Wednesday, October 10, 2018

If I Were Disney CEO Part 25 - Walt Disney Feature Animation

I only hope that we don't lose sight of one thing - that it was all started by a mouse.
Walt Disney

It's important to start the Studio Entertainment portion at the very beginning, with the studio that started it all: Walt Disney Feature Animation. Before any other division was part of the Disney Company, Disney was synonymous with animation.  Theatrical shorts since 1928 and then feature animation beginning with Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs in 1937.

The primary goal for each department in this division is to provide a mission statement for the department.  Each department should have a unique purpose and style of film that makes it an integral part of the whole.  Walt Disney Feature Animation cannot just be animation, as PIXAR is an animation studio as well and Disney would be foolish to divest it.  WDFA has started engaging in computer generated animation, so the line between it and PIXAR has been blurred over the past few years.  To determine a specific niche and purpose for Walt Disney Feature Animation, I would turn to former Disney animator Glen Keane.

"There are differences between PIXAR and Disney.  If you reduced PIXAR to a phrase it would be: "Wouldn't it be cool if?' Like if a kid was looking at their toy: What if the toy could talk? All their films are like this.

If you reduced the Disney films it would be: 'Once upon a time...'"

And I agree, but believe Walt Disney Feature Animation has two specific purposes in the past that should be its guiding light for the future:  to tell classic fairy tales in a timeless fashion and to advance the art of animation.  The first fits the "once upon a time" synopsis.  It's Peter Pan, Alice in Wonderland, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Tangled, and Frozen. The second is Fantasia, One Hundred and One Dalmatians (xerography), Dinosaur (computer generated photo realism), etc.

These two principles will be my guiding forces in creating a film slate for Walt Disney Feature Animation.

Primary Goals for the Division:
  • Bring back the shorts - Each feature film should be accompanied by a theatrical short film.  This is a great testing ground for new technology (like the Paperman technology) and new artists.  As PIXAR has done, it helps round out the theatrical offering, creating a specific, Disney experience. 
  • Bring back hand-drawn animation - Walt Disney Feature Animation was built on hand-drawn animation and it is a distinctive from PIXAR that could be easily adopted.  I still contend the hand-drawn concept art of Tangled and Frozen has more character than the entire movie (though those are both excellent CGI films).  Hand-drawn also helps develop the next goal.
  • Explore new art forms - Classic Disney films drew unique inspiration from distinct art styles for each film.  Sleeping Beauty has a medieval tapestry inspiration.  Hercules from Grecian urns, Mulan from Chinese watercolor, etc.  The CGI look is homogenizing the film offerings.  I would love to bring back that distinct tie to great art inspiration.
  • Push the art form forward - Disney should be continuing to push forward the art of animation to develop new and unique ways of presenting animated features and shorts.  Further, Walt Disney Feature Animation should be in all styles of animation (hand-drawn, stop motion, computer generated, motion capture).
  • Explore the world - Disney should continue telling classic stories from around the world.  This has a great benefit to the audience, to the exploration of art, and has a more crass financial motive.  There should be a Disney princess of every type, color, hair color, etc.  And there are plenty of great stories, animators, art styles, artists, and actors that should be utilized.
  • No more sequels - "You can't top pigs with pigs."  The full Disney feature animated canon contains only two sequels: The Rescuers Down Under and the upcoming Ralph Breaks the Internet.  There is no need for a Frozen 2.  There is no need for any other sequels, but rather to continue to focus on bringing new and varied additions to the canon.
With that, I want to now turn to a few specific film slate and sub-divisions I envision for Walt Disney Feature Animation.

