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Jobs Jabs at Eisner, Disney Again

Times Staff Writer

Michael Eisner is still getting under Steve Jobs’ skin.

During a conference call with analysts on Thursday, Jobs took aim at the Walt Disney Co. chief executive, referring to him as a “loose cannon.”

Jobs, the chief executive of both Pixar Animation Studios and Apple Computer Inc., was asked about a dig Eisner took at Pixar last week at an investor conference at Walt Disney World in Florida. Responding to a question about the Burbank entertainment giant’s own digital efforts, Eisner described as “pretty pathetic” the computerized human characters created by Pixar, compared with the ones Disney itself is working on with veteran animator Glen Keane, director of the studio’s forthcoming film “Rapunzel Unbraided.”

Jobs said sarcastically: “Our films don’t stack up to ‘Atlantis,’ ‘Emperor’s New Groove’ or ‘Treasure Planet.’ ”

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All three were hand-drawn Disney disappointments.

Jobs then made the loose-cannon reference, saying he figured that it explained why Eisner would say such a thing.

A Disney executive didn’t return a call seeking a comment on Jobs’ remarks.

The tussle between the executives underscored the continuing Disney-Pixar tensions. Despite teaming up to release six blockbusters -- “The Incredibles,” “Finding Nemo,” “Monsters, Inc.,” “A Bug’s Life” and two “Toy Story” films -- the two companies are headed for divorce over money and other issues.

Last year, Pixar broke off talks with Disney and the gloves came off, with Jobs challenging Eisner’s version of their negotiations and adding that “there has been little creative collaboration with Disney for years.”

Jobs’ comments Thursday shared the spotlight with Pixar’s fourth-quarter financial results. The Emeryville, Calif.-based company’s earnings fell 34% to $55.2 million, or 91 cents a share, mainly because a year earlier Pixar was reaping a fortune from “Finding Nemo” DVD sales. Revenue also dropped 34% in the quarter, to $108.9 million. Earnings, announced after the market closed Thursday, still beat analysts’ expectations. A Wall Street favorite, Pixar rose $1 to $89.88 on Nasdaq.

For 2004, Pixar reported its most profitable year, thanks to continuing “Nemo” DVD sales and box-office revenue from “The Incredibles” about a family of superheroes. Earnings rose 13.5% to $141.7 million, or $2.38 a share, on revenue of $273.5 million.

In the conference call, Jobs kept the focus on Disney. He repeatedly asserted that Pixar -- with $850 million in cash and no debt -- was ready for a life outside the Magic Kingdom should Pixar and Disney fail to resuscitate their partnership.

Jobs sprinkled his comments with several references to the “post-Disney era,” noting that Pixar currently had eight new directors busy at work on non-Disney projects, the first of which will be released in theaters in the summer of 2007.

He also reaffirmed Pixar’s seemingly immovable position that the company would “not actively participate” in any sequels to its movies that are made by Disney, including “Toy Story 3" and future installments to “Monsters, Inc.” and “Finding Nemo.”

Jobs also mentioned Pixar’s next release, “Cars,” due out in June 2006. He called it “the seventh and final film we will likely make for Disney.”


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