David Stainton’s Website

David Stainton

When one thinks of David Stainton, the former president of Walt Disney Feature Animation, what are the first two descriptive terms that come to mind? According to his website DavidStainton.com, it should be “creative leadership” and “strategy.”

To his credit, Stainton IS very creative when it comes to rewriting history and making his reign during one of Disney’s lowest creative moments seem like an accomplishment. The bio on his website includes these fancy bit of revisionism:

At Feature Animation, David transformed the division financially, creatively, and technologically. During his tenure, he cut overhead, production costs, and operating losses in half. At the same time, he revived the culture of creative excellence at the studio with a new line-up of films. Finally, his leadership drove the historic transition from hand-drawn to computer-generated animation at Feature Animation and his other divisions, bringing animation at Disney fully into the digital era.

So how much of Disney’s creative inadequacy was directly Stainton’s fault and how much of it could be attributed to the dysfunctional corporate infrastructure that had been in place since the early-1990s? That’s a question that will have to be answered by those who are much more knowledgeable about the inner workings of the studio. It was a new one on me though to read in Stainton’s filmography that Hunchback of Notre Dame was based on his pitch and adaptation. That fact alone should have been an adequate warning that he didn’t have the first clue about what types of material are best suited to animation.


  • http://Mr.FunsBlog Floyd Norman

    Well Gosh-a-Rooty! I sure hope David had a ball running Disney Feature Animation for his 17 year tenure.

    And, I’m truly glad he’s an Honors graduate of the Harvard Business School — but, how this prepared him for the cartoon business I’ll never know.

    That’s why I encouraged my kids to get an MBA. That way they can run any business they know nothing about.

  • merlin jones

    “A cartoon is to Disney what Jim Carrey is to drama.”

    David Stainton, President, Walt Disney Feature Animation
    Bill Higgins, “A Range of Views,” Daily Variety, Monday, March 22, 2004

  • http://amymebberson.blogspot.com Amy Mebberson

    Any comment I had to give about Mr Stainton would need a lot of expletives, so I shall refrain.

  • Jason

    I can only agree with Amid about Hunchback. What a terrible idea for an animated treatment, when there are so many other viable properties out there (how about Narnia? That should have been in 2D animation from the very beginning). And I just read that Paramount has picked up “Lions, Tigers and Bears”, the hit comic book property from Image comics. Now if you’ve ever read the books, the first thing you probably thought was “Wow, Disney needs to pick this up!” The art has a distinct Disney flavor. But no….another lost opportunity. This again points out how nobody, but nobody, including Lasseter, has Walt’s touch for picking out and adapting good properties for the Mouse House. And now it’s cannibalizing itself with junk like The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, starring a leather-clad Nick Cage. What the hey???? It’s not even gonna be animated! Not to mention a tentative Muppet movie written by a guy who’s famous for flashing his fundamentals at audiences in R-rated comedies. And I had such high hopes for Iger…ah, me. Dream on, silly dreamer…

  • Brent

    He was especially good at cutting overhead. Bet he got a bonus for it.

  • EHH

    Showing Chicken Little on your home page is a big mistake. I’ve never even seen the film but I heard enough to know to stay away from it.

  • Gerard de Souza

    I like his dog.

  • Christopher Cook

    Why pump good money into a decent animated film when Disney could be using that money for their next Mary Sue teenybooper sensation?

  • Kzanth

    Um, Stainton’s website has been up for over three years. Why is this suddenly animation news? Or is this just a slow Monday and there’s nothing better to do that preach to the choir?

    C’mon, try harder. This is just a waste of Cartoon Brew space.

  • Sam E

    Staiton was, hands down, the worst thing that happened to Disney animation.

  • Cameron

    There’s nothing to say that Hunchback of Notre Dame was ill suited for animation. It’s been adapted for live-action many times already. Disney’s animated version could have worked and, in fact, often did work. Hellfire and the opening in particular are some of Disney’s best moments of the nineties, and most of the songs are among Menken’s best.

    The problem was Disney had no confidence in its own story. They felt the need to throw in “wacky” elements which were just irritating and out of place. Whether this is Stainton’s fault or not, I can not say.

    However, I have nothing good to say about his moving Disney “into the digital age.”

  • Vince

    Have to agree with Cameron here. Hunchback could have been something brave and new for Disney and was, for the first five minutes, until Quasi started singing to the birdies and the comedy gargoyles clumped in. And Mulan was good for almost all it’s screen time. But apart from that…

  • http://chippyandloopus.com/ John S

    Revived the culture of creative excellence?
    What exquisite horse-shit. He and his hand-picked head of creative Development Susan Butterworth (who came from marketing! She claimed to the one who invented the term “Cool Ranch”) drove the place right into the toilet. F— him, f— Butterworth and f— his little dog too.

