Sunday, June 02, 2013

Written in Water

Disney recently released its animation schedule through 2018.  There are two and sometimes three films a year slated for release.  There are people, like Charles Kenney, who fear that we're looking at a glut of animated films that will wear out their welcome at the box office.  I agree with that, but I also think that it is inevitable.  The nature of capitalism is for companies to keep making what sells until it stops selling.  Once that happens, they move on to whatever is selling next.  If that's not animation, we're out of luck.  For those who might be skeptical, I can point out that westerns and musicals, both of which were commonplace in past decades, are now rare.  Animation could suffer the same fate.

Whatever happens, it's important to realise that Disney's schedule is written in water.

All predictions are based on current conditions continuing into the future, and that rarely happens.  For proof, we only have to go back to the start of this year.  After DreamWorks' Rise of the Guardians underperformed at the box office, there were layoffs and a schedule shuffle.  Peabody and Sherman was delayed and Me and My Shadow was taken off the schedule all together.

There will be no difference if a Disney film underperforms.  There's nothing like a write-off to get an executive to reexamine the plan and hedge his or her bets.

There's another elephant in the room that nobody is mentioning.  Robert Iger retires as CEO in 2015 and as chairman in 2016.  Iger was a marked departure from Michael Eisner.  While Iger is open to criticism for his decisions, his tenure has been free of the feuds that Eisner had with Jeffrey Katzenberg, Michael Ovitz and Steven Jobs.  Iger's successor, whoever that may be, will undoubtedly bring different ideas and priorities to the job.  Those differences may have to do with animation, including the status of Pixar, John Lasseter and releasing films in 3-D.

Ed Catmull, the president of Pixar, is currently 68 years old.  He'll be 70 by the time Iger steps down and he or the studio may decide to call it quits.  That may also result in changes to what happens to Disney animation.

No changing of the guard takes place without a change in the status quo.  While Disney and other studios can plan their release schedules for as far into the future as they like, the truth is that changing personnel and box office results are variables that they can't control.  As they say, past performance is no guarantee of future results.  If it was, we'd be watching Lion King 8 by now.


Anonymous said...

Animation is a medium, not a genre like musical or western. A medium like animation can tell a story through a musical or a western. These genres might be out of date now, but as we saw with wreck it Ralph, there are enough stories and new genres to be told with the medium animation.

Mark Mayerson said...

Animation is a medium, but Hollywood treats it like a genre. Every animated feature is a comical fantasy for children. Wreck-It Ralph may have a different fantasy setting (and that's the major difference between animated films), but in other respects it is exactly like the rest of the current animated features.

Roberto "Heisenberg" Severino said...

Great summary of what's going on, Mr. Mayerson.

I never like using the word capitalism at all though. The word has become conflated with the existing cancerous crony corporatism that currently exists. I'm a pro business, pro market kind of guy, but I don't support these oversized kind of Wall Street style companies giving to ax to many people.

Look what happened with Hostess and companies like Clear Channel. People are now being more proactive and trying to create their own products and businesses without having to go to some corporate entity or middle man to do it. I hope the same thing will happen with animation on a larger scale.

Hulu and Netflix now have exclusive content on their platforms and Amazon Prime is working on a few shows themselves from what I heard. I also hope that someone at one of these companies will capitalize the idea of producing movies exclusively for their websites.

Maybe the idea will become very popular in a decade or so. Movie theaters and their companies may become almost irrelevant like radio has.

Floyd Norman said...

Animation has had many deaths during my career. The tanking of Sleeping Beauty and the subsequent layoffs. The selling off of animation desks in the sixties and the arrival of CGI animation in the nineties.

I find it difficult to remain concerned in recent years since my beloved medium as morphed into a high tech puppet show. It would appear animation as I knew it is already dead.

Anonymous said...

You are correct. The corporations are in it for the short term. Jeffery K. is working to keep his business afloat by spreading his eggs into multiple baskets (oddly enough, very little includes toy licensing--you don't see a lot of DW toys out there). People like Catmull are small fish in the Disney corporate ocean; terrified of real change and innovation, choosing instead to rely on safe ideas and insular technologies of the past at both Pixar and Disney. Blue Sky has long been corporate (fox) driven. The problem is it takes artists to make these films. Even with the best technology, films are driven by creativity and visual focus--not mathematics and technology alone. But they are, and must be driven by the visual artist. And creativity takes time. It cannot be summoned as easily as a the spread sheet of a production manager can. Animated films take time. That doesn't necessarily mean they take more money. This rush for the almighty dollar is going to strangle the business. Steve Jobs must be rolling in his grave.

Jodie said...

Why's everyone so pesimistic these days? Animation won't die, it's a wonderful medium that has so much more to tell. Discussions about the nature of Capitalism. What should we use instead, Communism? To me Capitalism is like an apple and Communism is like an orange. People taste a bad fruit of either and then they don't want apples because they taste bad or they don't want oranges because they taste bad and it's all based on a relative small amount of samples. Well we have Capitalism in our country of America and I'm sure we'll figure it out and adapt it to our needs just like every other country. Because all politics is is the art of governing and so many get hung up on the details of an ideology. We can always improve on our type of governing if we need to and that's what makes politics fun, that's it's not about what the Founding Fathers gave us but more what we add to what the Founding Fathers gave us to make our country a better nation. We aren't perfect, just like no country is perfect but if we work hard, we'll have the America we want and I really believe that. And Floyd's right, animation has had it's ups and downs many times and this time is no different. I'm sure animation, 3D and 2D will always exist and theaters too because that's a group experience of storytelling the ancient Greeks would have killed for. Animation is only a hundred years old and has lots of room to grow and it needs both creative people with ideas and the ability to execute them in writing, drawing, sculpture, music, computers, etc. and business people with money and the reputation to get things done. Why is one group always better than the other? I never understood this. Anyways, I never comment but I love reading this blog, and just thought I'd add my two cents. It's always a pleasure to read this blog. Okay, have a great day!