By the happiest of coincidences (well, not really) I was in the Disney Hat Building today, and got these observations from long-time Diz staffers regarding The Princess and the Frog. Since it fits in with the thread below, I relate it here:
"I think that they're going to hire a lot more artists to get the picture out. I mean, they've hired more people for layout as they've gone along; I think the same thing will happen with other production departments as the picture gets closer to its release date. You ask me, they won't send as much of the work out as people think they will, because they won't be able to."
I floated a facsimile of the above quote past another Disney veteran who is also working on the picture. He had a different opinion:
"Management wants to get this feature out with a lower budget than the hand-drawn pictures were costing ten years ago. They don't know if they're going to get Aladdin and Lion King grosses, they just can't depend on those kinds of returns, and aren't expecting them. Me, I don't think that kids have the same desire to see hand-drawn features that they used to. They want the 3-D stuff. Just look at the grosses. They've been higher for c.g.i. animation.
"If the company can make money on a moderately budgeted hand-drawn film, it'll make more. If they can't, then they probably won't make more. I don't think they'll make hand-drawn features if they can't make them more inexpensively than they were produced for in the nineties, and have them make money ..."
My take: No company is a charitable organization. Corporations exist to make profits and get a return on equity for their shareholders. Disney, on the advice of John Lasseter, is trying its hand again at a hand-drawn feature. (And I can tell you that the company had no plans to make any more hand-drawn product before Mr. Lasseter's arrival.)
I hope that Princess and the Frog is the first of a long string of new hand-drawn features, since nothing would please me more. But how many pencil-created flicks are in Disney's future hinges, I think, on the success of The Princess and the Frog.
(Personally, I don't think audiences have a big preference for c.g.i. over hand-drawn. I think it's more a matter of the quality of individual films. But the recent history of various animated features' box office performances doesn't necessarily bear me out, so my thinking could be wrong ... and wishful.)