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The Legacy of DisneyToon Studios

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This past week, news broke that The Walt Disney Company intended to immediately close down down DisneyToon Studios. According to IndieWire, the move will lead to the layoffs of 75 animators and staff. It's yet uncertain whether the company will hire them back through Walt Disney Animation or Pixar Animation. With the studio folding, why don't we take a look back at its eclectic history?

DisneyToon Studios was founded in 1990 as Disney MovieToons, a division of Walt Disney Television Animation. It would enable the company as a whole to diversify its output more. The first production came out later that year as a collaboration with Disney Animation France: DuckTales the Movie: Treasure of the Lost Lamp. Over the years the studio worked on other projects such as A Goofy Movie (1995), the holiday anthology Mickey's Once Upon a Christmas (1999), and The Tigger Movie (2000). By working on projects separate from Walt Disney Animation Studios, Disney MovieToons provided an additional source of income for The Walt Disney Company (gosh that's a lot of Disney). They also produced movies that have become beloved, such as Goofy Movie which has seen a resurgence in nostalgic popularity.

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Another key aspect of the studio's filmography was the Disney sequel phase. In 1994 they released The Return of Jafar direct-to-video, a sequel to the 1992 Disney Animation film Aladdin. They went on to produce the sequels of Beauty and the Beast, The Lion King, Lady and the Tramp, Cinderella, and more. It was during this rush that the company reorganized. Disney MovieToons was transitioned from television to feature animation, and renamed DisneyToon Studios in 2003. Now the sequels primarily faced a direct-to-video release, and as a result didn't have high budgets. They must have made money though, because a lot were produced. In the first half of the aughts, the studio released an average of four movies a year. In fact, in 2005, they released a whopping FIVE MOVIES within the calendar year.

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Things began to change though after Disney purchases Pixar Animation. Leadership was shuffled around, and several pending sequel projects were canceled at DisneyToons. Instead, the studio entered a new phase: the Disney Fairies franchise. In 2008, the studio released Tinker Bell straight to video. Overall they've released six movies in the franchise, the last coming out in 2015, which was also their last release. They briefly returned to sequels with 2013's Planes, based off of Pixar's Cars franchise, and 2014's Planes: Fire and Rescue. 

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The studio has had a long filmography, and while they've only been around less than three decades, they've certainly proved industrious in that time. So why did it shut down? Disney's been shuffling their studios around a bit following the departure of John Lasseter from the company, with new leadership taking over at Pixar and Walt Disney Animation. When it came to look at DisneyToons though, it has faced a tough market recently.

It's well-known for its straight-to-video productions. Video, however, has been facing a tough time lately. Digital streaming is more pervasive than ever. What's telling is that their last five movies have all been theatrical releases, even if only limited releases. Their last direct-to-video release was in 2010. Their primary market has vanished, and in a theatrical landscape dominated by "event" movies, there is only a small niche market for Tinker Bell: The Pirate Fairy. It's death by economics. There's a lot of talent there though, and it's worth seeing where they will end up and what they're going to do next.


Eric Miller Animation Studios is dedicated to crafting heartfelt stories and compelling visuals through 3D computer graphics, offering design and VFX for advertising, gaming, TV & film production.  We work with the best animation talent in the industry to deliver visually stunning imagery. Big or small, we can bring any character or story to life.

Apple Eyes Partnership with Cartoon Saloon

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Last Thursday, major news hit the animation scene. Tech giant Apple announced its intent to produce a feature-length animated film. Apple has been starting to offer its own original content, and the news is that they're in talks with Cartoon Saloon for a production that could possibly even get a theatrical release. Not only does this signal a player with major financial resources coming into the industry, but it also demonstrates a trend of convergence happening among media.

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Apple's brand needs no introduction: the smartphone/computer giant has been the talking point of the economy for decades. Cartoon Saloon, however, also has its own impressive accolades. The Irish studio has compiled a filmography including The Secret of the Kells, Song of the Sea, and The Breadwinner. All three films earned nominations for the Best Animated Feature Academy Award, and won several other awards. Apple has not yet struck a deal with them; however, the fact that they are approaching signals that Apple wants to hit hard with this film. Partnering with a studio who produces such critical hits could help give them a reputation for quality.

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Now this isn't the first time Apple has had connections to major animation projects. After leaving Apple in the 1980s, Steve Jobs famously bought the computing department of LucasFilm and converted it into Pixar. The studio just set the record this past weekend for the biggest opening of an animated movie with $180 million. Apple's imprint on the animation world is still being felt - and now they could be making another one if the deal with Cartoon Saloon goes through.

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This goes beyond just Apple and Cartoon Saloon though. This is part of a massive convergence of the media market. Distributors like Netflix have been making original programs for years now, and Amazon is planning to join in. Disney, a content provider, is preparing its own distribution network. Now Apple, the hardware company with two distribution channels to its name (iTunes and Apple TV) plans to step into the ring of content. It's a process of vertical integration: if firms can control each stage of the process, from content creation to viewer consumption, they can tweak the experience to be unique and exclusive. It's a key part of an industry unlike any other. Consumer goods can compete on cost and speed; media relies on selling an experience that no one else can match.

Apple's steps into animation aren't for sure yet, but even then they've made waves. Partnering with Cartoon Saloon could potentially give them a stellar opening into the industry. If all goes to plan, the film will release in 2019, a short timeline; if they manage a theatrical release, then 2020 could see an Apple-brand film submitted for Academy consideration. It also shows a new content producer coming in from distribution - and more content is always a boon for audiences. We should make sure to keep our eye on Apple, and see what comes of this potential partnership.


Eric Miller Animation Studios is dedicated to crafting heartfelt stories and compelling visuals through 3D computer graphics, offering design and VFX for advertising, gaming, TV & film production.  We work with the best animation talent in the industry to deliver visually stunning imagery. Big or small, we can bring any character or story to life.