  • gman

    Tom, David and Pam. Thank god that regime got toppled!

  • http://robcatview.blogspot.com robcat2075

    Boasting about cutting operating losses in half is like a coach boasting that his team has been losing by half as many points. That might be a promising sign in one’s first year, but after 10+?

    The number on his site are interesting to dissect. He says his 11 feature releases brought in $800 million worldwide, of which he says Chicken Little accounted for $319 million. That would leave the other 10 to average only $48 million apiece.

    I recall reading an interview with Glenn Keane in the 90′s where he said they were working on something that would be unlike anything Disney had done before. A real game changer. As far as I can tell, he was referring to “Hunchback”.

  • http://www.io.com/~o_m OM

    “That’s why I encouraged my kids to get an MBA. That way they can run any business they know nothing about.”

    …Hell, in the 80′s, it was impossible to get a job in computer programming for any state agency in Texas if you actually had a degree in any sort of computer-related field. The issue was that they put liberal arts majors – psych, sociology, english lit, classical civ, etc, etc – in charge of the departments, and they refused to hire anyone who knew how to do the job lest they be ousted and replaced by them. It wasn’t until it became apparent that mainframe programming could be replaced with PC-based apps – many of which either already existed, or simply needed a macro programmed to automate certain tasks – that the higher-ups realized that they needed these departments run by people who knew what they were doing.

    Bottom Line: Sometimes you hire idiots and retards to the job of someone competent because they’ll be satisfied with their position because they think they’re already far higher than they’d normally expect to get in life.

  • http://www.animationinsider.net/ Aaron H. Bynum

    “I want to make sure that you know the purchase of Pixar is NOT about a lack of confidence by Bob and Dick in what we are doing… they know what we know: we have rebuilt animation at this company… My real wish for you is to feel proud, confident and excited about where you are going”

    —A memo from Stainton to employees when was forced out in early 2006.

  • http://dailygrail.com/blog/8389 red pill junkie

    It’s interesting to note that he added ‘American Dog (2008)’ to his filmography. To add a movie that wasn’t even made until a year later (Bolt) after a lot of adaptation hardly seems ethical.

    But I’ll end by saying that I like Tarzan & Mulan—even some moments of Hunchback & Hercules— whether these movies were made thanks to him, or despite of him, I’ll leave you guys to decide :)

  • Chris B

    I wonder why his website is full of Disney images on the front page. it’s not like he still works for them or created the artwork that is on the page. i also wonder why Henry’s World Media gets mentioned only once all the rest is Disney Disney Disney doesn’t he want to promote his new company? Oh so many questions mr.Stainton

  • Cameron

    You know, I actually like The Hunchback of Notre Dame. If I kind of look off to the side and twiddle my thumbs while the Gargoyles are on screen, and fast-forward through “A Guy Like You” (Menken must have been as baffled as I as to what that number was doing in the movie) I can love it for the elements that work.

    It’s really too bad that Disney’s efforts at darker fare seem to always be undone by corporate influence. The Rescuers was poorly paced, Fox and the Hound was raped of its meaning, The Black Cauldron was poorly written (and directed), Atlantis: The Lost Empire was poorly written (but not badly directed, actually) and Treasure Planet was just hopeless from the start.

    I’d like to see Disney attempt another more mature film. Perhaps Stainton’s absence will allow them to actually get something decent done. But, then, there’s probably a hundred other Staintons rearing to throw in a “funny” character or bloat the thing with dialogue.

  • Lucky Jim

    I’ll give the guy credit, when Disney bought Pixar, he got out of there as fast as he could. He didn’t put up a fight.

  • Enoch Allen

    I have no problem thinking that maybe Stainton was as much a tool (or more so) than many of the “creative” Disney executives who offered input in areas where they should have kept their mouth tightly shut. He listened to the wrong people, which in turn caused him to make some very wrong-headed decisions, and in the final analysis the prevailing perception of his legacy amongst animation professionals who either worked under him or with pros/by pros close to that situation will be adversely affected for years to come.

  • http://chippyandloopus.com/ John S

    David had NOTHING to do with Mulan. Except to goof on it behind our backs to the Tarzan crew. What an a–hole.

  • Trevor

    Hunchback was actually supposed to be really dark and emotional. The cathedral was originally supposed to be a living breathing entity and something/someone Quasimodo was deeply and spiritually in touch with. That was later deemed too abstract for a kids movie, so they just added gargoyles making butt jokes.

  • Pedro Nakama

    There’s an old Public Relations trick to have your picture taken with a dog so people will feel you’re kind and gentle.

