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After Disney-Fox Deal, Will Blue Sky Studios And Fox Animation Continue To Exist?

Today was supposed to have been a celebratory day at Blue Sky Studios, the Greenwich, Connecticut-based animation studio that is releasing its twelfth feature, Ferdinand.

Instead, the enthusiasm for their latest film has been tempered by uncertainty and apprehension about the future of the studio, following the Walt Disney Company’s monster $52 billion acquisition of Blue Sky’s parent, 21st Century Fox.

Blue Sky is now set to become part of the Disney empire. But many are wondering whether Disney will want to keep the studio. Considering that Disney already owns two of the most successful studios in the United States – Walt Disney Animation and Pixar Animation studios – it may not make much sense strategically to operate a third studio.

Disney may also be hesitant to start administering a third studio considering that its own two studios have an uncertain direction after Disney and Pixar’s chief creative officer John Lasseter entered into a forced ‘sabbatical’ amid a cloud of sexual harassment allegations.

A major part of the unease right now is that no one knows exactly how Disney might deal with Blue Sky, not even the crew at Blue Sky. After yesterday’s news, Ice Age: Continental Drift and Ice Age: Collision Course director Michael Thurmeier reflected on the uncertain mood at Blue Sky with this tweet:

The silver lining is that it’s hard to see how Blue Sky, a well established and relatively successful operation with a desirable production pipeline, could shut down overnight. Even if Disney chooses not to hold onto the studio, the company would be an attractive option for other companies to buy. Prime candidates include Sony, Warner Bros., and Paramount, all of whom could benefit from another creative pipeline for animated features. Or perhaps Blue Sky becomes a major studio’s service shop, in the vein of Sony’s Imageworks, and produces animation for a variety of clients. The latter would play up the studio’s strengths, which have historically been on the technical and craft sides.

While Disney decides what to do, Blue Sky is already well into production on its next film, Spies in Disguise, scheduled for release in January 2019. That film is currently set to be followed by Nimona in 2020.

Another question that looms is what will happen to Fox’s other feature animation initiatives. It’s important to remember here that Blue Sky Studios is just one part of Fox Animation, and the company had an ambitious slate of projects in development.

Fox Animation had recently signed a deal with Locksmith Animation to create a new cg feature every 12-18 months. Locksmith’s first project,  Ron’s Gone Wrong, which is set to be animated at Double Negative, is slated for release on November 6, 2020.

And just last week, Fox signed a two-year first-look deal with Stoopid Buddy Stoodies, in which the Burbank, California-maker of Robot Chicken would develop animated and hybrid family film projects. Their first project in development through the deal is called “Untitled Sword Project.” The future of that deal is now up in the air.

And not to be forgotten, there’s also the art-house division Fox Searchlight, and though it rarely produces animation, that specialty label has one of the most hotly-anticipated animated features of 2018: Wes Anderson’s Isle of Dogs.

About the only thing that’s clear right now is that Fox Animation and Blue Sky Studios will not continue to operate as usual – or at all – when Disney takes over 21st Century Fox. Beyond that, what may happen is anyone’s guess.

  • Mark Mayerson

    Blue Sky has a certain share of the market for animated family features. Why would Robert Iger, the most covetous CEO in Disney history, give that up?

    • Elijah Samuel Abrams

      Maybe for more focus on WDAS, Pixar, and DisneyToon Studios.

      • Iosh Evens

        Yeah, less competition, bigger slices of the pie for all. I love Blue Sky and don’t want them to close, but unless Disney can use them to fill an animation niche that Disney Animation or Pixar doesn’t…I don’t see them keeping Blue Sky around. :/

    • secretgoldfish

      To kill competition, to help steer towards the long term goal of a monopoly…….don’t get me wrong, IT’S NUTS to throw away something as good as Blue Sky but it happens ALL the time for these corporate ‘consolidation of power’ reasons and reasoning.

      It’s nice to talk to folks here though, elsewhere on the net the majority are just happy and excited that their favourite marvel characters can appear in movies together which reminds me of the time I got excited to hear Adobe were buying Macromedia…until they did…. resulting in a whole lot of products just disappearing as well as the creation of the ‘wonderful’ subscription model that we are now saddled and have to live with.

      I’m surprised the sale went through ok legally…….actually no I’m not.

  • Dante Panora

    If I’m being perfectly honest I think I’d prefer it if Blue Sky became a service shop for another major studio besides Disney. I like Ice Age (if partially for nostalgic reasons) and I heard good things about The Peanuts Movie, but so many of their movies are just the most shallow and bland CG kidde fair out there. They have great technical talents though, which I realized when watching Epic with the sound off (The best and only way I watched that movie). This is a very harsh comment, but after so many years it’s sad they haven’t evolved in any real capacity.

