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.
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.
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.
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.
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