EXCLUSIVE: Disney is shuttering Blue Sky Studios, the $5.9 billion global-grossing former 20th Century Fox animation division that during its run churned out 13 feature films including the Ice Age franchise.
One can say that the writing was always on the wall for Blue Sky, especially after Disney acquired 20th Century Studios and its assets in March 2019. However, the past year has been challenging for Disney on many fronts, of course due to the pandemic — not just on the studio side but also with theme park closures and cruise line dockings. Sustaining a third feature animation studio was no longer viable for Disney given the current economic realities caused by Covid.
The last day for Blue Sky will be in April. The number of Blue Sky employees being impacted numbers 450. Disney will be working with the employees at the Greenwich, CT-based studio to explore open positions at the other internal studios.
A studio spokesperson told Deadline, “Given the current economic realities, after much consideration and evaluation, we have made the difficult decision to close filmmaking operations at Blue Sky Studios.”
The Blue Sky’s library and IP will remain part of Disney, and I hear there are no plans for another major studio to absorb Blue Sky’s employees and operations. A series based on Blue Sky’s Ice Age characters is already in the works for Disney+. Through five movies, the Ice Age series grossed $3.2 billion at the global box office.
Production on the Patrick Osborne-directed Nimona, which is dated for January 14, 2022, is being stopped and the film will no longer be released, Deadline has learned. Nimona, which had 10 months of production still left to complete, followed a young shape-shifter who teams with a mad scientist named Lord Ballister Blackheart to expose the ruler of the kingdom.
Following Disney’s acquisition of Fox, it was announced in August 2019 that Walt Disney Animation Studios president Andrew Millstein was named co-president of Blue Sky Studios, serving alongside co-president Rob Baird. Both Millstein and Baird are expected to exit in the wake of Blue Sky closing its doors.
The last Blue Sky release, Spies in Disguise, was distributed by Disney in December 2019; it didn’t do so well, grossing $66M at the domestic box office and $171M worldwide. The hope was that pic starring Will Smith and Tom Holland would spur a franchise.
Blue Sky Studios was founded in February 1987 by Chris Wedge, Michael Ferraro, Carl Ludwig, Alison Brown, David Brown and Eugene Troubetzkoy after their employer, tech company MAGI (which coincidentally worked on the visual effects for Disney’s 1982 classic Tron), shut down. Blue Sky’s early clients included Bell Atlantic, Rayovac, Gillette and Braun, and the house created the animated insects for the 1996 MTV movie Joe’s Apartment. In August 1997, 20th Century Fox’s VFX company, VIFX, took a majority stake in Blue Sky and the animated studio began working on characters for Alien Resurrection, A Simple Wish, Mouse Hunt, Fight Club and Star Trek: Insurrection. This was prompted by Chris Meledandri, when he was serving as president of 20th Century Fox Animation.
However, it was the Wedge-directed 1998 animated short Bunny that would catapult Blue Sky into feature-length animation productions following its Best Animated Short Oscar win. Meledandri was also key in the expansion of Blue Sky with the Ice Age series before he left Fox to launch Illumination and another mutli-billion dollar franchise in Despicable Me. Blue Sky’s 2017 feature Ferdinand, directed by Carlos Saldanha, received an Oscar Best Animated Feature nomination.
Blue Sky’s top-grossing animation features at the worldwide box office were Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs (’09, $886M), Ice Age: Continental Drift (’12, $877M), Ice Age: Meltdown (’06, $660M), Rio 2 (’14, $500M), Rio (’11, $484M), Ice Age: Collision Course (’16, $408M), Ice Age (’02, $383M), Dr. Seuss’ Horton Hears a Who! (’08, $297M), Ferdinand (’17, $296M), Epic (’13, $268M), Robots (’05, $260M), The Peanuts Movie (’15, $246M) and Spies in Disguise (’19, $171M).
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