This past Tuesday afternoon, the news traveled around the Disney lot at lightning speed. PAs saw it displayed on their pagers, while executives read all about it on their Blackberrys. Sharon Morrill -- the long-time president of DisneyToon Studios -- was out.
Morrill -- who (it's said) had made billions of dollars for Mickey in the past 13 years by becoming the driving force behind the company's direct-to-video division -- was out of a job because ... Well ... Times had changed. More importantly, because tastes had changed in Disney's executive suite.You see, John Lasseter (Who became Chief Creative Officer of Walt Disney Animation Studios when the Mouse purchased Pixar in January of 2006) had made it very clear that he wasn't a big fan of Morrill's work. To be specific, he felt that the steady stream of cheaply made video premieres that DisneyToon Studios had produced over the past decade had severely undercut the perceived value of the full-blown animated features that WDAS was producing.
DisneyToon Studios President Sharon MorrillCopyright Disney Enterprises, LCCAll Rights Reserved
Which is why -- almost from the moment that John arrived on the Disney lot -- he began using his influence to pull the plug on various DisneyToon projects. First "The Aristocats 2," followed by "Chicken Little 2 : The Ugly Duckling Story" and "Meet the Robinsons 2: First Date." Lasseter also derailed "Disney's Dwarfs," a new direct-to-video franchise that hoped to capture the hearts of the "Lord of the Rings" crowd.
But of all the projects that DisneyToon had in its production pipeline, the one that seemed to upset Lasseter the most was "The Tinkerbell Movie." This home premiere (Which was said to be Morrill's baby, with the DisneyToon president having lots of input on this movie's storyline) was an awful mess. With this CG film having little if anything to do with the 1953 Disney film that inspired it.
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After watching a work-in-progress version of this home premiere, John then reportedly told Bob Iger that "The Tinkerbell Movie" was virtually unwatchable. That -- if the Walt Disney Company really wanted to use this direct-to-video release to help move their new "Disney Fairies" franchise out into the mainstream -- its story would need a complete overhaul.
Iger then agreed to follow Lasseter's suggestions. And -- as a direct result -- some $30 million worth of animation had to be scrapped.
And at that point ... The handwriting was on the wall. Morrill's movies (Which had once been celebrated for the huge profits that they generated for the Walt Disney Company) were now viewed as being somewhat problematic. Mostly because the home premieres that DisneyToon Studios was producing were now thought to make the really-for-real animated features that WDAS were making seem that much less special.
If John (With the help of Ed Catmull, Lasseter's longtime Pixar colleague as the new president for Walt Disney Animation Studios) really was going to turn this situation around, then a break had to be made from the past. And fast.
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And since Sharon was pushing to put a "Disney Princess Enchanted Tales" DVD series (Which would feature all-new adventures of classic Disney characters like Aurora from "Sleeping Beauty" and Jasmine from "Aladdin") into production (Which John & Ed worried might then undercut audience's interest in "The Princess and the Frog," that new feature that was supposed to revive traditional animation at the studio) ... Clearly a change had to be made at the very top of DisneyToon Studios.
So first Lasseter & Catmull got the "Disney Princess Enchanted Tales" line cancelled (The first -- and now only -- installment of this new series, "Follow Your Dreams," goes on sale in September). Then they got Disney management to remove Morrill herself.
And with that, DisneyToon Studios was now officially out of the sequel business. Oh, sure. There are still a few high profile productions like "The Little Mermaid 3" yet to be burned off. As well as "The Tinkerbell Movie" (along with that trio of sequels that are also supposed to support the "Disney Fairies" franchise) that have yet to be completed & released.
But beyond that ... According to company insiders that I've spoken with, from here on in, DisneyToon Studios will concentrate on creating home premieres that help support various "Playhouse Disney" franchises. So look for this division of the company to now make DVDs that star the characters from "Mickey Mouse Clubhouse," "My Pals Tigger & Pooh" and "Handy Manny."
As for Ms. Morrill ... According to a company spokesperson that I exchanged e-mails with late yesterday, Sharon will " ... take on new duties at The Walt Disney Studios." For the time being, Ms. Morrill's old boss, Alan Bergman (I.E. President of The Walt Disney Studios) will oversee day-to-day operations at DisneyToon Studios. With significant input from John Lasseter & Ed Catmull, or so I'm told.
And with that ... A controversial era ends at the Walt Disney Company. One where the Mouse made an awful lot of money, while -- at the same time -- seemed to strip-mine its own creative legacy. Here's hoping that Lasseter & Catmull made the right call. That -- by shutting down production of all of these home premieres & direct-to-video sequels -- that the new animated features that WDAS will soon be producing will once again seem that much more special to today's audiences. And -- as a direct result of this change -- then perform better at the box office and earn higher profits for the corporation.
But what do you folks think ? Did John & Ed make the right decision here ? Or was it wrong to force Sharon out ? After all, Ms. Morrill had only been following the orders that she had been given by Mouse House managers. Which was to create a series of low-cost animated features that would then generate huge profits for the company as well as extend many of Disney's pre-existing brands & franchises ?
Your thoughts ?
"I bet people would be willing to shell out extra bucks for a DVD toon that's animated by Americans. "
I bet not. Audiences have no idea where something is animated, and they don't care as long as the content is good. Outsourcing animation is nothing new, it's been going on for decades.
"Does anybody honestly think that ANY of the DisneyToons movies will manage to stick around for the better part of a century, earning buckets of money for the studio all the while?"
I think the Aladdin sequels, the Lion King sequels, even the Beauty and the Beast films will be regularly trotted out because they are good enough (or notable enough) to deserve it. I think 'Kronk's New Groove' will remain a staple on The Disney Channel because it is a fun production in its own right.
