March 5, 2005
Disney held its annual stockholders' meeting in Minneapolis, so I was fortunate enough to attend a free screening of Dream On, Silly Dreamer, a 40-minute documentary about the rise and fall of Disney's traditional animation studio over the past decade. This is angry movie, and it found a home among the many stockholders who are out for Michael Eisner's head.
I don't know, however, how effective it is as a film. I managed to talk to Dan Lund, the writer and director. While I told him that I sympathized with his cause, I asked him how viable Disney animation could survive when budgets for movies like Treasure Planet exceed $150 million. He just swept the idea aside. "They've got the money," he scoffed. "They can afford it."
I am reminded of Dave Mustaine, who played lead guitar during Metallica's early days only to be unceremoniously sacked just before the band recorded their landmark debut, Kill 'Em All. Mustaine forged ahead with his own band, Megadeth, creating memorable fusion-tinged thrash rock and selling millions of albums. But despite earning over $200 million, he's convinced his life is a failure, and bemoans and comlpains to anyone who will listen about that time he was fired in 1983.
I don't feel good making such comparisons to Dan Lund or the Disney animators. As an artist and lover of animation, I sympathize with these people. Disney's decision to downsize and then close their animation studio was both short-sighted and stupid. These are skilled artists and storytellers whose careers have no right to be cut short in favor of shoddy, straight-to-video sequels and spin-offs.
I want to see these fine people take their adversities and make something out of it. Sitting in front of a camera and complaining about "losing your dream job" isn't going to change anything. They behave like they're the only ones who've ever lost their jobs or suffered from corporate excess. Please. You know that something's happenin' here, but you don't know what it is? Of course you do, Mister Jones.
I'll offer the same advice I gave to producer Tony West after the screening. Use this as an opportunity. Animation is regarded as legitimate cinema everywhere else in the world, except in America, where it is still treated as simple kiddie cartoons. There's a great untapped potential and it only needs to be exploited. Where's the American answer to Porco Rosso, Omohide Poro Poro and Whisper of the Heart?
There's a reason why Pixar dominates American animation today: they learned from the masters. They're the American Ghibli. When are you going to do the same?
Dream on, Silly Dreamer was well-liked by the stockholders in the theatre, and it should, because they're really the target audience. It's an opportunity for everyone to vent. Carthartic, yes, but venting only takes you so far. Stop bawling.