THE GHOST OF WALT DISNEY still haunts the studio lot he built in Burbank, California, but the avuncular phantom must be troubled these days. For the past five years, most new Disney films have performed none too well at the box office. The only one which could be judged an unqualified commercial success in the United States was the modest animated feature The Fox and the Hound, which opened in the summer of 1981 and brought in $18 million in rentals. However, under a new production chief, Tom Wilhite, aged 30, Disney is at last shedding its Mickey Mouse image and has a schedule of forthcoming productions which could be the envy of other studios. Wilhite was appointed by Ron Miller, Walt Disneys son-in-law, who in June 1982 became president of the entire Disney organisation. The succession had been expected, but the move is bringing changes faster than outsiders had foreseen. A key indication that the studio had graduated from its old formulas was Tex, a low-key story of coming of age in the Midwest. The film was instigated by Wilhite, starred teenage idol Matt Dillon and was the first commercial feature to be directed by Tim Hunter.
Tex has not made its mark on the box office in several months of US release, but it may still prove the most significant Disney film since Mary Poppins in 1964. In 1982, Susie Hinton, the bestselling novelist, was among the most soughtafter authors in Hollywood. Three of her books had been made into films—two of them by Francis Coppola. She had, however, refused Disneys offer to buy Tex because, she said, ‘I have a reputation for realism and I didnt want to see Tex.