Tuesday, September 27, 2005



Eisner leaves Disney Friday. After more than twenty years (or eleven, depending on your opinion of what year Disney started pumping out bad movies on a regular basis), of mismanaging the company, pissing off his partners-in-crime and screwing over every animator with a pencil or a stylus and a cel and a genuine idea—and years of consistently undermining the creative forces behind some of the greatest animated films ever made, he will finally be where he should have been after Pocahontas--gracefully retired. Except now, there will be no such thing as “graceful” retirement—the kind that involves going-away parties and slaps on the back from cronies.

When I wrote those Suite 101 articles a couple years ago, I routinely took potshots at Disney. Though many of those potshots were not well articulated, most of them were valid points. Now, three years and many, many shitty direct-to-video sequels later, Eisner’s reign has long since come to pass, and only now is it being officially recognized.

Today, nothing says corporate at Disney more than the switch to all-CGI productions, the mentality being that it’s the technique and not the underlying substance, the nucleus of a successful film, that’s responsible for putting butts in theater seats. And I know that Pixar popularized this trend, but it seems to me that the only trend they can be held responsible for is good storytelling and building an atmosphere of goodwill and mutual respect for each other. In this case, the technique they used to deliver the good product is rendered irrelevant—it is merely fancy packaging of stellar material.

O, would that Disney subscribe to this concept! O, but they probably won’t. They have shuttered their animation houses, and forsaken the company’s claim to fame, the metaphorical birthright. A pity.

I keep writing about them. Even though these laments have been uttered by better writers, read by more readers, forgotten many times by just as many people. I keep writing about all of the canceled animated shows, victims of the corporate drive to be lean, mean fighting machines. I keep writing about the lack of support given to 2-D animation, about the suck writers who keep ruining the rep of this still-virile medium. I keep writing about the artists who have legacies, and the ones who are building them. I keep writing about works in progress, and works that never progress. I keep writing about artists who get screwed, and the corporations who do the screwing. And if all this writing and reporting seems repetitive, it is because history keeps getting repeated.

For all of the technical advances in animation, there seems to be an evolutionary stall in the employer/employee relationship. The emotional disconnect is as great as it has ever been. Perhaps this phenomenon was borne out of a need to appeal to wider and wider audiences, to appease irate shareholders and to convert the doubters and the skeptics, to stay alive. Staying alive, quarter by lethal quarter, is an achievement in and of itself for a business. Every company has this universal feeling of impending takeover, which is what makes them try so hard to find that golden key which opens up every diverse door of success, even though, as this should be plain clear to most of us, no such thing exists.

They try Pokemon, Digimon, Power Rangers, Duel Masters, Yu-Gi-Oh, Cardcaptors--son of a bitch, something’s gotta work! If kids and their parents bought Pokemon cards, “why won’t they buy ours”? Dammit, the market is so damn fickle.

I keep writing about these companies. I keep writing about the executives who forgot about creative vision, about the intelligence of their audiences, about today’s kids. I keep writing, keep writing, keep writing.

These things matter to people. They don’t just matter to me—I’m not just some obsessed fanboy with loads of time on his hands. I’m a damn professional. I have a full-time job. I make a living. I don’t have to waste my sweet time talking about these sons of bitches who don’t have the balls to back their creators and support original visions. But if a tree falls in the forest, who gives a shit, y’know? What I’m trying to say is, I write because it matters. I write because I feel that these words need to be written. Even if it has been written before. Because no one seems to be getting the message. They either try to ignore it, or gloss over it or sometimes even try to sweep it under the rug. Or spin it like a Fox News anchorman. Whatever. It’s bullshit and bullshit needs to be exposed for what it is—bullshit. As long as people—in a position to change the industry for the better—refuse to do it, to take a stand in defense of quality, they are just as accountable as the executives who think it’s okay to use art to complement commerce, instead of using commerce to complement art.

Harlan Ellison once said, “This town is filled with weasels and wormers and people who will stab you in the front if they can't reach your back.” He’s a cranky bastard, but one who speaks the truth and is therefore respected even by his enemies. He’s also a smart bastard who ended up being fired by Roy Disney & Co. for merely talking about making animated porn films—something in fashion at the time if you take into account Ralph Bakashi’s Fritz the Cat (1972). His firing and the publicity that resulted from it strongly implies that Disney wanted to preserve its reputation as a family-oriented company (this, despite the fact that at the time no one under the age of 18 was allowed into the building proper). As a side note, I guess Roy forgot or has never heard of the time when a couple Walt Disney animators attempted to play a raunchy prank on Walt by splicing in frames of nude women, sometimes engaging in some rather explicit activity, in between frames of innocent animated sequences. I don’t know exactly which Disney film was in production at the time, but this event happened sometime between the conclusion of production on Dumbo and the beginning of production on Song of the South. At any rate, Walt detected the offending frames while they were running in the projector at 24 fps, removed them or had them removed, and caught the party responsible.

There were numerous other adult hijinks pulled off at the supposedly “above reproach” Disney facilities which materialized then dissolved undetected (or, for those who were aware of such activities but remained silent, forgotten), laughed off into history only to be recalled as fond memories. The fact that 12 years after the firing of Mr. Ellison Disney co-produced their first major rated-R film under the Touchstone label, Beverly Hills Cop, shouldn’t surprise you. In fact, nothing about the people working for the company (and the so-called “business professionals” running the company) should surprise you. This is the way that I feel, however—it is a tad shocking to discover that a company that has the legacy that Disney has is uncovered as being nothing more than a thinly-veiled group of relatively unscrupulous, emotionless venture capitalists. Let’s hope that, after Friday, the new era is better than the last. A lame final statement, but after all that has come before, I’m completely speechless and mentally fatigued.

More later. Especially on the public’s reaction to the departure of Eisner.


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