Friday, June 18, 2010

In Betweeners...

Sevens baby! Sevens...

While the Lamp continues to shine, the Mouse continues to try and find its place in this world...

Tomorrow "Toy Story 3" opens up and is guaranteed to be a success. It's almost a given that this third (and last of the theatrical series, at least) film will bring in truckloads of cash for the Disney vaults. And next year, the release of "Cars 2" will most likely catapult past the original's box office take since all those new, young boys have bought all that merchandise over the past few years. Then we have "Monsters Inc. 2," which will be a hit, and the mystery of "Brave" that is Emeryville/Disney North's only enigma. That gives Bob Iger and all the Suits in Burbank another two and a half years before they'll really have to wonder about profits from these films. I know that nothing is for sure, but Pixar is as close to success as anything or anyone in Hollywood.

But what about the Mouse?

By that, I mean Walt Disney Animation Studios. The Big Brother to little Luxo Jr. has been having some struggles of late. While we all screamed in joy at the thought of Pixar becoming part of the Disney family, what we really looked forward to was John Lasseter being in charge of Walt Disney Feature Animation (now, WDAS). We wanted him to take a bit of that Pixar dust and turn it into pixie dust. Give Disney animation some of the amazing success that Pixar has enjoyed over the last decade. And years later, we're still waiting for that to happen.

Not that the films under his tenure in charge haven't been good. They have, much better than what was seen the last decade almost, but they haven't enjoyed the kind of love, financially speaking that Pixar has enjoyed. From the box office catastrophe that putting "Bolt" up against horribly, badly acted, and badly told stories about vampires, to the sadness that audiences didn't embrace hand drawn animation like we had hoped with "The Princess and the Frog."

So what's up inside the Hat Building? How are things holding up? What projects are moving forward and when will we see Disney return to the glory of yesterday. Right? I mean, look at how Disney's former boss, Jeffrey Katzenberg is doing over across town with his new animation company. Not too shabby, I think.

That right there is one of the worrisome things for animators right now at Disney Animation. While they try to get something going and hope for a success, DreamWorks Animation moves steadily ahead with a large and growing slate of projects. Jeffrey's House has crews that are deep in development on multiple stories that will average out to five films every two years. And the Mouse, well, he's struggling to put one a year out and there is a huge scheduling hole that animators hope to fill soon.

So just as a refresher, here are the projects that are ahead for WDAS:

Tangled (2010).
The Further Adventures of Winnie the Pooh (2011).
Reboot Ralph (2013).

Notice that? Another missing hole, just like 2011 used to be when "King of the Elves" occupied that 2012 spot. But when the story didn't work out it was shelved and in it's place was another project that has travelled through animated development hell, "The Snow Queen." But the story wasn't going smoothly on that and suddenly Disney had a "Royalty" problem and it got shelved. Meaning that now, the year without Disney Animation having a film would be in 2012, not 2011. Development was starting to go better for Rich Moore's "Reboot Ralph" reinterpretation of "Joe Jump," but it wouldn't be out till 2013. So this has animators worried that there won't be a project in between to bridge the gap.

There are a handful (literally) of directors working on projects that are in a strong development state, but each are in varying stages of process and none have been greenlit yet, and the animators are frustrated at a lack of enough projects to keep them all working and employed. Many realize with that 2011 empty spot, several of them will be let go in another round of layoffs, and it's not really helping morale right now. Now, this isn't the same as the morale of several years ago where management belittled the talent and respect was as uncommon trait among the bean counters that walked the halls. They (the animators) all truly admire Lasseter and feel that he and Ed Catmull care, and are trying to turn the division around. It's become a much more creative inspired company, but several feel that the marketing division has had too much influence over what gets made. Princesses, fairies, ect. It seems with TPATF and the Disney Fairies series moving into the latter part of its run that the direction has changed somewhat for the better. There are several ideas being pitched, but nothing has gone so far as to keep staff from realizing that a lull in projects means no work. Several are now preparing their portfolios for a trip down to DreamWorks Animation where a few of their friends have already gone, and where the development slate is far stronger and the workload is far more stable.