    I don’t get you Amid… I knocked Disney management a few weeks ago and you censored my comment. What goes now?

    If you want to complete this posting, call up the studio and find out how much money he made. Call the HR department and tell them you want to hire him and you want to know how much he made at Disney.

  • http://www.toonsatwar.blogspot.com David

    Does he have the Walt Disney Company’s permission to use all those copyrighted images on his home page?

  • Grant

    Anyone remember the stainton dart board at the studio? My, it had a lot of holes in it…

  • http://one1more2time3.wordpress.com/ hans bacher

    this guy showed me once very proud a still from an animated series he had produced at disney tv. it showed characters you wouldn’t find in my trashcan, colors in a so called BG that would make you wear sunglasses. but he said, that was the best he ever produced. right then I knew it was not the place anymore where I had dreamed of working.
    there were others running around the studio naked before him, with brown-nosers applauding their costumes. but the big difference was – he didn’t have a f… clue.

  • http://www.nicholastam.ca Nicholas Tam

    “The public couldn’t really tell the difference between the direct-to-video stuff and the films that Feature Animation actually produces.” – David Stainton, addressing the closure of WDFA Florida.

    Films aren’t an art to people like him. They’re an investment. It’s all one big game of “spot the trendy entertainment market” – pick a demographic, run some metrics, constrain the artists to meet the criteria that look good on the spreadsheet, and kapow! Creative Leadership.

    Meanwhile, back at the ranch, Pixar was putting the artform first and laughing all the way to the bank.

  • Matt Sullivan

    I would love to see David come on this site and defend himself against these comments. Not because I know what actually happened ( I’ve never worked for Disney ) but because I’d love to see the back-and-forth of it all.

  • Simon

    Its pretty universally agreed that David was toxic to feature animation. He was a yes man placed there by Eisner that didn’t understand how to evolve the art form to keep the studio at the forefront of animation. That being said, he’s gone. Let’s move forward. There’s good stuff coming.

  • ZAR

    Reminds me to a certain degree of how the Star Trek franchise was ruined by Brannon and Braga – they were as much the (willing) tools of the money-possessed suits in charge of the company as well as imbeciles without any talent, imagination or even the least willingness to take a risk.

    ZAR.

  • Brak

    I am not a big fan of the trend Disney took in the last decade–am a huge critic of it, in fact–but if he was there for 17 years in various capacities, I think it’s fair to say that he had some share of success. The failures–a consistent trend–are definitely evident and present; but doesn’t he deserve a little credit for the successes in the 90s?

    As for Hunchback, it’s an uneven film almost exclusively because they didn’t push it far enough. If they had taken more chances and pushed the darker themes (without worrying about striking a balance with songs and shitty sidekicks), it could have been brilliant…

    Regardless, there is some amazing James Baxter animation in there.

  • http://Mr.FunsBlog Floyd Norman

    No, he doesn’t.

  • Brak

    ah. so definitive! why’s that, Floyd?

  • Dave

    Well, I agree that David Stainton’s website is old news … he’s had this self-aggrandizing revisionist history posted on his website for several years.

    However, there’s another web page about Stainton that I find very curious, very curious indeed:

    http://corporate.disney.go.com/corporate/bios/david_stainton.html

    This is still a “live” page on the Disney corporate site, not a cached page. Why ? How long since he was sacked and replaced by Catmull and Lasseter ? Why would someone leave this page up on the Disney corporate web site ?

  • http://eggheadcheesybird.co.uk Alex

    Woahwoahwoah… You didn’t like Hunchback?
    I remember that film as being pretty awesome, with pretty awesome, non-distracting songs and everything…

  • http://deleted OtherDan

    Well, I’m not too familiar with his actual role during his tenure, but if he’s responsible for the direct to video sequel hack jobs of cherished classics (with all due respect to the Ausie artists-though they couldn’t touch the skill of the original artists and animators), then I think he’s at the heart of the demise of 2D along with Eisner, and Shumaker-whom I questioned the rational upon first meeting him, and he basically shrugged. People certainly did know the quality was off-way off with those misleading releases. And those DVDs saturated the market and led to public apathy toward 2D. I remember after the string of musical hits in the early nineties, audiences were tired and craved something more mature. So, I wouldn’t put the blame on him for the string of films that followed, though the injection of distracting side-kicks was a sign of weak, gutless leadership. Eric Goldberg mentioned that indecision in an interview regarding Pocahontas. When I was there the political nature of the studio certainly didn’t lend itself to an artist friendly atmosphere. His cost cutting really translates to lay-offs. It doesn’t take much business talent to trim a company in that manner. Here’s hoping that the new guard has more sense and sensitivity.