Hopping-lamp economics

Monday, 23 January 2006 — 2:03pm | Animation, Film

I know there’s an election going on. I also know Canadian politics hasn’t been this interesting in over a decade. I’ve been following every step and misstep, every hysterically impassioned partisan discussion board, and every noteworthy article up to this morning’s Edmonton Journal where Will McBeath is quoted on about three or four different pages including the colourful one on the front. And tonight’s result, whatever it is, is still only going to be the second-biggest story of the week.

The megaton hasn’t officially dropped yet, but the rumours have been steeping for some time now, and the emerging reality looks like one where the Disney-Pixar feud is settled by way of a merger in the ballpark of $7 billion. Never mind the implications for Apple, discussed everywhere from The New York Times to this blog, gargantuan as they are. As much of an expat Apple loyalist as I am, my primary concern is what the effect will be on what we see on the consumer’s side – the animation itself, in which Pixar has excelled without exception thanks to non-interference from upper management. I think Jerry Beck from Cartoon Brew, who is a lot more qualified than yours truly when it comes to dissertating about such matters, said it best:

I would have preferred that Pixar create its own distribution company and compete with the industry as a full-fledged stand alone player—but this possible buyout by Disney may be the next-best thing. (The worst scenario would’ve been for Pixar’s films to be distributed by another studio—Universal, Sony, or heaven forbid, Warner Bros.). Disney may be buying Pixar—but Pixar will be running the show—at least creatively, from the feature animation point of view. The optimist in me is delighted to have a visionary (Jobs) emerge as Disney’s largest stock holder. An innovative risk taker and business leader, Jobs could truly reinvigorate the studio. The optimist in me is thrilled that an animator (Lasseter) will likely be head of Feature Animation. With a proven love of the medium, and as a skillful filmmaker himself, Lasseter will no doubt push the studio forward and, at the same time, surely find a place for traditional (hand-drawn) animation at the studio that mastered it for so long.

There is an opportunity here for an incredible Disney renaissance—as the creative reins are handed, for once, to the right people at the right time. In this age of big corporations (and Disney is one of the biggest) and “bottom line” thinking, it’s easy to see how this can all go wrong. But I think the pieces are in place for an exciting new era in animation. At least, I hope so.

If my understanding is correct, it certainly helps resolve the property rights dispute. Disney can keep selling Pixar merchandise and developing Pixar-themed theme park attractions like the phenomenal “Turtle Talk with Crush” (as it would have been allowed to no matter what deal was worked out), but the critical benefit is that hopefully, we won’t see any direct-to-video hacks pissing on the gospels with some half-assed Toy Story 3 or Finding Nemo 2. What I fear is a dark, apocalyptic future where another Michael Eisner comes to power and stamps on the big P. Lord knows that every Disney renaissance had an antithetical dark age playing yang to its yin.

Oddly enough, chief Magic Kingdom pundit Jim Hill – who, unlike me, puts the Mouse House first – suspects Steve Jobs may be bad for Disney. I’m inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt, but then again, Jobs is an almost mythical figure. He’s the industry phoenix, if you will.

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