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by Ken Pellman (archives)
June 26, 2002
Ken tells you what he doesn't like about Lilo & Stitch and theme park safety measures.

Has Disney Become Overly Cautious?
Disney is playing it safer at the theater and the parks than an undercover James Thorin Kirk in a room full of hostile Klingons.

Lilo & Stitch
Ladies and Gentlemen, Boys and Girls… Stitch has landed.

Most of the world would look at a title like Lilo & Stitch and ask who or what is Lilo and who or what is Stitch? About the only thing a person could surmise about the film based on the title is that it is either a buddy flick or a love story. It isn't a blunt title like The Great Mouse Detective or Spy Kids. My Favorite Martian was already taken, and Problem Child and Her Guardian-Sister Meet Problem Alien Genetic Experiment doesn't exactly roll off of the tongue.

Instead, to introduce the film, Disney came up with an irreverent, hilarious advertising campaign that inserted Stitch into classic scenes from such Disney animated hits as The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, and The Lion King.

News media coverage of the film has pointed out something that is obvious to anyone who watches Lilo & Stitch. It ain't Tarzan. It isn't in the same vein as most of the Eisner-era Disney animated features. Times have changed. What was known by many all along finally became apparent to everybody - the financial success of The Lion King will always be a rarity among hand-drawn animated features, not the rule. It can and probably will happen again, but it won't happen often.

"Computer animation" films from companies like Disney/Pixar, Dreamworks/PDI, and 20th Century Fox/Blue Sky Studios are doing well. Cheaply made, lesser-quality productions for home video and even theatrical release are making money. Thus, 20th Century Fox shut down Don Bluth's studio a while back and Walt Disney Feature Animation has slashed staffing, cut salaries, and sought to make hand-drawn animated features for less money. As a side note, I see Sony is taking the forward-thinking step of creating the Sony Digital Animation Studio, which will work closely with Sony Imageworks, their digital effects house. Gee, maybe the folks who were let go when Disney shut down its Secret Lab (a move I have yet to understand), can staff Sony's new place?

Disney likes to compare this new film to Dumbo, a film that relied almost entirely on story, not animation innovations and lavish artwork. But while Dumbo had the standout "Pink Elephants" segment, there's nothing in Stitch that reminds me of that. Stitch was made for less money, with fewer artists, fewer drawings, and less flashy artwork. Like Mulan, it was primarily made at Walt Disney World, not in California. The idea is that it will be easier for the film to make "enough" return on the investment if less money is put into it to being with.

Don't get me wrong - I had a good time watching the movie. I laughed hard at many of the gags and the character interaction. There were touching moments. I was let down, however, by the lack of what I call "Wow Animation", the kind of stuff that makes me "ooh and aah". Disney is playing it safe, and it shows. It is okay to do that every so often, or even every other film or so. But if I go too long between seeing Feature Animation productions with intricate backgrounds and elaborate animation, I'll stop paying to see them.

A good story with engaging characters are what is most important to a good animated feature (or any film, for that matter), but garnishing it with innovative and memorable artwork will put the icing on the cake, and provide great material for incarnation of the concepts at theme parks. Hey, I can hope, can't I?

Speaking of theme parks…

Does America Need a Department of Theme Park Safety?
Aren't there more important things for our legislators and news media to be focused on than theme park safety? Apparently not.

In what appears to be a good move to deal with all of this new attention, Walt Disney Parks and Resorts now has a Chief Safety Officer. Any cast member can tell you that safety has always been a top priority at Disney parks and resorts, but lately Disney has been going over-the-top, altering attractions with excellent safety records even before state regulators get involved. The International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions (IAAPA) can give you facts and figures about just have safe the industry has been for so many years.

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