Wednesday, January 12, 2011

DISNEY's Golden Opportunity

How'd that Art Babbit anecdote from Richard Williams go? "I'm not a Luddite". A story how animator legend Art Babbit was contesting the use of new technology over traditional ways in animation.

I'm not on a mission to champion hand-drawn animation but, let me stop lying -- I am. But it's only because it's I feel it's one of the last mediums that people can truly say is "magical". Something that seems to be lacking in today's concept of entertainment.

People look at a fantastic CG film like a "Finding Nemo" or "Wall-E" and people say "Wow, how'd they do that?" But logic takes over and says , "Oh, it was done in the computer.....wonder what program they used...." (respect to all the artists who work in CG, of course it isn't that easy, but to the layman....I'd wager that's what many think).

People look at at "Beauty and the Beast", "Lion King" or "Bambi" (even by today's standards), people's suspend their disbelief for a moment and they say, "How'd they do that??" Yes, logic takes over and tells the layman, "Well...someone drew it." But then logic grabs hold again replies: "Yeah, I know they're drawings but....HOW'D did they do that??"

Magic. No program for that.

For those who are animators, draftsmen or illustrators, you know that "look of wonderment" people have when you grab a piece of paper, and like a magician, make a bunch of hand-drawn lines come to life and with personality. People still look at it as some kind of magic trick.

Looking at Disney Animation Studio's box office movie track record, they have a history of "breaking even". Films like "The Lion King" are an anomaly that the studios have desperately been attempting to replicate ever since.

It's virtually criminal how Disney's management literally threw the baby out with the bathwater in an effort to "keep up with the Joneses'" in CG animation.

With the exception of "Treasure Planet" and "Home On the Range" (I feel they just gave up on that one), Disney's hand-drawn films haven't done so badly. "Princess and the Frog" arguably did better at the box office than ALL of Disney's CG animated films. And with "Tangled" coming in at a budget of $250 million (second most expensive film ever made) ---- sad to say box office returns just don't look promising.

'Frog' had a better B.O. performance for their dollar than their CG films which basically broke even. (Which are still failures, because of the low profit margin) And if I'm right the animation for 'Frog' was done in Canada since there aren't any hand-drawn facilities at Disney animation anymore. Cost them even less money to be sure.

To the point, this is a golden, golden opportunity for Disney in this current market. Why doesn't Disney simply do what they do best? "Make moving , appealing films that yes, do have compelling and mature stories --- in traditional hand-drawn animation."

That's what Disney is MOST famous for, right? People say animation of ANY kind and Disney is what comes to mind. And especially "hand-drawn" animation. They have the market on that, and they have never had to apologize for it and they NEVER will.

When every studio is trying to make the next CG blockbuster, wouldn't it make more sense to make something that distinguishes you dramatically from your competitors?? Especially when it's something everyone looks to you on being the authority about, anyway?

Should I insert the "New Coke" vs. 'Classic Coke" business theory in here?

Looking at B.O. sales Disney should stop trying to compete with Pixar, Dreamworks, Sony, Blue Sky, Imagi, Animal Logic or whatever fly-by-night CG studio and go back to doing what they do best: compelling hand-drawn animation. If they are worried about being "left behind" technology wise that's a moot point since they own Pixar.

Films like "Finding Nemo", "Toy Story" or even "Shrek" did so well when they did is greatly because they were different. Yes, the stories were told well, but they also stood out as something attractively new. Something Disney could exploit dramatically right now.

But if they do, they will have to do better than "Winnie the Pooh" as a feature. (As much as I love Pooh) I am sure it will make money but that film has: "targeted for mothers babysitting kids between 11:00 am and 3:00 pm" written all over it. Winnie the Pooh offhand is not what most moviegoers would call a date movie. At least they way it's being marketed it doesn't seem that way. (If I am off or wrong, someone please call me out)

The movies that sell the most year round are comedies...and I'm sure romantic comedies. Isn't that right up Disney's alley? That's basically what everything from Beauty and the Beast, to Aladdin, to Mulan basically were. Comedies with a romantic element. That's why they worked not only as family fare, but were decent enough to be a date movie. (That is when the writing was up to snuff.)

It's one thing for Disney to expand into the CG territory, but doing it in favor to replace a medium that has fueled it's engine for over seventy years was a mistake. When they were at the top of their hand-drawn game, Disney was like the NY Yankees of animation. Who the hell could touch them when they could assemble the dream teams of their choosing?

Am I wrong, but are there dramatically more studios around today making CG animated features? Now that technology has somewhat leveled the playing field somewhat?
When all the studios are trying to impress audiences with CG and 3D this and that, it's hard to know, or care for that matter who is producing what.

Golden opportunity for a studio doing something different to truly stand out. There's a brass ring hanging out there waiting for Disney to reclaim ... again.

To Disney management: "You guys are in the magic business. Who ever thought of the catchphrase: Disney's "Digital Magic" is a moron....I mean, the word is an oxymoron. Digital concepts can be reasoned, explained understood logically.

Magic.... (the thing Disney virtually has the license on) ... magic never is explained so easily. Who knows where that stuff comes from when artists draw? It must be magic because most artists themselves can't explain it. You guys have a hot and rare commodity. Exploit it before someone else does."


  1. Great post. Couldn't have said it better myself.

  2. "And if I'm right the animation for 'Frog' was done in Canada since there aren't any hand-drawn facilities at Disney animation anymore."

    Well, that's not quite right. All the rough animation and most of the key clean-up work was done in-house at Disney's in Burbank. Most of the breakdowns and inbetweens were outsourced to three studios: YOWSA! Animation in Canada, Premise Entertainment in Orlando, FL , and HGN Productions in Brazil. In each case the outsource studios were headed up by former Disney artists and in the case of the Orlando studio (Premise) the entire crew was made up of clean-up artists who had worked on Mulan, Lilo & Stitch, and Brother Bear at Disney's own Orlando studio before it was shut down in early 2004.

    On the recently completed Winnie the Pooh feature the animation and key clean-up was once again done in-house , with YOWSA! providing the follow-up breakdown and inbetweening work.

  3. Oops!

    Really?? Truly, thanks for filling me in on that. I truly thought the hand-drawn facilities at Disney's were closed down.

    Good to know!