Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Layoffs at Toons

A Disney Toons Studio employee told me today that there's a new round of layoffs at the Mouse's direct-to-video division in Glendale:

"They had people together this morning for a group announcement. With no advance announcement. Then people had one-on-ones with administration and a new bunch of people were let go. The new Planes hasn't done the business they hoped for and so another group is getting laid off. The shorts department is still going, but there won't be a lot of people there. ..."

Disney Toons went through a round of layoffs a few months ago. Then, the Tinkerbell movies ended and staff got reduced. Now it looks though there is more belt tightening going on. (Some Walt Disney Animation Studio staff -- residents of the Hat Building on Riverside Drive -- has moved over to the Disney Toons studio because Glendale has space and Burbank, with Big Hero 6 going full bore, doesn't.)

The staff reductions aren't a huge surprise. The home video market is a shadow of its former self, and the little silver disks won't be coming back anytime soon.

And Planes 2 doesn't seem to be the theatrical smasheroo Diz Co. hoped it would be. To date, it's made $79,012,671, worldwide. (The original made over $219 million.)

So it looks like Disney is doing some preemptive cutbacks and rethinking strategies. Not every cartoon entity is enjoying a growth spurt.

Add On: The history of DisneyToons Studio is interesting. It began as a spoke in the wheel of Disney TVA, with The Return of Jafar selling $100 million worth of VHS tapes lickety-split.

Diz TVA continued to make long-form, home-video animation, and the unit was soon spun off into its own division, where it continued to create sequels of older animated features. These were inexpensive at first -- Jafar only cost a few million to produce -- but budgets steadily went up. Every year or three, one of DisneyToons' projects got extra money and became a theatrical release. (Return to Neverland, Jungle Book II, etc.)

The bottom has been crumbling out from under the home video market for some time. Sharon Morril, DisneyToon Studio's top executive from its beginning, was handed her walking papers a few years ago, and John Lasseter now runs the division. The company had fair results with its Tinkerbell series, but the market that DTS serves continues to deteriorate, and management is probably trying to puzzle out a newer mission for the division.

I don't think the home video market -- as it existed in the 80s, 90s and early 2000s -- is going to do it for the division. Lower cost theatrical sequels and prequels also seem problematic.

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