Animated Discussions
by Rudy Panucci and Melanie Larch

Over the weekend the animation world was abuzz with news that Disney and Pixar might mend their long-festering rift by having Disney buy Pixar. While this would certainly be great news for Disney shareholders, it’s hard to say that it would be good for everyone. There’s no guarantee that Pixar would be able to remain independent under Mouse Rule, and it’s not clear if Disney would maintain its own animation unit, or simply replace it with a Pixar-led division. Either way, it could mean layoffs or a dip in the quality of both studios’ output.

This morning, another bombshell dropped. One rumored new permutation of the deal has Disney buying Pixar, and then Apple buying Disney! This is significant because, if Disney buys Pixar, it would make Pixar’s Steve Jobs the largest single shareholder in Disney. Jobs is also the chairman and chief executive of Apple. The implications of this go way beyond animation. If Apple bought Disney, they’d then have the inside track on cutting iPod deals for all the programming from ABC, ESPN and the Disney library. This has industry analysts wondering if Apple might be endangering its potential relationships with Disney’s rivals among other content providers. Time Warner or NBC Universal, for instance, might hesitate to work with Apple if they think that it might ultimately benefit their competitor, Disney.

Most importantly, however, if all, or even some, of these deals go through, it could mean that we get sequels to the great Pixar films, and that those sequels will be the product of the people who originally made them, rather than hired guns brought in to try and duplicate their work. The famous point of contention between Disney and Pixar in the first place was that Disney not only controlled all the sequel rights to what Pixar created, but they also weren’t obligated to hire Pixar to make those sequels, and if Pixar did work on them (like they did with Toy Story 2), those sequels wouldn’t count towards the number of films that Pixar was contractually obligated to deliver. If Disney bought Pixar, that issue would evaporate.

However, that would also leave Disney with at least two full-time computer animation units. The folks who produced “Chicken Little” might find themselves out in the cold. It wouldn’t be the first time Disney shut down a CGI feature film unit. After the movie “Dinosaurs” underpeformed at the box office, Disney quietly shut down the entire division and laid off 160 people. A few years later, when it looked certain that Pixar would bolt after it delivered the last of its five films under its contract, Disney started a whole new computer animation division from scratch.

No wonder Disney’s shareholders made Michael Eisner walk the plank. The question remains, if Disney buys Pixar, and defers all its computer animated projects to Pixar’s creative minds, what will happen to “Toy Story 3” and “Toy Story 4,” both of which are in pre-production? Will they continue as planned, or will the Pixar boys move in and toss out everything that’s been done to date so they can start over from scratch? They did it with “Toy Story 2,” so it’s not that far-fetched an idea.