    P.S. I am still curious about that Nimonia movie though, if only to see how this studio would adapt a very recent graphic novel with a very flat art style and a uniquely bizzare world and sense of humor.

    • white vader

      On that note (flat art style), maybe you should watch the Peanuts movie after all. The way they were faithful to Schulz’s style was pretty impressive, and even though it was cg/3d, it was pose to pose/jumped from one classic Schulz pose to another rather than rotating from front to profile and so on. And was actually closer with retaining the wiggly Schulz ink line than the old beloved Melendez specials were.

  • Slim Cognito

    Would be very stupid for them to shut it down considering Blue Sky’s one of the oldest and most prestigious studios around.

    I hope they sell it to someone else if they don’t see a use for it.

    • Aaron Sawtelle

      I’m with ya Brother. I want them to sell Blue Sky to Paramount. As least they take care with there animated show and movies.

    • Aaron Sawtelle

      I’m with ya Brother. Maybe Blue Sky should go to Nickelodeon and Paramount. As least they take good care of their animated stuff.

    • secretgoldfish

      Yeah a ‘sell’ would be WAY WAY better than a ‘lets kill off one more of our competitors to create a bigger monopoly’…..yeah ‘sell’ if only for the employees alone!

    • Iosh Evens

      There’s no way they’ll attempt to sell it, I can’t see them willingly increasing box office competition. :/

  • Brandon Perlow

    Netflix- you got cash. Buy em up. Keep them alive. Get better stories for them. Im sure Nimona will be good.

    • Dante Panora

      That may actually be a better idea then the one I came up with. Although I don’t know if Netflix would be responsible for giving them better stories. It would have to come from freedom given to the Blue Sky creative teams.

    • KW

      I hope Netflix buys them just to keep yet another entertainment company out of the hands of Disney. They’re going too far and sooner or later the entire animation industry will be contingent on a single company doing well. Obviously i’m exaggerating a little…but not really.

      • Hmm…

        Blue Sky is already part of the Fox deal. Netflix wouldn’t be able to buy it unless Disney sold it to them. And I’d be very surprised if they wouldn’t just shut it down before they’d sell it to a competitor.

        • KW

          Thats an even worse situation. When is Disney going to stop? I get the feeling we’re on a path to corporate warfare that turns into real warfare for control of the planet between Disney and Amazon in the year 2120. No one wins with how much Disney is buying up everything it can get its greasy hands on.

  • Andres Molina

    I’m guessing Disney will probably retool Blue Sky for a few months and move their Nimona project to either WDAS or even Pixar.

    To be perfectly honest, Nimona will be much better off at Pixar, that is assuming Pixar is willing to do an adaptation. Considering Blue Sky’s overdose with Ice Age sequels, you could assume they were pressured if not forced to make the project very kid-friendly to make it more marketable. Maybe Pixar will allow them to make a more experimental and darker film that stays more true to sinister and eeriness of the comic of Noelle Stevenson.

    • Bob

      Because Pixar is so edgy… brave was just so bold…. (sarcasm intended) when talking about making things marketable Disney/Pixar are not examples of something avant-garde.
      Nimonas Director is the dude who directed paperman and it’s art director is a former production designer of Disney… this all gets redundant and silly when talking about who could do it better.

    • Mermaid Warrior

      If Disney wanted to make a darker film, they’d probably release it under the name of a different company that they own. Not Pixar, because Pixar very much has a kid-friendly image attached to it. Well, I guess it depends how dark you’re talking. Coco had a lot of dark elements.

    • Marielle

      There’s no way Pixar or Disney can make Nimona for 2020. I hope it stays where it was getting made with Patrick Osborne directing it. Feast and Pearl were great.

  • Vinod

    Acquisition thing is always bad for people like us, who like to see different kind of films. Now all the animated films will look the same. We already lost one major competitor, another two are about to get closed. Bad day for animation.

    • HN

      Which major competitor was that?

      • Tony

        Probably Pacific Data Images, which was bought by DreamWorks and did the original Shrek and Madagascar movies, then closed earlier this year.

      • Vinod

        Dreamworks, We all know it’s not going to be the same anymore.

  • Frank Coufal

    In my book, I hope Fox Animation does continue to exist, and I hope Disney’s deal with Fox actually does good things.

  • Mermaid Warrior

    It’s pretty hard to say. One the one hand, Blue Sky hasn’t really had megahits and their films don’t get much critical acclaim either. This is especially an issue these days because there’s so much focus on franchises. On the other hand, their movies do at least make money.

