Not even Mickey Mouse is immune to this recession. But he'll make it through all right.

Walt Disney (NYSE:DIS) is such a strong international performer in most economic climates that distinguished professors hold up the company as an example of risk-taking done right. But this time, we're not just looking at an American downturn -- this time, those tourists from Europe and the Far East who tend to bolster Disney's theme-park traffic when the U.S. suffers and the dollar is cheap have their own problems.

The star performer in Disney's third quarter was the media networks division. ESPN, ABC, and the Disney Channel collectively held their ground year over year, losing just 2% of their sales. The broadcasting industry is fighting online piracy, reticent advertisers, and worries that TiVo (NASDAQ:TIVO) boxes and other DVRs will kill traditional TV advertising. Nearly staying on target despite all these headwinds is an impressive show of Mouse muscle.

All told, revenue fell 7% from 2008 levels to $8.6 billion, and net income stopped at $0.51 per share -- 23% below last year's $0.66 per share. Still, that's $954 million of earnings and $881 million in free cash flow, straight into the bank. Disney remains a true cash machine, even at the worst of times.

Disney's strong brands and near-constant stream of fresh, high-quality entertainment content drives this strength. Smaller rivals like DreamWorks Animation (NYSE:DWA) and Lionsgate Films (NYSE:LGF) rise and fall with individual hits or flops. The News Corp. (NASDAQ:NWS-A) conglomerate is buckling under its own unwieldy weight, trying to figure out how to handle the tack-on businesses it's bought over the years. Disney doesn't have either of those problems.

And the upcoming slate of Disney movies inspires confidence. The Princess and the Frog looks like a real return to Disney's Brothers Grimm-style storytelling roots. The star-studded live-action remake of Alice In Wonderland at the hands of real-life Mad Hatter Tim Burton is sure to draw a crowd. And then there's the third installment of the Toy Story saga next year. 'Nuff said.

That should be enough fuel for Disney's fire to go full steam ahead next year. Disney's parks, consumer products, hotels, and nearly everything else depend on strong, fresh stories to keep the brand healthy. Imagine Marvel Entertainment (NYSE:MVL) without superheroes, or Coca-Cola (NYSE:KO) without those trademark red cans and bottles. Not a pretty thought, is it? But Disney is doing all the right things to avoid such a bland, syrupy fate.

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Walt Disney, DreamWorks Animation SKG, and Marvel Entertainment are Motley Fool Stock Advisor recommendations. Coca-Cola is a Motley Fool Income Investor recommendation. Try any of our Foolish newsletters today, free for 30 days.

Fool contributor Anders Bylund owns shares in Coca-Cola, Disney, and Marvel, but he holds no other position in any of the companies discussed here. You can check out Anders' holdings or a concise bio if you like. The Motley Fool is investors writing for investors.