"The Piano" is all the rage in Cannes, and when the movie hits these shores later this year, it's likely to stir up similar excitement. Yet take note: "Piano" will be the first movie from Miramax-the folks who brought you "The Crying Game"-to be released since its marriage to Walt Disney. Harvey Keitel's full frontal nudity in "Piano" will be seen under the Miramax banner, but now it's in a Disney movie, too.
The squeaky-clean studio has become more mainstream since its bosses, Michael Eisner and Jeffrey Katzenberg, arrived in 1984. They created new movie divisions (Touchstone, Hollywood) that didn't always trade on traditional family values. The studio rose from a mousy 3 percent market share in 1985 to a current industry-leading 20 percent share. With Miramax and key deals with such filmmakers as Joe Roth and Merchant-Ivory, Disney could release up to 50 movies a year, twice the output of its competitors.
So while much of Hollywood rushes into high-tech hardware, Disney refrains. "Our business is about product, product, product," Katzenberg says. With 500-channel TV in the near future, Disney will be a software warehouse.
The company's reputation for micromanagement and tightfistedness has made top talent reluctant to make movies with Mickey on a per-picture basis. "They have to climb into every nook and cranny," says a producer who's working with Miramax. "Jeffrey can't help himself." Longterm deals may be the only way Disney can keep filmmakers happy. The Miramax pact promises founders Harvey and Bob Weinstein creative autonomy.
The PG public that dotes on "101 Dalmatians" may resist Disney's new adult-the-med movies, but Katzenberg isn't worried. Announcing the Miramax merger last month, he was asked if Walt wasn't spinning in his grave. "I don't know," he said. "I haven't been over to the grave recently."