Overdue for a toon-up

Pixar to steer new route for Disney animation

Disney may have acquired Pixar last week, but the Mouse House’s storied animation house is now, for all intents and purposes, a subsidiary of Pixar.

Bob Iger‘s decision to buy the CGI animation powerhouse was a stark concession that Disney needed a culture shift.


Disney Animation prexy David Stainton, who helped build the Mouse House’s hugely profitable line of direct-to-DVD sequels and ushered it into the digital age with “Chicken Little,” is out, in favor of Pixar prexy Ed Catmull.

In addition, John Lasseter, the “Toy Story” director who oversees creative for Pixar, will now be chief creative officer for all of Disney animation, giving him a hand in every toon released by the Mouse House. Lasseter famously left Disney in 1984 to devote himself to computer animation at a LucasFilm unit that later became Pixar.

Despite being based in Bay Area city Emeryville, execs will also oversee Disney’s L.A.-area animation.

Stainton, a Harvard MBA who rose through the executive ranks, wasn’t well liked by many animators as he oversaw mass layoffs and was responsible for homevid sequels like “Cinderella 2” that were much derided by animation purists.

Many of those sequels were monster hits, however, and with the first theatrical pic he steered, “Chicken Little,” performing well, he was certainly generating profits.

But that pic’s $250 million worldwide gross was chicken scratch compared to $632 million for “The Incredibles.”

Just as notably, Pixar pics are consistently considered artistic triumphs, while the only acclaimed Disney toon this century has been “Lilo and Stitch.”

Despite suggestions to the contrary, Burbank animators are likely to remain busy with pics in production including “Meet the Robinsons,” “American Dog” and “Rapunzel Unbraided.” Most are expected to stay on the sked, since Disney CFO Thomas Staggs told investors he’s expecting two toons a year and Pixar is on track to provide only one.

But with Lasseter and Catmull taking charge, Disney is sending a clear message: “Chicken Little”-size profits aren’t enough. It wants to regain the luster Mouse House animation possessed in the golden era of “Snow White” and once again in the early ’90s with pics like “Beauty and the Beast.”

By every measure, Disney has lost that luster to Pixar. So there was only one solution: buying it back.

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