Sometime over the ten days, the Walt Disney Company will decide the fate of its Feature Animation facility at Disney-MGM Studio theme park.
Of course, were you take the backstage tram tour at that theme park (or -- better yet -- visit the recently revised "Magic of Disney Animation" attraction at Disney-MGM, where you actually get to view production areas at this facility), you'd never know that this studio was literally hanging by a thread. Were you to ask about all the empty desks, all the cleaned out cubicles that you see while touring "the fishbowl," the WDW cast members who work at Disney-MGM have been instructed to flat-out lie to you. These Disney employees aren't allowed to acknowledge any of the stories that have appeared in the papers about this production facility possibly closing. All they're allowed to say is that "... the artists are currently on hiatus."
Which would be news to the nearly 300 animators and technicians who still work (for the next couple of days, anyway) at Disney Feature Animation -Florida. These men and women (some of which just moved down to Orlando over the past few months to work on "A Few Good Ghosts," WDFA-F's recently cancelled project) don't feel like they're "... on hiatus." They feel like their lives are in complete tatters now. That they're going to have to sell homes that they love, pull their kids out of school, travel halfway across the country with the faint hope that they still might be able to find work in a field that they love ... all because ... well ...
It's hard actually to get anything approaching a coherent answer out of Walt Disney Company management as to why exactly the Mouse is actively thinking about shutting down Disney Feature Animation-Florida. Why for? Because -- to date -- Mickey's PR staff isn't willing to even officially admit that WDFA-F is in danger of closure. The closest that they're willing to come is saying that -- when it comes to Disney-MGM's animation production facility -- that "... the corporation is still considering its options."
Now some people will try to tell you that Disney is supposedly shutting down this studio because "Brother Bear" wasn't a big enough hit. But given that internal Disney documents (that some kind soul in the Team Disney Burbank building forwarded to me late last week) show that -- if you fold in the money that "Brother Bear" is expected to earn during its international release, plus the monies raised by "BB" video, DVD and pay-per-view sales -- that this WDFA-F production will eventually gross somewhere between $400 -- $500 million. Does that sound like a big enough hit for you?
No, the Walt Disney Company is thinking about shutting down Feature Animation -- Florida for one reason and one reason only. It's the exactly same reason that the Mouse has been paring down the size of the animation staff at its Burbank facility for the past few years. Disney Company management has evidently decided that -- if the Mouse is to really remain competitive in today's motion picture marketplace -- its animation operation must become more like Pixar Animation Studio.
So a 65 year-old tradition of telling great stories through traditional animation is going right straight out the window. All because ... well ... because the current management of the Walt Disney Company seems to have lost its way. And -- since Mouse House managers just can't seem to figure out how to turn Mickey back into a leader in the feature animation field -- they'll just have to settle for turning Disney Feature Animation into a follower. I.E. To follow along in Pixar's wake.
And you know the real beauty part of this plan? Under this scenario, it's just the artists that get fired. Whereas all of the allegedly creative VPs at Disney Feature Animation -- the empty-headed executives who greenlit films before they were really ready to go into production, the useless suits who repeatedly ordered ridiculous story changes just to soothe their fragile egos, the pinheads who had absolutely no experience when it came to producing animated films but still wound up calling the shots anyway -- they all get to keep their jobs.
Which means that -- after all the traditional animators are let go -- it'll still be business as usual at Disney Feature Animation. So that we can now look forward to even more seriously flawed Disney animated films. Only -- this time -- they'll be done in CG.
But you know what the execs at Disney Feature Animation are really hoping for? That you won't even notice. That you won't even be aware next week when Mickey finally decides to pull the plug on Disney Feature Animation -- Florida. That this story winds up getting buried by some new incident in Iraq or some Mad Cow Disease coverage. More importantly, that the steady stream of direct-to-video / home premiere productions that continue to pour out of overseas animation production facilities (I.E. The studios that Disney Television Animation continues to out-source most of these productions to) will keep you from noticing that Disney doesn't actually make movies that look like they were traditionally animated in the states anymore.
Well, for the next couple of days (at least), we here at JimHillMedia.com aren't going to let that happen. We're going to keep a spotlight shining on the Disney Feature Animation -- Florida situation. With the hope that -- if we keep this spotlight bright enough -- Mickey might blink. I.E. Rethink his decision to shut-down WDFA-F.
So any artists and/or technicians who actually work at the Disney-MGM animation facility who'd like to talk about what's really going on inside that building, who'd be willing to share what you've been hearing about what's been going on back in Burbank ... we're all ears here at JHM. So just toss your stories our way.
And maybe -- just maybe -- we'll be able to embarrass Mouse House management into backing down. Hey, it's worth a shot.
So -- if you've got Disney Feature Animation-Florida -related stories that you'd like to share -- e-mail them ASAP to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Remember, the countdown clock is ticking.