So, yes, I think some of them will. The good will survive and the crap will be forgotten. Just like the original features.
I'm glad to see it go. While there were occasional moments when a spark of creativity displayed itself in some of the DisneyToons work, those direct-to-dvd releases were mostly the work of calculating executives who were short sighted enough to grab for the faster/easier dollars at the expense of a sustainable future. The demise of the division and its management was inevitable. The only question that knowledgeable people had was, "Why did it take so long for this to happen"? It was the strength of the Disney name that kept everything afloat. It's like that horrible canned soup with Wolfgang Puck's name on it. It tastes nothing like what he himself would cook, but nobody will admit it until they've consumed several Costco-sized cases of it. Was it wrong to force Sharon out? Ummmmm, no. She was not merely "following orders". She was, in fact, giving more orders than she followed. And she created the culture of mediocrity that existed in the division by "forcing out" anyone who challenged that culture.
Personalities and agendas aside, I think the Golden Years of Disney were like the first 2 Spider-Man films. They made you wonder with excitement and awe.
Then they made part 3 and, well, the rest is high-grossing low quality history.
I'd say Disney Toon did better than Spider-Man 3. But hey, I know people that love Imus, too.
About time. Can't tell you how glad I am to see this happen.
<em>“I won't even begin to get into the fairy fart jokes or the strong lesbian tones of the original story.”</em>
Getting rid of Morill is just one more stake driven into Count Eisner's blood sucking legacy. The Pixar deal is beginning to look like a huge bargain.
I am glad they are dumping direct-to-video- sequels.
Jim, I know some of the readers might rip you if you even get near this subject again, but I'm quite interested in what Wall Street's reaction to this is. As entertainment and animation fans, this is certainly a step in the right direction for quality. But for investors, how would they react to the news that Disney is suddenly cutting themselves out of a HIGHLY profitable business? To them, I think it would only be justified if the dilution of Disney animation is reversed, and the box office returns of feature-length films make up for the loss of DTV products.
I think they were about done with this "era" anyway.... there wasn't much left to milk. It just looked more and more like "milking" the more of these things came out.
Although .... you have to say one thing ... at least the content of these features were more wholesome than the stuff being put out by other studios and the cable networks. This is be the only draw back. So the issue isn't the amount of content... they better keep producing something.
I think the shorts are a great idea ... I think creating original and new TV content is a good idea. I think trying to revive the classic Mickey toon's is a great idea. I do think the Tinkerbell movie is a good idea. ... Just like the Goofy Movie, Duck Tails the movie etc.... These were good "kids" movies.
And I believe that some Disney movie classics deserve to be revisited from time to time on the big screen. For instance .... the Rescuers Down Under.... a great adventure movie and better than the first one in my opinion. Return to Neverland... not so good... but at least a full blown movie and not a video sequel.
And there is room for more..... like PETS DRAGON for instance. This movie is one of my favorite movies of all time ... I was 8 when I saw it... and it needs a modern day sequel .. or prequel. It also needs a broadway production. Thats just my opinion.
It looks like Jim got this one mostly correct. He just missed the part about DisneyToon Studios getting rolled into Disney's Animation Studios:
This is a step in the right direction. Go, Lasseter!
I see that the first reply in the comments cites "Return of Jafar" as one of the examples of a good DTV sequel. Well, it's interesting that this was the title they chose. When I was little, I got really excited when I read in Disney Adventures that there was going to be an Aladdin sequel. I remember wondering how they would bring Jafar back, or even the Genie. Then the movie came out and I watched it.
The animation was horrendous. The story and songs had nothing on the original. Even the Genie's presence made no sense. He had those golden cuffs around his wrists that had disappeared at the end of the first movie, and Robin Williams wasn't doing the voice. I was too young to admit to myself what an unbelievable disappointment this movie was, but I will never forget the feeling of precious childhood memories being shattered before my eyes. I am glad that we are finally seeing what I can only pray is the definitive end of this "cheapquel" era where bits of our childhood magic are whored out for cash.
In terms of outsourcing, it's a matter of budgets. Filmation's He-Man series, primarily animated in the US, was one of the more expensive shows on the air at the time- full of rotoscopes, long pans and stock animation.
Disney opened an Indian tv house not long after closing one in Japan.
Nickelodeon's Avatar show is outsourced but timining is left to the tv animation house and it looks amazing- almost theatrical quality.
It's about time this took place. It is unfortunate for Morrill, but this kinda stuff happens all the time. But the sequels had to go! I cringe everytime I see one of those previews - the poorly drawn backgrounds, over-saturated colors and slap-dash representation of classic characters. The sequels were painful and damaging to the Disney brand, legacy and original source material. Good riddance!
The changes will be short-lived and sequels will return. Why? Because dropping them will hurt the bottom line. Disney is a corporation with shareholders that demand a return. The sequels brought in a lot of money and Disney will not be able to ignore that. The sequels capitalized on established characters that people had already been introduced to and had a connection to. That is difficult to do with new characters and do inexpensively.
That does not excuse creating poor quality sequels. As evidenced by examples provided here, there have been sequels that many liked due to good story and good animation. It can be done, so why not do it? The kids like them. They like seeing the characters they love return with new stories.
Dropping the Direct to Video sequels entirely is an error that will not be allowed to continue for too long, returning under new (and hopefully better) direction.
Considering what John Lasseter has done with Pixar and his influence on Bolt, Princess & the Frog & Tangled, his track record is very good. If there are sequels, there will be few in number, but the quality will be excellent. It is too bad that Lasseter didn't bring some of his storytelling talent to Prince of Persia. I sure would have liked to see that franchise make it. Hopefully, he will have a hand in bringing some of the Marvel properties to the screen.