Jewish World Review Jan. 27, 2006/ 27 Teves, 5766

Greg Crosby

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Dusting Off the Magic Wand | I could be wrong, but it appears to me things at Disney and particularly Disney Animation might finally be getting better. When I say "things" I'm referring to a couple of little items that have been a traditional mainstay at Disney but have been sorely lacking of late — creativity and quality.

My optimism comes out of the recent announcement that Disney will acquire Pixar Animation. That, by and of itself, would mean nothing if it weren't for the fact that John Lasseter is part of the acquisition — and not a small part. The deal stipulates that Lasseter will assume a major creative role within the Disney organization — chief creative officer of Disney animation studios and principal creative adviser of Walt Disney Imagineering, working on the design of new theme-park attractions.

I don't know John Lasseter personally; I was writing and sketching my brains out in the story department on the "Rescuers" around the time he landed a job at Disneyland working on the Jungle Cruise. By the time he got to Disney animation I had already moved into comic strips and publications. Our paths never crossed at Disney, but I know his reputation and I know what he's done for Pixar. I also know one other thing — anytime a creative guy, especially one who understands storytelling as John does, is promoted to a responsible position within the company, it is a very good thing.

You can't make a German chocolate cake without chocolate or coconut. You can't make a real Martini without gin and vermouth. And just as specific ingredients are necessary for baking and mixing drinks, The Walt Disney Company simply cannot survive without certain creative ingredients. Those ingredients include innovation, good storytelling, solid characters, and a sense of fun. All of which, you'll note, are to be found in abundance in the films of Pixar.

I have no idea what the studio politics are like within Disney animation today, but as sure as Mickey's ears are black, you can bet they exist — I only hope they don't get in the way. Petty politics and territorial infighting has loused up a lot of good intensions, but Lasseter should be able to overcome that. He has immense respect among those in the business, those who know his contributions at Pixar. His roots as a Disney artist who revered the traditions of high standards and rich production values established by Walt Disney in the classic films and in the original Disneyland are well known and can be a tremendous plus in his new position.

Those of us who have fought the windmills of the corporate mentality can now be encouraged. Those of us who happen to believe that if you stick to the high road in terms of quality, if you don't insult the intelligence of your audience, and if you give people great stuff it will all pay off in the end, can now be hopeful.

Marketing mavens, finance folk, salesmen, and other assorted bean counters are never in short supply at the studios. It's always the balance sheet business types who rise to the top and who ultimately call the shots. The creative people; the artists, the storytellers, and the dreamers all too seldom get into positions of real power. That shouldn't be the case when a company's product is art and stories and dreams, as is the case with Disney. The creative types need to be not just part of the process, but have serious input in the direction of the company. For a business based in creativity, it is imperative.

Walt Disney was one of those creative types. John Lasseter is another. Whether or not Lasseter will be successful in his new roles remains to be seen. I wish him well because if he succeeds, The Walt Disney Company will succeed and that company still holds a special place in my heart. Time will tell.

But as I said, it appears things at Disney might finally be getting better. I could be wrong, but I don't think so.

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JWR contributor Greg Crosby, former creative head for Walt Disney publications, has written thousands of comics, hundreds of children's books, dozens of essays, and a letter to his congressman. A freelance writer in Southern California, you may contact him by clicking here.

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