In light of recent events at The Walt Disney Company, I couldn't help but reflect on some of the things said by Roy Disney. How the Disney studio had lost its creative edge, its quest for excellence, and its heritage. I also realize that although the Disney company appears to be the same company we all know and love, it's really just a shallow representation of its former self.
I've not worked full time at Walt Disney Feature Animation since my last film, "WildLife," was shut down. That film was being produced at Disney's new digital studio, an impressive state of the art facility north of the Burbank studio. The building was also the home of "The Secret Lab," Disney's own digital effects unit. This whole thing came crashing down a few years ago, but that's a story reserved for another time. In spite of that, I'm still a constant visitor to the Disney lot because of job assignments, or a visit with a former colleague. During those times, I find myself strolling down the familiar streets of the Old Maestro's Burbank kingdom feeling like I've taken a trip back in time. So, I'd like to share some of those thoughts with you.
It's Wednesday and I'm headed down the quiet streets of the Walt Disney Studio for a late afternoon appointment. I can't help thinking how much things have changed in the last several years. As I glance at the buildings on this sleepy afternoon, the studio seems not all that different from the grand old days when Walt ruled his kingdom. However, I check myself and realize this is a totally misguided view.
Although, little appears to have changed, one could almost call these buildings false fronts. As though some movie company appeared secretly in the night and erected several film sets. The Animation Building, though maintaining its impressive name plate, cannot boast one animator inside the structure, and to be sure, no animation is being created. There are no layout artists in the second floor wings, or background painters creating their special magic with paint and brush. If there are any story boards left in the building, no story artists are in evidence. A glance out the window of 2C would reveal there are no ink and paint women in the Ink & Paint Building. Don't look for the Multiplane, because there are no cameras in the Camera Building, and no film editors in Editorial. As a matter of fact, there's not even any film. The Disney commissary still serves food, leaving it one of the few facilities where the name of the building relates to the activity inside.
So, is the Walt Disney studio simply a sham? A glorified movie set constructed to remind those of an era long past? What about all the people inside the buildings? Who are they, and what do they do? These buildings once housed the most incredible talent in the world. Ideas were born and nurtured in these structures. Now I see rooms and rooms of managers, doing whatever managers do. Once, original artwork filled the hallways. Today, that original art has been tucked away in a facility that rivals the Pentagon in security. Though reproductions abound, in many ways, the entire studio is a reproduction. Originality seems to be a thing of the past, as studio executives loot the Disney legacy for their own selfish gain.
As I continue my afternoon walk, I realize the Walt Disney Studio is not all that different from the studio I visited as a young high school student. Of course, back then the skies were clearer, and the Hollywood hills were not obstructed by the massive ABC building. There are a few new buildings on the site, and the old Zorro set is now a Zorro parking structure. As in times past, employees still gather on park benches and under shady trees for an afternoon break. In some ways, it still feels like 1955. But then, reality sinks in, and I realize that time is gone forever. The wonderful magic factory Walt Disney built has been reduced to a memory. Only the buildings remain.