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Disney Animation Exec: Story is Irrelevant to Our Company

John Lasseter believes that, “No amount of great animation will save a bad story.” Not every exec at Disney appears to share the same values though. Speaking at SIGGRAPH last Sunday, Andy Hendrickson, the chief technical officer at Walt Disney Animation Studios, offered his opinion by emphatically stating that when you’re making a tentpole feature like Toy Story 3 or Alice in Wonderland, story is overrated:

“People say ‘It’s all about the story.’ When you’re making tentpole films, bullshit.”

He supported his theory by citing Disney’s recent Alice in Wonderland as an example: “The story isn’t very good, but visual spectacle brought people in droves. And Johnny Depp didn’t hurt.”

So according to Hendrickson, here’s the Disney formula: VISUAL SPECTACLE+JOHNNY DEPP-STORY = $$$. At least he’s honest about how Hollywood works nowadays. Give this man a promotion and corner office post-haste!

  • When something like Transformers 3 makes a billion dollars worldwide, he’s (unfortunately) not wrong.

    • Moe

      So true.

    • Lock

      U__U yea…

  • David C

    Well, it depends on the context. If he’s simply talking about profitability, he’s correct, story is often overrated (Transformers 3 and Alice being good examples). But making money isn’t the end-all for 90% of the people in the WDAS building. For them, tentpole film or indie short, story is king. Let’s hope it stays that way.

  • Just a thought: 2 years from now, this individual won’t be at Disney’s anymore.

    • Not if makes enough money to shut everyone up

      • snip2346

        But after that, he’s have to earn enough money to keep people from leaving.

  • eeteed

    if discretion weren’t the better part of valor i’d tell him what he can do with that “tentpole”.

    • Hulk

      If discretion were the better part of valor, he wouldn’t have made that statement in the first place.

      • eeteed

        too true!

  • Daniel Shock

    Sure, he’s right. No question. But, if you want to create something that is enduring…that people will want to see in 30…60…90… years…that will add true value to your catalog…then, story is very important.

  • bud

    That’s probably why it is sooo IMPORTANT for indy artists to continue their paths creating good stories and art to make these guys bite their tongues and put them to shame.

    • Chel Traynor

      Amen to that!

    • Juxtaminute

      Yeah!.. that’ll show em new content to steal!

  • Funny, I was listening to a talk by Ed Catmull this morning where he says almost the same thing. EXCEPT that he points out that people always assume story is both the most important thing in a film’s success and the no. 1 reason if it fails.

    Story ain’t the be all and the end all of a film.

    The more amusing aspect of the article was what exactly a ‘tentpole’ film is. apparently ‘seeding the desire’ doesn’t translate into ‘removing release windows’.

    No wonder frustrated audiences turn to file sharing.

    • I am not sure if you are asking but a tent-pole (at least at the company I work for) is less about the type of property, property or project it is and more about the marketing strategy around it. A tent-pole consists of a main pillar even that is held up by many strings or initiatives. For instance Transformers was a tent-pole, the parts that go into it are mobile, advertising, web, pr, games, toys and many more. All these initiatives support the main poll. As far as what a tent-pole is I really have to agree with the Disney Exec, story doesn’t matter. Think of what a blitzkrieg is in WW2 that is a tent-pole, over saturate the market all at once so the people’s only thought is to see the move, buy the game and watch the ad. I think this was one of the major failures of Cars 2, it was one of the first big tent-poles for a PIXAR film. True advertising played a part of all of them but Cars 2 was unique in that it really felt like a tent-pole.

      • Thanks for the clarification, Rob.

        What I was getting at is that he wants everyone to see the film, but only in the markets the company chooses. If he really wanted everyone to see the film, I’d be able to buy it on DVD the same day it comes out in the cinema.

      • Well everyone having seeing it and making money are 2 different things. Studios make more money on a successful theatrical release than they do on DVDs or rentals. When you watch in a theater you pay per view. When you watch on a rental the DVD is sold to the renter as a rentable DVD (usually around $100). They don’t make money on every view. Over all the system is really broken and the studios are really scared.

  • I’d like to see him make 12 hits in a row with that attitude.

  • Jeff Kurtti

    “It’s no trick to make a lot of money. If all you want is to make a lot of money.”
    —Mr. Bernstein, “Citizen Kane”

    • Chel Traynor

      I think we have the Comment of the Day right there.

  • That certainly accounts for all 4 Pirates movies.

    • The first one was pretty good, then they get worse over time. You have to give them credit where its due that they did a pretty good job adapting a ride into a movie.

      • NC

        Yeah it’s a lot of work to take Star Wars and replace everyone with pirates.

    • Funkybat

      I was really kind of amazed at how bad the second “Pirates” movie was. It was an even worse step down than “Iron Man 2” was from the original. From what I understand “Pirates 3” was even worse. Haven’t really given a hoot enough to find out what “Pirates 4” rated according to word-of-mouth. All I know is that almost everything that made the first film novel or enjoyable was missing from the sequel

  • Grant Beaudette

    Ah, the “Let your kids eat ice cream for breakfast if they want to” approach to filmmaking.

  • Brad Constantine

    To say that an adaptation of a Classic Lewis Carroll story isn’t a very good story is just plain wrong.That’s why it’s a Classic! Rehashing the same old stories over and over again in 3d is wrong too. If the trend of detirmining weather a film is successful based on overcharging everyone at the box office is an indicator, then we are in for more of the same. Take note, Execs..Audiences are being more frugal with their money when it comes to taking the family out to see something. Not because of story,or 3d,but because it’s so damn expensive. Even a good story isn’t worth spending 60 bucks for a family of four to see more than once. Get a clue,Execs, Cheaper admission means more people can afford to see them.

