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:
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...