At $70 million and counting, Disney’s Brother Bear is helping to stuff the studio’s turkey this holiday season. Still, the team of animators that created it, and the hit Lilo & Stitch before it, is being dismantled. Walt Disney Feature Animation Florida in Orlando has been ordered to stop production on a predominantly 2D feature with tentative titles ranging from "A Few Good Ghosts" to "My Peoples."
Barry Cook, one of the directors of Mulan, was directing Ghosts/Peoples, which Disney claims was axed because the bluegrass music-infused toon didn’t have enough broad appeal to assure a hit. This decision came after two years of development and production, says a source.
Animation Guild president Kevin Koch believes the decision was made before the release of Brother Bear, "which they thought was going to be another Treasure Planet or Sinbad in terms of box office performance," he comments.
Koch says top animators working at the Orlando studio are being encouraged to relocate to Los Angeles, while non-contracted artists are being recruited by other animation houses like DreamWorks, Blue Sky and Sony Pictures Imageworks.
Koch asserts that the Florida studio has produced some of Disney’s best work over the years and attributes its success to the fact that it has been "a little more immune to micro-management."
While negotiating to continue its profitable partnership with Pixar and forming new partnerships with 3D shops like Britain’s Cornerstone Animation, Disney has shuttered its animation studios in Paris and Tokyo. And while Koch believes the Orlando site may not officially be shut down, it is already effectively a casualty of the studio’s cutbacks.