As part of a restructuring plan, Disney has reassigned Sharon Morrill, who has served as president of the DisneyToons direct-to-video feature unit since 1994. With a year and a half left on her latest five-year contract, Morrill is being shifted to another position where she will be involved with special projects. It is rumored that new Disney Feature Animation heads John Lasseter and Ed Catmull were at odds with Morrill over development of the Tinker Bell DVD movie and its soaring budget. According to Jim Hill Media, Lasseter had complained to Disney Chief Robert Iger that the movie was “virtually unwatchable.”
Conceived to be a centerpiece for the new Disney Fairies DVD and consumer products franchise, The Tinker Bell Movie has been long delayed due to numerous script revisions, a revolving door of directors and a budget that reportedly swelled to around $50 million. Brittany Murphy (King of the Hill) was hired to provide the voice of the title pixie in the feature, which Bradley Raymond is directing.
Morrill had been with DisneyToon Studio since its inception. Though much maligned with many hardcore Disney fans for its string of low-cost sequels, or ‘cheapquels’ as they’ve come to be known, the unit has been a cash cow on the home video front and has even turned sizeable profits with such theatrical releases as The Jungle Book II and The Tigger Movie, which collectively grossed around $231 million worldwide. Other big-screen releases have included Disney’s Teacher’s Pet, Piglet’s Big Movie and Pooh’s Heffalump Movie. On video, the unit recently added Cinderella III, Bambi II and Brother Bear 2 to a lineup of top-sellers that includes The Lion King 1 ‘, The Lion King 2: Simba’s Pride, 101 Dalmatians: Patch’s London Adventure and Lady and the Tramp 2.
DisneyToon Studios will now operate as a separate unit under the supervision of Walt Disney Animation Studios. Pixar principals Lasseter and Catmull will immediately assume responsibility for the home video unit, which will focus more on creating original productions and produce fewer sequels.