The Case of Treasure Planet
The Walt Disney Co. has not been having a good time of it lately. The
once glamorous media giant has been suffering the slings of outrageous
shareholders, including Roy Disney, who are frustrated with the inability
of Michael Eisner to restore the company to high profit days of the 80's
and 90's. On top of all this, the crown jewel that was its almost indestructible
feature animation division seems to be disarray, a condition exacerbated
by the box office failure of Ron Clements and John Musker's Treasure
Planet, whose release even people at Disney seem to admit was badly
The strange thing is that 2002, in many ways, was a terrific year artistically
and financially for the studio. Lilo & Stitch and Treasure
Planet were two of the best Disney animated films in a long time.
All told, its in-house films took in $251 million, or almost 39% of the
year's total box office for animated movies; this included Return to
Neverland and the Imax version of Beauty and the Beast, but
not Spirited Away and Monsters, Inc. But the failure of
Treasure Planet and the dominance of Ice Age seemed to erase
all the positives.
Disney's bumbling was seen anew recently when the news of Treasure
Planet being nominated for a Best Animated Feature Oscar nomination
took Disney by surprise. On February 12, the Los Angeles Times
quoted a company insider as saying, It was a shock. The story
went on: In a sign of just how much studio executives were caught
off guard by their good fortune, the source added, it hadn't even occurred
to them to discuss a strategy for capitalizing on a potential nomination.
True, the film did not get nominated for an Annie Award for best movie,
but this was clearly the result of a one-time expansion of the window
of eligibility to 18 months, which allowed Monsters, Inc. to push
out Treasure Planet. Also, pray tell, what did they think would
have gotten nominated instead Adam Sandler's 8 Crazy Nights,
Jonah: A Veggie Tales Movie or Stuart Little 2?
Disney seems to have decided the film was a lost cause even before it
opened. Thus, despite a $140 million budget, it waited until the last
minute to hold press screenings, which critics usually take as a sign
a film ain't very good. The promotional campaign was rather tepid, missing
some rather elemental tactics; for instance, Disney did not even try to
do an tie-in with a special edition of Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure
Island upon which the film is (rather faithfully) based, or supplying
promotional material to public libraries; by contrast, libraries at the
time were full posters and other goodies for the latest Harry Potter movie.
In addition, its publicity campaign was overwhelmed by the opening of
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets and the DVD release of
Ice Age, whose publicity campaigns overwhelmed that of Treasure
Island. (This was all rather ironic, given these were the sort of
tactics Disney used to be so good at in crushing rival animated films.)
As a result of these and other factors, the film had a weak $12 million
opening weekend and rapidly went down from there. This was not helped
by the company announcing, soon after it opened, that it was taking a
$74 million write off on the film and deducting $47 million off its previously
reported fourth-quarter earnings. Chief Financial Officer Thomas Staggs,
when asked about this said, It's just one movie, and that's the
nature of the business. Well, maybe, but is this any way for Disney
to treat one of its own animated movies?
What makes it worse is comes at a time when Disney's contract with Pixar
is up for renewal. Pixar is now publicly entertaining offers from Fox
and Warner Bros. True, as I have previously suggested, the best deal Disney
might be able to get in any case is a straight distribution deal like
George Lucas has with Fox on the Star War films. But if Disney is unable
to even handle its own product properly, what incentive do Pixar honchos
Steve Jobs and John Lasseter have to stay with them?
However, Disney Can Do Some Things Right
|Frank Thomas, Ollie Johnston and Roy Disney after
last year's Ward Kimball Tribute.
The proof that Disney can do things with the proper amount of class was
evidenced on November 2, when it hosted a wonderful tribute at the Director's
Guild in Hollywood to animation legend Ward Kimball, one of Disney's fabled
nine old men, who died in July at 88.
The event, hosted by film historian and critic Leonard Maltin and including
tributes by the likes of Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston, as well as Monsters,
Inc. directors Peter Docter and David Silverman, is a testament to the
very real Disney legacy which the current troubles should not obscure.
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