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When it comes to the Disney / Pixar merger, does "Happily Ever After" come at too high a price?

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When it comes to the Disney / Pixar merger, does "Happily Ever After" come at too high a price?

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Well, Wall Street finally got what it wanted. The merger of Pixar Animation Studios and the Walt Disney Company. And based on what I've been reading on the Web, it would appear that virtually every Disneyana fan is now out there dancing in the street. Giddy at the possibilities of what lies ahead.

Well, forgive me if I don't put on my dancing shoes just yet. But I'm kind of troubled by various aspects of this deal.

Take -- for example -- that price tag. $7.4 billion. That's billions with a "B," folks. For an animation studio that has -- to date -- only produced seven films.

So -- breaking this down -- that means that the Mouse basically paid $1.057 billion to acquire all the rights to the "Toy Story" characters, $1.057 billion for the "a bug's life" characters, $1.057 billion for all the "Monsters, Inc." characters. And so on.

Which would make sense (I guess) if the Walt Disney Company were this character-poor corporation. One that was desperate to get its hands on some licensable franchises that it could then use to people its theme parks and/or give Disney's consumer products division some characters that the public was actually interested in buying.


But this is the Mouse House that we're talking about, people. A corporation that already has more licensable characters than it knows what to do with. Mickey Mouse, Winnie the Pooh, the Disney Princesses, the Power Rangers, the Muppets. The list goes on and on.

So -- given all that Disney already had in hand -- why was it then absolutely necessary for Mickey to pay $7.4 billion to acquire Pixar Animation Studio?

"Well, Pixar is an animation studio that can do no wrong, Jim," you explain. "And they've turned out nothing but hits since 'Toy Story' first hit theaters back in November 1995. Whereas Disney Feature Animation has been on a cold streak since the mid-1990s. Which is why WDFA really needs Pixar right now. To show the Mouse how to make movies that today's audiences really want to see again."

Please. The fact of the matter is -- prior to the Pixar acquisition -- Disney Feature Animation was already on its way back. That studio's first all-CG-effort, "Chicken Little," was a solid box office performer. Which is sure to do even better once the "Chicken Little" DVD hits store shelves on March 21st. And WDFA's next release, "Meet the Robinsons," already has some great buzz. As does the studio's 2008 release, "American Dog."

Whereas Pixar ... Look, the law of averages eventually has to kick in here, people. Someday, Pixar's going to produce a flop. And God forbid if it's "Cars" and/or that animation studio's 2007 release, "Rataouille." Because then you can expect the press to start running all of these stories about how " ... the Walt Disney Company paid $7.4 billion to acquire Pixar. Only to have that studio start turning out flops."

I know, I know. That may seem like a very downbeat take on Pixar's future. But this is America, folks. The place where we love to build people up just so we can then tear them down.

And given all the positive press that Pixar has received to date ... I'm betting that this (right now) is the studio's PR zenith. That -- from here on -- the press will begin gunning for the studio. It'll be positively eager to begin chronicling each and every one of that studio's mis-steps.

As for Bob Iger ... I'm betting that Disney's new CEO now thinks that he'll be Wall Street's darling. Given that he was able to accomplish what Michael Eisner wasn't able to do. Which was bring Pixar back into the fold.

But let's remember that Wall Street is moved by two things: numbers & emotion. Right now, everyone's still pretty euphoric that Iger was actually able to close this Pixar acquisition deal with Steve Jobs. But -- over time -- investors' emotions are almost certain to cool. And if the next few Pixar films aren't actually hits right out of the box (And let's remember that "The Incredibles" did 20% less business at the box office than "Finding Nemo" did. Which could signal the start of a trend) ... Well, then the whole Pixar acquisition story could become the "Disney paid far too much for the Fox Family Channel" revisited.

And then there's the whole Steve-Jobs-is-now-on-Disney's-board-of-directors issue. If Iger thought he had his hands full dealing with Roy Disney & Stanley Gold and/or if Iger thought that Michael Eisner was a micro-manager ... Well, those three are going to seem like a walk in the park compared to Steve Jobs.

But you know who I feel the worst for? John Lasseter. I mean, here is a guy who's already beloved in animation circles ... Who's about to walk into a minefield.

I mean, John's about to become the new ubermeister of animation at Disney. Meaning that he'll be riding herd of what gets produced at Pixar Animation Studios, Walt Disney Feature Animation, DisneyToon Studios and Circle 7 Studios (Yep. That's right. Contrary to popular belief, Circle 7 is not going away. Look for this tiny little studio to become a key component of the whole Disney/Pixar business plan).

But that means Lasseter is going to have to make some pretty tough decisions in the weeks ahead. By that I mean: Pixar already makes CG films. So now does it really make sense for Disney Feature Animation to continue producing its own computer animated movies? If they did, wouldn't that mean that Disney would then -- in essense -- be creating multiple projects that would be competing directly for the exact same market share?

So, okay. What if John decides to put WDFA back in the traditional animation business? I know that that's what the fans supposedly want ... But what about the hundreds of million of dollars that Disney has spent to turn Feature Animation into a CG-based operation? Does the Mouse just walk away from that sizable investment? What are the company's investors (More importantly, Wall Street's movers & shakers) going to think of that decision?

And what about the hundreds of artists and technicians who now work at the all-CG WDFA? Should Lasseter just let all of those folks go and rehire the studio's old traditional animators? If that's really the case, then what's going to happen with "Meet the Robinsons," "American Dog" and "Rapunzel"?

I'll save the political ramifications of who gets invited back to Disney Feature Animation to help revive the studio's traditional animation unit (More importantly, who doesn't get invited back) for another column ... But as you can see, this whole "Disney just buys Pixar and then things will be hunky-dory again" scenario isn't quite as simplistic as some people would like you to believe.

Anyway ... Let me close today's story by leaving you with this one question: What was the real key to Pixar's success to date?

Well, most industry insiders will tell you that Pixar has been so successful because the staff of that studio always takes all the time it needs in order to get the story right. That's why Pixar Animation Studios has actually had this incredible hot streak. That John Lasseter and his team always pay attention to detail. Take all the time that they need to make sure that everything is done just right.

Well, given that John is now supposed to be riding herd on every single piece of animation that the Walt Disney Company will be producing (Not to mention acting as Principal Creative Advisor for Walt Disney Imagineering), is it really realistic to expect that Lasseter will be able to apply that very same attention to detail to every single project that he works on from here on?

Me personally? I don't know if that's physically possible. Which is why I'm not certain that everyone's lofty expectations for this Disney/Pixar merger are actually achievable. Which is why I expect (before too long) that this story will slowly change from being about how everyone thinks that it's cool that Disney & Pixar are finally one to how the Walt Disney Company paid far too much to acquire Pixar Animation Studios.

My apologies for being the wet blanket here. I mean, I'd really love to be wrong about this. And that -- four or five years down the line -- that there really is a happy ending to this corporate fairy tale.

But the way I see it, this whole Disney/Pixar acquisition story is a really complicated tale. And it's not a story that's necessarily going to end happily for everyone involved here. Particularly for those CG artists and technicians who currently work at WDFA. Who are wondering what the future now holds for them.

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