Sun, Jan 05, 2003 - Page 11 News List

Disney to merge TV animation unit with the Disney Channel


Mickey Mouse wears a traditional Japanese outfit during the New Year parade at Tokyo Disneyland in Urayasu outside Tokyo, Friday. Tokyo Disneyland will celebrate its 20th anniversary on April 15.


Walt Disney, reeling from the dismal performance of its big-budget flop, Treasure Planet, Friday replaced the head of its animation features division in the latest in a series of management changes designed to restore the ailing media group's fortunes.

Thomas Schumacher, who had also run Disney's theatrical productions, will now focus solely on the Broadway business and will be replaced by David Stainton as the head of feature animation. Mr Stainton is a 13-year Disney veteran and had most recently run the television animation business.

Walt Disney's animation division has been under harsh scrutiny since the company was forced to take a US$74 million writedown days after the release of Treasure Planet in the US because of disappointing ticket sales. The failure of the film has caused many to doubt whether Disney still has the ability to compete in a market now dominated by computer-drawn animation.

Schumacher joined Disney's feature animation department in 1988 to produce The Rescuers Down Under and became president after overseeing the revival of the business with hits including the Hunchback of Notre Dame, Toy Story and Pocahontas. In recent years the business, still identified as the heart of Disney if not the biggest money-spinner, has faltered with a series of duds at the box office including the Emperor's New Groove and Atlantis: The Lost Empire. Hundreds of jobs have been cut from the division.

The one recent exception was the studio's summer hit Lilo & Stitch, about a young girl's friendship with a cuddly alien, which cost US$80 million to produce and grossed US$145.8 million in US cinemas alone. Disney's next release will be Finding Nemo, a co-production with Pixar Animation, its partner in Toy Story and Monsters Inc.

Disney chairman and chief executive Michael Eisner has come under increasing pressure to prove that he can return the company to success. Disney meanwhile has filed a US$120 million lawsuit against the video and DVD rental chain Blockbuster alleging that the retailer cheated in a four-year revenue sharing agreement.

Disney's Buena Vista Home Entertainment unit claims that Blockbuster improperly deducted "promotional" credits, failed to account for hundreds of thousands of missing videos and sold videos prematurely.

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