    • Matt

      The only problem is that ‘Alice’, wasn’t an Adaptation of the Alice books, but tries to act as end cap to them. It fails because it Mashes Wonderland and Looking-Glass world into one (they are 2 very separate places, that have similar ideals), and tries to make sense out of nonsense, which seems complicated an hollow. If there was any sense in Alice as a book series was the reflections made on Alice bring her out of her shell as she finds her identity in the First book, and completes the cycle in the second. I agree about the ticket pricing though.

      • FigmentJedi

        Pretty sure Burtonland’s problem is that the plot of an adult Alice returning to Wonderland has been done several times already (Looking Glass Wars, American McGee’s Alice) and often with better execution.

  • Funny this Andy Henderickson fellow claims that animation/visual is more important than the story. Gene Siskel would prove him wrong, if he heard his At the Movies review of ‘The Shadow’, when Gene said that the problem in the state of filmmaking that ‘movies are better than ever [technically speaking], but their stories are worse than ever.’

    Being an aspiring cartoonist/comic artist, I believe story is as important with animation because you need to have well developed characters to have a great story.

    I remember when I made my first flash movie, with my cartoony aliens, and the animation quality was complete crap–but I worked hard on the script and premise of the story giving it story structure, character developement, and atmosphere.

  • Dana B

    Stunning visuals can make a film memorable, but it’s a great story that makes a film unforgettable. It kinda saddens me that good writing in a movie, especially animated films that focuses merely today on realistic looking characters and environments and actions scenes(And did I mention *Three-deeeeeh*?), are starting to become a thing of the past. While not all of that is true, it’s definitely showing up everywhere you go to a theater nowadays. I know studios spend big bucks on visuals, but does it kill them to have extra writers on hand to make a copacetic story along with those eye-popping visuals? Probably, yes.
    If movie-goers only care about seeing some eye candy and Hollywood knows this, then that’s all there is to it. I can’t do anything about. I just like having that feeling I spent my money well on a film that’s beautiful to look and has a straight-forward, well done story. Too bad I don’t go to the movies as much anymore…

  • Mike

    Those two movies weren’t successful because of their visual splendor, they were hits because of their brand (Transformers, Burton). And bad stories will certainly diminish the brand over time.

    • Bud

      The brand for Disney wasn’t burton, it was DEPP.

      • Funkybat

        Don’t kid yourself, there are just as many fangirls (and some fanboys) out there obsessed with anything Tim Burton touches as are with anything revolving around Johnny Depp. Anything with Depp and Burton is a guaranteed hit with a certain segment.

        It still puzzles me, the fashion fetishization of Tim Burton’s films with some tween/teen girls and boys. I see lots of “Nightmare Before Christmas” gear, even though the target market probably wasn’t even born when it came out. I guess it ties into the goth and emo scenes or something. I just wonder how much these kids actually appreciate the storytelling or character acting, given that I even see “Corpse Bride” related stuff thrown in with it.

  • Jason Hendrich

    Story isn’t that important if your goal is to push the boundaries of visual appeal.

    I believe there is some truth to his ideas but he’s communicating them poorly. The visual appeal of Alice in Wonderland WAS the story to some degree but if he’s using that as an example to push horrible stories with beautiful flair to cover them up then it’s a clear indicator of failure.

    The Japanese films ‘Redline’ and ‘Dead Leaves’ have either a basic story or practically no story whatsoever and are pretty entertaining. Their usual and unique visual qualities help mask it. If he was coming from that direction I could agree,however the guy’s coming from Disney. A place that used to be practically worshiped for it’s powerful stories. He’s using this to ward off criticisms.

  • Bob Harper

    Storytelling is more important than story to the mass audience.

    • Isaac

      Storytelling is more important than the story. It doesn’t matter if your plot is epic or mundane, the way you convey it is what sets it apart from other fiction.


      I tell ya, my wife likes to talk to me during sex. Last night, she called me from a motel.


      Last night, my wife called me from a motel while she was having sex. She likes to do that.

      • The second one is funnier.

      • Funkybat

        Well, maybe if you’re Emo Philips or Steven Wright…

        #1 is cornier, but more likley to elicit a chuckle from most people. #2 is more like the latter-day creepy “discomfort humor” so popular on Adult Swim live-action shows and other web-influenced comedy venues.

      • TheBeezKneez

        is #2 funnier because it’s actually funny or funnier because it’s now the normal way to tell a joke?

        I miss comedy.

  • tonma

    This funny dude an his bosses are so narrow sighted that they think ‘Alice in wonderland’ is a big hit just because it made its money back and then some. REAL hits (mmmh, I don’t know, maybe one about a king that happens to be a lion)get:
    -periodical re-releases,
    -countless special edition home versions,
    -insane amounts of merchandise,
    -broadway adaptations,
    -two video sequels (one based entirely in STORY self reference),
    -a tv series,
    -a 3d rework for theaters….
    …and the warranty you will sell it again an again in whatever new format to the end of civilization. Burton’s Alice will probably be forgotten and rebooted in less that 10 years, but that their hit… ok.

  • Nipplenuts McGurk

    OK, so – I’m guilty of spending money to see Alice. …but it was a terrible piece of shit, and had the following effects on me:

    -I will NEVER see post-converted 3D movies again due to the 3D looking so awful in Alice.

    -I will never rent or buy any version of this Alice….so – yeah, you got my money up front…but never again. I’d like to think I’m not the only one.

    A movie with good visuals AND a good story has a life beyond the box office, and can be milked forever. A movie like Alice is not only a one hit (in the wallet) wonder….but ruins it for other movies as well, since it made me more cynical.

    • Funkybat

      Seconded on all counts. I was truly surprised at how unpleasant and uninteresting an experience it was on all counts. I expected more from both Tim Burton and Johnny Depp.

  • Trevor

    Story doesn’t matter, the people who make it do

  • Well, yeah what he’s saying is true (Avatar is proof of that), but I presume the whole reason of this post is to point out how Lasseter’s views on quality films are being contradicted by this exec.
    I wonder what will happen to the guy after he said this.

