The Wall Street Journal reports today on the upcoming December debut of Disney's newest animated feature film: The Princess and the Frog. The film's box office results should be interesting to track, given that it represents a return to hand-drawn animation - something that Disney has not done for six years.
In recent years, Disney had tried to emulate Pixar's success using computer-generated animation. However, the company did achieve the results that it had hoped for movies such as Brother Bear. Then, Disney acquired Pixar, and the company asked Pixar's leaders - John Lasseter and Ed Catmull - to oversee Disney Animation. Now, in an ironic twist, Lasseter and Catmull have endorsed this return to hand-drawn animation. Lasseter explained in this excerpt from the article:
But from Mr. Lasseter's point of view, the real problem wasn't Disney's animation techniques—it was more fundamental elements like characters and plot. "I've never understood why the studios were saying people don't want to see hand-drawn animation," Mr. Lasseter said at a fan convention earlier this year. "What people don't want to watch is a bad movie."
I love this quote. It demonstrates a keen understanding of what really drove Pixar's success and what has troubled Disney for the past decade or so. Lasseter understands that Pixar's success does not hinge on its computer animation techniques. After all, that strategic capability, to a large extent, is imitable. Therefore, even if it was a big contributor to Pixar's early success, it does not lend itself to the establishment of sustainable competitive advantage. Pixar's enduring success, instead, depends upon their ability to develop interesting, funny, engaging story lines. It's plot, not graphics, that primarily brings kids and their parents to the theaters. People love a great story, and no amount of fantastic computer-generated imagery can make up for a terrible plot. That ability to develop incredibly engaging plots also is far less imitable than the computer animation technology. Thus, it's a far more valuable strategic capability.