It's been a long time coming but it seems as if Disney (NYSE:DIS) is taking mouse steps in the right direction. With fourth-quarter operating profits more than doubling to $0.20 a share on $7 billion in revenue, it was a healthy close to a year that produced $1.9 billion in free cash flow with the promise of more pixie dust to come in fiscal 2004.

It's worth noting that the only Disney segment not to produce double-digit percentage gains in operating income during the quarter was the theme parks division. As the steady cash cow that typically has to carry the rest of the company, it's refreshing to see Disney make healthy gains in its studio and consumer products segments for a change.

Then again, maybe the studio has to thank the flagship park subsidiary as the inspiration for the summer smash Pirates of the Caribbean. That flick put the "buck" back in "swashbuckler" as well as Disney's bottom-line, and should be a brisk seller when it is released on DVD and the fading videocassette format next month.

Purists are probably tickled at the fact that it's the grand dark rides like Haunted Mansion and Pirates that has moviegoers getting excited about Disney's live action theatrical works again. The company has seemingly abandoned the big-budget family-friendly dark ride over the years in favor of polarizing thrill rides or cookie cutter carnival clones, and maybe this is karma kicking Disney's memory bank so it remembers how it all started.

Build it and they will come. Film it and they will come again.

Disney is starting to realize that a 75-year-old mouse is not too old for roaring lessons. The company teamed up with Hewlett-Packard (NYSE:HPQ) to spend more on its new Mission: Space attraction in EPCOT than Six Flags (NYSE:PKS) will be spending to improve all of its parks next year.

No matter what becomes of its lucrative partnership with Pixar (NASDAQ:PIXR) when the deal ends two computer-rendered releases from now, let's hope that Disney took notes on how to return its animation studio to glory. That's really the only missing piece in this "happily ever after" mosaic. Inked success will only fatten the company's merchandising appeal and quicken the recovery pace of its consumer products while the economy's comeuppance and a dynamic Pirates franchise will prop everything else higher.

What did you think of Disney's fourth-quarter showing? Are you excited about Haunted Mansion coming to a theater near you? What will Mickey Mouse do over the next 75 years? All this and more -- in the Disney Discussion Board. Only on