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Mickey's misdirection misfires OR "Since when do new animated features get announced on Sunday afternoons?"

Mickey's misdirection misfires OR "Since when do new animated features get announced on Sunday afternoons?"

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There's this time-honored technique that magicians use. It's called misdirection.

"What's misdirection?" you ask. Well, it's what an illusionist does with his right hand when he doesn't want you to watch what his left hand is doing.

And yesterday, the Mouse's PR staff mounted what some are calling a pretty major misdirection operation. All with the hope that reporters around the globe would stop paying attention to the old news story (I.E. today's closing of Feature Animation Florida) and start "Oohing" and "Aahing" over the new news story (I.E. Disney's dramatic announcement of the studio's next big CG project, "A Day with Wilbur Robinson.")

Why did Disney do this? Because late Saturday night, it became apparent that the WDFAF closure story was not going to go away. Since the news had been officially been broken early Saturday by both the Los Angeles Times and the Orlando Sentinel, the studio's PR department had been inundated with calls from around the globe. From reporters both near and far. Each of them looking for some sort of official comment on Disney's decision to shut down its Florida animation operation.

Given Disney had deliberately leaked this news to the Times and the Sentinel on Friday evening (All with the hope that the WDFAF closing story would have somehow blown itself out by the time Monday morning rolled around again), the Mouse's PR staff knew that they were in big trouble once Reuters picked up the Florida closure story and ran with it. Then came word that NBC would be mentioning the item as part of the network's Sunday morning news reports.

It was then that Mickey's PR department knew that it had to mount a major damage control operation. Try and get ahead of all the bad publicity that the Mouse's decision to shut down its Feature Animation Florida unit was sure to cause the Walt Disney Company. Throw something out there that would (hopefully) divert all the reporters who were hammering on their door.

Which was why -- totally coincidentally -- yesterday afternoon that Walt Disney Pictures' publicity department just HAD TO issue the following press release:

Press Release Source: Walt Disney Pictures

Walt Disney Feature Animation Set To Spend 'A Day With Wilbur Robinson' With New Animated Feature Slated For 2006

Sunday January 11, 2:52 pm ET

BURBANK, Calif., Jan. 11 /PRNewswire/ -- Walt Disney Feature Animation will produce a feature length animated film based on the bestselling William Joyce book, A Day with Wilbur Robinson, it was announced today by *** Cook, chairman of The Walt Disney Studios, and David Stainton, president of Walt Disney Feature Animation. "A Day with Wilbur Robinson," will be executive produced by Clark Spencer ("Lilo and Stitch") and produced by Disney animation veteran Dorothy Mc Kim. Steve Anderson (head of story on "The Emperor's New Groove" and "Brother Bear") is set to direct. The animated film, which will utilize the latest computer-animation techniques, will be produced at Disney's Burbank-based animation studio and is scheduled to be released in 2006. Animation will begin in June 2004.

The fantastic world of William Joyce's beloved 1990 book A Day with Wilbur Robinson comes to life in this comedy-adventure tale that follows one fateful day in the life of a boy-genius who creates a mysterious machine with one fantastic purpose -- to recover the lost memory of the past. What he unlocks instead is time itself, and a visit with a future, a family, and a world whose survival all depends upon him.

Commenting on the announcement, Stainton said, "William Joyce's charming and funny book has everything you could possibly want in an animated film and offers our animation team a rich world of possibilities. Steve Anderson has proven himself to be a great storyteller and will make a great director on this project, given his instincts and passion for the material. Clark Spencer did an amazing job producing 'Lilo and Stitch' and we are thrilled to have him and Dorothy Mc Kim lending their expertise to this project. Our goal at Disney is to tell great stories and to take full advantage of the medium, and 'A Day with Wilbur Robinson' gives us a chance to do both."

Acclaimed illustrator/author William Joyce has previously been associated with Disney on the Emmy Award-winning Disney Channel series, "Rolie Polie Olie," which has earned kudos during its five year run. As a bestselling author of children's books, he has written such favorites as Dinosaur Bob, The Leaf Men and the Brave Good Bugs, Santa Calls, Bentley and Egg, and Nicholas Cricket, among others.

This is the PR department's desperate attempt at working some "Disney Magic." Putting a big happy extremely optimistic story out there about what Disney Feature Animation will be working on in the not-so-distant future out at the same time as the official word is coming down about the Florida studio closing. All with the hope that these two stories (one positive, one negative) will somehow negate one another ... Which means that this whole awful awkward situation will have minimum impact on the Walt Disney Company's reputation.

Seriously, folks. This is how Disney's PR department really intends to answer reporters' questions today. Not to talk about the past (I.E. the corporation's decision to shutter a studio that specialized in making traditionally animated features) but to point to the future (I.E. An exciting new project! Which will be based on a best selling book! That will be made with "the latest computer-animation techniques"! That starts production this summer but will be out in theaters by 2006!)

You understand that no mention will be made at all of the 250 people who are officially being put out of work today. Or the tens of millions of dollars that the Walt Disney Company had already invested in training the WDFAF staff to work in the CG format. Or the virtually brand new $70 million facility that the Mouse had built expressly for its Florida animators back in 1998 ... which is now going to stand empty backstage at the Disney-MGM theme park.

No, Disney's flaks aren't going to want to answer any questions like that today when the studio's public relations office finally officially reopens for business later this morning. Which is why they're going to try and spin the sh*t out of this extremely awful situation. Always stressing the positive ("Did you see that we announced production of a brand new animated film yesterday?") rather than the negative ("Yeah, it was pretty terrible how we jerked all of those WDFAF staffers around for the past two months.")

But something tells me that Mickey's last minute attempt at some misdirection is going to misfire in a really big way. That the mainstream media -- now that it's finally discovered this story -- isn't just going to let go of it. That it's going to continue to ask Disney some pretty awkward questions in the days, weeks and months yet to come.

Which is why I'm predicting that it will be a really blue Monday ... Both for the now-officially-let-go crew at Disney Feature Animation Florida as well as the staff of the studio's PR department. Who are now stuck with the unenviable task of trying to prevent this incredible public relations blunder (I.E. The Walt Disney Company actually turning its back on a 67-year-long tradition of telling great stories through the medium of traditional animation) from continually biting Mickey in the ass.

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