The animated feature "Tangled" is often touted as the most expensive animated feature ever. ($260 million or thereabouts). People have asked, "Why is this particular Disney fairy tale so costly?" Here's the answer:
The reason that Tangled ended up being so costly (260 million smackeroos, more or less) is not because of CGI startup costs (those had already been done via the CGI features Chicken Little, Meet the Robinsons, Bolt, etc.), but because development for Tangled went on … and on … and then on some more.
Early work on the picture that started out known as Rapunzel, then Rapunzel Unbraided, and finally Tangled, began in the mid ‘90s, and the story got redone multiple times. What started as a hand-drawn feature soon morphed into a CGI feature. The Tangled Wikipedia entry gives a lot of details and dates, but one tidbit that I heard from Disney staffers is: ’Twas Michael Eisner who wanted a Shrekish approach to the story, especially after DreamWorks’ Shrek came out in early 2001 and made a boatload of money. Imitation is the sincerest form of Hollywood.
Then the picture was briefly shelved, then Ed Catmull and John Lasseter rolled in, then directors changed. And whattayaknow. More than a decade had gone by.
When development plods on for what seems like forever, with directors, writers, board artists, designers, music composers, musicians, animators, and various technicians charging all of parts of their salaries to Tangled’s studio production number, costs escalate. (Studio trivia: when a feature is greenlit, a production number is opened, and all of a sudden various departments begin charging to it. (“Hot damn! There’s a new production on the list! We can charge five hours to it! Nobody’ll even notice!”)
Then, of course, there is well-loved “studio overhead”.
The practice of charging everything under the sun to a big-budget motion picture is not new, by the way. It’s been going on for more than a century. In 1912, a director named Sidney Olcott was making a silent epic on the life of Christ. An exec at the now-defunct Kalem film Company wrote Mr. Olcott the following:
“As the ‘Jesus of Nazareth’ production will be put out as a special it will be necessary to have from you at an early date an estimate of its cost. This should be just as high as you can possibly make it and every item that you can possibly think of which can reasonably be charged to this negative should be added, as under the new system governing such releases by the General Film Company, we are paid our negative expenses, whatever they may be, and we supply the prints at cost. The profit, if any, comes out of a division of the percentage earned by the General Film Company. …”
Budget-padding never goes out of style. But I digress.
Tangled was in work from 1996 to 2010. So do the math. There were fourteen years where employee and studio costs could be charged to the picture. Where “studio overhead” could be tacked on. When you total up all those jams and jellies, the question becomes not “Why was ‘Tangled’ so costly?” but …
“Why was Tangled such a Bar. Gain?”