Thursday, June 21, 2007

Addressing the anit-Pixar . . . Again

While a great many Disney pundits (and Wall Street analysts) spent a lot of time and copy last year making the argument that the Disney-Pixar merger was not necessarily a good deal and that the mouse house would be hard pressed to see any return on their multi-billion dollar investment, these same often vocal critics have become somewhat quieter in recent months.

It was interesting how many of these folks used last summer’s Cars as the poster child for their overpriced-Pixar mantra. Even after the film grossed a whopping half billion in worldwide revenue, it was still being labeled a disappointment. And a recent article in Variety underscores a financial upside of Cars that the naysayers seem to still conveniently ignore:

While many refuse to rank "Cars" as Pixar maven John Lasseter's finest two hours, its merchandising campaign has become a global phenomenon. A year after the motion picture release, a sojourn to a local Toys R Us will reveal collectors -- boys to men -- on the prowl for the new shipment of Mattel-made die-cast miniatures, with the movie's extensive ensemble of characters yielding an endless array of product iterations (Dinaco Blue Chick Hicks, anyone?).

According to Andy Mooney, Chairman of Disney Consumer Products:

"In a year without content in the marketplace, we'll do $2 billion in ('Cars') sales. It underscores the fundamental point that not every animated movie is created equally in terms of merchandising. 'Cars' gets into the very fundamental play pattern for kids. And it seems every boy and every man in the world has panache for vehicles."

It’s interesting isn’t it? $2 billion in merchandise sales. Those are Star Wars types of numbers and demonstrate the promise of a long term evergreen franchise. Other than Star Wars, what other property in recent years has demonstrated that level of merchandising potential. Oh wait, that would probably be Toy Story. If you haven’t noticed, Buzz and Woody toys still litter the shelves of your local Targets and Wal-Marts some eight years after Toy Story 2 graced cineplex screens. Toy Story, Toy Story . . . sounds familiar. Isn’t that a . . . Pixar movie?

Apologies for the sarcasm. But I am just amazed that people continue to debate the Pixar acquisition, especially the financial end of it. And no doubt many of these same folks will spend the next few months over analyzing the receipts for Ratatouille and spinning their assessments into similar short-sighted sound bites. It’s short term thinking on what was a very long term investment. An investment that is already beginning to pay some remarkable dividends.

And that’s just the financial side of it. Has anyone noticed the really dramatic changes sweeping the Walt Disney Company, as clearly brought about by the influence of Pixar gurus John Lasseter and Ed Catmull?

Walt Disney Feature Animation is now the Walt Disney Animation Studios. The potentially troubled productions of American Dog and Rapunzel Unbraided have been redirected to hopefully better ends. Ron Clements and John Musker have returned, and with them, traditional animation in the form of The Princess and the Frog. For the first time in close to fifty years, shorts will be produced again on a regular basis, with a brand new Goofy cartoon arriving this fall. And the studio itself will be relocating to a less toxic, Pixar-like campus in Glendale to better isolate it from the bean counters and non-creative execs.

The recent shakeup at Walt Disney Imagineering and the uber-successful debut of the new heavily Pixar influenced Finding Nemo Submarine attraction at Disneyland seem to indicate that this long troubled division may finally be shaking off the creatively stifling, heavily political baggage it’s been carrying these many long years.

Perhaps more than anything, the implosion of the DisneyToon Studio, the division responsible for the controversial line of direct-to-video sequels and spinoffs, indicates a real shift in overall company philosophy. This line of products, while ranging in quality from okay to awful, were purely marketing driven, revenue-generating endeavors that were increasingly diluting the value of classic Disney characters and films. This division brought in billions. The removal this week of DisneyToon’s head Sharon Morrill seems to send the not-so-subtle yet very refreshing message that the creative process at Disney will no longer be wholly influenced nor held hostage by the mighty $. It’s a striking turn of events.

And rooted where? In what will likely be Robert Iger’s single greatest legacy as CEO of the Walt Disney Company. For the merger with Pixar included not just a juggernaut animation studio and a stable of popular characters, but also what appears to be a creative philosophy and an emphasis on artistic integrity that will long influence the direction of nearly all of Disney’s entertainment endeavors.

I would be remiss in not acknowledging Honor Hunter’s really terrific Blue Sky Disney blog as part of the inspiration for this particular commentary. Thanks again Honor for your daily doses of positive insight and information!


FoxxFur said...

Great post. =) I must admit I've been very happy and excited where Disney's been going recently, and grabbing Pixar is just part of that. Although I didn't like and continue to not like Cars - but what does it matter, I'm not the target demographic - it's moronic to insist that it was somehow a failure. I wish I could make movies that spawn websites like and inspire billions of DVD sales. Honestly.

Toon Studios was a pretty symbolic move on Disney's part. So will be the new ending of Spaceship Earth. I'm just sad we'll have to wait for another round of EPCOT refurbishments before Baxter & co are allowed to fix Journey Into Imagination.

It's all coming up roses, people. let's try to set aside our ingrained Eisner-era online mentality and give Bob and John a chance to show us what they're really made of.

Anonymous said...

Excellent post. Thanks for acknowledging that Iger and the acquisition of Pixar are in fact the 2 sparks to rekindle the flame at Disney--the same one that Eisner rekindled in his early years and then unmistakably attempted to extinguish during the latter part of his tenure. The future looks great. Pixar has yet to release anything that doesn't stand alongside Walt's best work, including their short features.

Lou Mongello - said...

Bravo Jeff. Excellent post. The Pixar acquisition continues to pay dividends not only financially, but in the infusion of some new creative elements to the Disney Company. Your points about the merchandise are spot-on, as my young children (who were not even born when Toy Story came out), still are enamored by the characters and merchandise (OK, so am I... now about that Luigi die-cast Cars figure... where did you say you saw that??) ;)

As I've said in the past, I think we are paying witness to what history will look back on is an amazing time for the Company, and above and beyond being a happy shareholder, I'm thrilled as a fan.

Anonymous said...

Jeff, thank you so much for writing this!!!

For those people who question the merger, I would simply ask, "what's the price of getting your soul back?" Because that's what Disney did by buying Pixar. Disney could have NEVER made the moves it is making now without John and Ed. Just wouldn't happen.

There's a reason you italisized the word positive. That's what Disney fans need now. I have always loved your blog because nine time out of ten, you focus on the things you love about Disney. I, for one, am glad to see Epcot Central gone because it was a blog exclusively about what Epcot82 hated about Disney with a nihilistic outlook that saw no good anywhere and no good person inside of Disney. That is the kind of stuff that is bad for the Disney fan community.

Disney is great again. Sure it will never be perfect and we are all impatient for it to get to the future quicker. But we are all living in a fairy tale now relative to where the company was 3 years ago. If I had told you then what today is like, you would have laughed. But here we are.

Its time for Disney fans to focus on the future and to be proud again.


Anonymous said...

I agree with the above.

Now, if only the Re-Imagineering blog can close its doors for the same reasons Epcot Central shut theirs.