Disney100 Celebrations Are in Full Swing: The Rise and Fall of DisneyToon Studios
The Disney100 celebrations are in full swing with special décor, character outfits, food, drink and merchandise. The celebrations kicked off at at Disneyland Resort on January 2023 and the "Magic Happens" parade at Disneyland Park on Feb. 24, 2023.
The Marvel movies and "Star Wars" now dominate Disney's success but the company's roots lie in animation. Today, Disney focuses on two major animation divisions: Pixar and Walt Disney Animation Studios. Pixar joined Disney in 2006 while the latter has been creating films since 1939. However, long-time fans will remember the logo of DisneyToon Studios which evolved from Disney MovieToons and produced 44 films over 25 years before closing on June 28, 2018, per Collider.
As Disney celebrates its 100th year, let's look back at the history of DisneyToon Studios which played a significant role in extending the magic of Disney's animated universe, and explore what led to its fall.
Early days of DisneyToon
DisneyToon, also known as DisneyToon Studios, was a subsidiary of The Walt Disney Company responsible for producing direct-to-video and occasional theatrical animated films. These films often expanded upon or complemented the stories of beloved Disney classics, introducing new adventures and characters to the audience. DisneyToon Studios originated from Disney MovieToons, starting in 1990 with "DuckTales the Movie: Treasure of the Lost Lamp." It was Disney's first non-Walt Disney Animation Studios feature, based on the TV show and produced by Walt Disney Television Animation and the French animation division.
The original 1990 painting for “DuckTales the Movie: Treasure of the Lost Lamp”! pic.twitter.com/yTCIhYwsZq— Drew Struzan 🎨 (@DrewStruzan) February 23, 2021
The division created four other theatrical films: "A Goofy Movie," "Return to Neverland," "The Jungle Book 2," and "Piglet's Big Adventure," all using preexisting properties and overseas animation. Simultaneously known as Disney Video Premieres, they pioneered direct-to-video sequels, starting with "The Return of Jafar" in 1994, leading to a trend of home video spin-offs for two decades.
A Goofy Movie is one of Disney's greatest films and I wish we still had this version of Goofy today. https://t.co/fuYWcJFZXT— Towel (@TowelBun) August 6, 2023
Disneytoon Studios found its place in the direct-to-video revolution
Disney MovieToons, also known as Disney Video Premieres, found success with "The Return of Jafar," Disney's first direct-to-video sequel, released on VHS on May 20, 1994. This kickstarted a cycle of home video spin-offs and sequels to Disney movies over the next two decades. Following "The Return of Jafar," Disney MovieToons produced an Aladdin threequel, "Aladdin and the King of Thieves" and sequels for beloved classics like "Beauty and the Beast," "The Lion King," "The Little Mermaid," "Pocahontas," "Cinderella," and more, leading into the new millennium.
Ariel has been part of our world for 30 years to this day! Happy Anniversary to The Little Mermaid 🌊🐠🧜🏻♀️ pic.twitter.com/uC6xnC93jO— The Disney Bubble (@feeling_disney) November 17, 2019
In 2003, Disney MovieToons became Disneytoon Studios, remaining focused on direct-to-video spin-offs and sequels under the oversight of Walt Disney Feature Animation. Over the next decade, they continued with sequels for "Mulan," "Lilo & Stitch," "The Fox and the Hound," and "Bambi," and introduced original spin-offs featuring Mickey Mouse and Winnie the Pooh.
The studio's biggest franchise, "Tinker Bell," launched in 2008, featuring a six-film series centered around the beloved fairy character. Additionally, they capitalized on Pixar's "Cars" success with two "Planes" movies set in the same universe.
What led to the fall of DisneyToon?
Disneytoon Studios implemented significant changes within the company. Several overseas animation divisions were closed, and leadership underwent transitions. John Lasseter became the Chief Creative Officer of Walt Disney Animation Studios in 2006, and creative oversight of Disneytoon Studios shifted from Sharon Morrill to Disney Studios president Alan Bergman, per CNN.
This change in approach resulted in fewer sequels and more spin-offs with a particular focus on fairy series. Additionally, there were plans to support the Disney Playhouse lineup of preschool television content, as reported in a 2007 article from Jim Hill Media.
The decline of VHS and DVD sales due to streaming made Disneytoon Studios' direct-to-video approach less profitable. Their final five films had theatrical releases, but in 2018, Disney announced the closure of its Glendale-based direct-to-video Disney Toons studio following a change in leadership and declining prospects.
Pete Docter and Jennifer Lee succeeded John Lasseter as chief creative officers at Pixar and Disney, per Indie Wire. This led to layoffs of 75 animators and staff.
The larger company, Disney, continues to thrive and cater to the demand for animations with its existing client base. They are dedicated to keeping their audience entertained with new and exciting productions.
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