Jim On Film
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Walt Disney Feature Animation
Episode 41: A New Hope
"Paradise is burning down,
What paradise there was."
--from Marie Christine
An amazing $312 million in domestic box office take. Now thats paradise. In the mid-90s, in order to maintain that paradise, and with other animation empires (such as Warner Bros., Fox, and DreamWorks) budding on the horizon, Disney built its animation department to epic numbers, keeping their prized artists by granting them epic salaries, leading to epic film budgets.
But as paradise was building, the market became over-saturated. This, along with other reasons that are up for debate, no traditionally animated film released after The Lion King has made as much money. How this should be interpreted is also an issue up for debate (see Jim on Film from 2/7/02 for more on this), but what is most important at this time is how Disney is interpreting it and the actions they are taking to combat it.
Because revenues from Disneys traditionally animated films have remained below the $200 million mark since The Lion King, Hollywood analysts are proclaiming the death of traditional animation. Disney has drastically cut jobs (750 in the last year at one count), and rumors are swimming about the Internet that many of Disneys best artists are fleeing the company like hyenas after their leader has turned on them. Dave Pruiksma, who animated favorites Mrs. Potts, Flit, and Mrs. Packard, among others, departed from Disney shortly after one round of lay-offs and salary cuts. Ken Duncan, who brought to vivacious life the hilarious Megara and witty Jane Porter has also escaped the mouse trap. Also gone is Beauty and the Beast, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, and Atlantis: The Lost Empire co-director Kirk Wise.
Furthermore, faster than you can say "Duh! Disney, learn the lesson of over-kill from the 1990s," the Burbank studio, the main geographical location for traditional Disney animation since the early Mickey Mouse shorts, has been reserved for a new slate of computer animated features that have been put into production in addition to those from Pixar, relegating all traditional feature animation to the Florida studio. Disney has even cut their talented Paris studio.
In addition to this, recent reports that list the Disney traditionally animated features to be released in the coming years show a disturbing possibility. Theres Treasure Planet for this holiday season, Home on the Range for 2003, and Bears for 2004, but that is it. Disney has yet to commit itself to any future traditionally animated features, the art form that lifted the studio from a small-time producer of short subjects to a major media powerhouse. Instead, projects are now listed as either straight computer animation or a mix of computer and traditional animation. Of course, since the mid-80s, all of Disneys traditionally animated features have incorporated CG elements, and this latter classification might be just a trendy classification for films like Tarzan or Treasure Planet, but it speaks to the aura of concern over the future of Walt Disney Feature Animation.
Paradise is, indeed, burning down.
But there is one shred of hope. Moses is on the horizon, ready to lead Disney traditional animation back to the land of flowing financial milk and honey. And his name is Stitch. No, hes not Hebrew. Heck, hes not even human.