    • snip2346

      I’m not betting on anything happening to him anytime soon unfortunately- Who knows how often he actually communicates with Lasseter?

      He should know better than to utter bullshit in order to represent a family-oriented company, regardless if the only people at SIGGRAPH are old enough to shrug it off.

  • The Gee

    I’m just gonna toss this out there:

    He’s right until everything changes and then his rationales for What Works will change accordingly.

    I haven’t read the Variety link…
    it isn’t about story exactly. I get why saying it is All About Story is important. But…..

    I still think it is more about Storytelling. Story is a big part of that. No doubt about it. But, storytelling depends upon Everything working together towards the end goals. Everything, including what Hendrickson seemed to be getting at.

    Does good/great storytelling result in a blockbuster? I say yeah. A good story will make it much more though. A great story blows people away.

  • It might be said that CHARACTER is even more important than story these days. How many recent pictures can attribute their success to one or more engaging/exciting/fresh/funny characters? Just look at Jack Sparrow and Tony Stark as two such examples in arguably familiar story situations. Heck– the little Twinkie-shaped minions from Despicable Me are a BIG part of the success of that picture and they have little to no bearing on that story at all!

    • Cath

      Good character = character with a good story to tell.

  • Hulk

    Also we should consider the source, guys. Of course “the head of the technical department” would say that story doesn’t matter, because it doesn’t matter to HIM. I’d be willing to bet he got reprimanded by several people inside Disney shortly after he said that.

    • Seriously, y’all did notice he’s the CTO, right? Chief Technical Officer. He makes the IT work. There’s a reason he’s not in creative.

      When Pixar’s IT people told Brad Bird that Violet’s hair was a technical challenge, he told them it was part of her character, and they made it happen. The question is how it would have been handled at Disney.

      • Dana G

        Surely Rapunzel’s hair must have been a technical challenge as well? And I think that was handled quite nicely.

      • Umm

        Tangled was released 6 YEARS after The Incredibles. Hair WASN’T a technical challenge then.

        But, better to be snarky on a comment thread than actually contribute. Way to go!

  • Oh my. This doesn’t surprise me. Just look at their recent live-action movies. That place is circling the bowl.

    • Annabel Cole

      Correctamundo. In terms of the lasting influence it has had on the company’s later product, the single most important movie ever released by Disney is “Air Bud.”

  • Ryoku

    I appreciate the honest cynicism of the guys statement, but sadly it is visuals that drive people, just look at what people are saying about “Cheap Joke”.

    I can tell that story wasn’t high on Disneys priority list since about every 90’s film of theres was the same with the same characters, granted they were mostly good and looked good but I cannot deny the formulatic storytelling.

  • Doug

    Story? Or great characters? I think if you have a somewhat lame or predictable story but really good characters that the audience cares about then that will go a long way. Pixar never could have made all those TS movies if Buzz and Woody (and alot of the others) weren’t such interesting and fully dimensional characters.

    Up (for me) was not a very good movie experience, because I didn’t give a rat’s hide about any of the people in it, esp. by the end. It may (or may not) have been a good story, but that was completely secondary to the irritating folk in it. I’m sort of tired of hearing how important story is.

    • Pow!

      Other than this fella’s cruel cruel opinion of Up, you have a point. Audiences like feeling like they’re in good hands, and usually good characters can do that. A bad episode of Community is still at least the 2nd most entertaining thing on TV that week.

  • snip2346

    I love it when seemingly professional people working in animation use curse words and sarcasm to get their message across, thereby preserving whatever respect they had. Oh wait. HE did that. YOU did that too. I did that too. Ignoring this post now.

  • The problem with the “Alice and Wonderland tentpole” is that is sucked! I felt disappointed and cheated. Sure, the visuals lure you in. But, they don’t resolve that feeling when you walk out. Lasseter is of course, right. Apparently, it’s people like Hendrickson who are feeding us crap and making us more indifferent and confusing as to what quality is.

  • Kristjan B

    I’m pretty sure if Walt was alive he would fire Andy Hendrickson. For Walt the story was everything.

    • Alma

      If Walt was alive Andy Hendrickson never would’ve been hired.

  • Was My Face Red

    I know a whole lot of people who saw Alice – and then said I really wish I hadn’t seen Alice. They won’t pay to see it again. They won’t buy it on Blu-Ray or want to wear a T-shirt to show their affection for it. And they certainly won’t be clamoring for Burton to make an Alice 2 because they had a totally unsatisfying character and story experience. Not a great long term business plan.

  • Larry

    Everyone calm down. The headline is misleading. Andy Hendrickson isn’t a development executive or creative executive, he’s Disney’s chief TECHNICAL officer.

    CTOs are the guys who oversee the research and development of new technologies (i.e., special effects), animation software, etc. OF COURSE a man in his position is more focused on the spectacle — that’s his business. Just like I’m sure the head of development (who works on developing stories) will say that the story is more important.

    It would be nice if everyone believed the thing they work on is the most important part of the process — that’s called passion.

    • amid

      Larry, There’s nothing misleading about the headline. Nobody ever claimed he was a development exec or a creative exec. CTO is an executive position, and by definition, Andy is a Disney exec, which is precisely what we called him.

      • Kyo

        Not providing context to information can mislead too, even if it’s factually accurate.

      • Larry

        Amid, “misleading” is different than “inaccurate.” Your headline might be technically accurate, but it is undeniably misleading. The common usage of “exec” is someone who is in charge of storytelling, which this guy is not.

      • “The common usage of “exec” is someone who is in charge of storytelling…”


      • Matt D

        So… Bob Iger is not an “exec” at Disney? That makes sense.

  • Story is not important in a film – only in a good film.

