The emptiest summer season in recent memory has come and gone. While the animation world clings to the commonplace that it is uniquely adaptable to remote working, the ravages of the pandemic continue to be felt in parts of the industry — the news of layoffs at Laika, which produces stop-motion features, is one example.
Corona chaos is but one reason behind the sea changes sweeping the major studios. Warnermedia, under new management, is undergoing a drastic restructuring, while ViacomCBS is turbo-charging its adult animation slate ahead of the relaunch of its streaming platform CBS All Access. Meanwhile, Disney has become the latest company to break ground in queer representation…
Major studios were rocked by the coronavirus and internal reshuffles. Disney, which is highly exposed to the pandemic, posted its first quarterly loss since 2001. Walt Disney Animation Studios announced a big shake-up on the crew of its feature Raya and the Last Dragon, without giving reasons why. Major restructuring continued at Warnermedia, where Sam Register was put in charge of both Warner Bros. Animation and Cartoon Network Studios, while a report claimed that parent company AT&T had offered to sell its anime subsidiary Crunchyroll to Sony. Stop-motion studio Laika laid off 15% of its workforce, citing the pandemic.
Creators made strides toward inclusivity, overcoming obstacles. Disney Channel’s The Owl House revealed that the show’s teen protagonist is bisexual — Disney’s first confirmed bisexual lead in a tv series. Creator Dana Terrace spoke about resistance she initially faced from Disney leadership, and what it took to change minds. Rebecca Sugar and Noelle Stevenson, creators of Cartoon Network’s Steven Universe and Netflix’s She-Ra and the Princesses of Power respectively, described similar trajectories on their shows. Disney Channel appointed executive Theresa Helmer to a new inclusivity role.
ViacomCBS developed its adult animation strategy. Under its new head Grant Gish, the company is building a slate centered on spin-offs, specials, and reboots of classic shows, including South Park, Clone High, Beavis and Butt-Head, and Ren & Stimpy. The reliance on existing IP has drawn criticism, but the Ren & Stimpy revival has proved especially controversial, given the accusations of sexual abuse leveled at the show’s creator John Kricfalusi. One of his accusers has launched a petition to halt the project.
The games industry continued to reckon with claims of sexual misconduct. Staff at L.A.’s Lab Zero Games resigned en masse in protest over their boss Mike Zaimont’s behavior, which they characterized as hostile and inappropriate. Old allegations of sexism at the U.K.’s Rocksteady Studios were made public, causing a schism at the company. This news follows the resignation of three top Ubisoft executives in July, amid claims of sexual harassment and misconduct.
Exciting new shows and films were unveiled. Live-action indie titan A24 announced a series based on animated pilot Hazbin Hotel, which went viral online last year. First trailers dropped for Poupelle of Chimney Town, produced at Japan’s renowned Studio 4°C, and Joann Sfar’s anticipated family feature Little Vampire. Cartoon Brew exclusively premiered the first images from A Dozen Norths, the debut feature by Koji Yamamura, the doyen of Japanese indie animation.
(Image at top, left to right: “Raya and the Last Dragon,” “Hazbin Hotel,” “A Dozen Norths.”)