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Walt Disney Feature Animation Florida -- A Timeline


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Walt Disney Feature Animation Florida -- A Timeline

Posted June 20, 2004

May 1989:

The Orlando studio opens with 70 employees, part of a tour in the Disney-MGM Studios theme park.

November 1989:

The Little Mermaid opens, reviving Disney's classic cartoon tradition.


Orlando animators work -- in front of tourists -- on such Roger Rabbit shorts as Rollercoaster Rabbit and Tummy Trouble.


The Orlando studio takes on a portion of the work in The Lion King, including the "I Just Can't Wait to Be King" musical number. The film earns more than $500 million worldwide and changes the way Disney thinks about cartoons. No longer will they be biennial "events." Disney will try to duplicate this success twice a year, vastly increasing production. The studio eventually employs 2,200 in animation worldwide.

November 1995:

Pixar's Toy Story comes out and becomes a smash. The Disney-distributed hit is in the new medium called 3-D "computer" animation.

June 1998:

Mulan, Feature Animation Florida's first feature film, opens. This comical, musical and historic 2-D cartoon retelling of a Chinese folk tale is a commercial (more than $300 million) and critical hit.


John Henry, one of the great Disney short cartoons, is an Orlando product. Stylistically daring and politically touchy, it shows up in film festivals and finds a life only years later on DVD as part of a collection of Disney shorts.


Disney lays off about 1,000 animation employees worldwide, because of flops such as Atlantis: The Lost Empire (above, from left) and years of expensive middling hits such as The Emperor's New Groove and Pocahontas. Orlando did small portions of the work on some of these.

June 2002:

Lilo & Stitch, a touching retro character farce with aliens, surfing, a motherless child and Elvis, mimics the watercolor backgrounds of Disney's great 1940s films Dumbo and Bambi. This Orlando-made film is a hit with critics and audiences (approximatelyƒs $260 million worldwide box office).

November 2002:

Disney announces the replacement of Thomas Schumacher, president of Walt Disney Co. Feature Animation, effective June 2003. David Stainton, president of Disney's successful and "economical" TV animation division, takes over. Schumacher's last Orlando projects are Brother Bear and a country music cartoon, My Peoples, later titled A Few Good Ghosts, with tunes by Travis Tritt and others, and starring the distinctive Southern accents of Dolly Parton, James Carville and others.

November 2002:

Treasure Planet, launched and mostly made in Burbank, Calif., opens to critical disdain and weak box office, spelling doom for hand-drawn 2-D animation.

June 2003:

Disney lays off 50 animators in Orlando as Brother Bear winds up production.

November 2003:

Brother Bear, a brother-bonding tale set among Aleut tribes of the ancient Northwest, opens to weak business and middling reviews. It still manages to earn more than $215 million worldwide before going to video. The 2003 Pixar 3-D smash Finding Nemo, on the other hand, has earned more than $700 million worldwide.

Nov. 15, 2003:

Disney pulls the plug on A Few Good Ghosts.

Jan. 12, 2004:

Stainton comes to Orlando to announce that he is closing Feature Animation Florida, putting 258 employees out of work.

March 19, 2004:

Disney's Orlando animators collect their final checks and clean out their desks.


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