February 6, 2007
There's a brand-new production company in Hollywood, and it's set up shop on the Disney lot. The big surprise? It's headed up by Robert Zemeckis, Jack Rapke and Steve Starkey—and the as yet unnamed company will be producing performance-capture–based movies. Disney technically owns the new company, but the three principals will produce their own films, likely with Zemeckis directing; it just so happens that Disney will be their sole client.
(One wonders, what would Walt think of all this? On the one hand, he wasn't too keen on slavishly replicating reality, but rather on using reality as a basis for drawn animation. On the other hand, he encouraged developing new technologies as a means of advancing what could be done in animation.)
While on an emotional level it seems just plain wrong for Disney to be doing motion-captured films, it's hard to deny the business sense behind it. Polar Express, Monster House and Happy Feet did very well at the box office, and Zemeckis and co.'s ImageMovers studio were free of their Sony obligations; the deal means that the Mouse has some of that mojo in the fold, and eliminates a major competitor at the same time. Played right, Disney would essentially be overseeing three different brands of animated features. Jim Hill speculates that Zemeckis and Disney/Pixar's John Lasseter would team up to produce animated adaptations of Edgar Rice Burrough's John Carter of Mars books, which Disney recently optioned. If that's the case, and we do end up seeing some mixing and matching between the studios' talent, this could bode very well for Disney. As always, we'll just have to wait and see.