Traditional Walt Disney Feature Animation Canon:
I would focus on a couple of different types of films for the primary animation canon. First, I would add a few new Fantasias.  While these have never been the largest profit makers, there is a new revenue stream that has been developed for the Fantasia films: symphonic licensing.  One of the new trends in Orchestral and Symphonic seasons has been to add a performance where the symphony provides the live score for a movie.  A series of Fantasias would provide a greater library to choose from.  In this regard, I would propose the following Fantasias for initial development:
  • Fantasia Animato - a showcase of the various animated style of Disney and its studios
    • Sorcerer's Apprentice (as the carry over from other films)
    • A new number by Walt Disney Feature Animation
    • A number animated by PIXAR
    • A number animated in stop motion perhaps by Henry Selick or Tim Burton
    • A piece in motion capture - perhaps to Invitation to the Dance
    • Something animated by Studio Ghibli
  • Fantasia Musicana - a world music Fantasia taking from some pre-existing shorts
    • Lorenzo
    • One by One
    • The Little Matchgirl
    • Destino (Disney and Dali)
    • A Studio Ghibli piece
  • Fantasia Americana - all American music and composers
    • Rhapsody in Blue by Gershwin (as the carry over from other films)
    • Copland's Appalachian Spring
    • Barber's Adagio for Strings
    • Grofe's Grand Canyon Suite, perhaps even using the live action short
    • Miller's In the Mood
    • And pieces by Sousa and Joplin
Further, I would propose animated features based on the following classic stories and fairy tales.
  • Aida (this already has an Elton John and Tim Rice soundtrack, two princesses, and songs that are begging to be animated)
  • The Adventures of Tom Sawyer/Huckleberry Finn
  • The 13 Clocks (animated in the style of Thurber)
  • The Quest for the Holy Grail (the one exception to the sequel rule as it is a completely different story than The Sword and the Stone; would be great to get a few Python's if possible for voices)
  • Hansel & Gretel
  • The Prodigal Son
  • Esther (Jewish Princess?)
  • King David (could utilize the oratorio written by Tim Rice and Alan Menken) 
  • The Nutcracker
  • Babes in Toyland (using some of the classic music, but updating as needed to really create the nursery rhyme world)
  • Chaticleer/Reynard (there's already concept art for this one)
  • Don Quixote (there is already concept art for this one)
  • The Wizard of Oz (the original story with silver slippers, both the Good Witches of the North and South, and Shanower/Young style art from the Marvel comics)
  • Juan Darien
  • The Tempest
  • Roald Dahl's Gremlins
  • Rumplestiltskin
  • Hiawatha
  • Swan Lake
  • The Princess and the Pea or Once Upon a Mattress
  • The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe
  • Journey Into Imagination
  • The Odyssey
  • Sinbad the Sailor (Perhaps titled The Storybook Voyage of Sinbad after the ride, with a more Persian feel)
  • The Emperor and the Nightingale
  • The Fool's Errand
  • Jack and the Beanstalk or Gigantic
  • The Country Bear Jamboree
Disney Double Dare You:
In 2009, Disney announced a imprint named Disney Double Dare You to be a more scary themed venture with Guillermo Del Toro.  The venture has not panned out, but I like the name and the concept.  I would create an imprint for hand-drawn animated features based on classic gothic horror tales.  PG-13 versions of these classic monster and ghost movies for bridge generations.  These would be hand-drawn animation because of the ability to use heavy blacks and shadows in those films which are just not possible in computer generation yet.  I would propose a film slate of the following:
  • The Haunted Mansion (animation is going to be the best way to bring this to life)
  • Dracula (Stoker)
  • Frankenstein (Shelley)
  • Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde (Stevenson)
  • The Picture of Dorian Grey (Wilde)
  • The Phantom of the Opera (Leroux)
  • Werewolf by Night
  • Lot #249 (Doyle's mummy tale)
  • The Invisible Man (Wells)
  • The Fall of the House of Usher (Poe)
  • Sherlock Holmes and the Hound of the Baskervilles (Doyle)
  • The Call of Chthulu (Lovecraft)
Other Imprints:
I would also seek to create imprints for specific types of animation.  If Laika were  not paired with Universal, I would seek to acquire that company, as I believe they have the same qualities as PIXAR.  Instead, I would seek to develop a stop-motion imprint seeking to woo Henry Selick back or to keep Tim Burton connected with the studio.  Further, I would push motion capture but would focus on the types of pictures that get the most benefit from the process - musicals.  Something where the actual movement of a human needs to be translated to the screen, like dance.  There's no need or motion capture in something like Mars Needs Moms.  Something closer to Happy Feet makes sense where you are translating Savion Glover's actual taps.

This would give the studio a full slate to continue to develop and should bring a lot of interesting possibilities.


As always, thanks for reading.  Next in the series, Disney live action.

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