Got a call today from a reporter who asked me if things were as awful as Disney Animation as Jim Hill and his Media make out.
Since I'm not a regular customer over at JMH, I answered the gent's questions and then took a cyber-stroll over to Big Jim's place to see how bad the awfulness at Disney Animation actually was:
Here's the official party line for the Walt Disney Company nowadays : That everyone who works in Burbank is just thrilled that John Lasseter & Ed Catmull now exert so much control over the corporation. More importantly, that all Mouse House employees have been eager to embrace Pixar's "Quality is a great business plan" aesthetic.
Okay. Now do you want to know what's really going on? Take a gander at this excerpt from an e-mail that I received late last week from a Disney executive:
There are a lot of people here who are now actively hoping for a Pixar backlash. The transition has not been handled well, due mostly to the great care & attention that's being lavished on Pixar....
Many of us here feel that Disney's own executives (Who in some cases have decades of working experience) are needlessly being forced to take a backseat to the crew from Emeryville. Meanwhile the people from Pixar are afforded stronger creative control, get superior treatment, receive more credit and have their asses kissed regularly by Iger & associates.
The good news is that all of this may all change once "Ratatouille" 's box office receipts get counted. Though Brad Bird has made a great little movie, it won't hit the B.O. numbers that Wall Street wants and that will get a lot of attention...
Me, I'm just your garden-variety union thug. Certainly not the all-seeing, all-knowing JMH, with spies and tentacles everywhere. All I've got is my pair of size-twelve feet to carry me around the various halls and rooms and cubicles at Disney Animation and talk to people. So I'm at a big disadvantage, and fully understand how, next to JMH, I'm an ignorant moron.
But here's the deal. Disney Animation has endured two sets of management changes in its recent past: Eisner replaced by Iger, then Stainton replaced by Catmull/Lasseter. And let's face it: any time there's a single management change let alone two, transitions can get choppy and brutal. Status quos get upended. People who the incoming management decides are less than wonderful get tossed out. Often this is, from an objective point-of-view, unfair.
But this is Hollywood, where unfair is a way of life.
And here's also the deal. There've been a lot of layoffs at Disney Animation, and a lot of semi-forced departures of long-time executives. So naturally there is a lot of disgruntlement (I've heard much of it.)
And whattayaknow? There are a lot of folks out there wanting the people who pushed them out of the high seat to be brought down several pegs. (In the jolly 1980s, when I was slipped the axe by Disney management, one of those people was moi.)
In any studio, there are always three groups of citizens: 1) the contented and happy, 2) the "Oh, things are okay, but..." crowd, and 3) the discontented and unhappy.
No matter how wonderfully well the studio is running, you have these three groups.
And no matter how hellish and Guantanomo-like a studio is, you have these three groups.
The difference between good studio and bad is the size of each group. At the good studio, the happy crowd predominates. At the bad place, misery reigns supreme. But you always have a few employees in categories 1) through 3).
At Disney Animation right now, there are employees in production who are edgy and wondering what's going to happen. They're not "contented and happy." They haven't been thrilled with some of the recent happenings at DAS. But up on the third floor in the story department, story artists seem to be whistling while they work. The hovering execs of earlier regimes have disappeared, and the artists create their storyboards without some MBA offering his generous opinion every fifteen minutes. They like the idea of animation story people having the opinions that count. They like what's happening at Disney now.
So you can list these folks under category 1): happy and contented. And they want to see the studio to succeed. As do, truth to tell, a lot of the less happy employees on other floors. (Go figure.)
Are there people around and about hoping the new management team falls on its face? No doubt. But most of them aren't currently working for Disney Animation.