    • Scott Smith


  • Krayon

    Sadly to say…..he right. And yet what ties in to it too if their good character design and good animation. But you can have the best story but bad character design and especially animation can ruin it.

    • Bud

      That’s a good one! Of course, that only depends on what you consider “good character design” and “good animation.” A cartoon like Disney’s Beauty and the Beast and Little Mermaid had wildly disparate qualities of animation and design, but strong stories and characterizations. The execution is key. A weak film like rango proves if you have neither a strong story, good character design, and animation, you’re assured a money loser.

  • gepinniw

    I guess that’s why he’s the technical officer. I agree, though, Alice in Wonderland was total shite. Glad I didn’t pay to see it.

  • Randy

    Sorry, but Alice SUCKED. Depp was really wasting his time…..I am a fan of his and hated that freakin’ film.

  • calarts85

    the spectacle? now THAT’S an old hollywood buzz-word. shame it’s being abused by a lesser (albeit slimier) diz exec.

    too bad actual film spectacles like GOWTW, SW, CK, JAWS, 2001 A SPACE ODYSSEY, THE SEARCHERS, SOME LIKE IT HOT, TOY STORY 1 (and the list goes on and on) have to get lumped in with tent pole divots driven soley by profit.

    THOSE films were driven by STORY, first and foremost and the spectacle ANNNNND the cash followed after. hmmm. that’s kind of old school.

    hooray for hollywood 2011! where smurfs and straight-to blue-ray spectacles rule!

  • John Eddings

    He’s Disney’s Chief Technical Officer. Is John Lassiter taking Creative Advice from his Head Computer Geek? I don’t think so.

  • I thought the same when I saw Alice In Wonderland, but the visual spectacle was a poorly designed, lifeless CG world that was a weak crutch to the film.

  • anonymous

    Alice and Wonderland was an awful film. The reason so many had gone to see the film is because of Tim Burtons track record abeit, he has been missing the mark more and more…if you just want to make crap (and money) , just hire great editors for your trailers

    • Funkybat

      I’d like to see Tim Burton get back to making GOOD animated films, not spending so much time making live-action flicks with Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter that have visual flair but no heart or soul. I hope “Frankenweenie” recaptures what made people fall in love with Tim Burton’s work int he first place…

  • I actually don’t believe that phrase about how great animation can’t save a bad film. I think directors/writers/producers love to say that and protect what they do, (and that’s fine, I am not a fan of bad story) but sometimes fantastic animation and filmmaking DOES save a mediocre film. I’m not saying this is any sort of excuse to not work hard on your story though. Good story is timeless and enjoyable of course! Animation/filmmaking/acting and story should be in service of each other.

  • Even if he is actually a CTO person, the fact of that kind of blatant attitude existing in the company is a little disturbing.

    Honest or not, true or not, it’s kind of a “middle finger” to the public while saying, you guys will consume anything we give you so long as we dangle something shiny in front of your face.

    I hope folks in the industry make more comments like this. At least the public will catch on to what Hollywood really thinks of them.

    The only thing I think that would change Hollywood’s approach about how to “satisfy” their audiences is unless there was a massive shift in the culture of what people find substantial or entertaining.

  • Liam Scanlan

    I only liked Alice in Wonderland because Depp’s Mad Hatter was funny and because it was a Tim Burton movie. So I disagree with Disney Animation’s CTO on that part.

    But if that OTHER part of what he says is true, then a new hand-drawn Disney film with bad story but really good animation and CGI effects will save traditional animation LOL.

  • wgan

    come on, he’s just the honest kid who’s the only one dare to say that there’s no cloths on the emperor.

  • Upstanding Citizen

    Finally, someone at Disney is honest about the approach they’re actually taking. Give him a medal.

    • Ryoku

      After watching some of the old Disney cartoons visuals over story isn’t that new, though their films had more story than of recent (while still having terrific visuals).

  • dbenson

    Hollywood — and any other industry where success is often a matter of blind luck — is always looking for a magical sure thing. Ideally something that can be quantified so no executive risks an aesthetic decision or even a gut response.

    For too many, story counts only if it can be broken down into a chartable formula or a laundry list of items that figured in last year’s hit. Otherwise the need to take a risk scares them.

    I too was disappointed by Alice, for the simple reason all the spectacle was propping up a tired fantasy plot we’ve seen a hundred times. Use Wonderland’s twisted logic to mirror Victorian hypocrisy? Make Alice’s adventure a war between intuition and reason? Posit Wonderland as some darker corner of Alice’s soul? Confronted with a groaning smorgasbord of rich and flavorful possibilities, they chose a single past-expiration Twinkie.

  • Conrad M

    For the most part, there’s nothing wrong with the tentpole film strategy if we know what we’re getting. It causes a buzz, makes for a wider range and masses of business groups to be employed/involved, and tries to accomplish something big in our industry. We all tend to talk and have something to say (good or bad), because the films are purposely broad.

    That said, you’ll never hear someone complain that a film’s story was too good. When quality of story is as important as the spectacle, you have a chance at something special.

  • Mister Twister

    That man is TERRIBLY wrong >:(

    Despite that, I still think the story in Alice in Wonderland (the one with Jonny) is good for what it is.

  • Craig Patches

    And everyone is surprised by this executive’s comments?

  • Karl Straub

    I think some people here are missing the point.
    The executive’s job is selling a product. He’s making
    an observation about what aspects of the product
    the customers care about the most. Serious fans
    of the art form, like me, might be disgusted
    by the general public’s taste and priorities, but
    I don’t think it’s offensive for the executive to
    make this kind of statement if he believes it. It’s offensive
    if corporate honchos pretend they care about
    Art if they actually don’t.

    Some posters here have pointed out good reasons why the executive’s
    statement might be wrong, or short-sighted,
    but ultimately he’s doing that job every day and knows more
    about his product and customers than I do.

