It’s been a grim week at Disney, with layoffs in many divisions—all this coming on the heels of the Lucasarts video game division being shut down. Thehand drawn animation division was decimated, Cartoon Brew reports:
According to former Disney animator Tom Bancroft on Twitter, Disney gutted their hand-drawn animation division this afternoon, and laid off nine veteran animators, including some of the studio’s biggest names: Nik Ranieri, Ruben Aquino, Frans Vischer, Russ Edmonds, Brian Ferguson, Jamie Lopez and Dan Tanaka. Two of the animators who still have jobs are Eric Goldberg and Mark Henn.
Among those names laid off are some of the most talented and respected animators on the lot. While hand-drawn animation isn’t a big part of the business anymore, it’s heartbreaking to see these talented people being let go.
It wasn’t just animation; music, home entertainment, and marketing were also lightened. All told, 150 people were cut from the studio division.
Were all the layoffs because times were tough? Not at all, as ICv2 puts it in a succinct report:
Axing money-losing video game units is one thing, but as The Hollywood Reporter pointed out, both the "studio" and "consumer product" units posted solid numbers in the most recent fiscal year with the "studio entertainment" segment posting a 17% gain in operating income, while “consumer products” brought in $932 million, a healthy 15% year-over-year gain.
The studio claims the decline of the home entertainment side of the business makes these layoffs necessary, though impressing Wall St. also appears to be part of the equation as Disney’s stock has risen to an all-time high, up 2% in the wake of the announcement of the firings. Does employee morale really matter as long as the Street is happy?
If this all sounds grimly familiar, it’s because it seems to be taking a page out of Ike Perlmutter’s playbook. Perlmutter, you’ll recall, is the legendarily tight-fisted head of Marvel and one of Disney’s biggest shareholders. In fact more than a year ago, after Marvel had some layoffs, I looked at a longer game plan some thought Ike was using:
There’s one theory floating around that goes like this: Ike wants to get more involved in Disney’s board of directors. He wants to be the showcase division. He wants to hand out that book about saving money to everyone at Disney, and spread Ike’s Way to more of the company.
It’s long been Perlmutter’s policy to just cut and cut and cut to make companies more profitable. He did it at ToyBiz and he used the same techniques to salvage Marvel from bankruptcy.
While Perlmutter’s meddling in the larger Disney business outside of Marvel remains as secretive as current photos of him, bits and pieces have drifted out. His influence has most been felt in consumer products, where a restructuring felt the “Ike Touch.” Cutting people while profits are high and success is a given certainly sounds like an Ike move, and very much like what I was told might happen.
However, while it’s tempting to draw a line between the two, the sad fact is that this kind of trimming as a reward for hard work that leads to success is all the rage in corporate America. Stockholders demand higher profits, and laying off some average Joes and Janes and dumping all the extra work on those lucky enough to survive is just smart business.
But then, we have a government set with laser focus on vague deficits of debatable danger while good people have been unable to get jobs for five years.
Ike’s Way may just be a lot more widespread than we’d like to think.
Heidi MacDonald is the founder and editor in chief of The Beat. In the past, she worked for Disney, DC Comics, Fox and Publishers Weekly. She can be heard regularly on the More To Come Podcast. She likes coffee, cats and noble struggle.