30 Individuals Hired and Tasked With Resurrecting Disney Studio, Told To Bring the “Magic” Back

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Evil Queen as an Old Crone giving Snow White the poisoned apple

Credit: Disney

The Walt Disney Company’s 30 hired animators were tasked with bringing the magic and wonder of earlier animated movies back to the studio.

A serene twilight sky backs the iconic fairy tale castle as the luminous walt disney pictures logo takes center stage.
Credit: Disney

Some may say the Walt Disney Animations Studios are the backbone of the House of Mouse. The 62 animated canon movies stretch back to 1937 when Walter Elias Disney and his team released the company’s first-ever feature film, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Over the last 87 years, Disney has continued to shift the animation industry in new directions, all the while continuing to build a powerful brand identity.

However, not even Disney’s animation is immune to criticism and box office failures, with more duds than wins surfacing in recent years. Despite what some may think–that Disney has only suffered in quality over the last few years–the Mouse House has always had a turbulent relationship with its animated efforts, and at one point, hired 30 animators to bring the emotion back to the studio.

Ub Iwerks seen with Walt and Mickey
Credit: The Walt Disney Family Museum

While it seems that Disney’s animated woes began recently, the studio’s history of ebb and flow was more prevalent than ever in 1978.

Disney Brings in 1,000 Animators for Creative Reset

The Black Cauldron (1985) is one of Disney’s biggest commercial failures. Ending its theatrical run with just $21 million on a $44 million budget, the disaster saw the movie held back from home release until 1998. The Black Cauldron was also Disney’s first PG rating, thanks to its dark fantasy elements–elements that were even scarier in earlier renditions of the animated film.

Back in 1978, the Observer visited Los Angeles and the Disney studios to see what was being cooked up for the next big movie, where a “multimillion-pound resurrection” was underway. This so-called resurrection involved an influx of new creative talent. “[V]eteran studio artist Eric Larson had examined the work of more than 1,000 young animators and cartoonists and hired 30 of the most imaginative,” The Guardian‘s report reads. Larson added: “People who draw well are two a penny. What we needed was the creative artist.”

The Horned King summoning the dead in The Black Cauldron
Credit: Disney

Related: Bob Iger Drops News: Disney Will Be Transformed in 900 Days

Following the release of 1977’s The Rescuers, which was a commercial success for the studio, and the multimedia Pete’s Dragon in the same year, the new talent was aiming big with an ambitious fantasy epic called The Black Cauldron. The Guardian wrote:

“The enthusiastic and excitable young team promised mist and mystery, ‘dark forests and demonic figures’; the studio was keen to stress it would still be strictly family-friendly: ‘We need not imagine that Uncle Walt’s heirs are turning to sex and violence.’”

Snow White dancing
Credit: Disney

Perhaps most interesting here was the comment about bringing emotion back, with the studio saying it wanted to see the return of “the magic, wonder, and terror that made Snow White so memorable,” essentially remaking Snow White‘s success.

Despite Disney’s intention, The Black Cauldron failed to deliver on its huge technical ambition but has since built a cult following in the almost four decades that have passed. Following The Black Cauldron‘s release, Disney eventually hit its stride with the Renaissance era, which ran from 1989 through 1999. The Little Mermaid (1989) commenced the ten-year-long commercial wave, ending in 1999 with Tarzan, with the likes of Beauty and the Beast (1991), Aladdin (1992), and The Lion King (1994) sandwiched in between.

Ariel gasping in The Little Mermaid
Credit: Disney

What’s Happened to Disney Animated Movies?

The last movie from Walt Disney Animation Studios that truly made noise at the box office was Frozen II in 2019. Jennifer Lee and Chris Buck’s follow-up to their hugely successful Frozen (2013) surpassed its predecessor with a huge $1.453 billion at the global box office, where it sits as the second highest-grossing animated film of all time behind Disney’s live-action adaptation of The Lion King (2019).

The return of Anna (Kristen Bell) and Elsa (Idina Menzel) was a big hit for the Disney studio, so much so that upon Bob Iger’s return as Chief Executive Officer of Disney in 2022, he swiftly announced a third–and then later in 2023 a fourth–Frozen movie in the works. The announcement of more stories set in the world of Frozen came after multiple lukewarm releases for the studio.

Shocked Elsa in 'Frozen'
Credit: Disney

After Frozen II, Raya and the Last Dragon (2021) was released simultaneously in theaters and on the Disney+ streaming platform through the now-defunct Premier Access function and netted $134 million at the COVID-era box office. Later that year, sleeper-hit Encanto (2021) was released, and–after bringing in just over $250 million–it wasn’t until the Columbian musical fantasy dropped on Disney+ that it truly found its audience. But the worst was yet to come. As theatergoing returned to normal, Disney’s Strange World (2022) became one of the biggest flops in history for the studio, ending its run with just $73 million–an approximate loss of $197 million for the Mouse.

Searcher Clade (Jake Gyllenhaal) and unknown character in Disney's 'Strange World'
Credit: Disney

Related: Close to 100% of Disney Animated Film Material Damaged and Lost

In perhaps an even bigger blow to Disney, and while it took nearly four times the amount of Strange World, the centennial celebration movie Wish (2023) failed to deliver with critics and received a mixed response from audiences. However, what both Strange World and Wish have in common is that they performed extremely well when they hit the Disney+ streamer. Strange World topped the charts when it was released on the service, and Wish is currently number one, debuting on Disney+ with the third-highest streams of all time, behind Frozen II and Encanto.

Moana looking scared
Credit: Disney

Looking towards the future, Walt Disney Animation Studios has two movies lined up: Moana 2 on November 27, 2024, and Zootopia 2 on November 26, 2025. The sequel to Moana (2016) came as a surprise earlier this year as the studio decided to rework the upcoming television series into a feature film. The popularity of the first movie, which was the most streamed movie in the United States last year, and Disney’s desperation to have a box office animated hit is likely why the sequel will hit the big instead of the small screen later this year.

In 2026, an untitled Disney Animation movie holds the November slot, and this is thought to be the third Frozen movie.

Do you think Disney Animation needs to shake up its movies moving forward? Let Inside the Magic know in the comments down below!

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