Well, I didn’t intend for this week to become the animation apocalypse, but something seems to really be poking the hornets’ nest in Burbank and Emeryville. Snow Queen is back on the shelf, newt is dead, Rapunzel has been ridiculously rebranded as Tangled, and King of the Elves is either in turnaround or abandoned depending on who you talk to.
Then there are the more insidious whispers. Whispers that the Walt Disney Animation Studios will be severely downsized, going to a model similar to the one that has occasionally been pushed on Imagineering – that of a small, centralized core of managers and key creatives still working at Disney, with the production work farmed out to contractors. When Michael Eisner arrived at Disney in 1984, Jeff Katzenberg and Frank Wells originally wanted to go to this television model; if TV animation could be completed so cheaply in Korea or China, why couldn’t this be used for expensive theatrical animation too? Thankfully, Roy Disney and others were able to appeal to Eisner’s desire for prestige and keep animation at the Disney Studios, but who knows what the future holds.
But wait, there’s more – lots of rumbles of internecine squabbling at Pixar, possible troubles with Cars 2, the studio’s noticeable new reliance on sequels, and then today I hear the following words for the first time:
Toy Story 4.
Whenever I’m at some Disney event handing out my silly little business cards to people in Imagineering or Animation, I often tell them, “Feel free to read and yell at me when I get it wrong.” I don’t expect them to be ringing me up and giving me the top-secret scoop on their new projects; I’m hoping, instead, that they’ll set me straight when I’ve really messed up. Because despite what some might think, I do not relish disseminating bad news. I’ve had no happier day in reporting on animation than when Disney and Pixar released their very ambitious production slate in 2008. And while I’ve been talking about these recent rumors and events, no one hopes more than I that I’m completely wrong.
Just keep your eyes open and your ears to the ground, in the off chance that I’m unfortunately not wrong about this. Hopefully the suits are just in panic mode right now, and things will level off like they usually do. We’ve been on the cusp of disaster before only to be pulled out of the fire, so this could just the cycle of executive indecision at work. I’ll bet that if Rapunzel is a hit, the suits will be shoving each other out of the way to see who can take the most credit for it.