DisneyToon Studios layoffs mark shift in animation market

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Remember the days when you raced to the Disney Store to pick up the latest VHS release and an exclusive litho? If you’re like us, you have dozens of those lithographs in boxes and a huge pile of VHS tapes tucked in a corner somewhere.

The Mouse House could make money hand over whisker those days, sometimes just by not releasing a film and putting it the vault for 5 to 7 years. Then came DVDs and things got crazy. Disney turned to classic editions, platinum editions, diamond editions, each slightly different than the previous edition and all of them finding their way to the shelves of Disney fans.

Out of that glorious money tree, came DisneyToon Studios. What started off as a way to get Disney Television Animation’s “The Return of Jafar” into the home video market became a bounty of VHS tapes, and later DVDs. Eventually DisneyToon Studios an animated theatrical film producer in its own right. It was as much a move to combat the public’s unwillingness to buy another copy of a VHS tape or DVD when they knew a new format was just around the corner (Blu-Ray, Digital, or on-demand) as it was an artistic move.

Still as DisneyToon Studios matured, quality improved and audiences were thrilled to see Tinkerbell and her adventure on the big screen. Disney even almost managed to make Planes a bonifide franchise. But not quite as the latest attempt hasn’t had half the success of the first Planes film. And face it, even the most ardent Disney fans will eventually tire of seeing Tinkerbell and her fairy friends everywhere.

And so, what is to become of DisneyToon Studios? Well it will probably fade away, at least for a while.

According to The Animation Guild Blog, layoffs related to the end of the Tinkerbell franchise happened a few months ago, and now a new list of employees has been let go after the failure of the Planes franchise to take off at the box office.

This is not a huge surprise. The home video market is gone for good and the DVD market is next to go. Disney will no doubt figure out how to capitalize on the new realities of the market. But it’s still sad to see a division of Disney that was doing so well for a while, not to mention the great people who made it so, on the outs.

DisneyToons Studio is still creating animated shorts and some of the staff are reportedly working on a new idea for a feature length film. So it probably won’t permanently close its doors. But before it does, I have an idea I hope Disney will try out.

DisneyToon Studios could become the oasis for any former Disney animator who wants to try their hand at independent animation. Give them the technology, digital tools, rendering farm, office staff, and space to create and let them produce projects using Kickstarter or Patreon funding with Disney promising to match funds to help in the production.

Disney gets to keep the animators in the family and the animators get to do what they want to do, create art. The crowdfunding element means Disney knows it already has a built in audience too. Heck they could open up a Florida outpost of Disneytoon Studios and tap into the talent that’s been exiled in Orlando for years (perhaps even partnering with Full Sail University).

What do you think?