Wednesday, August 21, 2019

The Unending Disney CEO Succession Game

The entertainment press speculates (yet again) on who will succeed Robert Iger when he retires at the end of 2021:

Some observers now believe the inside track [for Disney CEO's successor] may belong to Kevin Mayer, chairman of direct-to-consumer and international who is expected to appear at the convention to showcase Disney+. That Iger has called the upcoming streamer the "most important product" to launch since he became CEO in 2005 speaks volumes about the stakes for Mayer, 57, and how the performance of Disney+ could influence who takes over when Iger retires at the end of 2021. ...

Iger [might] extend his run again, [and] the succession bake-off also could change dramatically, as it did when former CFO-COO Thomas Staggs — once positioned as the primary contender — left the company in 2016. ...

It's difficult for Top Dogs to give up all the trappings of Top Dogdom when announced retirement dates draw near. I mean, wave goodbye to all that money and power? All those corporate aircraft? And the smiling faces that tell you agreeable, ego-boosting things every time you walk into a room?

Hard to let all those pleasant, day-to-day realities go.

There has been no Disney chieftain, outside of '70s corporate head Card Walker, who's left voluntarily. Walt and Roy Disney died. Ron Miller was pushed out by Disney's board of directors. And Michael Eisner got a strong "no confidence" vote from Roy E. Disney and a large number of other Disney shareholders.

But even after the vote, Mr. Eisner stalled around for as long as he could.

And so we come to Robert Iger, who has already made a minor career of delaying retirement. (To date, his exit has been pushed back twice. And he will be close to 71 when his current contract expires at the end of 2021.)

My guess is there's a 50/50 chance Mr. Iger will leave when the trumpet blows a third time. Kevin Mayer, the current top candidate for Robert Iger's job, could suddenly be found wanting and (surprise!) Mr. Iger's contract would be extended yet again.

And Robert Iger would no doubt stay on "reluctantly" with much sighing and head shaking. Because, after all. Why give up money, prestige and company planes before you absolutely have to?

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Chinese High-Flyer

To remind animation fans it isn't all Pixar and Disney and (every once in a while) Blue Sky Animation, there is this:

Chinese animation “Ne Zha” continued its run as China’s biggest hit of the summer, maintaining its top spot at the box office even 25 days into its run with a weekend gross of $41.2 million. The tally made it this weekend’s fourth highest grossing film worldwide. ...

As the saying (sort of) goes: "When they want to see your movie, you can't stop them." First time director Yang Yu might have struggled to get funding for his long gestating epic, but financing for pictures he wants to make won't be a problem going forward. Even in the Middle Kingdom, he's what is known as "bankable".

Monday, August 19, 2019

Global Box Office

The worldwide totals for current animated features (including the one masquerading as a "live action" feature):


Angry Birds Movie 2 -- $45,399,338

Lion King (2019) -- $1,437,423,549

Secret Life of Pets 2 -- $401,091,985

Toy Story 4 -- $1,017,026,843

Lion King (2019), of course, is the animated remake of an animated feature, no matter what the director of the newer iteration says.

Animated features will continue to be made because they, like super hero features, make too much money. It's a shame that some filmmakers think that animation is a lesser art. Because it's not.

Sunday, August 18, 2019

Cartoon Mice

Twenty-seven years ago this week, a live-action comedy/satire titled Stay Tuned is released by Warner Bros. It features John Ritter, Pam Dawber, and Eugene Levy.

It also contains an animated short directed by Chuck Jones. The animation is praised by critics who (at the same time) pan the film. Stay Tuned opens at #6, and ends up losing buckets of money for WB.

Sadly, ST becomes a precursor for Warner Bros. ineptitude selling theatrical cartoons. With the exception of the hybrid feature Space Jam, Warners fails to successfully launch an animated feature until the 21st century. (Quest for Camelot, Osmosis Jones, and Iron Giant all do little at the box office.

Saturday, August 17, 2019

Richard Williams, RIP

Richard Williams, artist, animator, director, story-teller, died on Friday of cancer. He was 86. USC professor Tom Sito, one of his former employees/students, remembers:

... It is hard to sum up how much Richard Williams meant to me, and many animators of my generation. He gave me my career, my approach. Oh, I probably would have etched out some kind of living in animation anyway. But certainly not as much. Over 40 years, at key moments, connecting with him supercharged my development, like a spark plug. He taught me to strive to be better than I thought i could be. To never stop learning. He introduced me to Chuck Jones, Art Babbitt, Emery Hawkins, Vincent Price, Osamu Tezuka, and many many more. You who worked for him, consider what your lives would have been like had he never existed.

