1959 - Disney's " SLEEPING BEAUTY" opened. Despite earning the fifth highest box office for that year,it finished $5 million behind what it cost to make. The animation staff had swollen to it's largest to finish the production. It’s disappointing box office soured Walt Disney on feature animation. His low budget films like the Shaggy Dog and his TV shows were doing much better. Walt confessed to animator Eric Larson:" I don't know if we can do this anymore, it's just too expensive." After the film was finished the studio had a massive layoff, dropping from 551 to just 75. Artists employed since "Bambi" and earlier found pink dismissal slips on their drawing tables when they came to work. Staff level will not return to these same levels until 1990.
I'm not sure of all of Tom's numbers here, but they seem pretty right. My then ten-year-old brain vaguely remembers the brouhaha that surrounded the launching of SB: the hour-long promo on the t.v. show, the merchandising, the books (Walt gave employees autographed copies of The Art of Animation.)
And I remember Dad coming home and talking about the big layoffs right after the picture wrapped up (he was among the survivors).
As Mr. Sito notes elsewhere, it was a somber time in animation: Disney downsized, MGM closed, lots of commercial animation houses went out of business. But the animation business is nothing if not cyclical, and within a year Hanna-Barbera was roaring and employment was going up again.
The more things change, the more things stay the same.