It's a quiet January afternoon and I'm headed down the shady streets of the Walt Disney Studio lot for a late appointment. I can't help thinking how things have changed over the last few decades as the sleepy little Disney studio transformed itself into a media mega-giant. As I glance at the buildings on this restful afternoon the studio seems not all that different from the grand old days when the Old Maestro, Walt Disney ruled his magical Burbank kingdom. Suddenly, I check myself and realize I’m indulging in a fantasy. While it’s true I’m walking down a pleasant, shady studio street, where exactly am I anyway?
On the surface nothing appears to have changed. In fact, everything looks pretty much the same. One could almost use the Hollywood term, movie flats or false fronts. As though some film company appeared secretly in the night and erected several film sets. The Animation Building, though maintaining its impressive name plate, cannot boast of one animator inside the structure and to be sure, no animation is being created. There are no layout artists in the second floor wings or background painters creating their special magic with paint and brush. If there are any story boards left in the building no story artists are in evidence. A glance out the second floor window of 2C would reveal there are no ink and paint women in the Ink & Paint Building. Don't look for the legendary Multi-plane, because there are no cameras in the Camera Building and no film editors cutting film in Editorial. As a matter of fact, in this digital age there's not even film. The Disney commissary still serves food. This leaves it one of the few facilities where the name on the building actually relates to the activity inside.
Here’s a question. Is Walt Disney’s once famous studio simply a fabrication? A glorified movie set constructed to remind those of an era long past? What about the people inside the buildings? Who are these people and what do they do? This KEM Webber designed facility once housed the most incredible talent in the world. Brilliant concepts were born and nurtured in these hallowed halls. Now I see rooms and rooms of “managers,” doing whatever managers do. Not that many years ago, original Disney artwork adorned the hallways. Today, that original art has been tucked away in a facility that could easily rival the Pentagon in security. Though reproductions abound you’d be hard pressed to find an original of anything. Sadly, in many ways the entire studio itself is a reproduction. The studio once known and praised for its originality hasn’t had a fresh idea in decades. Should originality be needed the studio has a quick and easy solution. Top level executives flush with cash simply go on a franchise shopping spree. After all, why spend time and energy creating when you can simply purchase?
As I continue my afternoon walk I realize the Walt Disney Studio is not all that different from the studio I visited many years ago. Of course, back in those days the skies were clearer and the massive ABC building didn’t obstruct a view of the Hollywood hills. Today, there are new buildings on site and the old Spanish plaza and mission set has morphed into the Zorro parking structure. Naturally, the wreaking ball will continue to transform the studio as the old makes way for the new. As in times past, employees still relax on park benches under shady trees for an afternoon break. In some ways it could still be 1955. However, reality sinks in and I realize it’s 2016. The wonderful magic factory Walt Disney created is simply a memory. It’s as though the magical enterprise we all knew and loved has almost completely disappeared… and only the buildings remain.