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.


  1. As someone who has been downsized twice, I can empathize with those who go off to work one day, only to be escorted out of the building a short time later with a small box of personal stuff in hand. The first time I was downsized, it came as a total surprise. The second time, I was pretty sure about a week before the execution date of previously announced impending cuts that I was going to be one of the many whose positions were being eliminated.

    I actually preferred the latter situation, because it gave me a little time to tie up loose ends at work, leave notes for the poor slob who had to take over my duties, and let the family know, in advance, there were going to be some lean times.

  2. While I loathe the “Ike Way” as much as the next guy, there’s no reason to get political. Ike has been peddling his brand of cut-to-the-bone-damn-the-people-who-lose-their-jobs-and-the-drop-in-quality-of-the-product since Clinton was in office. It doesn’t matter to him who controls the White House or Congress, or how the company and its stock are doing. The man would find an alternative to staples if it would save 2-pennies off of the bottom line. The tone of the economy has never affected his single-minded way of doing business.

  3. may be worth keeping in mind that analysts estimate about half of Disney’s stock value comes from ESPN alone. their profits are huge and continue to grow. so that may be applying pressure across the board. even if other units are preforming “fine” and turning a profit, if other units are doing better, resources may be pulled from them and pumped into the cable channels.

    sucks for those that get caught up in the restructuring of course. i’ve been there. hope all the good folks land on their feet somewhere.

  4. I dunno…a lot of this article is drifting toward conspiracy theory. Disney’s hand drawn people getting laid off was inevitable as they’ve gone all-in on Pixar. When was the last hand drawn movie even produced? That bomb with the princess and the frog?

    And LucasArts getting melted down in favor of third party licensing was coming even if George Lucas hadn’t sold. They’ve basically been doing that for the last decade anyway…just making it official now because why do you need game developers on staff at a company that doesn’t develop games itself?

  5. I think The Beat’s trying too hard to find a comics industry slant to every news titbit elsewhere in the world and make it all about comics. I guess it must be a slow news week. Until you have actual hard facts from Disney as to their decision, you can’t assume “it’s because of Ike from Marvel having his way.”

  6. “Stockholders demand higher profits”
    The last stick dividend paid was at the end of December 2012.
    I’m not sure stockholders demand profits, but rather stability and growth.
    These can be obtained without higher profits.

  7. I think cuts in both the hand drawn animation and Lucas Arts were inevitable. Way before the Lucas acquistion, Disney made it clear that they were not into the AAA game development and publishing business with the shuttering of Propaganda, Black Rock Studios and that they were going to licence their IPs. So for example , Marvel games being made by Activision etc. WB games is taking a different approach. Disney is all about “social” gaming and that endeavor in all likelihood is going to be a failure. The hand drawn animation dept. was sadly becoming more irrelevant with passing time.

  8. People do not matter to corporations. I’d probably be fine with that if they were not all so phony with the way they all treat their employees. Disney has been messed up for a long time. I know many people who have quit or been let go from their company that I doubt would go back for all the money in the world.

  9. That “bomb with the princess and the frog” earned $267 million worldwide on a production budget of $105 million, and that’s before we factor in DVD sales, not to mention the money it continues to make for Disney through toys and other merchandise.

    OK, back to talking about the Ike-ification of Disney.

  10. There’s a new book, “John Carter and the Gods of Hollywood,” that details the corporate stupidity and inept marketing that led to last year’s box-office debacle. I understand the book does not spare the fanboy bloggers who proclaimed “John Carter” the biggest disaster since “Battlefield Earth,” even before the film was released.

    (They probably would have compared it to “Heaven’s Gate” and “Ishtar,” too, but a lot of bloggers aren’t old enough to remember the ’80s.)

    Ike Perlmutter comes across as a scary guy in Sean Howe’s book on Marvel. According to Howe, staffers were convinced Perlmutter, a former Israeli army officer, carried a concealed gun at all times.

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