Saturday, October 31, 2009

Before the Fall

The article below dates from about 1981, though I no longer have a record of what Canadian publication it appeared in. Though no one knew it at the time, it was published at the peak of Nelvana's promise. The studio's trajectory had been on a steady climb with its TV specials and it was working on its first feature, known originally as Drats and later renamed Rock and Rule.

By the time the feature was finished, it almost finished the studio. Nelvana had been forced to sell of its share of the film in order to raise the money to complete the film, which had gone over budget. Had the film turned into a hit, Nelvana would not have benefited except in the area of reputation. The distributor, United Artists, lost all interest in the film after a disastrous test screening in Boston, so even that potential benefit failed to appear.

After the film's completion, the company was essentially bankrupt, but Michael Hirsh managed to bring in enough service work to keep the doors open. Eventually, he would prove his genius for sales by finding well-known properties that TV networks and distributors were happy to purchase animated versions of. The company prospered to the point that it was bought by Corus, a Canadian cablecaster, making Hirsh, Loubert and Smith millionaires. Of the three, only Hirsh is still involved in animation. He took over Cinar after a major financial scandal crippled the company and has successfully turned it around, renaming it Cookie Jar.

Nelvana today bears no resemblance to the company portrayed in this article. The young, enthusiastic and talented crew who were bent on changing animation are long gone and the company is now a division of a public corporation focused on its bottom line. The failure of Rock and Rule (and unfortunately it deserved to fail) changed the course of Canadian animation history for the worse. To date, no Canadian studio has accomplished what Nelvana was trying to do, so the promise of 1981 remains unfulfilled.

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