Pixar stole the show Friday at The Walt Disney Co. shareholders meeting.
Robert Iger got a warm welcome at his first meeting as Disney CEO when he outlined initiatives planned at theme parks and in the TV and film units.
But it was the $7.4 billion deal to buy longtime partner Pixar Animation Studios Inc. that shareholders seemed to care about the most.
The deal not only shores up Disney’s flagging animation efforts but also symbolizes Iger’s ability to repair relationships damaged under Disney’s longtime CEO Michael Eisner.
The several thousand shareholders who gathered at the Arrowhead Pond, just blocks from the Disneyland theme park, cheered when Pixar’s chief creative officer John Lasseter took the stage.
“I am so proud to be part of this company ... again,” said Lasseter, who worked as a ride operator at Disneyland and later as a Disney animator before joining Pixar and directing such megahits as “Toy Story.”
Lasseter showed clips from his latest animated film “Cars” and a sneak peak at Pixar’s next film, “Ratatouille.”
He praised Iger after saying he had reservations when Disney first suggested buying Pixar.
“I was worried until I got to know Bob Iger,” Lasseter said.
Pixar President Ed Catmull will become head of Walt Disney Animation when the acquisition closes in late April or early May. Lasseter will be the creative head of Disney animation and a creative consultant to the theme parks.
Pixar CEO Steve Jobs, who will take a seat on Disney’s board and become the company’s largest shareholder, was not at Friday’s meeting.
Jobs previously broke off talks to extend Pixar’s relationship with Disney because of personal conflicts with Eisner but renewed talks after Iger was named to head the company last year.
No mention was made Friday of Eisner, who left the company last September after serving 21 years.
Shareholders also cheered when former board member Roy E. Disney was introduced. He led a shareholders revolt against Eisner.
Friday’s meeting was a stark contrast to 2004’s gathering in Philadelphia, where shareholders withheld 45 percent of their votes for Eisner’s re-election — an unprecedented rebuke. The company was also in the midst of an unsolicited takeover attempt from cable TV company Comcast Inc.
Shareholders on Friday easily re-elected Disney’s board, led by George Mitchell, who has said he will retire at the end of his one-year term.
Mitchell previously said he would not seek re-election but agreed to stay while the board searches for a new chairman.
Iger outlined the company’s progress in the past year, especially in the six months since he became CEO. Disney shares have climbed 18 percent since October and rose 7 cents to close at $28.16 Friday on the New York Stock Exchange.
Among other initiatives, Iger told shareholders Disney-owned ABC will soon start showing episodes for free on ABC.com. The shows will include advertising. An advertisement-free option will be available for a per-episode fee.
Disney was the first company to offer TV shows through Apple Computer Inc.’s online iTunes store. Iger said Disney would continue to experiment with new technology. “The riskiest thing we can do is just maintain the status quo,” he said.
“It seems like the company was stagnant for a while, making bad choices, but now it seems like things are turning around,” said Dave Demello, a shareholder from Costa Mesa.
Some shareholders complained about the performance of Disney’s shares, which have traded in the mid-$20 range for several years. But decisions to raise the company’s dividend and shore up Disney’s animation and theme park businesses drew praise.