  • Todd “GWOtaku” DuBois

    This post was unforgivably misleading. Combined with the provocative headline, it sends the message that this man expressed an opinion that there’s no point bothering to try delivering a good story for a “tentpole” movie. No such sentiment is expressed in the Variety article. There are high-grossing movies with substance and some that with little of it; there isn’t even a clear implication there that he denies or doesn’t recognize that reality. I’ll be taking reporting from the author with special skepticism from now on, and I’m saddened that I feel this is necessary.

  • “No dramatic art form should be dictated and controlled by men whose training and instincts are cut of an entirely different cloth. The fact remains that these gentlemen sell consumer goods, not an art form.”

    –Rod Serling

  • Memorable work comes from taking risks and challenging the status quo.
    Guys like this are risk averse and are all about maintaining the status quo.

  • Jonathan

    How fast do you think Walt Disney is spinning in his grave?

    • Bud

      Faster than you can say “The Happiest Millionaire!”

    • Phil

      You could attach a generator to Walt, and he’d spin fast enough to power a small nation.

  • whoiseyevan

    Not necessarily true. While I did watch Alice in Wonderland in a theater, the lack of a good story has kept me from wanting to watch it again. Hence, I did not purchase it on dvd or blu-ray. As we all know, video sales (more than theatrical box office results) are really the life blood of Hollywood. A poor story will eventually affect the bottom line of dvd sales.

  • Santini

    Alice was a mashup of the Carroll original, Looking Glass and every Harry Potter movie tossed into its overlong final act. That Disney suit isn’t totally wrong in that a percentage of the audience will watch any film for a perceived breakthrough in special effects. At least half the ticket buyers went to “Jurassic Park” to see those cutting edge CG dinosaurs. It happened to have enough of a story to lure the other half and it also did healthy repeat business. Burton’s Alice wasn’t even close to that good, but it had enough marketing juice to work once. It turned out to be a tent pole, but it was a disintegrating, soft rod rather than a sturdy cylinder that might support anything again. And in thirty years it’ll be Tim Burton who’s asked to re-imagine Alice yet again and the result will be so awful that last year’s Disney turd will be regarded as superior filmmaking. And it will be.

  • Bob

    Many folks here seem to think that films with great stories will be remembered more than films with mediocre stories. I beg to differ. In 20 years, the majority of folks will still be talking about Transformers and Alice in Wonderland but will barely remember 75% of today’s Best Picture nominees. In a way, it’s sad, I guess.

    Then again, what do great stories do? They trigger emotions. And if a film like Alice triggers audiences’ emotions – even if they are emotions connected to seeing something visually impressive – good for it. After all, let’s be honest here: every single one of us likes a few films that critics hated.

    • whoiseyevan

      Wishful thinking on my part… I think 20 years from now people will still be talking about the animated Alice in Wonderland Disney movie and the animated Transformers movie… both of which were superior to their current live-action incarnations.

  • Purin

    When people say Hollywood is anti-capitalist, I simply must laugh!

  • It’s not “show art” it’s “show business”. Toy Story 3 wasn’t made because they NEEDED to extend the story. They wanted to make more money, and that is a successful brand, so we got another film. The same for “Cars 2”, etc. This is not unique to Disney. Dreamworks did this with Shrek and Madagascar, and Fox/Bluesky is doing this with “Ice Age 4: Beating the Tarpan”.

    This guy is only stating what everyone working at these studios knows as fact. With many of these films, the story is an afterthought… literally.

    In my opinion, if there is no obvious overarching story, there’s no reason for a sequel, other than money. What other reason do you need though really? These studios are hundreds of people thick, and payroll and overhead has to come from somewhere.

    • WHAT?! Say it ain’t so! Not another “Ice Age” movie! NOOOOOOOO!!!

  • Rufus

    It seems that nowadays films are more all about short-term investments. People are getting greedy, churning out SHIT films in shorter amounts of time, instead of creating classics that will keep everyone happy/rich for a long time with return on investment being constant. All they want is return on investment ASAP, plus some on top of that. Then the movie becomes a joke, DVD sales are lukewarm at best. What to do? Rinse & Repeat. Crush more dreams. Piss over more hard workers.

    I want to kick this exec, in particular, in the nether regions. I truly hope people like that do not have children. While it saddens me that it’s a Disney exec, I can’t say I’m surprised either. It’s not by accident that Disney’s been churning out mostly diarrhetic films over the past decade.

    UGH! So angry that people like this are allowed to be in the business! They snort cocaine and solicit prostitutes and ride the short-term train. Inevitably, this douchebag’s theories will fail in the coming years, but not soon enough.

  • Scarabim

    “Alice” had spectacle? Really? Frankly, it reminded *me* of a big-screen version of H.R. Pufnstuf. ;P

    • ….but without the story.

  • Arthur F.

    So…. why to go to Alice in the first place, if the story isn’t necssary? It’s like saying, there are famous stories that have passed the test of time because they are incredible stories. We don’t need them. Let’s use them, but not care about the story. Even though, the quality of the “brand” of Alice is the story, convuluted logics and such. And instead, let’s just add more of that Tim Burtonesque (or whoever the director is) stylistics, which are found in all the films. Makes absolute sense, except it doesn’t pay back except on short term. They haven’t created an “Alice” for their time, while Disney, using “Snow White” for example, did.

    I think the tech executive has to look at other versions of tech executives from the past, where story still ruled as well: it would be interesting to compare to two early Alice-in-Wonderland film version, at least two, like the one with W.C. Fields head as Humpty Dumpty (which had its own version of surreal special effects of the time, costumed characters, sets etc..)

  • abslom28

    Alice in Wonderland was the film that made me stop liking Tim Burton.

  • tredlow

    I don’t think the guy meant ‘VISUAL SPECTACLE+JOHNNY DEPP-STORY = $$$’.

