Does Disney Animators’ Union Plea Signal Incoming Layoffs?

Disney Animation Union

Disney’s Animation Production workers have made it clear that they want to unionize and force Disney to recognize their integration into The Animators Guild. But something tells me that a much-needed shakeup is beginning to happen within the walls of the Walt Disney Animation Studios campus. I got a feeling that the artists on all levels–especially those behind much of the content that has been flagged as not just “woke” but also for falling far below the Disney Standard, in general–, are starting to shake in their boots.

Now, I should mention that this is just a hunch that has yet to undergo the proverbial pokemon evolution into an accusatory theory. But, let’s connect the dots together from over the last year so you all can see where I am coming from.

Stage 1: Disney Criticized for Blatantly “Woke” Agenda, Falls From Standard

Protest at Disneyland

Credit: @DrewHLive; Turning Point, USA

Over the past year, one thing has become clear: scores of fans–especially those with families and young kids–are not happy at all with the “woke” direction Disney has gone. From overtly promoting Critical Race Theory-based lies about American history and “micro-aggressions” to admitting to shoving a “not-at-all secret” gay agenda and actively attempting to fracture the family unit through triggering “multigenerational trauma” in animation destined for both TV/Disney+ and the movie theater, people are not happy.

But it is not just in the animation sphere. Hiding behind a subscription numbers-only success model, feature-length movies have been diverted from the theaters straight to Disney+, arguably attempting to avoid proving the current adage “Go Woke Go Broke” to be true. That still did not stop Disney’s Live-Action Remake of Pinocchio, starring Tom Hanks from being nominated for the WORST movie of 2022.

Stage 2: Walt Disney Animation Delivers Bomb, Second-Ever PG Movie

Strange World Box Office

If we lay out all of the stories from the time Disney’s “Not-at-all-secret Gay Agenda” was unveiled, we can see a progression of “woke” content distributed throughout 2022 that climaxed with Disney’s most “woke” movie yet, Strange World. It checked all of the boxes, right? We had the beta white male playing second-fiddle to his alpha-female black wife raising an openly gay son and helping a female POC President on a mission that highlighted the supposed climate change narrative and toxicity of the previous generation’s straight cis-gendered white male archetypes. Heck, even the dog only had three legs.

It went down as one of Walt Disney Animation’s worst-performing feature films–if not THE worst–to ever grace the box office, standing alongside the only other Disney Animated Feature Film to earn a PG rating, The Black Cauldron. Sure, you can point fingers at a half-baked marketing strategy that left people kind of clueless about what the adventure was really about, as well as “internet trolls” that “unfairly” coerced people away from the theaters. But at the end of the day, numbers don’t lie.

At the dawn of the period of meteoric success known as The Disney Renaissance, Jeffrey Katzenberg famously said he was not interested in the Academy Awards but “the Bank of America Awards.” Films produced in this period like The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, and The Lion King ended up winning both. Now, the movies are not winning either. Enter the return of former-Disney CEO Bob Iger.

Stage 3: Bob Iger Returns, Demands Creatives Held Accountable for Success

Bring Back Magical Express

Credit: Disney

After Bob Iger took back the position of Disney CEO from Bob Chapek, he spoke of a needed change in Disney’s movie studios. Along with reducing Disney’s cost by billions of dollars and reducing the workforce by 7,000 employees, Iger spoke of a need to return accountability to the actual creatives behind each film and television project.

During the Q1 2023 Earnings Webcast, he said, “Our new structure is aimed at returning greater authority to our creative leaders and making them accountable for how their content performs financially. Our former structure severed that link, and must be restored.”

Iger reiterated these sentiments during a Q&A at the Morgan Stanley Technology, Media & Telecom Conference on Thursday, March 9, saying, “Now it’s about getting our content pipeline right, making sure that we’re making the right decisions and making sure that we’re making the right number of decisions in terms of how much we’re making.”

“On the content side, I’m really pleased that the support that I’m getting from the content creators of the company is significant and real.” Iger also mentioned. “And it comes in the form of, one, reducing the expense per content, whether it’s a TV series or a film, where costs have just skyrocketed in a huge way and not a supportable way, in my opinion. They all agreed to that and also, which is, I think, as a result of whether you call it more aggressive curation or whatever or understanding how much volume we need, reducing how much we make.”

He also said that, while it will not happen right away, reducing content spending by $3 billion is achievable.

And while he echoes this sentiment, and restructuring hits the entire company, suddenly we turn to the action happening at Walt Disney Animation.

Stage 4: Animation Production Workers Suddenly Seek Unionization

Disney Animation Guild

Credit: Animation Guild

The first full week of March 2023 saw Walt Disney Animation Studios’ production workers demand recognition as a part of The Animators Guild.

In an open letter, they state,

“Production is a craft in its own right, and by forming our union we are saying we deserve to have viable and sustainable careers paths, living wages, and the ability to retire with dignity. Currently, our compensation does not provide a living wage nor does it match the value of the work being performed to deliver these million and billion dollar films on schedule, on budget, and at the exceptional standard our great studio is known for. We want equity in our representation and to have access to the same fringe benefits as our artist colleagues.

Production Coordinators, Production Managers, and Production Supervisors advocate for our respective department of artists constantly, and it is past time that we advocate for ourselves to join TAG.”

A Disney Union story is nothing new anymore. We have been covering the issues surrounding the Disney World Cast Member Union UNITE HERE! Local 737 for some time, and even the remote workers are petitioning against the forced return to the office four days a week. But this seems different.

While efforts to get these people unionized have been ongoing for almost a year, this open letter comes as Iger seems to drive down further a “quality over quantity” approach to the studios, prepared to trim the fat where it is found.

A Ruthless Way Back to Proper Disney Storytelling?

Walt Disney Animation

Credit: Disney

From the outside looking in, it appears that this last group of movie-making professionals is banging on a locked door, trying to get into a room while they still can before any decisions concerning their employment are taken care of. They clearly do not feel properly represented, and if a deal is going to be made to help meet the 7,000 Disney employee cut off, there is an aura of fear that they will be easy pickings.

It is unclear–and outright doubful–if Iger and Disney leadership is really looking to purge the producers of mediocre “woke” content from the halls of animation. But hopefully they will at least make quality content worth spending money on again, however they seek to sort the matter employment-wise.

This is all speculation, at this time, but we will continue to monitor this story and will update our readers as more developments come to light.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s and may not reflect the sentiments of Disney Fanatic as a whole. 

About T.K. Bosacki

Born and raised in Tampa, Florida, TK Bosacki is a professional writer, amateur adventurer, and lifelong Disney Fanatic. His Disney Park days include Space Mountain, Tower of Terror, Kilimanjaro Safaris, and Nomad Lounge. He believes in starting at the Canada pavilion (IYKYK), and the Monorail is superior to all Ferry Boats.

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