In the early 1980s, Walt Disney Productions was struggling, largely bolstered by the success of its theme parks. Within fifteen years, however, it had become one of the most powerful entertainment conglomerates in the world. Staging a Comeback: Broadway, Hollywood, and the Disney Renaissance argues that far from an executive feat, this impressive turnaround was accomplished in no small part by the storytellers recruited during this period. Drawing from archival research, interviews, and textual analysis, Peter C. Kunze examines how the hiring of theatrically trained talent into managerial and production positions reorganized the lagging animation division and revitalized its output. By Aladdin, it was clear that animation—not live action—was the center of a veritable “renaissance” at Disney, and the animated musicals driving this revival laid the groundwork for the company’s growth into Broadway theatrical production. The Disney Renaissance not only reinvigorated the Walt Disney Company but both reflects and influenced changes in Broadway and Hollywood more broadly.
1 “Just Waiting for the Prince to Arrive”: Broadway and Hollywood before the Disney Renaissance, 1982
2 “Sort of Like the Sopranos Took Over the Studio”: Regime Change at Disney, 1983–1986
3 “Make the Audience Fall in Love with Her”: Howard Ashman and Alan Menken, The Little Mermaid, and Disney, 1987–1989
4 “A Celebration of Certain Sensibilities”: Howard Ashman and Alan Menken, Beauty and the Beast, and Disney, 1990–1991
5 “Like the Old-Fashioned Musicals Did”: Robert Jess Roth, Beauty and the Beast, and Disney, 1992–1994
6 “I Don’t Do Cute”: Julie Taymor, The Lion King, and Disney, 1994–1998
Peter C. Kunze is an assistant professor of communication at Tulane University. He is the editor or coeditor of several books, including The Films of Wes Anderson: Critical Essays on an Indiewood Icon, American-Australian Cinema: Transnational Connections, and Taking a Stand: Contemporary US Stand-Up Comedians as Public Intellectuals.
"Peter Kunze’s Staging a Comeback brings a fresh perspective to the Disney 'renaissance' of the 1980s and '90s. He examines these films’ historical connection to the theatricality, anthropomorphic performance, and mediated liveness of classic animation. The book is also noteworthy for the author’s innovative research methods, in light of the studio’s reluctance to open up to independent scholarship. Kunze shows that if you can’t enter the castle over the moat, you can storm it by way of the ramparts."
— Donald Crafton, author of Shadow of a Mouse: Performance, Belief, and World-Making in Animation
"Staging a Comeback tells a fascinating, complex story of corporate ambition, artistic vision, and theatrical collaboration. Kunze brilliantly reveals how the interdependence of theater and animation, New York City and theme parks, Hollywood producers and Broadway musical theater artists enabled Disney’s breathtaking success."— Stacy Wolf, author of Beyond Broadway: The Pleasure and Promise of Musical Theatre across America