At 78, Roy Disney shows no signs of slowing down.
Three years after orchestrating a
successful insurrection against then Disney chief Michael Eisner and becoming
Director Emeritus of his father Roy and uncle Walt’s media empire, the two-time
Oscar nominee (for the animated shorts Destino and The Little Matchgirl) is tirelessly promoting his latest project: Morning
Light, a documentary about one of his
passions, competitive team sailing.
Disney and co-executive producer
Leslie DeMeuse, whom he recently married, would be the first to tell you that
“Morning Light” is about more than a sport or even one of its premier events,
the Trans-Pacific Yacht Race from Los Angeles to Honolulu. (Founded in 1906,
the Transpac was originally scheduled to begin in San Francisco until that
year’s earthquake forced a last-second relocation.) The film chronicles the
journey of 15 handpicked amateur sailors, aged 18 to 22, who were thrown
together last year during a whirlwind training course in hopes of beating
scores of veteran racers to the Hawaiian finish line.
To accomplish that, Disney says,
they needed to learn a few basic lessons.
“It’s a classic race, 2,500 miles
in length, and it puts things like patience, teamwork and the ability to
concentrate at a premium,” says Disney, who began sailing in his late 20s and
has competed in the Transpac at least 16 times, though he’s begun to lose
“The idea was that a group of
young people could work together just as easily as a group of older people who
have done it before. You can’t just throw them on the boat and tell them to
sail it, of course. They needed to work as a team, they needed training. You
can see in the film how much they matured.”
“The ocean can teach you a lot
about life, about rising to a challenge,” adds DeMeuse, who co-founded Channel
Sea Television in 1983 and has produced yacht-racing coverage for ESPN. “We
wanted to show what these kids were like when they left the docks, what they
went through and how they had changed by the time they reached the other side.”
From the time Disney and DeMeuse
announced their plan to recruit an untested crew for their 52-foot racing
sloop, Morning Light, they received 534 applications from sailing enthusiasts
of all ages, despite their stated preference for college-age competitors. (“We
had a 41-year-old guy who said, ‘I don't care what your age requirement is, I
want to go,’” Disney recalls.) In the end, though they met hundreds of
qualified candidates, Disney and DeMeuse narrowed the field to 15, based more
on strength of character than sailing skills.
For Disney, who claims to have
inspired the character Goofy but hardly seems suited for the role, that was
always the point. Morning Light is a
movie about people, not just sailing, and it stands as proof that one of sport’s
most abused clichés – that what really matters is not whether you win or lose
but how you play the game – can still ring true. And that, more than anything
else, is what keeps him in the game.
"I love the ocean," he says. "I'm planning
on racing in the Transpac again next year. I don't intend to stop anytime soon."