Laurelin's Light

Random Thoughts from a Confessed Film Snob

09 March 2006

Cleaning Mouse

When I first heard last month that The Walt Disney Company was acquiring Pixar Animation Studios for $7.4 billion my initial reaction was disgust.

After all, over the last ten years Pixar has consistently put out the best animated films in the world (second only to Studio Ghibli) while Disney has put out films like "The Emperor's New Groove," "Atlantis," "Treasure Planet" and "Home on the Range." Add to that Disney's proven ability to assimilate successful companies and then drain all of the creativity out of them and I dreaded the thought of what Disney would do to Pixar.

And then I read the fine print.

It turns out that Pixar has become such a major player in the world of animation that in order for Disney to acquire the company, it had to first agree to hand creative control over to Pixar. Part of the Pixar deal puts Steve Job (CEO of both Apple and Pixar) on the Board of Directors of Disney and gives him more shares of Disney stock than any other individual in the world (worth $3.7 billion). This is a very good thing. If nothing else, Jobs encourages and inspires creativity in those who work for him, which is easily apparent whenever you look at anything which his two companies produce. Giving someone with his love for creativity and with his marketing skills such a high position within Disney inspires hope that the company may yet pull itself out of the cynical slump into which Michael Eisner dragged it during the 80s and 90s.

In addition to Jobs’ ascension, the deal also puts Pixar’s Ed Catmull and John Lasseter in charge of Disney’s animation studio. Catmull, who is president of Pixar Animation Studios, is now also president of Disney’s animation studio. Lasseter (Executive Vice President of Pixar) is now Chief Creative Officer of both studios, which means that the man who created “Toy Story,” “A Bug’s Life” and “Cars” will have the final say over every animated film which Disney produces from now on.

The first thing that Lasseter and Catmull did upon assuming power was to effectively eliminate a whole tier of middle managers so that now all animation directors report directly to them.

Lasseter also shuttered Disney’s already-in-production “Toy Story III.” That sequel had been green-lighted a couple of years ago by Eisner to spite Pixar after he was unable to come to an agreement to continue Disney’s relationship with Pixar. Now when we finally see “Toy Story III” in the theatres someday, it will be from the writer/director/studio which created the first two, rather than a cheap rip-off.

It is rumoured that Lasseter has also officially put a stop to Disney’s production of cheap direct-to-video sequels of its classic films. See, Lasseter (and Catmull) have a love for the characters and stories themselves and not just the revenue which they bring in, so that want to be sure that each and every classic character is treated with the respect it deserves and not squeezed dry for profit.

And even though Lasseter’s bread and butter is digital animation, he also loves traditional hand-drawn animation and he has started reassembling animators for Disney’s abandoned ink-and-paint animation branch. Lasseter is a big fan of Hayao Miyazaki (he executive produced the American versions of most of Miyazaki’s films) so he may well see that Disney, which distributes Miyazaki’s films in the US, gives those films a larger distribution. Last year’s “Howl’s Moving Castle” was released very narrowly with very little advertising, which I don’t imagine Lasseter would have allowed had he had then the power he has now.

All in all, this is a very exciting deal since Disney animation is now in the hands of people who care about creative integrity. This means that within the next few years we can expect to see quality animated films coming from Disney again. If Disney is able to put out 2 or 3 Pixar-quality films each year, then they may force other studios to focus on creating quality animation as well, instead of the drek which they have been coming up with lately.


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