You wanna know what's kind of ironic? One of the most memorable moments from the "Meet the Robinsons" trailer is when that film's villain -- the Bowler Hat Guy -- is tossed out in the street. With all of his belongings soon following after him ...
Copyright 2007 Disney Enterprises, Inc.
"So what's so ironic about that," you ask. Well, the animators & artists who are currently working on Walt Disney Feature Animation's next release just found out that some of them may soon be doing an Bowler Hat Guy impression of their very own in the not-so-distant future. Given that -- just last week -- WDFA announced that it will be making staff cuts once production of "Meet the Robinsons" is complete.
Photo courtesy of Google Images
Mind you, it's not just the talented folks in Burbank who have the blues. Up north in Emeryville ...
... word has begun circulating around the Pixar campus that there's going to be staff reductions at that facility as well. Once production of "Ratatouille" is completed, that is.
Copyright 2007 Pixar / Disney Enterprises, Inc.
"What's with all this belt-tightening," you query. "Wasn't Disney pleased with what 'Chicken Little' earned last year? And didn't Pixar's last release, 'Cars,' make beaucoup bucks at the box office this past summer?"
Well, yes. That John Lasseter film did make $244 million during its initial domestic release. Plus -- when you factor in the $208 million that "Cars" has earned (to date) overseas -- that brings the worldwide box office total for Pixar's newest animated feature to $452 million.
Which is admittedly a very big number. But it wasn't exactly what Wall Street had been hoping for.
Copyright 2006 Disney Enterprises, News Corp & DreamWorks Animation
Truth be told, only Fox's "Ice Age: The Meltdown" managed to meet the investment community's expectations this year. And that was only because this Blue Sky Studios film managed to out-gross the original "Ice Age" 's worldwide gross by over $250 million.
On the other hand, DreamWorks Animation's "Over the Hedge" was labeled a disappointment because it "only" earned $155 million during its domestic release.
Copyright 2006 Columbia, Paramount and Sony Imageworks
"Monster House," "Barnyard: The Original Party Animals" and "Open Season" are also considered disappointments by the investment community because each of these films failed to achieve blockbuster status (I.E. Earning over $100 million during their initial domestic release).
Though -- to be fair -- given that "Open Season" has only been in theaters for 19 days now, it's still too early to say that this Sony Animation production won't actually be able to achieve blockbuster status.
Copyright 2006 Universal Pictures, Disney Enterprises and News Corp
Then there were "Curious George," "The Wild" and "Garfield: A Tale of Two Kitties." Three films whose only hope of recovering their production & promotional costs lies with the secondary market (I.E. Pay-per-view, DVD sales, etc.) ...
Copyright 2006 Warner Bros. & News Corp
... followed by this year's out-and-out bombs, "The Ant Bully" and "Everyone's Hero."
Soooo ... Though no one who works in the animation industry really wants to admit that the bad times have begun, Ed Catmull ...
Ed CatmullPresident of Walt Disney Feature Animationand Pixar Animation StudiosPhoto courtesy of Google Images
... recognized what was going on. That this year's glut of animated features has seriously undermined audiences' enthusiasm for CG.
So even before the last two CG features for 2006 -- DreamWorks Animation's "Flushed Away" and Warner Bros. "Happy Feet" -- hit theaters ...
Copyright 2006 DreamWorks Animation & Warner Bros.
... the combined president of WDFA & Pixar took action. Realizing that it could be quite a while before the box office for these sorts of films recovered, Catmull took steps to contain costs in both Burbank & Emeryville. Significantly scaling back the size of the crews that would be working on those studios' next animated features, "American Dog" and "W.A.L. - E."
Ed also put into place a plan that would temporarily scale back production levels at Disney Feature Animation. One that would put WDFA on the one-new-animated-feature-being-released-every-18-months that Pixar now follows. With the hope that this would then make it that much easier for the two companies to ride out the current CG glut.
Copyright 2008 Disney Enterprises, Inc.
Then after Catmull failed to persuade master animator Glen Keane to switch "Rapunzel" over from being a CG film to a traditionally animated feature ...
Copyright 2009 Disney Enterprises, Inc.
... Ed pinned his hopes on "Enchanted," Walt Disney Pictures' big holiday release for 2007.
Catmull is now counting on audiences to embrace this big screen musical fantasy which will stylishly mix live action with traditional animation. With the hope that this will then throw the door open for a full-fledged revival of traditional animation at Walt Disney Studios.
Which is where Disney vets John Musker (left) and Ron Clements come in ...
Best known as the writing / directing team behind such animation features as "The Great Mouse Detective," "The Little Mermaid," "Aladdin," "Hercules" and "Treasure Planet," Ron 'n' John are already deeply into development of their next project for the studio, "The Frog Princess." Which is deliberately being designed to be a traditionally animated feature.
Should first "Enchanted" and then "The Frog Princess" really prove to be extremely popular with the moviegoing public ... Well, that would eventually allow Ed to achieve his long term goal. Which is to turn WDFA back into a studio that specializes in traditional animation. Thereby leaving the CG to Pixar.
If Catmull were actually able to pull this off, that would then prevent these two divisions of the Walt Disney Company from directly competing with one another. Thereby eliminating situations like the one the studio faced last year with the release of "Chicken Little" ...
Copyright 2006 Disney Enterprises, Inc.
... Where -- at least during the first few moments of that movie -- it was virtually impossible to tell if you were about to see a Pixar film or a Disney animated feature.
Copyright 2006 Disney Enterprises, Inc.
Long range, what Catmull really wants to do here is create two different brands. Of course, the only problem with that scenario is determining the exact difference between what Pixar films are and what Disney animated features are. More importantly, making sure not to favor one brand over the other when it comes to the distribution of great story ideas. Mind you, Disney & Pixar aren't the only animation studios that have been going through a bit of a rough patch. DreamWorks Animation has also had a tough couple of weeks. What with investor Paul Allen ...
... insisting that that studio begin selling shares in a secondary offering, thereby allowing Allen to finally make some profit off of his initial investment in the company. Then news leaked out that -- following the release of "Flushed Away" -- DreamWorks & Aardman Animation Ltd. will officially be parting ways.
That info -- coupled with recent stories that suggest that "Shrek the Third" may be testing poorly in its early preview screenings ...
Copyright 2007 DreamWorks Animation
... -- suggests that DreamWorks Animation may have a tougher time weathering the current CG glut than -- say -- Disney or Pixar. But that said, the studio is still moving ahead with a full development slate. Which includes a sequel to DreamWorks' 2005 hit, "Madagascar" ...
Copyright 2005 DreamWorks Animation
... which will feature the gang from the Central Park Zoo following Alex the Lion (voiced by Ben Stiller) back to Africa. Where this neurotic native New Yorker then meet up with his real lion cousins.
"Madagascar 2" is currently scheduled to hit theaters in the Fall of 2008. Hopefully, by then, we'll all be on the other side of this CG glut. More importantly, that Walt Disney Studios will have formally revived its traditional animation unit by that point.
But what do you folks think? Do you think Ed Catmull's plan (I.E. Shifting WDFA back over to traditional animation, so that that arm of the Walt Disney Company is no longer in direct competition with Pixar Animation Studios) will work? Or should Ed have followed DreamWorks Animation's example and just stayed the course?