Of the few Bothans I've talked to, they feel that the line-up that is coming is strong, but there is just not enough in development. Chris Williams' project is still a ways off and John Musker & Ron Clements are working on two ideas for hand-drawn projects but neither have been given the go yet. The lack of a sure fire hit has also weighed heavy on the hearts of animators as well. After working on "Bolt" and "Frog" they were expecting to be back in the big time, but Pixar's success has overshadowed the older brother. Not that they're jealous, but they want to show the world that they can tell great stories too. This isn't a case of sibling rivalry, but a case of animators thinking they haven't yet had the opportunity to show the talents they know they have. They just don't want to have to go across town to DreamWorks to show them.

It seems that it's harder than we thought to take the magic of a Lamp and turn a Mouse into a Prince...


JValdez said...

Really enjoyed reading this.

On the topic of the Mouse regaining it's glory. It won't be easy. I recently watched Chicken Little for the first time, and I have to say the Opening Sequence was by far one of the most damaging things to Walt Disney's Legacy I've seen. It basically told the audience that everything of Walt Disney's past is not worth the time or money anymore and Satire will be/is what they need.

After watching that, it finally clicked with me why the Mouse is struggling so hard. They basically destroyed their legacy in the 3 minute opening of Chicken Little.

Anonymous said...

Maybe WDAS would do better if its films received better release dates. Bolt went up against Twilight. Princess and the Frog opened days away from Avatar. Tangled and Pooh will open against Harry Potter.

Anonymous said...

I've been saying it on here since PatF was downplayed by Disney itself, the new renaissance of Disney is NOT happening.

Honor, you've been playing on this for years, going on about Disneys triumphant return to animation etc. etc. and how it would be amazing. Well, it hasn't happened, and every single thing since PatF has pointed to it not happening.

All we're watching is an attempt that is spiraling down the toilet.

Disney itself knows this, thus why they're not really giving any of the new films a proper chance.

After Tangled does ok, Winnie the Pooh doing terrible, Reboot Ralph being disasterous, and all the animators leaving for other jobs, I can see Disney animation being boiled down into nothing more than a small group of people producing gimmicky cartoon shorts to be put in front of Pixar films.

Put that in your head... doesn't seem so unbelievable does it.

Pixie Arrhh said...

How many is a handful? You say literally, couldn't you just give the number?

Anonymous said...

Bolt and PATF were both mediocre films. They were much stronger than Treasure Planet and Home on the Range but people don't enjoy films based on how much better they were than other films. A great film generates word of mouth, despite whatever other films are opening the same weekend. Blockbuster competition cannot kill a Disney animated films. Disney is unique in that it's films can have a great value to the company beyond the opening weekend. PATF may not have had the huge numbers they wanted, but I think it's hit enough of a note with kids that the merch and stuff will not let it be forgotten, as opposed to films like Home on the Range or Pocahontas. However, something like Bolt (which did better box office didn't it?) was just sort of a one time thing. It was super contemporary, likeable but not amazing. There was virtually no merchandise. I'm not saying that merchandise keepps a film's legacy alive, but it's certainly a good barometer of an audiences emotional attachment to the film. In short, blaming the competition a film had to deal with is only looking at the short term. A film with great legs will prove to be more valuable in the long run, and a film that is quickly forgotten, well, should be.

I would dearly love to see some evidence of Lasseter's keen sense of story surface in a WDFA film, cause I haven't yet. But it's important to remember that these films are made by several people. It will take several people with great ideas working well together to get a great film made. John's the gatekeeper (among other things) on whether it gets made. I suspect Chris Sander's American Dog would have had a very strong unified look and story, despite the culture at WDFA at the time. Disney needs more Directors and artists like that, who can take the reins and give the world something unexpected. It probably wouldn't have happened under the old regime. We can only hope that it will under Lasseter. But to say it's his fault is just like saying he's stifling fantastic films that people at WDFA are trying to make.