    Instead, I think he meant ‘VISUAL SPECTACLE+JOHNNY DEPP-STORY = Happy Audience’.

    And can you really argue with that?

    • chris

      A lot of people I know didn’t like that movie.

      • tredlow

        I hated it. But everyone I know loved it.

  • I read most of the comments, and what I don’t understand is why are we comparing a live-action movie (Alice in Wonderland) to an animated movie (Toy Story 3)? Andy Hendrickson’s claim is not only idiotic, but it misses the point of what John Lasseter was saying.

    Sure, Alice in Wonderland had visuals, but it’s not a fully animated movie. Fully-animated movies have higher risks of failing at the box office than most live action movies do. Think about it: Not every animated movie in the last few years have reached great success in the box office like Pixar or one of the DreamWorks movies that appears in theaters. Disney should know that, their animated movies haven’t been that great in the last few years…even when the animation was superb! Too bad the results in the box office weren’t consistently superb (Tangled did alright).

    Now, had Andy Hendrickson mentioned a better EXAMPLE to compare with Toy Story 3, that is an ANIMATED FILM, I could see where he’s comin’ from. So with his point he’s makin’, that is bs.

    And to say Johnny Depp didn’t hurt either…have we forgotten that this was a TIM BURTON film?! Tim Burton has a consistent audience support for years!!! With or without Johnny Depp (though he’s been collaborating with Depp for a long while now). But still, to compare a live action movie to animated film to prove your point against an animation legend is not only illogic, but a weak attempt at best. Hendrickson, do yourself a favor, watch more ANIMATED movies, then talk to us and see if story still doesn’t matter. Cuz for the most part it does. Don’t believe me? Go ask Ralph Bakshi!

  • Marc Baker

    People like that need to be fired from Disney ASAP! His entire philosophy is the very reason why most movies today are just soulless, empty junk food for the masses.

  • anonymous

    I got alice in wonderland on blu-ray for free when I bought my playstation 3 and I threw the damn film in the garbage when I got home. I will never regret my decision. Junk food, couldn’t phrase it better myself.

    Meanwhile I will watch great tv stories like Boardwalk Empire, Breaking Bad, Mad Men. Great animation like the classic bugs bunnny, anything by Disney before the nineties. I like great animation not crazy visuals with no actual appeal and bad story.

    Call me old fashion but I like this formula;

    Good story + Good story + Good Story + Good animation = A film worth watching over and over again

    And here’s the secret on how to make one;

    Patience + trial and error + ressources + reasonable deadlines + reasonable pay + talent – greed – cheats = A crew that can animate stress free and create work that will last for the next hundred years.

    you know what they used to say… A happy worker is busy worker

    I beleive the sayings goes something like this now… A low paid stressed out worker will do anything you tell him to do.

  • I can’t even describe how angry I am at reading this. This is evil. Plain and simple.

    I think this guy was the president in Idiocracy. Strange how that film was set in the “future”.

    My god, I hope people took this muppet to task in Vancouver.

    My blood is boiling.

  • Conor

    This guy clearly isn’t bright if he’s referring to Alice and Wonderland as a “tentpole film”. However in response a lot of commenters, I have to say, Alice in Wonderland didn’t suck for lack of story, it sucked because it had too much story. One huge reason the film didn’t work is because Tim Burton felt the need to apply a conventional narrative to the original story, which was really just a series of encounters. This choice could only have lead to a version that feels more conventional and less interesting than virtually every other adaptation, and the result just felt like a Narnia/Harry Potter ripoff done in a visual style that looks like it’s parodying Tim Burton.

  • C-Lobe

    Depends on your definition of success.

  • joel

    I think its safe to say that if Walt were still alive, he wouldn’t let a guy like this even set foot in the animation dpt.

  • why buy the cow, when you can get the milk.? my apologies to all creative types out there. know your place in the world, disneys wicked formula.

  • chris

    who can forget that alice in wonderland is known best for the visual spectacles. yknow those couple of pages of illustration in the book really make it the classic it is known for today.

  • The simple questions that need to be asked are, “Are you making this movie to simply ‘entertain’ for a couple of hours, or are you making this movie to simple make $$$, or are you making this movie to emotionally move your audience and make an effective film that will last a lifetime?”

    The answer to that will dictate how much you will push for visuals and story.

  • Skip

    Where would the Walt Disney company be today if Walt started the company with that attitude. Also I wonder what he would have to say to Andy Hendrickson about this.

  • There are many types of stories.
    There are stories that are character driven. The plot may not be the best thing that was ever created, but the characters make the story come to life. So when you experience such a story you get attached to the characters but not the plot.

    There are stories that are plot driven, that the whole concept or premises of the story is interesting. In my opinion I count movies such as “Fight Club” stories that are plot driven. I really can’t stand the characters in Fight Club, but I do agree that it was an interesting idea.

    Visual is important too, I personally like “The Fall” for visual impact, maybe its because all the locations in that movie is real… and not CGI…

    I think a good movie would combine all three aspects.

    Frankly, today’s cinema depresses me ==;;; I hardly go to the movies anymore unless its something I really wanted to see haha.

  • Pedro Nakama

    After hearing this John Lasseter’s jaw dropped and 2 pies fell out of his mouth.

  • Chris

    This is taken out of context to give Jerry a headline. The idea that a “good story” makes a good film is an over simplification of filmmaking. The animated version of lord of the rings was a crap movie, though it was based off a “good story”. What makes a good film is all the crafts coming together. Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings had amazing music, editing, cinematography, writing that all came together perfectly.

    “The King’s Speech” is another example of this. They took what should be a boring story… (a man takes speech lessons), and turned it into a masterpiece by great filmmaking. My point is that “story” is a bullshit word to begin with.

