Is Disney Closing the Book on Fairy Tales?

The LA Times had a front page story yesterday reporting Disney Animation is closing the book on fairy tales, saying:

…the curtain is falling on “princess movies,” which have been a part of Disney Animation’s heritage since the 1937 debut of its first feature film, “Snow White.” The studio’s Wednesday release of “Tangled,” a contemporary retelling of the Rapunzel story, will be the last fairy tale produced by Disney’s animation group for the foreseeable future.

“Films and genres do run a course,” said Pixar Animation Studios chief Ed Catmull, who along with director John Lasseter oversees Disney Animation. “They may come back later because someone has a fresh take on it … but we don’t have any other musicals or fairy tales lined up.” Indeed, Catmull and Lasseter killed two other fairy tale movies that had been in development, “The Snow Queen” and “Jack and the Beanstalk.”

Other notable quotes from the piece:

Catmull said he and Lasseter have been encouraging filmmakers to break with safe and predictable formulas and push creative boundaries.

“If you say to somebody, ‘You should be doing fairy tales,’ it’s like saying, ‘Don’t be risky,'” Catmull said. “We’re saying, ‘Tell us what’s driving you.'”

Bonnie Arnold, an animation veteran who most recently produced DreamWorks Animation’s “How to Train Your Dragon,” said animated films must vie in the cineplex with effects-laden action films that a generation ago might have been considered more mature fare.

“You see elementary school kids standing in line to see ‘Iron Man’ or ‘Transformers,’ ” Arnold said. “To be honest, that’s who we’re all competing with on some level.”

It was a curious piece to see prominently displayed on page-one of Hollywood’s major newspaper. It was almost as if Disney was hedging its bet against possible low box office expectations. Ed Catmull seemed to back peddle yesterday afternoon, responding to the article on his Facebook page with this:

A headline in today’s LA Times erroneously reported that the Disney fairy tale is a thing of the past, but I feel it is important to set the record straight that they are alive and well at Disney and continue this week with Tangled, a contemporary retelling of a much loved story. We have a number of projects in development with new twists that audiences will be able to enjoy for many years to come. – Ed Catmull

That was certainly a carefully worded statement. I’m glad that fairy tales are alive and well “this week”. Personally, I hope the quote in the article — the one about encouraging filmmakers to break with safe and predictable formulas and to push creative boundaries — is true. There’s nothing wrong with re-telling a great fairy tale, but to truly live up to Walt Disney’s vision the studio needs to move beyond tired public domain fables and push itself in new directions. I sincerely wish them luck with that.