What does Alan Horn’s hiring mean for the Walt Disney Studios?

You don’t have to be a decent person to run a successful movie studio.

In fact, in many cases, it seems like a lack of decency has led to some of the most successful runs at various studios over the years.  On those rare occasions when someone manages to be a genuinely great person who inspires real loyalty from everyone they work with while also turning out a continual string of major hits, that person is duly celebrated.  Alan Horn, by all accounts, is one of those rare people, and his tenure at Warner Bros. was not only one of the most successful eras the studio ever had, but also seemed to be distinguished by long-term relationships with artists who only had praise to offer when discussing Horn and his management style.

Today, Bob Iger, the chairman and CEO of The Walt Disney Company, issued an official announcement that Horn would be joining the company as Chairman of the Walt Disney Studios.  This puts him in charge of production, distribution, and marketing for anything made or released by Disney, Pixar, and Marvel, and he’ll also be working marketing and distribution on any DreamWorks films that will be released by Touchstone.

It’s a far-reaching position, one that puts him in charge of coordinating some huge personalities.  Rich Ross, who just vacated the position, never managed to create the feeling that Disney was working as a cohesive whole, instead always seeming to be struggling to keep all of those moving parts working.  Horn is on a very short list of people who have demonstrated the necessary skills to run a studio as sprawling as Disney.  Forget about Warner Bros… just look at the way he managed Castle Rock Entertainment, which he co-founded.  That was a small production shingle that grew into a major content provider over the course of his time with the company.  They turned out huge movies as well as “Seinfeld” on the TV side, and by the time he jumped ship to run Warner Bros, it’s safe to say there were few production companies bigger or more successful than Castle Rock.

He’s a guy who juggles a number of other obligations with his work as a studio chief, including seats on the boards of the AFI, the exceptional Harvard-Westlake School here in LA, and the Autry National Center.  He is an engaged member of this community, and the people I know who have collaborated with him describe him as keenly intelligent and always open to good ideas and the input of others.

Perhaps his biggest legacy at Warner Bros. will be the way he helped keep the “Harry Potter” series on track, making through all eight films with so little backstage drama that it almost seems impossible.  He is a big believer in talent, and he encourages overall collaborative relationships.  If he is as successful at bringing filmmakers into the Disney family as he was during his time at Warner Bros., we could be looking at a whole new chapter in the Disney story.

And as much as I like the folks I know over at Disney, it’s about time.  They have the single most omnipresent brand in the world, and yet it sometimes feels like they are rudderless when it comes to actually making movies.  I like the things they’ve tried to do, even when I’m not crazy about the execution, and when they do make a film that works, no one seems more willing to ride that franchise into the ground, a la the “Pirates” movies.  One of the things that Horn was pushing for at Warner Bros was for the studio to get the DC superheroes up and running as a replacement for the Harry Potter series as it ended, but “Green Lantern” put a stop to that, and unless “Man Of Steel” is a monster hit, DC looks like they’re stuck in neutral.  Here, Horn inherits Marvel which has successfully gotten its brand up and running, just as they’re expanding into some new territory, and he should be ready to take full advantage of what Kevin Feige and his team have done.

This seems to me to be the best possible fit, and while it’s going to take some time to actually see the results of him being hired onscreen, the choices he makes for the rest of this year will say a lot about how he sees Disney moving forward.  There will be a fair degree of scrutiny focused on his early choices, if only because of how long Disney’s been struggling to find the right person to run things, and I suspect Horn will very quickly establish the studio as open for business, ready to strike up new relationships and equally ready to reinforce the ones that are already in place.  I think the biggest question will be how Horn works with John Lasseter, but knowing how smart both of these guys are, I’m willing to be it turns into a mutual admiration society, which can only lead to bigger and better things.

Horn’s official start date is June 11, and here’s hoping this is the beginning of a renaissance for the studio.