Most people I know who worked for Dick can spontaneously do a credible impersonation of him. High voice. Glasses on forehead. Arms waving about frantically. All manic energy and enthusiasm. Hard to think that energy could ever be stilled. We say in animation you have your biological fathers and your animation fathers. Dick was an animation father to me. ...

Richard Williams was not just one of the best animators ever. He was one of the greatest animation students ever. He just didn't admire a great animator. He studied them. He analyzed their technique. He would clean up a Ken Harris or Grim Natwick scene. " Because when you assist someone," he'd say," You get into their minds and watch them solve problems."

Once in LA, I was working on a milk shake commercial for him. A mutual friend in the Disney training program had xeroxed a Milt Kahl Shere Khan scene for Dick. I walked over to Dick's office to confirm a field size. And when I walked in, the xeroxes were spread our all over the floor, Dick on his hands and knees studying them like Napoleon going over battle maps. "Look! Look at what Milt is doing. He labored over this pose.... and this pose...and the other keys are breakdowns...."

He also gave some of the best portfolio critique ever. He could go right to the center of your problem. He once went over my samples in 1978. He went on to London, and I went to New York and Toronto. Four years later I was back in town and showed him my stuff. " I see you took my advice.." He smiled.

There was an animator on ['Raggedy Ann and Andy"] named George Bakes, who used to work with Bill Tytla when Tytla had a commercial studio in New York City in the 50s.

One day for lunch, Bakes offered to show us where Tytla liked to eat lunch. Dick joyfully led us all to the spot, a dingy greasy spoon luncheonette on w. 46th St that had seen better days. That didn't matter to Dick. As soon as he heard it was Tytla's favorite, Dick stood in the doorway, then dropped to his knees and began to bow, chanting "TYTLAAAA...TYTLAAA...!"

One of my favorite maxims of Richard Williams: "In the end, the best way to do something is the Hard Way. Too many people waste too much valuable time thinking of cheats and short cuts. Just F**king DO IT. DRAW! You'll find much fewer retakes too."

Richard Williams was working at his chosen profession to the end of his long life. (Lucky man!). He'll be remembered, of course, for his work on Who Framed Roger Rabbit, and so deserves credit for super-charging classical, hand-drawn animation at a time it was floundering.

But he'll also be remembered for commercials and title sequences of live-action films (his work on The Charge of the Light Brigade -- 1968 version -- remains especially vivid), and for his his uncompleted masterwork, The Thief and the Cobbler. (Also for all the animators, story artists, and designers he inspired and gave careers to over the decades.)

So rest In peace, Mr. Williams. You have earned it.

Thursday, August 15, 2019

"Not Animation"

I mean, really?

John Favreau, director of Lion King 2019, on the question "Is your movie animated?"

“It depends what standard you’re using. Because there’s no real animals, and there’s no real cameras, and there’s not even any performance that’s being captured that’s underlying data that’s real. Everything is coming through the hands of artists. But to say it’s animated, I think, is misleading as far as what the expectations might be.”

I'm just now seeing this astounding quote, but come on.

When you're doing a sequence by sequence redo with photo-realistic animals created by artists replacing hand-drawn animals created by artists, and there's no live-action animals in the redo, how in God's nightgown can you call the piece a "live-action" movie?

Kind of like Walt Disney labeling Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs a live-action film because, you know, there were multiplane shots and the Prince and Snow White were rotoscoped (underlying "live action"?) and some of the water effects are pretty gosh darn realistic.

And you know, Snow White kind of upends expectations, circa 1937, about what a cartoon is.

Therefore, we'll call it "live-action".

The hell? By John Favreau's odd reasoning, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs couldn't be animation because it wasn't what audiences expected, plus, unlike Lion King 2019, there's some "live action" (i.e., rotoscope) in it.


Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Kyoto Animation

Add on:Kyoto Animation releases trailer for "Violet Evergarden-Eternity and Auto Memory Dolls," a side-story theatrical feature companion piece to the "Violet Evergarden TV series." The work goes on.

Kyoto Animation, still recovering from a devastating attack that killed three dozen employees at its Tokyo studio, announces (an inevitable?) cancellation ...

"Following the arson attack on Kyoto Animation that occurred on July 18, we have received words of encouragement from many people .... We have been receiving submissions from many entrants [for Kyoto Animation Awards] every day, and our judges were excited about the prospect of finding a novel that can be part of a new age of creative output. However, our entire staff is currently engaged in recovery efforts following the arson attack. And so we have decided to suspend the 11th Kyoto Animation Awards.” ...

It's about prioritizing. Award ceremonies pale into insignificance when you're working to heal a devastated community and comfort the survivors.