Wednesday, June 7, 2017

DisneyToon Studios

While I may have covered the Disney canon, I haven’t talked about other movies that Disney has released outside of the canon that they’ve produced. Generally these are all released under DisneyToon Studios or Disney MovieToons. This division was started in 1988 as a way for Disney to make straight-to-video movies and movies that aren’t part of the Disney canon. Many times the theatrically released movies are based on Disney TV shows. Their first attempt was Ducktales the Movie: Treasure of the Lost Lamp. Animation took place in Disney’s Paris studio, and Larry Ruppel ended up being the only American animator to work on the film. Ruppel had worked on Disney shorts and movies before Ducktales, but many of the European animators were working on an animated movie for the first time. Quite a few of them went on to work at big animation studios like Dreamworks, and Industrial Light & Magic. The film came out shortly before the end of the TV series, though didn’t act as a series finale. While the movie did make its budget back, it wasn’t as big of a success that Disney thought it would be, so they shelved the several other Ducktales movies they had in the pipeline. Critical reception was great, however, and it remains a much appreciated addition to the Ducktales universe.

Their second theatrically released movie would be 1995’s A Goofy Movie. The movie is partially based on the Goof Troop TV series, but makes a few changes. Max and P.J. are high school aged instead of middle school, Pete’s wife and daughter are missing as are both of the family’s pets. Disney sought to make Goofy a more three dimensional character, giving him emotions and having him deal with strife, as opposed to just having him create antics. While the movie didn’t get great reviews, it’s one of those that any kid from the 90’s will fondly remember and will defend until their dying breath. This is definitely one of my favorite non-canon Disney movies. The movie was also a minor hit for Disney, grossing $35.3 million.

DisneyToons has made three Winnie the Pooh movies, though two out of the three don’t even mention his name. The Tigger Movie was the first of the trio, being released in early 2000. Meant to be a direct-to-video release, Michael Eisner, upon hearing the Sherman Brother’s score for the film, decided to release it theatrically. Paul Winchell, the original voice of Tigger, was meant to voice the character for the film, but when he came in to record, the producers found his voice too raspy. He was replaced by Jim Cummings, who was already doing Winnie the Pooh’s voice for the film. Cummings had voiced Tigger previously in the final two seasons of The New Adventures of Winnie the Pooh. Disney Imagineers were devastated when they heard what the producers had done to Winchell, so they had him voice Tigger for the Winnie the Pooh ride at Disney World’s Magic Kingdom. Critics liked the movie just fine, and it made $96.2 million against a $15-30 million budget. It is currently the most successful of the Winnie the Pooh movies. Coming out three years later, Piglet’s Big Movie had a bigger budget than The Tigger Movie, but didn’t quite earn the same. Grossing $62.9 million against a $46 million budget, this wasn’t a hit for Disney. Reviews were about the same for this one as they were for The Tigger Movie. Two years later, Disney made their latest in the DisneyToon Winnie the Pooh movies (2011’s Winnie the Pooh is part of the Disney canon), Pooh’s Heffalump Movie. Disney learned their lesson, only spending $20 million to make this movie. Grossing $52.9 million, Disney made a little bit of money on this one. Critical reception for this was the best of the three, but not quite the caliber of 2011’s Winnie the Pooh.

The first Peter Pan movie theatrically released by DisneyToon was actually the sequel to the 1953 classic. Based on J.M. Barrie’s novel, Peter and Wendy, the film had been in development for years at Disney Animation Canada. That division was closed and the movie was shifted to Disney Animation Japan and Australia, then becoming a theatrical film instead of a straight-to-video. While critics were not impressed with the movie, it made Disney some money, grossing $109.9 million against a $20 million budget. It seems the movies that are originally meant to be straight-to-video have a much lower budget. Disney realized that no one really cared about most of the characters except for Tinkerbell, so they spun the character off for her own movies. Starting in 2008, Tinker Bell started with some straight-to-video movies, but by 2012 Disney pushed the button on making theatrical movies for this popular franchise, Disney Fairies. The three Disney Fairies movies were all released in a limited amount of theaters, which seems weird since the characters are marketed so well. All three, Secret of the Wings, The Pirate Fairy, and Legend of the NeverBeast, all made around $65 million and were moderate successes for Disney, but it seems with the limited release that these were meant to be just straight-to-video.

Disney’s other DisneyToon sequel to come out theatrically was 2003’s The Jungle Book 2. Why release Return to Neverland and Jungle Book 2 in theaters and not all the recent movie’s sequels? I have no idea. I’m sure there was a method to Michael Eisner’s madness. For whatever reason, they released Jungle Book 2 theatrically, and it didn’t do too bad commercially, grossing $135 million against a $20 million budget. Like most of the Disney sequels made by DisneyToon, however, it was trashed by critics. I’ll admit that the only Disney sequels outside of the canon that I have seen are the Lion King and Aladdin sequels.

Disney/Pixar knew with Cars that they had a winning franchise. That’s why they decided to start the second set of Pixar sequels with Cars 2. While Cars 2 was a burning dumpster fire, Disney/Pixar made a lot of money off of it, so they decided the next best thing to another Cars movie, as a movie in the same universe based around planes. The two Planes movies, Planes and Planes: Fire & Rescue were not made with Pixar, but were co-written and executive produced by Pixar boss, John Lasseter. Lasseter also directed both Cars movies. Like most of the theatrically released DisneyToon movies, they initially wanted to release it straight to video, but decided they could make a lot more money this way. Both Planes films did not do well critically, with Fire & Rescue performing a little better. Disney was smart to release both theatrically, as the first grossed $239 million against a $50 million budget and the second grossed $151 million against a $50 million budget. Disney also sold a whole bunch of merch. I like John Lasseter a lot, but I can’t tell if he genuinely likes making these movies, or if he just knows that Disney/Pixar will make tons off of them.

DisneyToon continues to crank out movies, though they have slowed down as of late. There is a planned second sequel to Planes and I can’t imagine that they are done with Disney Fairies. Since 2008, the studio has ceased making anything besides Tinkerbell and Planes movies, so we’ll see if they go back to making sequels to all their movies or not. It’s going to thin out in that department, I believe, since Disney is actively allowing their main studio to make sequels, like Wreck-It-Ralph, or Frozen. It pains me to see all these sequels, but they apparently make money, so that’s where Disney is at right now.

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