Disney is closing up shop on its direct-to-video unit DisneyToon Studios. The news was announced via Indiewire, with the Glendale-based studio shutting down effective immediately. Unfortunately, this means the layoffs of 75 animators and staff, although it’s unknown if they’ll be transitioned to either Walt Disney Animation Studios or Pixar.
While this move comes after the announcement that Pete Docter and Jennifer Lee are assuming departing CCO John Lasseter’s duties at Pixar and Walt Disney Animation Studios, respectively, Indiewire says shutting down DisneyToon was in the works before their promotions.
The unit hasn’t released a film since 2015’s Tinker Bell and the Legend of the NeverBeast, but enjoyed renewed success with the Cars spinoff Planes in 2013, which was followed by a sequel called Planes: Fire & Rescue. Those two films received theatrical releases, but for the most part DisneyToons was focused on creating content that would be released directly on DVD and Blu-ray.
The direct-to-video market has dwindled in recent years with the advent of streaming services, which has resulted in more content being produced directly for streaming and bypassing the physical product altogether. No doubt Disney is now looking to its upcoming streaming service as the future, which will launch in 2019 with boatloads of original and library content. Perhaps some of the animators at DisneyToons can transition to Walt Disney Animation and create animated feature content that could be released directly on the streaming service.
This is truly the end of an era, as DisneyToon began as Disney MovieToons in 1990 with the release of DuckTales the Movie: Treasure of the Lost Lamp. Direct-to-video sequels were huge in the 1990s, coinciding with the Disney Renaissance happening with theatrical releases like The Lion King, Beauty and the Beasts, and Aladdin. MovieToons began churning out sequels to these wildly popular films and other originals (they made A Goofy Movie!), and families ate them up as the advent of reasonably priced VHS technology made home-viewing readily available.
Disney MovieToons was revamped as DisneyToons in 2004, launching with the release of The Lion King 1 ½. The product dwindled a bit as time went on, but when Lasseter seized control of Walt Disney Animation Studios and DisneyToons in the late 2000s, he revitalized the unit with the Planes and Fairies franchises.
DisneyToons had been developing an untitled feature about the future of aviation from Klay Hall and Bobs Gannaway, but that project is no longer in development.