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memo to michael eisner: it's the story, stupid

Item: Roy Disney resigns, tells Eisner he should be the one going.

dispix.gifDuring the great revival of Disney movies, starting in 1989, the studio released the following movies: The Little Mermaid, Beauty And The Beast, Aladdin and The Lion King. These movies were beautiful in both story and animation.

In what can only be viewed as a greedy rush to cash in on the newfound success of the studio, Disney subsequently released the following movies: Pocahontas, The Hunchback Of Notre Dame, Hercules, Mulan, Tarzan, The Emperor's New Groove, Atlantis: The Lost Empire, Lilo And Stitch and Treasure Planet. None of them enjoyed the box office success of the previous movies, nor did the merchandise tie-ins fare as well. Inevitably, heads rolled, changes were made, employees of the studio left in droves and it all seemed very much like Eisner was blaming the animators when, in fact, it was the stories, the writing, that made the films seem devoid of life.

During that time, Disney entered into a five film contract with Pixar Studios, which gave us the the wonderful tales of Toy Story, Toy Story 2, Bug's Life, Finding Nemo, and Monsters Inc. The contract will be fulfilled with The Incredibles and Cars, in 2005. The contract started after Toy Story was released, so that doesn't count, and, much to Pixar's chagrin, sequels (which Disney owns the rights to), don't count. Which means we can look ahead to some beautifully animated but devoid of any real content films like Toy Story 3.

Disney's 2D studio is gone, closed down (though they do have one last-ditch effort at hand drawn animation coming out). The Disney animation studio is going all CGI now, in what one supposes is an effort to keep up with the times. Eisner has yet to figure out that while 3D animation is great, no one will want to sit through it if the storytelling is flat. 3D movies with Disney writers will be like the hot chick with no brain. Sure, you'll stare at her, maybe even drool, but as soon as she opens her mouth, you get turned off.

Pixar could still renew their contract with Disney, but I wouldn't bet on it. The success of Finding Nemo alone should give Pixar the balls to venture out and find another studio to work with. Sure, they may end up staying with Disney but, if they don't, Disney will be left with nothing but a lot of memories and a pile of straight-to-video sequels that just won't hold a candle to what other studios (i.e., DreamWorks) are doing.

Eisner needs to bring Disney back to what it did best; telling a good story with sweeping, gorgeous animation. If Eisner thinks that it can't be done anymore, I have just two words for him: Spirited Away. He should be familiar with it, anyhow. Disney distributed the movie in the U.S. And if Eisner keeps up this charade of pretending to know what's best for the studio, they will be relegated to nothing more than a distributor of films far better than anything they've made since Lion King.

[Drudge link via OW]


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Right on. Couldn't have said that better. I bought the boys like every single Disney movie until they started sucking.

God, for a second there I thought you were citing Spirit as the best sort of animated film.
Don't scare me like that.

Mulan ROCKS!!!!
It may not have done as well at the box-office, but it is the ONLY Disney movie that had me bawling in the theater. The scene where she sings "When will my reflection show who I am inside" pushed every button I had. And near the end, when her father drops the valuable gifts in the dirt, embraces her and says "The greatest gift and honor is having you for a daughter" --- well that was all she wrote for me --- sob city!

I agree that it is the story and the message that works. That is the only thing that makes for a good movie.

Don't knock The Emperor's New Groove, man. It's the funniest thing they've done in years.

And I'd like to defend The Emperor's New Groove. It may have featured the voice "talents" of the otherwise-sporkable David Spade, but the story was fun and the music was a hoot. And it's hard to argue with something that makes your (then) three year old dance and giggle that much.

Curse you, Max. :)

I'll go on record as having enjoyed Emperor's New Groove. However, that's just one in the whole recent crop.

Emperor's New Groove, Hercules, Lilo & Stitch - loved 'em all.

It's true the rest weren't as good...the kids love them all though. Turn their noses up at the vintage movies...Sleeping Beauty, hell, even Lady and the Tramp bores them. sigh I don't know whether that's a good thing or a bad thing.

I got Spirited Away a few weeks ago from Netflix. The wife hates anime, but she watched it with me. Lets just say that as soon as it was over I was on amazon buying the DVD for her. It is simply the best movie I have seen in years. I brought it over to a friends house the other day and everyone sat glued to the screen the entire time.

Continuing the thought above...

Our kids are not us (whether that's good or bad) and the movies are definitely marketed to the ones that control the purse strings, ie. the squalling youngsters in the middle of Wal-Mart, making mommy's life hell until she buys the little stuffed Nemo, the big stuffed Nemo, the Nemo keychain/water bottle/pillow/butter knife. I'm not saying that's a good way to parent, but how so many do it these days.

