Assistant Arts & Entertainment Editor
With Disney’s acquisition of 20th Century Studios and connected groups in March 2019, it was really just a matter of time until Disney made some kind of decisive decision on what to do with Blue Sky Studios, the animation studio responsible for hits like the Ice Age franchise, and the critically-acclaimed Rio. Blue Sky Studios is one of the few animated movie production studios that stood alongside Disney in defining our childhood memories. It comes as no surprise that Blue Sky Studio has finally met its maker, given the daunting task of standing with big animated movie sluggers like Disney and Pixar.
With the shutting down of Blue Sky Studios comes the onslaught of lost jobs and canceled movies. Reportedly, the studio is looking at 450 layoff or displacements due to being closed down. A studio spokesperson told Deadline, “Given the current economic realities, after much consideration and evaluation, we have made the difficult decision to close filmmaking operations at Blue Sky Studios.” This number just stacks onto the thousands of Disneyland employees that have already been let go during the pandemic, lending to further losses that were entirely unnecessary. Not only are we seeing an immense loss of professional positions in the parks, but we are also seeing how Disney’s studios are being affected.
With the closure of Blue Sky, Disney scrapped some movie ideas that have been in production, some that even had under a year of production left. Nimona, an animated film based on the webcomic of the same name, directed by Patrick Osborne, has been completely canceled, and Disney has decided that the movie will not be released, even with only 10 months left of production. This comes as a shock to fans who were eagerly awaiting a LGBTQIA+ led animated movie with multiple representations, such as the gender-fluid, shapeshifting protagonist, and other characters from the LGBTQIA+ community. This disappointing move on Disney’s end begs a handful of questions on why exactly they would axe a project that was 75 percent complete.
We can hardly pretend like getting rid of Nimona was a move made because Disney does not need or want the IPs and possible success that comes with the newly-acquired names. Disney has already announced an Ice Age show is in production, so, obviously, Disney is fine using a multi-million dollar IP and spending their money on creating a whole show around it, where zero production has begun. Yet, when it comes to a movie that is almost finished and has been anticipated by a lot of fans, Disney made the move to pull away. This really drives home the idea that Disney, regardless of how progressive they appear to be on their smaller shows and small TV releases like Owl House, still refuses to be tied to a big screen feature film release with LGBTQIA+ characters as leads.
It is no secret that Disney wants to keep a ‘family-friendly’ screen presence, but that begins to really make us ask just how sustainable ‘family-friendly’ is when it’s less diverse than your local Cracker Barrel. Perhaps there shouldn’t be too much surprise here coming from the same Disney that would not let Gravity Falls creator Alex Hirsch put an LGBTQIA+ couple in the show in 2012, and just recently started lightening the reigns on the production team of the Owl House — with the budding relationship between female characters Luz and Amity, for example. Despite the nine-year difference, this goes to show how little progress Disney has made compared to other studios like Cartoon Network. Steven Universe was one of the first shows that included major LGBTQIA+ representation on the small screen. Steven Universe slowly unveailed untraditional relationships and even lesbian-relating relationships, as well as a wedding between two female-presenting characters, Ruby and Sapphire.
Aside from the problems of diversity and seemingly randomized movie cancelations, we also have to look at the issues threatening the industry as a whole: the outright homogenization of animated movies. Disney and Pixar run the business; that itself is no secret. However, with Disney acquiring and dissolving Blue Sky Studio, we start entering really dangerous territory. Disney is slowly but surely outpacing all of its competition, and, without taking any real risks or creative ventures, Disney is making the same kind of movie over and over again. This looks like a very real and very bleak future where the only animated big picture films we see are Disney’s that obey the Disney formula like a cultish religion and stray away from diversity and representation. The simple fact is that, without competition, some of the best art will never flourish.
Featured Photo Courtesy of The DisInsider