Things are getting leaner at the House of Mouse once again. This time it’s DisneyToon Studios that is handing out pink slips. About 17 of the 60 full-time employees at the primarily direct-to-video animation group have been laid off, with some occurring last week and the rest to leave during the next month. A unit of Walt Disney Animation Studios, the John Lasseter- and Ed Catmull-run DisneyToon called a meeting August 6 to make the layoffs announcement to staff. The quickly called gathering came a day after big Disney released its ahead-of-expectations Q3 results. “There is not a lot left to cut here now, the next round of cuts could be closing us down,” one DTS employee told me.
No reason was given at the brisk meeting last week for the latest cuts at DTS, but I’m told the suspicion is threefold. First, with DTS’ Tinkerbell franchise effectively discontinued earlier this year, when a group of employees was let go, and its core market of home video a sliver of itself in recent years, there’s just no need for such a fully stocked group. Second, Disney has been cutting staff in various divisions including Disney Interactive, LucasArts and Walt Disney Studios during the past 18 months and this was a part of that cost-cutting strategy. Third, sources say that the drawing was on the wall at DTS with the underwhelming box office performance of Planes: Fire & Rescue, which has made slightly more than $90 million worldwide since its July 18 release. Estimated to have cost the same $50 million as 2013’s Planes, the sequel isn’t assumed to make any where near the nearly $220 million that the first one has globally. “They’ve has been two waves of layoffs in the last year at DisneyToon Studios,”said the Animation Guild’s Steve Hulett today, “and this has occurred at the same time that DreamWorks Animation has had layoffs, so I think it has a big and hard impact on the animation community,”