The new documentary Waking Sleeping Beauty reminds us that Tim Burton used to be an artist for Disney back in the early 1980s. The unmentioned irony, though, is that Burton left over stylistic differences and became one of America's most well-known living filmmakers, only to now be in full cahoots with the studio once again. Last night, news came that Burton's buddy Henry Selick (The Nightmare Before Christmas) has also made a deal to work fully with the Mouse House again. He had been an animator there in the '70s and '80s, and later his first two stop-motion features were distributed by Disney, but this is a much bigger comeback, with him set to helm stop-motion works exclusively under the Pixar brand.
Whether they also left around the time before the Disney Animation renaissance or more recently, the following animators should also be brought back in order for the studio to really have a lock down on the animated feature market.
Don Bluth - He was a pretty big deal at Disney through the '60s and '70s, and so it was particularly unfortunate to the studio when he quit, taking a number of his favorite co-workers with him, to form his own production company. He went on to make some of the most successful animated films of the '80s through a partnership with producer Steven Spielberg, most of which (An American Tail; The Land Before Time) eclipsed Disney's features from the same period. But Bluth hit a huge downslope after discontinuing his relationship with Spielberg, and even an initially promising deal with Fox Animation ultimately fell short. He hasn't done anything full-length in ten years, since bombing with Titan A.E. Some of this could be that he's now in his 70s, yet he's not exactly retired and continues to do short works. Having left 30 years ago because Disney's films had "lost their charm," perhaps he'd be willing to come back to the new, improved Disney Animation for at least one last masterpiece?
Richard Rich - Disney Animation doesn't really venture into specific religious stories like some other studios have. But what if the Walt Disney Co. struck a deal with Rich's Crest Animation Productions to capitalize on the lucrative Christian market? Rich, who co-directed The Fox and the Hound and The Black Cauldron, is a Mormon who since his departure from Disney has produced and directed tons of animated videos based on stories from the Bible and The Book of Mormon. He's ventured outside of Christianity, too, for the story of Muhammad, and his most well-known theatrical releases were the non-religious The Swan Princess and The King and I.
Dr. Jan Pinkava - No offense to WALL-E and Up, but as great as they each are, neither was as clever as Ratatouille. The culinary Cyrano update was conceived and initially directed by the Czech-born Pinkava (a PhD in computer science, btw), who'd previously won an Oscar for the Pixar short Geri's Game. He apparently left Disney because he was replaced by Brad Bird on Ratatouille (he also did storyboards for this summer's Toy Story 3), so it's unlikely he'll want to return any time soon. But years from now, after he's done stuff for other houses -- his next work is the sure-to-be-brilliant Little White Lies for Laika Entertainment -- perhaps he can be convinced, like others before him, to come back.
Jim George - I don't even think he works in animation anymore, but this artist worked on The Rescuers and later left Disney to co-direct the ridiculously conceived Rover Dangerfield for Warner Bros. Now he's got a website for daily canine cartoons inspired by real-life dogs and their owners. The main reason he's included here, whether he wants to be or not, is that I'd love for George to turn the site (called Draw the Dog), into an animated feature for Disney or whomever. Just so long as it helps remove the visions of the upcoming Marmaduke from my brain by being a more tasteful and mature film about silly pet situations.
Chris Sanders (& Dean DeBois) - Okay, this is a cheat obviously, but I'm counting these two guys as one since, as far as I know, they only work as a team these days. Sanders was one of the main guys at Disney through the Renaissance period, as an animator, writer, voice artist -- you name it. DeBois joined Disney a bit later, following a short time working for Don Bluth, and he and Sanders ended up working as co-directors on the Oscar-nominated Lilo & Stitch. After that, Sanders was writing what would become Bolt but was removed from the film because his script was too quirky. So he fled to DreamWorks Animation where he and co-director DeBois just (as in this past weekend) had a hit with How to Train Your Dragon. Of course, it received better reviews than most of the studio's films, and opened weaker, too. So maybe DreamWorks isn't the place for these guys either. Maybe John Lassiter needs to apologize and bring them back. I loved Bolt as it was, but it seriously could have used more quirk.