The Florida Experiment

Yes, it's all happened before, hasn't it? This is Orlando Florida back when Walt Disney Feature Animation was firing on all cylinders. In fact, everybody wanted to be a part of animation. This was the prestige division of the Disney Company. Not only was animation the big money maker at Disney, it also drove the product. Music, toys, games and apparel gained its commercial thrust from the magic created by the cartoon makers.

We had entered the nineties and animation showed no signs of slowing. Disney management came up with a wacky idea. They would create a cartoon studio in Orlando that would be part production facility and part theme park attraction. Apparently the idea intrigue a few of the artists. After all, how bad could it be? Plus, who could afford a California home when prices were going through the roof. However, a home in Florida could be had for a song. Before you could say, Mickey Mouse, a number of eager young (and some not so young) artists had volunteered for Florida duty.

We had been developing a new Disney animated feature here in Glendale back in 94 -95 with the intention of sending production to the fledgling Orlando studio. The motion picture, “Mulan” would be their initial challenge, and they rose to the occasion. The film was a remarkable achievement and Disney's Orlando studio proved they had the chops to match their talented colleagues back home in Burbank. Soon, other productions were to follow and the Orlando staff continued to mature. Since I was on the production I had the opportunity to visit our Florida team on occasion. I confess, Florida wasn't half bad and even the legendary “Fish Bowl” where visitors could watch artists at work didn't seem to be a bother. After a time, being a part of the attraction was forgotten and you didn't even noticed the tourists looking down at you. As usual, Disney had once again, struck gold.

However, the big mouse is not easily satisfied and although the Orlando studio had proven to be a huge success, management had other ideas. Walt Disney hand drawn animation was not celebrated - it was gutted. In time, projects were cancelled, and eventually the entire facility was shuttered. The gifted artists who once occupied the beautiful new production facility scrambled for jobs and many had no choice but to relocate to more expensive Southern California if they had any hope of securing employment.

Of course, the story doesn't get any better and the corporate strategy I had long predicted was finally being implemented. Talented Disney veterans would be replaced by CGI artists who were even more replaceable. Perhaps a better word might be - disposable. Think I'm wrong? Wait a few years and you'll see what I mean.

In the meantime, we'll look back at a time when talented artists made their home in a theme park and the future never looked brighter. In many ways it was like a Disney movie. Except in this movie - the bad guys win.