DisneyToon has sequelitis cure

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DisneyToon Studios, behind such straight-to-DVD hits as "The Lion King 1 1/2," "Bambi II" and "Lady and the Tramp II: Scamp's Adventure," will cease making sequels in order to focus on original stories.

Friday's decision coincided with the announcement that DisneyToon now will operate as a separate unit of Walt Disney Animation Studios under the supervision of Pixar impresarios Ed Catmull and John Lasseter.

Sharon Morrill, who helped found DisneyToon 13 years ago and has been its president since 2004, now will be charged with "special projects" at Walt Disney Studios, including animation and live-action, a spokeswoman said.

Pixar executives have made no secret of their disdain for most Disney-animated sequels; four years ago -- long before Disney's purchase of Pixar -- Steve Jobs called them "pretty embarrassing."

Pixar and Disney, though, will continue to work on "Toy Story 3" for theatrical release in 2009. And DisneyToon will finish "The Little Mermaid III" for a straight-to-DVD release, making that the final sequel planned from DisneyToon, a spokeswoman said.

The first "original" nonsequel movie to come from the restructured DisneyToon is "Tinker Bell." Although the character appeared in the 1953 Disney film "Peter Pan," executives don't consider it a sequel or prequel to that film because it's about Tinker Bell in the fairy world independent of Peter Pan.

DisneyToon will continue to operate from its home in Glendale; none of its 135 employees is expected to lose their job, according to a spokeswoman.

"DisneyToon Studios has always been an integral part of the studio, and we are pleased that John and Ed will bring their vision in creating exciting original DVD premieres," Walt Disney Studios chairman Dick Cook said. "They already have some very ambitious and innovative projects on the drawing boards."
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