Saturday, October 31, 2009

Before the Fall

The article below dates from about 1981, though I no longer have a record of what Canadian publication it appeared in. Though no one knew it at the time, it was published at the peak of Nelvana's promise. The studio's trajectory had been on a steady climb with its TV specials and it was working on its first feature, known originally as Drats and later renamed Rock and Rule.

By the time the feature was finished, it almost finished the studio. Nelvana had been forced to sell of its share of the film in order to raise the money to complete the film, which had gone over budget. Had the film turned into a hit, Nelvana would not have benefited except in the area of reputation. The distributor, United Artists, lost all interest in the film after a disastrous test screening in Boston, so even that potential benefit failed to appear.

After the film's completion, the company was essentially bankrupt, but Michael Hirsh managed to bring in enough service work to keep the doors open. Eventually, he would prove his genius for sales by finding well-known properties that TV networks and distributors were happy to purchase animated versions of. The company prospered to the point that it was bought by Corus, a Canadian cablecaster, making Hirsh, Loubert and Smith millionaires. Of the three, only Hirsh is still involved in animation. He took over Cinar after a major financial scandal crippled the company and has successfully turned it around, renaming it Cookie Jar.

Nelvana today bears no resemblance to the company portrayed in this article. The young, enthusiastic and talented crew who were bent on changing animation are long gone and the company is now a division of a public corporation focused on its bottom line. The failure of Rock and Rule (and unfortunately it deserved to fail) changed the course of Canadian animation history for the worse. To date, no Canadian studio has accomplished what Nelvana was trying to do, so the promise of 1981 remains unfulfilled.






8 comments:

Rick Roberts said...

"Nelvana today bears no resemblance to the company portrayed in this article. The young, enthusiastic and talented crew who were bent on changing animation are long gone and the company is now a division of a public corporation focused on its bottom line."

Well said Mark. Nelvana is not even a shell of it self today, it's basically another saturday day morning sausage factory.

And speaking of Canadian animation, what the hell happened to the animation boom in the 80's and early 90's in that country ? THE CAT CAME BACK, GET A JOB, BLACK FLY, and the list goes on. Those were some of the most imaginitive musical cartoons since the 40's and 50's and all of a sudden, it just stopped. I am really baffled.

John Celestri said...

Hi, Mark. I have a copy of this article somewhere in my files. I believe it appeared in The Toronto Star's Magazine section (ala The Sunday New York Times) and was featured on the cover of the magazine depicting the three wise aliens from "A Cosmic Christmas".

Mark Mayerson said...

Thanks, John. It's been years since the Star has had a magazine. I never even thought of it being from the Star.

John Celestri said...

I must correct myself, Mark. I rummaged through my files and found the actual publication it appeared in. It's the June/July/August 1981 issue of "Quest: Canada's Urban Magazine"--a New York Magazine type publication that was distributed nation-wide. This article appeared three and a half years AFTER the Nelvana article that ran in The Star's magazine section (that particular article was only about "A Cosmic Christmas", which was broadcast on TV in December of 1977).

Mark Mayerson said...

Thanks John. I have no memory of Quest whatsoever.

John Celestri said...

Mark, it's very strange to realize that we were part of a studio that "could've been a contender, instead of a ..."

I still believe that many things are possible...even the development of a traditional animation studio in these days. This is not "Old Man Speak" (even if I did turn 60 a couple of weeks ago).

scott Caple said...

Dear john,

60?!? Oh lord...

Ah yes, our beards were still brown...

A bit of RnR history that isnt often mentioned ; the distribution of RnR was by MGM/UA and UA had been hit by the whammy of Heavens Gate at Christmas that year, which had caused a shuffling of the deck all over Hollywood . All documented in the book, Final Cut by Stephen Bach,...pulling this from memeory to write this comment faster, so please check my facts, but I'm convinced that it had a direct impact on several films that were to be relaesed that year, namely RnR, another was ...wait for it, Secret of NIMH, but at least it got released! RnR never made it past the preview.
Also, i had left the show in mid production to go to ILM, returned two years later, with five credits under my belt and they STILL hadn't finished the pic, but that's another story....

ChrisW said...

thanks for posting this Mark. there's not enough written on this era in Canadian animation...