Sunday, November 21, 2010

Memo to Disney: And no one lived happily ever after

I just read the story on the LA Times Website that says, in a nutshell, that Disney is shelving fairy tale stories for the foreseeable future. I hope to Tinkerbell that's not true. 

The article says 

""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."

Now, in fairness to Mr. Catmull, after this piece was published, he had this to say on  Disney's Faceboook page: "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."

As Grumpy might say "Hah! Mush!" 

Quite frankly, I find Mr. Catmull's about-face more than a little suspect. Consider his quotes in a previous LA Times piece: 

“We did not want to be put in a box,” said Ed Catmull, president of Pixar and Disney Animation Studios, explaining the reason for the name change. “Some people might assume it’s a fairy tale for girls when it’s not. We make movies to be appreciated and loved by everybody.”
Pixar’s movies have been huge hits because they appeal to girls, boys and adults. Its most recent release, “Up,” grossed more than $700 million worldwide.
“The Princess and the Frog” generated considerably less — $222 million in global ticket sales to date.
“Based upon the response from fans and critics, we believe it would have been higher if it wasn’t prejudged by its title,” Catmull said.
Hmm. Sounds to me like Mr. Catmull has been less than 100 percent supportive of fairy tales in the not-too-distant past.Was he misquoted then too?
Here's something else that makes me suspicious: Consider this LA Times article that predates the others. 
John Lasseter said: “One of the first decisions we made, when [Pixar and Disney Animation Studios President] Ed Catmull and I came to Disney was to return to the sincere fairy tale,” Lasseter said. “I never quite understood why Disney hadn’t made a sincere fairy tale since ‘Beauty and the Beast.’ My two nieces would dress up in princess outfits all of the time. I realized there was this huge audience out there for this.”
Lasseter said this only about a year ago.  And now all of a sudden Disney is turning its back on fairy tales?  What gives? My suspicion is this: I notice that quotes about the Disney company lately come more from Mr. Catmull, who seems to be listening too hard to the marketing suits. We haven't heard much from Lasseter lately. I know he came in to co-direct Cars 2, and that may be eating up his time, but my educated guess is that Lasseter was stung by the relative underdperformance of The Princess and the Frog, and so has faded into the background - publicly, anyway. 
I wouldn't be at all surprised that someone at Disney (maybe even Lasseter?) saw today's LA Times story, and said "WHAT??!??!" So now Catmull is backpedaling, saying "No, no, no, that's not what I meant!" 
I really hope it's not, Mr. Catmull. Because if the LA Times piece was correct, then that saddens and angers me. 
In the LA Times Story, an "expert" is quoted thusly: "By the time they're 5 or 6, (girls are)  not interested in being princesses," said Dafna Lemish, chairwoman of the radio and TV department at Southern Illinois University and an expert in the role of media in children's lives. "They're interested in being hot, in being cool. Clearly, they see this is what society values."
Oh really?
If the fairy tale is really so uninteresting to little girls, why did Disney just re-release Beauty and the Beast on disc? And if girls really don't like fairy tales anymore, who do so many of them pack the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutiques at the parks? They're not all under 5 years old, either. 

You say in the newest LA Times piece: "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.'" If that's true, sir, and fairy tales really are out of fashion, isn't presenting a fairy tale itself a risk?
There is no doubt we live in constantly changing times. There is no doubt that tastes have changed over the years. Some of us may be lamenting the fact that this isn't our world anymore. It happens when you get older. 
But little girls will always be little girls. And there are many girls who are still little at heart even if the rest of their body is bigger. 
I really hope Mr. Catmull means it when he says the fairy tale isn't really dead at Disney. It wasn't so long ago that Roy Disney blasted the company for being rapacious and soulless. For awhile it seemed that Disney seemed to find its soul again. But now, I get the distinct feeling the bean-counters are riding herd. If Disney really does abandon fairy tales, it won't just be soulless. It will have broken a lot of hearts. 
Pull out the other glass slipper, will you? 

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