Aksel said...

I'm very afraid they are preparing the way to shut down WDAS. All the talent of Pixar is not John Lasseter, if he remains ruling WDAS without help, the Mouse is in danger... because John always will care about his son Pixar first, particularly now when they are making risky sequels.

Aksel said...

... Pooh will be profitable, but still will be seen like a flop.

"American Dog" would have been undoubtedly an incredible success. Sadly we are looking forward to HTTYDragon 2 (the sequel to the hit) instead Bolt 2... Is Pixar helping WDAS, or is shamelessly replacing it?.

Anonymous said...

A couple of comments:

BOLT really overachieved internationally ($195m) and likely was a profitable film ($300m WWBO film, factoring in all future revenues).

While PRINCESS AND THE FROG was a disappointment, product tied to the property was one of the big sellers for Disney in recent years.

As I understand it, both these films did relatively well as far as DVD sales, given the overall deterioration of the market. I liked both films too personally.

No question that Disney Animation isn't what it once was, but neither of these films were utter financial disasters. HOME ON THE RANGE, ATLANTIS and particularly TREASURE PLANET (Disney took ~$70m write down on that film alone)were. BROTHER was better, but also likely unprofitable. LILO is the only exception and even so, was hardly a success on the scale of even lesser Disney 90's films like POCAHONTAS or MULAN (in adjusted dollars).

Bear in mind too that Lasseter was probably stuck with MEET THE ROBINSONS (and BOLT) because too much treasure was already sunk into them.

So in my mind, Lasseter deserves credit for at least stopping the bleeding and beyond that, taken creative risks (making a 2D classic Disney 'princess' film).

Anonymous said...

the ship is turning - get ready.

Anonymous said...

I think that the public is still learning to trust Disney Animation again.
It seems that most people have blind faith in Pixar at this point, even if the film looks like a stinker to them, they will still go see it because the Pixar has never done them wrong. Unlike Disney...Hence why people may have trouble trusting them.

Perhaps it would help if more people knew that John Lasseter is the chief executive officer at Disney Animation. I don't think enough people know that fact.- Of course, there are also some people who love Pixar films but don't even know who John Lasseter is. (Sad but true)

I loved Bolt and I really enjoyed The Princess and the Frog.

To be honest, if they are looking for a project they might just consider developing a sequel to Bolt. The film was good after all, and it has gained more love since it has been released on DVD. Everyone whom I have personally talked to has liked the film.

I know that it didn't do as well as hoped. It was only because of that Twilight movie driving teens to the theater thanks to the film being filled with good-looking people, but on Thanksgiving weekend Bolt was able to move above Twilight on the box office list.
As long as they take the time to develop a good story I really think that a Bolt sequel would work out.


I am interesting in seeing Tangled, but I am honestly getting a little tired of fairy tales. And perhaps the public feels the same way.

J said...

Pixar is where WDFA was through the 90's. It'll be interesting to see how long they can hold onto their reign.

In all honesty as bad as things look. I can't see Disney closing down their Animation Studio. Remember what happened when they were ready to move over to CGI and pronounced Hand Drawn Animaton Dead. Fans of Walt Disney are not to be taken lightly. If the Walt Disney company truly tried to write-off and close their Animation Studio, it would surely be career suicide for anyone involved.

Pixar is great, but Walt Disney Animation is what started it all.

Anonymous said...

"Walt Disney Animation is what started it all."

And it simply does not have it anymore. Disney faltered at a time when Pixar was popping up and Pixar has now taken its place. Disney will NOT be able to recover from this. The reason they bought Pixar was because they knew this...

Anonymous said...

Anonymous #2, your utter pessimism is NOT welcome here!

Anonymous #3, to say that Bolt and TPatF were mediocre films is a MAJOR offense! The earth could swallow you whole for saying something as stupid as that!

Aksel, WDAS is NOT going to shut down again and you know that it's not!

