Bob Iger is a casual gamer, or so he says in a recent CNBC interview. His favorite game? A Blackberry hosted game called ‘Brick Breaker’. What does this little tidbit tells us about the Disney CEO? He’s a user, a consumer. Walt Disney was a user; his perceptions of why animation and amusement parks failed consumers drove Walt to make something better. The closer Bob Iger stays to this path, the better for the company.
The purchase of Pixar was a big step down this path. A long story in Variety shows exactly how the Pixar-zation of Disney is a good thing. The story starts off with a story on how Ed Catmull wants to replace the Walt Disney Feature Animation building with something better suited to modern animation needs. Opened in 1994 (Pixar’s Toy Story was in 1995), ‘The Hat’ as the building is sometimes called, was designed with the intent of having three ‘Lion King’ or ‘Pocahontas’ type productions in progress at the same time. The new WDFA will work leaner, more collaborative, frankly, more like Pixar. So the old ways have to go.
The problem these days isn’t quantity, but quality. In the past six years, WDFA released seven toons, only two of which made more than $100 million domestically and only one of which, 2002’s "Lilo and Stitch," was also positively received by most critics and the animation community.
Disney artists felt that lack of success acutely, which is why morale was particularly low in 2005. But insiders say that feeling changed almost overnight when Catmull and Lasseter, two of the most respected figures in the industry, took over.
But interestingly check out the very next paragraph:
Disney animators use words like "euphoria" to describe what they felt
at the time. Today, those feelings are more tempered, thanks to an
unexpected round of cutbacks in December that saw Disney Animation lay
off 160 employees, or about 20% of its staff.
This is part of an effort by Ed Catmull and John Lasseter to change the pace of WDFA, and change the quality of the stories they’re producing.
I’d love to get John Lasseter in a room for a long interview on his ideas of where story comes from, why WDFA had strayed from that path in the last 5 or 6 films, and what he sees as his role in the new Walt Disney Company that has been formed from the remnants of Eisner’s Disney and a Pixar that is very much built on Walt’s ideals. I’d like to nominate the Spline Doctors (who have a recent great interview with Brad Bird) and the boys from Cartoon Brew for this task.