How much has the Disney (NYSE: DIS ) brand slipped when it comes to theatrical animation? However low you may be thinking, set your sights lower still.
Over the weekend, I caught a trailer for Valiant, a computer-rendered flick about wartime birds that is set to open nationwide on Friday. "From the producer of Shrek and Shrek II," went the introduction. It wasn't until the very end that the Disney name showed up on the screen.
Yes, it's gotten that bad. By pitching a pair of blockbuster flicks put out by rival studio DreamWorks Animation (NYSE: DWA ) and burying its own mention as the film's distributor, Disney seemed as if it were trying to trick moviegoers into checking the movie out.
Disney's apparent desire to talk down its presence in computer animation comes after the company dismantled the last of its hand-drawn-animation studios earlier this summer.
There is still no new deal in place with Stock Advisor pick Pixar (Nasdaq: PIXR ) after the current one expires with next May's release of Cars. During last week's quarterly conference call, new Disney chieftain Bob Iger did indicate that the companies were still in negotiations. That's somewhat encouraging, but Disney is likely to forge ahead with or without Pixar's inherent blessing, in part by establishing new mentorship deals with computer animation studios such as Vanguard, the creator of Valiant.
You can't blame Disney. Catching another Pixar in a bottle would be huge for Disney shareholders. The problem is that Disney is now less a creator of animated winners and more the sugar daddy to promising upstarts. That doesn't mean it's totally bowing out, of course. In November, Disney's own Chicken Little hits a multiplex near you.
However, it seems as though Disney's decision to sacrifice quality elements in favor of quick and dirty direct-to-video releases has finally diluted its once untouchable brand of excellence when it came to feature animation.
A cynic's cynic could argue that Disney's disappearing act is sheer genius. Pixar and DreamWorks are the new leaders in animation, yet both got stung in their latest quarterly reports because of a dramatic drop-off in sales after the initial sell-through euphoria over their recent hit releases. But animation should mean much more than that to a company like Disney, which is able to take a successful property and monetize it further through its theme parks, cable networks, and retail stores. So there's never a good reason for Disney not to try to win over an audience on the merit of its own name first.
Disney's Valiant marketing move? Not so valiant.
Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz loves the art of animated filmmaking. Yes, he owns shares of Pixar and Disney. The Foolhas a disclosure policy. He is also part of theRule Breakersnewsletter research team, seeking out tomorrow's ultimate growth stocks a day early.