As Disney and Pixar dawn on a new era with Pete Docter and Jennifer Lee as the new chief creative officers, another significant era of Disney’s animation has come to an end. The one in question is Disneytoon Studios, in which the division responsible for many Disney sequels and spinoffs has offically shut down.
IndieWire broke the news on Thursday, in which a Disney spokesperson stated that “After much consideration, we have made the decision to end production activity and close Disneytoon Studios.” The Glendale-based studio’s sudden shutdown resulted in the layoff of 75 animators and other staff members, though it is not known if those employees will be transferred to Pixar or Walt Disney Animation Studios.
In an age where online streaming is becoming the dominant format to watch media, DVD and Blu-ray sales have greatly suffered, which could explain the reason behind Disneytoon’s demise.
Disneytoon Studios first came into fruition as Disney MovieToons in 1990, when they released their debut film that same year with DuckTales the Movie: Treasure of the Lost Lamp. They would later come into infamy with their various direct-to-video sequels to Disney’s main animated features. Starting in 1994 with The Return of Jafar, the Aladdin sequel sold over 15 million copies, which convinced Disneytoon to mass-produce more sequels, taking advantage of the then-lucrative home video market.
While many sequels like Belle’s Magical World, The Hunchback of Notre Dame II, and The Fox and the Hound 2 have been deemed as inferiorly poor, some like the two Lion King followups, Lady and the Tramp II: Scamp’s Adventure, and Cinderella III: A Twist in Time have gained a somewhat positive following. A few of them would even gain a theatrical release such as Return to Never Land, The Jungle Book 2, and three Winnie the Pooh movies. The animation of these sequels was outsourced to Disney’s overseas studios in Australia, Canada, and Japan.
Disneytoon’s “cheapquel” craze would continue until 2008 when production stopped under the demands of then-newly-appointed creative chief officer John Lasseter, with The Little Mermaid: Ariel’s Beginning being the final one released. The studio was then assigned to produce six direct-to-DVD Tinker Bell movies, and the theatrically-released Cars spinoffs Planes and Planes: Fire & Rescue. These CGI movies were animated by Prana Studios.
Following the release of Tinker Bell and the Legend of the NeverBeast in 2015, the studio went dormant for two years before a new space-themed Cars spinoff was announced at D23 2017 for an April 2019 release, in which Klay Hall (director of Planes) and Bobs Gannaway (director of Planes: Fire & Rescue) were to team up and helm. Sadly, along with Disneytoon, the plug has been pulled for that project.
We at Rotoscopers wish the best for the dismissed Disneytoon staff in finding work elsewhere to continue expressing their artistic talents.