”
Sanders explained that Eisner then declared “I don’t even know why Simba went back home” at a meeting after the screening, leaving him confused as to whether to step in and tell everybody what had happened.
“I couldn’t stand up and go ‘he missed it, he didn’t see it’,” said the Lilo & Stitch director. “Jeffrey Katzenberg says: ‘Well, Mufasa’s ghost came back for him’. Michael goes: ‘Oh, I didn’t get that at all’. Jeffrey’s like: ‘How could you miss that?’. Michael’s like: ‘I don’t know. I just didn’t see that. What happened? Mustafa who?'”
Thankfully, Eisner’s lapse in concentration did not have an impact on The Lion King, which went on to be a blockbuster success to the tune of almost $1bn and one of the best movies of all time.