March 02, 2004 11:41 AM

It’s looking more likely that Mickey Mouse is about to get a new boss, given the aggressive campaign reportedly underway to oust Walt Disney Company chairman and chief executive Michael Eisner.

According to several new reports — including those in the highly influential Wall Street Journal, New York Times and Los Angeles Times — the changing of the guard could take place as early as Wednesday in Philadelphia at the annual Disney shareholders meeting, where Eisner, 62, who has run the company for 19 years, faces stiff opposition from two former members of the Disney board of directors.

One of those directors is Roy E. Disney, the son of Walt’s late brother Roy, who for years ran the business end of the Disney company for his artistic brother.

In a letter to shareholders on Monday, reports The Times, Roy Disney and Stanley Gold restated their vocal demand to remove Eisner, listing a growing number of public and private investors who have said publicly that they do not intend to support him.

The Journal cited a Disney fan site and said Roy Disney had been in touch with the Webmaster for possible support in getting rid of Eisner, whom Disney had reportedly blamed for selling out the company and cheapening its name with substandard movie and theme-park products. Disney and Gold, as well as several stockholders, are still stinging from Eisner’s $90 million job-severance payout to former agent Michael Ovitz, whose tenure as a Disney executive was short-lived in the ’90s.

A more recent flare-up was Eisner’s inability to extend his studio’s business relationship with Pixar animation, which has been responsible for some of the company’s greatest hits, including “Finding Nemo.”

Among the shareholders not supporting Eisner are the California Public Employees’s Retirement System (the country’s biggest public pension fund), as well as the public employee retirement systems in Ohio, Connecticut, New Jersey, New York State and North Carolina, The New York Times reports. Similarly, Eisner does not have fans at the mutual fund company T. Rowe Price, the paper says.

The Walt Disney Company, in backing Eisner, issued its own statement on Monday, underscoring the fact that — given the success of such 2003 films as “Finding Nemo” and “Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl” — Disney’s stock had increased 60 percent in the last year.

At a minimum, say most reports, Eisner will be forced to relinquish the title of CEO come Wednesday, and will thus be stripped of some of his powers.

Both the L.A. Times and the Bloomberg financial news service reported that the likely candidate to takeover Eisner’s CEO spot, should it be taken from him, is News Corp. president Peter Chernin, who oversees FOX (both the movie and TV divisions) among several other responsibilities. Bloomberg also suggests longtime media mogul Barry Diller is another possibility for the job.

Meanwhile, in semi-related news, there’s been another uprising, this time at Southern California’s Disneyland, where the 49-year-old Mad Tea Party ride in Fantasyland is being criticized for having been mechanically tamed and made harder to spin.

The Los Angeles Times says that recently a handicapped writer had been injured on the ride (though not seriously), so the Party has been slowed down — prompting its fans to march to City Hall on Disneyland’s Main Street in protest and post hundreds of messages in Internet chatrooms under headings such as “Save the Teacups,” according to the Associated Press.

There’s even reputed talk of a spin-in, if protestors can get the cups twirling.

In a written statement, Disneyland officials, claiming there have been few complaints, insist: “The ride remains entertaining and exciting for guests of all ages.”

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