Same old, same old at Disney

“You’ve got to embrace [computer animation] or there isn’t going to be a place for you.” It was with that ultimatum, Walt Disney Feature Animation chief David Stainton proudly tells us, that he fixed the studio’s animation division. You see, the silly artists at Disney had been using the wrong tool for the past decade. But Stainton put his M.B.A. from Harvard to good use and figured out that if the artists simply changed their tool from pencil to computer, the Disney films would stop sucking so hard.

Superficial changes in technique aside, this must-read article in yesterday’s NEW YORK TIMES makes it apparent that there remains a clear absence of leadership and creative direction at Disney. The quintessential example of the studio’s continuing animation woes can be found in the story of CHICKEN LITTLE, or rather the “stories” of CHICKEN LITTLE. Somebody explain to me how you begin a film as the tale of “a young girl who went to summer camp to build confidence so she wouldn’t overreact” and end up with the story of “a boy trying to save his town from space aliens?”

At Disney, there is such an unbelievable disregard (downright contempt) for story that it would almost be comical, if the resulting films weren’t so thematically hollow and emotionally shallow. Of course, the type of drastic story overhaul we’re seeing on CHICKEN LITTLE is nothing out of the ordinary at Disney (eg. KINGDOM OF THE SUN to THE EMPEROR’S NEW GROOVE; SWEATING BULLETS to HOME ON THE RANGE), and it is one of the root causes of the studio’s abominable output over the past decade. Read between the lines of this NY TIMES piece, heck, just read the piece, and it becomes obvious that there’s little new under the sun. The CG Disney characters may be a lot shinier and the camera will swirl and twirl until everybody’s dizzy, but their filmmaking process, CG or otherwise, is still diseased at its core, and sadly will remain so as long as imperious corporate hacks like Stainton run the show.

Another new piece worth reading is Richard Corliss’s “Can Mickey Find His Mojo?” in this week’s edition of TIME MAGAZINE. Corliss puts a more positive spin on Disney’s upcoming slate of CG films, and informs us that CHICKEN LITTLE comes replete with Barbra Streisand jokes. I’m sure Stainton couldn’t be more pleased.