Piecing Together the Animation Studio Puzzle

Via: Rotten Tomatoes

After a week of weddings, ‘Superstorm’ Sandy and general life upheaval, this blog is finally getting back to normal. In the course of my absence, Disney released Wreck-It-Ralph, a film about a video game character who’s fed up being the bad guy. The reviews have been quite glowing and it currently occupies the top spot at the box office (although that doesn’t mean everything). However, I am in no rush to see the film and in the course of trying to figure out why, it was that I began to look at the bigger picture, and tried ever so hard to fit Wreck-It-Ralph into it.

In any business, there is a goal, or multiple goals that companies and individuals aim for. They can be both long and short-term in nature but success is derived only by constantly progressing towards and eventually achieving them. In the case of an animated studio, the goals are multiple: create great content, make money, expand the business, and so forth.

But what if your business is already quite successful? What if you’ve already accomplished an awful lot, what do you do then? This appears to be Disney’s current dilemma. Walt, as everyone knows, was a fantastically driven guy. He was constantly thinking of ways to grow and improve his business but he did it through ways that are often sidelined today in favour of the quickie solution.

Without getting into too much detail, Walt rarely (if ever) grew the company through acquisition, preferring innovation instead. Compare that to today’s Disney Company, which just recently bought Lucasfilm, and previously bought Marvel Entertainment and Pixar. How do these acquisitions grow the business as opposed to bolting-on profits?

Thinking of Wreck-It-Ralph, where does it fit into the bigger puzzle? Where is the Disney Company actually going? It’s getting bigger, sure, but bigger doesn’t necessarily mean better and the ultimate goal (short of being the largest media company in the world) is startlingly unclear.

Compare that to DreamWorks. It’s a far smaller company and is heavily centred around its animation studio, but at least it seems to be going in a clear direction. Jeffrey Katzenberg is slowly but surely steering the studio away from being a strictly entertainment company and is instead attempting to meld both entertainment and technology; a strategy that is quite apt given the current ‘digital’ shifts in the industry.

For a company as large as Disney, it’s hard to zero in on the feature films as the engine of the empire, but they do play a critical part in driving the rest of the business (TV shows, merchandise, parks, etc.) and every single one should at least nudge the company towards its goals. However, with Ralph, it’s becoming increasingly hard (at least for me) to see what those goals are and how the film helps move the company towards them.

When Walt was alive, The Disney Company had some lofty ambitions and goals that it has sadly lost since then; becoming much more content to gun for short term successes, quarterly gains for the investors and betting on historically successful properties. The sad thing is that people who only look at the road in front of the car fail to see the curve that’s rapidly approaching; the same is true for companies.


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