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Kenversations™
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by Ken Pellman (archives)
February 4, 2004
In light of the Pixar split, Ken argues for Disney looking inward for creativity instead of outward.

Kenversations™
Picking Up the Pieces Post-Pixar

It finally happened.

Pixar split from Disney.

Michael Eisner lost Pixar. Now what?

Is there something to be learned from this?

Some people say that this is more gloom and doom for Disney.

Others stress that Pixar's demands were a losing proposition for Disney, and letting them go was the smart thing.

But what the REALLY smart thing to do is to not rely on outside companies for core creative content in the first place. This means focusing on your own creative staff.

When you rely on other companies to provide your core creative content to you, you are: 1) grooming future competitors; 2) likely letting your own abilities to produce such product diminish.

Consider this doozy from a recent story in the Los Angeles Times:

Analysts with Fitch Ratings said the Burbank-based entertainment giant's inability to find a way to extend its profitable 13-year partnership with Pixar added to the company's financial challenges. It also threatened to worsen the "the creative void" in Disney's animated film business, Fitch wrote.

"This raises questions about whether Disney will have the creative talent to be able to produce box-office hits comparable to Pixar's," said Randy Alvarado, Chicago-based director of Fitch's media group, during an interview.

How bad have things gotten when analysts are questioning The Walt Disney Company's creativity? We're talking The Walt Disney Company. We're talking the organization with the heritage that boasts "Steamboat Willie", The Mickey Mouse Club, The Happiest Place on Earth, Walt Disney World Resort, the Carousel of Progress, Pirates of the Caribbean, Walt and Roy Disney, the Richard & Robert Sherman, Howard Ashman & Alan Menken, and...well, you get the idea.

Through the years, the best source of content for the rest of the company has been Walt Disney Feature Animation. Walt Disney Imagineering is the other major part of the company that generates significant original content.

It is Feature Animation, however, whose products, while vastly underutilized, have still provided material for the highest-selling home videos; content for "direct-to-video" sequels (unfortunately); music to sell; characters to sell as plush dolls, put on merchandise, and walk around at Disney parks; material for parades and live shows at the parks and resorts; and in the distant past, they were even used by Imagineering to create enchanting ride-through attractions at the theme parks.

Walt Disney Feature Animation has been ravaged in recent years. Kicking Roy Disney out of The Walt Disney Company and his position overseeing Disney Feature Animation, and shuttering the successful operation in Florida were the biggest recent attacks on what make The Walt Disney Company different from scores of other corporations.

Ub Iwerks, Frank Thomas, Ollie Johnston, Ward Kimball, Marc Davis- is this a legacy to abandon? This is where the Disneys first made a name for themselves, where Disney's versions of "Pinocchio", "Cinderella", "Peter Pan", "Sleeping Beauty", "Mary Poppins", "The Jungle Book", "Beauty and the Beast", "The Lion King", "The Hunchback of Notre Dame" came from.

Now, Pixar leaves and people are questioning the Company's creative capacities, because of the trends in the past ten years at Feature Animation and Walt Disney Parks & Resorts/Imagineering.

The Company needs to strengthen its internal creative staff, and yes, it needs to draw from its heritage to do it.

Though times were different when they were around, Walt and Roy Disney still provide a model for success if you adapt their ideals and general method.

Example 1: Specifically, they made a foray into theme parks. Generally, what they were doing is moving into a new medium, and innovating while doing it, bringing Disney content, ideals, standards, and quality along.

Example 2: What did the Disneys do with animation? They brought heart, warmth, imagination, childlike playfulness, affirmation and optimism in the content, and used cutting-edge technology in the methodology. They also built up, organized, trained, refined, and led an in-house staff.

Just as the Disneys branched into new media with television and location-based entertainment, so should today’s Disney Company take the Feature Animation work into the wide-open newer media. Just as Walt Disney ran a tight ship that nurtured a unique, unparalleled creative staff and extracted the best work possible from them, so should today's Company.

A certain amount of work must come from the outside, to be sure. In some cases, the outsiders can do it more efficiently, or they have expertise or technology that Disney can’t get cost-effectively without contracting. These contractors should be used to complete what is being put together by the Company's own people using the Company's own resources- at least when it comes to the core businesses. If you rely on others too much to do your animation, to make your movies, to provide you with backlots and soundstages, to mix your sound, to provide you with animatronics and other special effects, to provide you with your very stories - you will inevitably end up with a product that this just like everyone else's.

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