  • Tom

    Cory Doctorow’s Siggraph Keynote Speech

  • Jane

    Story doesn’t matter *that* much. I mean you tend to need a story but all these things are more important

    Story Telling: Your plot can be simple and done before but if you tell it in an exciting engaging way no one will care.

    Characters: If your world doesn’t have great characters that people love or love to hate, they’re not going to care about what happens to them.
    ^THAT breaks off into acting. Because you can write a very good characters but if it’s acted poorly, once again no one will care. And in animation the acting is done by the VA and the animators.

    And if we’re talking Disney… music matter’s a hell of a lot too.

  • That he said something so blatantly about the company he works for, who has a storied (sorry!) tradition of storytelling, is crass, arrogant, and uncouth.

    That doesn’t mean he’s wrong, though. As the intelligence of the average American citizen has gone steadily downhill, so has the quality of American entertainment.

    I rarely attend any new movies in the theater these days. It’s just not worth it. Flat characters, plot holes you can drive a semi through, bad editing, talking down to the audience, and flashy technology.

    I know I sound like an old curmudgeon, but I miss the 70s. They weren’t good for animation, but I feel it was the last decade of (most) filmmakers giving a damn about their craft.

  • I’m an Alice in Wonderland fan and have almost all of the film and TV versions on DVD and VHS, records and CDs. The consistent element among all of them is that every version either tries to visualize the Carroll books (most of them mixing the two books together) and never quite succeed because Carroll’s books are virtually unfilmable. They are collections of loosely related incidents that blend arbitrarily exactly like dreams.

    The genius of the books is the very thing that makes them so challenge to film — UNLESS they’re spoofed (the Hanna-Barbera 1966 special) or if they are given a story thread to link the incidents (like the Hallmark TV miniseries with Gene Wilder and Martin Short).

    So I find it ironic that Tim Burton’s Alice is used as the example of lack of story, when it was the ONE AND ONLY box office success among any Alice movie ever made, including Walt Disney’s. The fact is that it DID have a story and that was, regardless of whether you like the film or not, is a reason why audiences responded to it unlike any other Alice film for over 100 hundred years. Yes, it was Johnny Depp that boosted the ticket sales, but yes, it was also the story.

  • Brian Mitchell

    Remember, the same script can be given to two different directors and the outcome can be two very different films.
    It’s not the story itself, but HOW you tell the story that matters. Production values, actors, music etc. all add up to help create the entertainment value.

  • AJ Gutierrez

    In a marketing stand-point, it’s true. But really people wanna go see good movies and are convinced by how its marketed to them. You may attracted a large amount of audience but if the movie sucks then the audience will feel cheated. If studios keep that up than they’ll lose respect from the people that gives them money to go see their crap. So far that’s what Pixar did with cars 2 but it’s only their first strike. Brave looks very good even before i saw the first trailer and ill have a high expectation, I just hope the creative people behind the movie will surpass my expectations.

  • Rooniman

    It makes so much sense, it’s not even funny.

  • Funkybat

    Even if it’s true from a marketing/business standpoint that you can put together a big, flashy mess, market the hell out of it, and make a billion bucks, that doesn’t mean story is irrelevant. If you want a successful “franchise” you need a decent story. Iron Man 2 did as well as it did because so many people who remembered how good Iron Man 1 was went to see it. I kind of doubt Iron Man 3 would do as well, after IM 2’s lackluster story. “Tentpole” movies can become true classics, and even spawn good sequels, if they have a good story.

    Terminator 2 didn’t do as well as it did just because of the amazing effects, it had a solid story. Terminator 3 had effects that in some ways surpassed T2, but the story wasn’t there and neither was the audience, at least not nearly in the same numbers. “Speed” was a great summer action flick, made tons of money and repeat business, but it had a pretty basic story. At the same time, it wasn’t a *bad* story, just a simple one. I actually appreciate “Speed” in that respect, as opposed to the overly convoluted “stories” a lot of more modern “tentpole” flicks seem to have, with 8 writers credited and 4 more lurking behind the scenes. Name one movie that had a good story that had more than a half-dozen writers working on the script?

    I guess what gets my goat the most is that someone within Disney Animation is saying this. It’s one thing if you’re talking about live-action dreck meant to rope in tweens and teens, it’s another if you are talking about the House That Walt (and many other talented artists) Built. I’m hoping John L. and others keep things on a better track within the Animation division, even if live-action keeps doing stuff like “Pirates of the Carribean 5” or “National Treasure 3.”

  • Lamont

    I can’t believe some of these posts I’m reading. “Story doesn’t matter that much”??? This is not the Hollywood that I wanted to make cartoons for as a kid. You are making me thankful that I work for the SMALL screen where the storytellers seem to have gone. And for the record, the guy is a technical officer, of course he thinks that. He just needs to hire a PR guy… there’s more tactful ways of saying things!!!

    • The Gee

      Story is important. Without a good one, why bother with storytelling?

      It is pointless to try unless you are just telling elaborate string of jokes. Obviously, this is not an uncommon thing these days. From what I have seen too many things come across as just being lists. And, lists are just a form of an outline. An outline does not exactly equal a story. There’s too much of a need for the reader or audience to fill in the blanks themselves.

      So, story is paramount. But, storytelling, good storytelling, is the key. That is what is needed. It also bears mentioning that Character is often a vital Part of Story. It isn’t step one in the majority of stories that can be told. Obviously with animation and with cartoons in general Character can be a first step but if that character doesn’t fit into anything then it isn’t worth much at all. And, I don’t mean worth from a money standpoint, I mean putting any effort into doing something with it. After all,here’s little point shoehorning camel’s through the eye of a needle.

      Part of the entire thing that Disney exec–not a storyman, just a tech jockey– is that he is saying Spectacle Sells, so why bother with non-spectacle in Feature Films. Obviously, he isn’t creating much of anything, unless making a fool of himself counts as being creative.

