Friday, December 17, 2004

Disney’s rise and fall and rise and fall and rise and fall...

Disney shut
its traditional animation studio earlier this year essentially
conceding that the future belongs to computer animation.
The last big Disney release in the traditional style was “Home on the Range”
which did mediocre at the Box Office ($50 million), slightly less than
”Brother Bear” ($85 million) which had preceded it.
Disney has been on a downward
since the peak of its latest animation renneissance with “The
Lion King” ($328 million) in 1994. The next year, “Pocohantas” pulled in
less than half that amount ($141 million) and in 1996 “The Hunchback of
Notre Dame” just barely made it across the $100 million mark. Even worse,
1997’s “Hercules” couldn¹t even break into triple digits, stalling at $99
million and becoming the first major Disney animated release to miss that
mark since 1990’s “The Rescuers Down Under.”
”Mulan” did slightly better in 1998 ($120 million) as did “Tarzan” in 1999
($171 million), but none were breaking box office records like Disney
executives had hoped.
In the meantime, Pixar’s computer animated films like “Toy Story” ($191
million), “A Bug¹s Life” ($162 million) and “Toy Story II” ($245 million)
were mopping up at the box office.
So Disney tried to revamp its formula, first with a hipper, cutting edge comedy “The Emperor’s New Groove” ($89 million) and then with the modernistic “Atlantis: The Lost Empire” ($84 million). Then it looked like they were finally heading back in the right direction with the minor hit “Lilo & Stitch” ($145 million). But Pixar had just released ”Monsters Inc.” ($255 million) and Disney’s next film was the hugely disappointing “Treasure Planet” which made a paltry $38 million.
That is probably when the Disney executives decided to pull the plug. They went ahead and let the last two films in the pike finish up and then they canned their animation staff.

I think that will prove to be a big mistake. This is not the first time Disney went through a downturn with its animation pictures. The first golden period started right at the beginning with “Snow White and the Seven Dwarves” in 1937. This was followed by a string of hits that are now classics including “Fantasia” and “Pinocchio” in 1940, “Dumbo” in 1941 and “Bambi” in 1942. But things fell off during the latter part of the decade when the most memorable film was probably “Song of the South” in 1946.
But Disney bounced back with another string of hits in 1950 beginning with “Cinderella”, followed by “Alice in Wonderland” (1951), “Peter Pan” (1953), “Lady and the Tramp” (1955) and “Sleeping Beauty” (1959). This strong period carried into the 1960s with “101 Dalmations” (1961), “Mary Poppins” (1964) and “The Jungle Book” (1967).
But then things fell off once again and there was another long period with few hit movies until the studio hit its stride once more beginning with “The Little Mermaid” in 1989, “Beauty and the Beast” in 1991 and “Aladdin” in 1992 leading up to “The Lion King.”
If Disney’s current executives would just be patient I’m sure the studio would strike another vein of gold before long. But now they may have gone and killed the goose that was laying the golden eggs.

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