Lasseter unveils 'The Frog Princess'
Disney re-elected all its directors, rejected a poison pill provision and took the wraps off its first hand-drawn animation project in years at its annual meeting in New Orleans Thursday.Walt Disney Feature Animation chief creative officer John Lasseter officially unveiled “The Frog Princess,” Disney Animation Studio’s 2009 toon release, to shareholders. Toon was previously known to be in development (Daily Variety, July 26), but this was the first time Disney discussed the project publicly. “Frog Princess” will be a hand-drawn musical, the type of pic that defined Disney’s triumphant animation run in the ’90s, but was abandoned by the Mouse in 2005 after a string of flops. Like every other major studio, Disney has since focused on CGI toons, such as “Chicken Little” and this month’s “Meet the Robinsons.” “The Frog Princess” is being directed by John Musker and Ron Clements, helmers of “The Little Mermaid,” “Aladdin” and “Hercules.” They left the studio several years ago but were wooed back last year after Lasseter and Ed Catmull took over Disney animation following the acquisition of Pixar. Original songs and score are being penned by Pixar favorite Randy Newman. Alan Menken, who wrote the music for many of Disney’s ’90s toon musicals, had previously been attached to write the songs when he re-joined the Mouse last year. Pic will be set in New Orleans and tell the story of a young girl named Maddy, whom Disney described as “the newest Disney princess.” She’ll be the first African-American in the Mouse’s lucrative princess line. Poison-pill provision, which would have defended the company against a hostile takeover, was rejected by shareholders. Such provisions essentially trigger a new stock issuance when one shareholder snaps up a large amount of shares, diluting the new stockholder’s stake in the company. Vote, which avoided passage by a relatively narrow margin, is a signal that Mouse House is not especially concerned about a single shareholder making a play for the company. Largest Disney shareholder at present is Steve Jobs, who owns about 7% of Disney stock. While poison pills haven’t been exceedingly common at congloms, News Corp. made news several years ago when it enacted a poison pill to fend off encroachments of John Malone’s Liberty Media. Disney also turned down a proposal that would have protected against greenmail, a practice in which a raider snaps up stock and then sells it back to former shareholders at inflated prices. All 11 sitting directors were re-elected, including Jobs, topper Robert Iger, energy exec John Bryson and tech honcho Judith Estrin. Georgetown U. professor Leo O’Donovan retired from the board at the meeting. Company reps said the meeting was held in New Orleans as a show of support for the city. Decision also ensured there were few business reporters in the room. Also on Thursday, Disney’s investment arm announced that it was one of several investors in Chinese video site UUSee, as U.S. congloms continue to make tentative steps to push into the market despite piracy and censorship fears.