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A Clash of Animated Titans: The Disney/Pixar Story

Ok so I know this is not traditional for me. I usually only write about CD’s, Concerts and Bands, and don’t worry there will be more of that in the coming days. For now, I’m going to share with you a paper I just wrote looking into this interesting relationship between two huge media companies.

It is very odd how things work out sometimes. Companies that have been around for what seems like forever, suddenly are fading away, and new companies rise up to take their place. In the world of fantasy, magic and illusion known as animation, this was never made more clear. Walt Disney Studios was founded in 1923 under the name Disney Brothers Cartoon Studios. Walt Disney and Roy Disney, the founding brothers, eventually changed the name to The Walt Disney Studios after their initial run. Pixar on the other hand did not come about until 1986, when a little known computer engineer purchased the computer graphics segment of Lucasfilm, forming what we know today as Pixar. These two companies started in very different places, but today, work together towards a universal goal, entertaining the world.

Although there were movies that came before it, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was the first major animated feature for Walt Disney Studios. It was significant for a few reasons, but most importantly, it was the first time a very large sum of money was spent on an animated movie. Costing $1.5 million back in 1937, this was thought to be a make or break move by Walt Disney. Of course it paid off as the film eventually grossed over $66 million and sprung the company to new heights in the movie world. As the years passed the company saw an amazing growth as the produced hits such as “Lady and the Tramp,” (1955) “Cinderella,” (1950) and “The Jungle Book,” (1967).

Years after Walt Disney’s death in 1966 the company, now run primarily by Michael Eisner, was slumping at the box office. Movies such as “Aladdin” (1992) and “The Lion King,” (1994) were becoming very costly to produce and the production time was every increasing. Disney Studios knew that they needed something to keep them on the cutting edge and shortly after the 1995 release of “Pocahontas,” a new company would finally emerge to help themselves, and Disney make it back to the top of the animation world.

As audiences filed out of movie theaters across the country on November 22nd, 1995, little did they know that the words “Buzz Lightyear to the Rescue,” would become the start of one of the most profitable joint ventures in cinema history. “Toy Story,” became the first movie released by Disney under the production of Pixar Animation Studio’s. The amazing part of the relationship was that the two companies were able to make movies that cost less to make, and market them as the next new thing in animation, while people soaked it all in. 1995 saw the release of both “Pocahontas” and “Toy Story.” “Pocahontas,” cost $55 million to produce and market, where as “Toy Story” only cost $30 million. With that incredible cost in production, came an increase in sales as “Toy Story,” went on to gross over $8 million more than “Pocahontas.” Clearly both Michael Eisner and Steve Jobs were very happy with this success.

With any large business endeavor one party is always going to come down with a case of greed after a while. In this case it came when Michael Eisner and Steve Jobs were re-negotiating the terms of their agreement in 2004. Pixar’s Jobs was attempting to control all of the rights to future animated features, giving the Disney company the rights only to distribution, while Eisner wished to retain all of his rights. Negotiations eventually broke down between two very hot headed executives when Steve Jobs insisted that this new contract be in effect for two films that were already in production, “The Incredibles,” and “Cars.” Talks halted right up until Michael Eisner stepped down from the company in September of 2005 at which point they came up with a distribution deal, as they two companies moved into acquisition talks. In January of the following year Disney announced that they would purchase Pixar for $7.4 billion. This had a huge impact not only on the two companies but on Steve Jobs.

Steve Jobs name was surfacing more and more as this deal went through. He was the known face of Apple and even more importantly the father of the iPod. This movie moved him into a potential position greater than all of these, he became the largest shareholder in Disney, ahead of Roy Disney and Michael Eisner.

The original question finally reappears, what does all of this mean to the animation world? The final large budget film produced by disney without the help of Pixar has also the last hand drawn film. “Home on the Range,” released in 2004 will be known (for now) as the final film to be hand drawn. The film’s which stared famed voices such as Roseanne Barr, Judi Dench, and Jennifer Tilly actually lost the company money, a drastic difference from the $55 million that “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs,” has grossed over the years. In perspective, “Home on the Range,” lost money, while that same year, “The Incredibles,” grossed over $500 million.

There is one thing that has changed in the Disney World. They are still the industry leader in animation, and they still make excellent quality movies, the only difference is that now they are made in a computer, both musically and visually. 1999 saw the end of musical’s in the Disney library. The movies that helped build the company, the musicals from the 1950’s all they way up to that late 90’s have disappeared. Also the hand drawn element of animation is much more warm from the Computer Generated Imagery or CGI, which tends to feel more realistic.

The way trends tend to work, hand drawn animation will return to the Disney screens before it is all said and done. People will crave things “The way they were,” and this will cause the relapse back to hand drawn animation. The musical aspect is not as certain. There isn’t the demand for music in movies like there was back in the previous century. Now music is more of a method of syndication than it is a vital part of an animated motion picture. Either way, both of these companies, or now a single company, will continue to make movies that make people laugh, think and even question the world around them. In their most daring movie to date, Pixar recently release “Wall-e,” a movie about a robot that cleans an earth, that has become over polluted. This is an interesting edge that Pixar has put in this movie and will be interesting to see what this does to future releases, as we all await the release of “Toy Story 3,” due out in 2010.

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