Anonymous said...

"I suspect Chris Sander's American Dog would have had a very strong unified look and story"

I saw the story reels for American Dog and I can assure you that "unified story" is exactly the opposite of what was on the screen. That movie was a freaking mess story wise. Yes, it had some interesting characters and interesting visuals, but the plot wandered aimlessly all over the place.

Bolt made just over $300 million world wide and did not turn a profit (not even close). The Princess and the Frog made around $270 million world wide and turned a small profit. This includes DVD and merchandise sales for both movies. That's what setting a low budget can do for you.

Doopey said...

Bolt was a good film, but it was marketed and scheduled terribly. Its frustrating that marketing forces so many bad decisions on WDAS (ex: Rapunzel changed to Tangled) but then to make matters worse they do an awful job of actually marketing the product (ex: the trailer for Tangled and that annoying and generic new "Disney" label they add to all movie titles now). Disney marketing used to be the best in the business...what happened?

Anonymous said...

As I understand it..a follow up to Prep and Landing will await the Tangled crew once that films wraps..

That will give them work for a bit at least..

Anonymous said...

TPatF WAS a mediocre film. I was very disappointed with it. It was generic '90's Disney without the wit and magic that elevated '90's films like Beauty and the Beast and The Lion King. It had a weak story and a tepid moral and lousy songs, the sole exception being "Almost There" which was almost good. The script was strictly by-the-book formula film-making. And NONE of the characters really stood out. In fact most of them were annoying, especially Charlotte and that fat unfunny alligator. If the story had focused on Tiana (who was a decent lead character, if not exactly Belle-level) and the firefly, just those two, the story would have been much stronger. But of course we had to have a "prince" and two animal sidekicks (neither of which were exactly Timon and Pumbaa). And turning Tiana into a frog for much of the movie was a major blunder. Her personality disappeared under that bland frog design. All in PatF was a creative flop IMO. Hopefully Tangled will be better. These days, all we true Disney fans have to live on IS hope...

Anonymous said...

What's happening to the marketing department??? Those guys need help... The princess and the frog trailer was horrible! It showed you the entire movie. By just looking at it you learned that:

- Tiana WAS not a princess (you see her as a poor little girl; working in a restaurant; using the public transport)...
- A "witch doctor" transformed Naveen into a frog.
- You learned what happened AFTER the kiss!!! (the movie's biggest plot turn revealed in the trailer!!!!)
- You saw the scene when they transform back into humans!!!!!
- You even saw them getting married!!!

What the hell?!!!

First you have a trailer that shows you the entire movie, and then you have one (Tangled) that shows you nothing (and even manages to make the movie look as silly as a Disney Channel show (Wizards of Weaverly, Sunny with a chance, and the list goes on and on and on)... Or perhaps that's the demographic they're aming for...

Anonymous said...

Well maybe John Lasseter is the problem.... You may recall "Bolt" was originally the Chris Sanders project "American Dog". From the concept art and work I had seen it looked extremeley promising but then Lasseter came in and pushed out Sanders. It's not all bad because it meant we got "How To Train Your Dragon" from Dreamworks but Sanders was a huge talent to lose.

Anonymous said...

Bolt was a good and fun moive! The Studios are not going to close. Most movies make a Profit when you factor in Merchandise, DVD'S ext ext. Remeber overseas most of these movies do really well.

Anonymous said...

After watching "The Princess and the Frog" yesterday, I was also disappointed. The technique was certainly there. It was a beautiful film. The music was excellent, but not memorable. The story was a huge letdown. The focus on her being a waitress and later a restaurant owner was a big downgrade of the princess meme. They have to do better next time.

Anonymous said...

WDFA has been in this position before. They've managed to save themselves before. It may not happen all at once but the doubters will always come out ready to throw in the towel and say it's over.

It aint over.

Anonymous said...

That's right! It's not over!

To those of you still dissing TPatF, Lassetter, Bolt, etc., PLEASE STOP IT AT ONCE!!!