Jeffrey Katzenberg lost his pass to the Magic Kingdom yesterday.

Katzenberg, the Walt Disney Studios chief who helped revive Disney's animated film tradition with such blockbusters as "The Lion King" and "Aladdin," was apparently pushed aside in a boardroom power play by his boss, Walt Disney Co. Chairman Michael Eisner.

So much for "Hakuna Matata" (translation: "no worries"), the carefree anthem from "The Lion King."

The departure of Katzenberg -- regarded as one of Hollywood's most successful and talented executives -- marked the end of a drama that had been playing itself out behind the walls of Disney's Burbank studio-and-office compound for months.

Katzenberg had campaigned for anointment as Disney's second-in-command to Eisner since the death of Disney President Frank Wells, Eisner's sagacious adviser, in a helicopter crash last winter. But Eisner declined to make promises to the younger Katzenberg, despite Eisner's slow recovery from emergency heart-bypass surgery earlier this summer.

Eisner put a swift end to the uncertainty yesterday, issuing a statement that Katzenberg will leave the company when his contract expires at the end of September. Disney will split Katzenberg's film and TV domain in two, with Hollywood veteran Joe Roth taking the helm of movies and Disney executive Richard Frank running television operations.

The end was so swift that even Katzenberg barely saw it coming, according to sources, who said the Disney press release announcing the changes was issued moments after Katzenberg was told he would not be remaining.

In interviews yesterday, Eisner and Katzenberg said they had been talking for a year about Katzenberg's status at the company.

"I wanted a little mountain to climb, and I wanted a big new challenge," Katzenberg said. "Michael was not able to find it for me." Eisner characterized Katzenberg's situation as "a little like that seven-year-itch business, corporate seven-year-itch."

Asked if he found his ending unceremonious, Katzenberg replied, "It's easy for someone else to question how graciously or gracefully these things are handled. It's very tough; {Eisner} has had a hard six months."

One Disney insider was more blunt: "This is fully indicative of the magnitude of disrespect and enmity that is extant in the corridors of Mousedom."

The newest Hollywood game will be speculating on where Katzenberg will land. As of yesterday, the only word was an unusual statement by Sony Corp. that he wasn't going to its Columbia studios.

Although rumors of a rift between Eisner, 52, and Katzenberg, 43, had been circulating for weeks, the timing and manner of Katzenberg's fast fade stunned people at Disney and in the movie business yesterday. One Disney executive, Peter Schneider, president of the feature animation division, was so unaware of his boss's impending exit that he arrived for work in shorts and T-shirt yesterday and left early to take his children to Disneyland.

Roth is the former chairman of 20th Century Fox, where he was most closely associated with the release of "Home Alone." He has been a producer affiliated with Disney for 18 months.

But Roth has little experience in animation, one area in which Katzenberg excelled. Known as an animation buff, Katzenberg has gotten personally involved in shaping the story lines of Disney's recent animated films, including the forthcoming "Pocahontas." Eisner says he will now step into that role.

Filmed entertainment is the most profitable division of Walt Disney Co., which includes its theme parks, cable television company and retail stores.

Eisner and Katzenberg are largely responsible for rebuilding Disney in the mid-1980s after the studio and corporation had slipped into lassitude and had been buffeted by two unsuccessful takeover attempts. Eisner had mentored Katzenberg at Paramount Pictures, where both men had worked under media mogul Barry Diller.

People in Hollywood said the relationship between Eisner and Katzenberg has been like that of two estranged brothers -- linked by a common heritage and temperament -- with the elder never quite able to give due respect to the younger's talents.

"They didn't have a great personal relationship," said one writer-producer yesterday. "Katzenberg has a great genius for creating entertainment, but he is not a great businessman; he is not Frank Wells. Michael was not comfortable having Jeffrey in the same position as Frank."

A Disney board member concurred. "Mr. Eisner and the board felt that it just wasn't an appropriate promotion," he said. "We didn't feel that he had the skills for that particular job."

Katzenberg certainly leaves on a high note. Disney is not only enjoying its best summer at the box office on the strength of "The Lion King," but it also has the top-selling album (the "Lion King" soundtrack), the highest-grossing show this year on Broadway ("Beauty and the Beast"), the top TV sitcom ("Home Improvement") and the biggest-selling made-for-video movie of the year ("The Return of Jafar"). All these were supervised by Katzenberg.

The announcement came after the close of the stock market.

In a statement, Eisner said of Katzenberg: "Jeffrey has made an enormous contribution to the growth and success of our animation, live-action motion picture and television business over the past ten years. ... We have had wonderful years together, both here at Disney and previously at Paramount. ... With heartfelt thanks and obvious regret, I wish him well in his future endeavors."

Seasoned Hollywood observers took note of the fact that Eisner's statement concerning Katzenberg covered two paragraphs in a four-page release announcing the ascension of Roth and Frank.

These sources noted similar treatment of Katzenberg in Disney's most recent annual report: He isn't mentioned until Page 27.

Despite being jobless, Katzenberg said he still intends to follow through on his family vacation plans. He's going to Disney World.

Staff writers Kim Masters, Kirsten Downey Grimsley and Margaret Webb Pressler contributed to this report.