Yet another reason to require Breeding Licenses.

If you look at the more recent (non-Pixar)movies I listed, you can see that the tie-in merchandise didn't go anywhere - most of the stuff was in the half-price bins by the time the movie left the theaters. And that's the sign - in these days - that a movie was not successful enough to reach the kiddies.

While those movies may stand up well enough on their own, when you compare them to the Disney features of the early 90's, they fall flat.

Interestingly enough, David Reynolds, who wrote the screenplay for ENG, also wrote the screenplay for Nemo. It is all about the writing.

Ok, so my thought is only corollary to yours.

a couple of thoughts:

I don't have kids, so I didn't realize that Disney movies had been on a downward spiral. I think the last "new release" Disney movie I saw was "The Aristocats".

What does make me itch, though, is how Disney is strip-mining its history for direct-to-video releases ("The Jungle Book II," some 40 years after the original, when all of the vocal talent that made the original so fun was long dead) to try to squeeze a few more dollars out of parents or Disney freaks. I expect some day we will see "Snow White II" or "Dumbo II" (I may be mistaken in assuming JBII is trash, but I find it hard to believe that making a "sequel" some forty years after the original could ever be a good idea).

Also when I was a kid, there were a lot of live-action Disney movies out there - like the Love Bug pictures and the like. They were not great movies but they were entertaining and wholesome. (yes, I said "wholesome"). I don't see those being released now, or if they are, they include gratuitous "teen" humor so they can get a PG-13 rating and up their cool factor.

It's sad, in a way, that Disney feels it has to include flatulence jokes in order to sell its movies. (I generally don't find flatulence humor funny, but then I might just be weird.)

and I suppose Chad is aware of this, but "Spirited Away" is merely distributed by Buena Vista - their only skill involved there was recognizing something good and getting the distribution rights in the U.S. for it.

One other note: Tarzan did amazingly well in the theaters. $171 million in the US alone, in 1999. That's two places behind The Matrix and one place behind Beauty and the Beast.

(source: http://imdb.com/Charts/usatopmovies)

Huh - a day where Michele and I are in complete agreement, to the point that we both blogged about this.

And Emperor's New Groove is fabulous - horribly underrated movie. Thanks for pointing out that Reynolds wrote both, as I missed that.

Anyone know if Disney is definitely distributing both The Incredibles and </>Cars.?

To show off my incredible dorkiness...seems the writer of Final Fantasy 7, 8 and 10 (and 10-2) is leaving Square-Enix.

Why is this related? He also wrote Kingdom Hearts, a collaboration between Disney and Square, and a surprisingly good game. Kingdom Hearts 2 is in the works (they've even got a trailer)

....I just hope they get the game out. Disney and Square-Enix can collapse afterwords.

It's a bad thing, Seki... Our niece adores them (vintage Disney masterpieces). Wears out the tapes. Thank god for DVD!

It is rather clear that Disney needs Pixar a lot more than the other way round. Finding Nemo is the best damn bargaining tool anyone could ask for. A amazingly good movie, I mean even DeGeneres was decent in it.

DVDs are better than tapes for kid's movies, yes - you can skip the scary parts, if necessary. But they're not always treated with tender care. Most of my child's favorite DVDs have so many scratch lines they look like the surface of Europa.

I've said it before, and I'll say it again. Michael Eisner is the antichrist.

If there were any justice in the world, Walt would've really been stuck in a freezer. That way there would still be a chance that he could get thawed out and kick Eisner's arse.

I may be branded as a heretic for this but I think Lilo & Stitch was a much better movie than the grotesquely over-rated, predictable tripe that was (IMHO) The Lion King. When the former ended, I was ready to start it over and watch it again. Nathan Lane was the only reason I could even sit through all of the latter. Were Disney to take more risks like Lilo - and market such off-beat stories more effectively - they'd do a lot better.

Dodd, you are right on with that one. I don't recall where and when I first saw Lion King, but I suspect it was in the theater, as my brother and I loved the Little Mermaid (personal reasons) and it came out soon after that. I vaguely recalled not being overly impressed.

Then it came out on IMAX a while back and my wife and I took our daughter. Yeah, it was like I remembered, lame. Lilo and Stitch was no Little Mermaid, but WAY WAY better than the Lion King.

Pocahontas even had it's moments, although they were ALL related to the talking animals aspect of the movie (haven't they caught onto this yet?).

There is no doubt, though, that Disney has become much more "formulaic" of late.


I may be remembering this wrong, but I think it's actually worse to get a scratch on the top of a DVD than the bottom, since you're scratching off part of the material the laser is bouncing off to read the data. Minor scratches on the bottom are AOK.