  • akear

    It is probably another set back for US animation.

  • disqus_JsfC7s7QFS

    Along with the Ice Age and Rio characters, which would make for excellent editions to Animal Kingdom, another property I could see Disney being interested in is the Peanuts Movie. The movie was critically acclaimed. ABC/ Disney has the exclusive TV and streaming rights to the original specials so they no doubt know the importance of the property.
    I could even see them working something out for a series of theatrical shorts. Lets face it…due to the short nature of the strip, Snoopy, Charlie Brown and the gang would work much better as 5 to 10 minute shorts than Anna, Elsa and Olaf from Frozen.

  • white vader

    Hey Amid. Why do you keep saying 52 billion instead of 68 as reported most places? They did buy the debt as well…

    • HN

      Most publications don’t include the debt in their reports.

  • Raymond ross

    Such random speculation here. People forget that Blue Sky invented raytracing which revolutionized the industry.

  • Alex Dudley

    Animated features have shown to be one of the most consistently well-performing “genres” at the box office. And since Blue Sky makes many internationally commercially successful films on a lower budget compared to Disney and Pixar, Disney should keep its studio, and Fox’s Animation film slate in tact.
    Starting in 2019, Universal plans to release 3-4 movies from both Dreamworks and Illumination. Disney can compete with that by having Disney, Pixar and Blue Sky release one movie a year, along with the films Fox Animation has planned.

    Not to knock on Blue Sky, but a little creative guidance from Disney-Pixar’s remaining Brain Trust couldn’t hurt either.

    • HN

      I agree. I think Disney should keep Blue Sky. Ice Age and Rio are beloved franchises overseas. I also agree about that little guidance from the Pixar/WDAS teams.

      • secretgoldfish

        as long as it is guidance given, not dictation….. if you get dictation, you might as well shut it down now or just fold it into the rest of the corporate empire.

  • Dustinwashere

    Disney has,

    Walt Disney Animation Studios
    DisneyToon Studios
    Pixar
    Lucasfilm Animation
    Marvel Animation

    I doubt there will be room for Blue Sky Studios, but there is room for those employees to go to one Disney’s FIVE animation studios.

    • Rob

      That assumes those employees are willing to move their families and lives to the west coast (or wherever DisneyToon/Marvel are based). Blue Sky is the only east coast feature film studio. That location is a big deal for animators looking to work on features but not wanting to deal with the lifestyle & expense out west.

      Blue Sky might not make the best movies, but working on features while not dealing with California or Vancouver is a big selling point to a lot of talented folks at the studio.

    • Joe Branson

      Lucasfilm and Marvel are limited in scope and don’t produce theatrical movies. There’s easily room for Blue Sky.

    • Mairead Malesco

      Six; if your count Disney TV Animation.

  • diggy

    Disney wanted two things out of this deal: content, and a streaming platform. If they want to compete with Netflix, they need content, content, and more content. Blue Sky can deliver that. I don’t think it’s going anywhere.

  • Aaron Sawtelle

    Let’s Just Pray and Hope that they give Blue Sky to Paramount.

  • Alberto Herrera Jr.

    Blue Sky Studios will definitely not get shut down by Disney, because they stayed alive while Fox distributed DreamWorks Animation’s films from 2013 to 2017. And they also have profitable franchises like Ice Age and Rio.

  • secretgoldfish

    This is what’s nuts about these big corporate mergers.

    There’s currently an animation studio doing perfectly profitable business yet when it is purchased by a cashed up corporation, there’s a sudden questioning of it being/having a worthy and viable business model even though it was previously “successful-in-its-own-right” and had already well and truly proven itself both financially and creatively.

    Welcome to the “free-market” and capitalism……where a whole lot of hard working and talented folks can dedicate their whole working lives doing something to the highest level ……then BAM suddenly gone at the snap of a finger in a spreadsheet decision. People working with ‘numbers’ really do appear to have no soul sometimes.

    How do you protect yourself as an employee from this stuff when you’re just out trying to do your job, and likely so dedicated and busy in your job that you don’t ALSO have the time to fight this stuff or have ‘the pull’ to do so?

    Being a contractor might solve some of it but then introduces a whole lot of OTHER stuff to worry about.

    Sigh……I can picture a future where its hard to get anything creative done as all the creative folks have simply had to go find REAL paying jobs.

  • Capital_7

    They ought to sell them. Didn’t Blue Sky start off as an independent studio?

  • Mister Twister

    I wish Disney would crash and burn. To the ground.