      Storytelling for animation depends on quality input on a lot of levels with a lot of hands. Even people not in the industry get that. That’s just like all film rarely can be done by just one person. Animation can be done by one person though and that’s what helps separate it from most personal films. But, it is too much to take this on a tangent.

      The thing is for us, creative artists who are working in some capacity in animation, or in cartoon making, storytelling is The Vital part of the mix because it is what we do. Each of us plays a role in Storytelling. It doesn’t matter if is Layout, Storyboard, BG designers or animators or character designers. It all adds up to making the storytelling elements work and hopefully makes a good story good or makes a good one better.

      Story as King should matter more to the Audience. Story is what they should see (or we, as a part of the audience, should see.) We do need to consider Storytelling because more often than not that it contains a good deal of invisible or barely focused upon elements that add to Story, that make the clock tick.

      (by the way, after typing this, it would be cool if Message Filter doesn’t ignore it like it did several other comments on other threads I made this week. That occurrence doesn’t sit well with me.)

      • Bob Harper

        I agree with the sentiment.

        But here’s an example of what I mean:
        Disney’s Pocohantus and James Cameron’s Avatar – same story, but we know which the audience preferred.

        The goal is a great story told well, but doesn’t mean success – Iron Giant.

      • The Gee

        Well, yeah. I guess you are right.
        Spectacle invariably sells. P.T, Barnum showed us that.

        And, good story, one well told, doesn’t always equal spectacle….unless, like “Sleezy Exec” writes below, people feel that they must see it.

        Something like The Hangover and its sequel–which apparently was a lot like the first one– did great business. I don’t know if that was because of story, spectacle or what. But, once people felt they needed to see it then they saw both of them. I’d argue that people who rented the movie to see it for the first time probably felt even more compelled to watch the sequel early so that they were “first in line.”

        Good Story + Good Marketing = Don’t Be Out of the Loop?

        But, a Great Story does often lead to a similar aspect that spectacle encourages: repeat viewings. Not all films are on equal footing here. But, there are some which do great business based upon a bunch of the same people watching them over and over.

  • Ah man just noticed Deadmau5. LoL

  • Sleezy Exec

    Honestly I believe the general audience doesn’t really care that much about story. Most people only go to the movies just to say,”Yeah, I saw that movie.”

    When it comes to telling a good story, people can only watch what they’re familiar with. Not many people want to watch a foreign film, with a great story or watch a classic film.

    Art house films and indies are for the film snobs(I’m one of them) who still believe that film is art which is a reflection of the culture.

  • Greg Ehrbar says: “The consistent element among all of them is that every version either tries to visualize the Carroll books (most of them mixing the two books together) and never quite succeed because Carroll’s books are virtually unfilmable. They are collections of loosely related incidents that blend arbitrarily exactly like dreams.”

    This is true and crystallizes my thoughts on the matter. I had tried explaining this to somebody through e-mail before. I did like the visualization of Alice’s world(s) in the Burton/Depp debacle, but a feature film, where they would have to force some sort of story structure on it, was maybe not the best medium for it.

  • TheBeezKneez

    entertainment has always been about execution.

    you can execute a trite story well, if you hit the right beats

    you can execute one dimensional characters well, if they ring true with an audience

    a green horn with a poor track record can execute a project well, if he is either lucky or “figures it out.”

    it’s not about story, character, visuals, marketing or any ONE thing.


    • The Gee

      Yeah. But, not all entertainment has story or even tries for it. Heck not all of it is recorded. I’m thinking avant garde shock art that performance artists do on stage, beatboxers or that Warhol film footage of a man sleeping.

      Tap dancers that are good can dance, dance, dance but we may not get the elements that signify something other than video/audio entertainment.

      I’ve worked on really well-exectuted projects, ones where most of the notes seemed to hit just right and they were not blockbusters or tentpole movies or anything other than successful to those who worked on them (as they led to other productions) or to those who liked what they saw (and who hopefully seek out more from those who worked on the productions).

      The Disney CTO is basically talking in marketing speak. Other execs would nod their heads and wouldn’t disagree. But, they aren’t making stuff.

      I agree with you, Na…BeezKneez… that good entertainment is well made performance(s) or creation(s). It just isn’t always going to be more than the creators strive for. There is no guarantee that you can build it and They Will Come. But, animation and filmmaking are commercial arts. It is really about how they perform in relation to money being spent, by whomever or whatever.

      I think all of us–not them–us, can agree that we need to make good work and be good storytellers.

  • Well then I would like the Challenge Disney into making a movie that is ALL visual. Work your damnest to make a damn good looking film. Don’t hire writers at all. Just artists who animate something that strings together into a wonderful visual spectacle.

    It won’t sell cause it’s too artsy but I’d love to see it…Johnny Depp helps too.

  • huston

    ALICE sold because it was ALICE and in (fake) 3D and had Depp with crazy visuals. As far as script, it’s the worst garbage I’ve seen since… PLANET OF THE APES!

  • E. Nygma

    That whole movie looked like Tim Burton took a dump in a skittles factory, and called it a film. That movie made me so mad…no kidding story didn’t matter, I didn’t need a Disney executive to say it!

    I bet Lewis Carroll was spinning in his grave after that movie came out. The whole thing looked like a bad video game. Plus all of the characters were so “Out of Character”. The Mad Hatter sword fighting? What the hell! What a slap in the face of classic literature.

  • Andy

    This ass is putting the cart before the horse. Merchandising is most important to stupid executives. I recall Walt Disney always thought merchandising was secondary. If it was memorable and worthwhile, people would want mementos of the film, not buy the crap and hope the movie its attached to will be good.

  • Just because it’s a popular film doesn’t mean it’s a good one, right? I hate that this guy is right for all the wrong reasons.

  • Annnnnnnnddddd here are the T-SHIRTS to commemorate the now famous quotes of Mr. A-hole executive Andy Hendrickson…