Another point about DVD's and small children, I don't actually have any kids but if I did I would just rip "their" moveies to vcd and let them have at it, you would probably have to burn a new copy every week but blank cd's are very cheap. If you don't know how to do this there are many guides on www.vcdhelp.com, hmmm just checking and it seems to be down FTM but if you google around a bit you can find plenty of resources. I personally rip with cladDVD and then use TMPGEng for the encoding and Nero to burn the discs, works well. Anyway just a thought for all you with kids.

ahh www.vcdhelp.com is up, just slow :P

I have to agree wioth Dodd, Lilo and Stich was the first Disney movie since Aladdin I didn't feel |I was wasting my money on went I went to go see it, and felt vindicated after the movie ended.

As someone who collects animated DVDs and is a Disney fan, I've got to back up what a few people have said here. (You guys might want to get some popcorn; this is gonna be a long post.) It's not that Disney's movies have been, well, bad lately as often just mediocre (Lilo, Emperor, and Mulan being exceptions). It's their own damned fault. Once upon a time (sorry) Disney movies were events. People anticipated them for months and saw them multiple times. Unfortunately, the company now treats their movies as nothing more than PRODUCT. "Who is the cute sidekick going to be in this movie? Which famous and recognizable person are we going to get do do the voice of the main character? Which inoffensive pop star are we going to get to warble out a few songs?" (Answer: Phil frikkin' Collins) "How soon can the direct-to-video sequel be out? How's development of the TV series going?" On and on and on. Any charm that a movie might have had vanishes quickly in a sea of boring, poorly done TV-level animation. It becomes just another movie in a sea of movies.

Disney has set a stool down next to every property they own and is milking everything for every dollar they can get out of it, usually at the expense of classics everybody loves. (I mean, was there a huge number of people wishing that they would make a sequel to "Cinderella?") Their live-action movies are the same way. I think they've remade pretty much every Haley Mills movie that can, and now they're on to Jodie Foster. Their recent theme parks suffer from the same problem. This is a company that has CLEARLY run out of ideas.

Eisner, credit where credit is due, is one of the people responsible for dragging Disney out of the death spiral it was in in the early 80s. That was then, and this is now, though. Roy Disney is right; it's time for Eisner to go.

Gosh, Otto, I hadn't thought about that, but you're right...so far as the live-action stuff goes, Disney is just remaking all their old movies. No fresh ideas that I can recall.

My kids still love to watch "Swiss Family Robinson," and "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea" is one of my personal favorites. I don't recall them doing anything like that recently.

Eisner is to Disney what Jerry Jones is to the Cowboys. I loved both until they came on board, then it was guilt by association. My wife has been begging me to take the family to Disneyland(World, whatever the hell is in Florida), but I'm holding out until Eisner goes. Otto hit the nail on the head-it's all about the money making formula, which seems to be an Eisner trademark.

For what it's worth, I loved ENG, Herc and Mulan. But then again, I thought the Lion King sucked. And can we PLEASE euthanize Air Bud, or at least those series of movies??!!

The only recent Disney live-action I've seen was Parent Trap II (since I love the original so much). I actually thought it was pretty darn good.

It's good to read what I've been thinking for so long. But I have to add what other have already said. "The Emperor's New Groove" doesn't feel like a feature film to me, but is one of the funniest/best I've seen out of the studio. Did they not throw any money at it or something? "Lilo and Stitch" gave a lot of control to the directors, who were animators, and I think it shows. That is by far, in my opinion, one of the best films Disney has put out. Partly because it goes in the face of the traditional Disney cookie-cutter pattern, while still being very Disney (first watercolored drawings since Dumbo). It shows that, removing the execs, the guys that actually are doing the work can make a really good film. And finally, and I'm probably in the minority here, but "The Lion King" was a terrible movie, in my opinion. I know I'm one of the few, but I just never got it. Music was good, the animation was excellent, the story sucked. He spends his formative years hiding, leaving his worries behind, and returns after family and friends have suffered for so long and we're supposed to be happy?

Is there an oust Michael Eisner site anywhere? My wife and I tell people we're big fans of Disney, the theme parks, not the company. The Disney company sucks major ass.

Jeff, have you been to savedisney.com It's run by Roy E Disney.

Eisner didn't improve Disney, he just diversified Disney in the Eighties and hid the problems that Disney still faces today. What Disney needed in the Eighties(and still needs today) is creative talent, superb screen writers, and a long term approach to their future. Eisner did what any good CEO would have done--he maximized profits from what his company had to offer. Eisner turned a multi-million dollar company into a multi-billion dollar company, and he did it by using typical investment tricks common to American industry and the corporate world we know. Eisner, however is no Walt Disney, and will never been insightful enough to return Disney to its former status as a movie making or theme park industry leader.