The D-Files Part 2: The Great Mouse Reset Image

The D-Files Part 2: The Great Mouse Reset

By Alan Ng | January 21, 2024

Estrada was the emerging director needed to bring a fresh perspective to Disney Animation. The problem is that directing animation is different from directing live-action features. His inexperience quickly showed, and veteran director Don Hall was brought in to give the fresh face on-the-job training. Raya and the Last Dragon was Estrada’s first and last Disney project, as he would return to directing music videos.

The other curious move by Jennifer Lee had to do with writer Adele Lim. I’m just speculating here, but was Lim now being targeted by Lee because she was a Lasseter hire? What was the reason for bringing in a second writer? Lim was now forced to share writer credit with Lee’s new recruit, Qui Nguyen, whose credits to this point were a handful of television episodes as a writer, but mostly staff writer credits.

The addition of Nguyen begs the question, why would Lim, coming off a $239 million success with Crazy Rich Asians, need to share a writing credit (and paycheck) with a relatively inexperienced television writer? In my humble opinion, Disney decided to take a talented and studio-proven Asian woman and reduce her to a mere “diversity hire.” After Raya and the Last Dragon, Lim left Disney to write and direct her feature films, including Joy Ride (2023). Her co-writer Qui Nguyen would go on to write and co-direct the 2022 Disney flop Strange World.

Women in Animation

From here, Raya and the Last Dragon turned from being a traditional Disney animated production to slowly transforming into Disney’s first DEI test case. Step one was to load the entire project with female South Asian animators and talent from within the company, then female Asian animators, then female POC animators, and the rest. But that wasn’t enough. Rather than pull in other artists from within, a major recruitment push was made to hire more women from outside the company to reach a 50/50 male/female balance for equity’s sake.

“…not enough as an animator to be a talented female person of color; you have to be ‘WiA-Approved’ and toe the line.”

A concerted effort was made to think “outside the box” when recruiting at Disney. During The Female Lead‘s Filmmaker Panel for Raya and the Last Dragon, head of story Fawn Veerasunthorn stated that Disney had decided to change the landscape of its hiring pool, which was once art school graduates, from such stalwart institutions as CalArts. She states that new talent emerged from millennials like herself on social media. In her own words, “Traditionally, where [Disney] would go to really expensive colleges where not everyone may be able to afford that. Now, that doesn’t have to be the case anymore. You know, maybe the company can look at how they can hire outside of their usual norm or hire internationally.”

Disney Animation did go out of its norm in hiring with the help of Women in Animation (WiA), an advocacy group created in 1993. Their mission states, “We envision a world in which people of all gender identities share fully in the creation, production, and rewards of animation…” With Raya and the Last Dragon, that aggressive push for Gender Equity and to radically transform an industry starts NOW!

Sources tell us that with Raya and the Last Dragon, the goal wasn’t to bring diversity, equity, and inclusion into the existing community of Disney animators but to replace it with a radicalized group of female activists completely. One female POC animator contacted us about her experience with WiA to further her career in animation. She was looking for mentorship and resources to break into the industry. While initial discussions were cordial, she was quickly ghosted by the organization because she did not live in Los Angeles and could not be helpful to their cause.

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  1. Abraham Singh Lee says:

    Much as I enjoy these articles, I’m going to call BS on some of the statements made within this one. Specifically: “More importantly, diversity and equality should be the end-game goal in animation, as with any American industry. Incorporating a wide range of underrepresented voices is necessary to foster a diverse spectrum of perspectives.” All individuals are different. Judging people by their immutable characteristics, as opposed only on merit, is inherently racist. That’s only desirable for Woke racists who are looking for equity and discriminating against individualism.

  2. Jake says:

    I completely agree with Marcus Joyner’s comment. The end goal should always be that the best people are employed to fill in vacancies. The road to hell is paved by good intentions. Now hell is an extreme word to use but the current landscape of Hollywood is hopeless and that phrase is the poster for describing the people who think this way.

  3. Marcus Joyner says:

    “More importantly, diversity and equality should be the end-game goal in animation, as with any American industry.”

    I couldn’t disagree more with this statement. It’s pandering ideas like this which are they gateway drug to the world of DEI. It’s that mindset that is step one in justifying radical DEI policies. The end game goal of any American industry when it comes to hiring practices, is hiring the best talent available regardless of demo. This leads into the ultimate end game goal of American industry, that being making money.

  4. Kevin says:

    Western society really has been taken over by activists. They’re ruining our entertainment, our intellectual zeitgeist, and our industries and we’re at the point that Western society needs to purge these activists organizations like WiA. NOT with violence (just to be clear) but with letters and boycotts and our votes. We can’t trust newspapers anymore, which is a real shame, so the silent majority of moderate, apolitical normies need to organize on trustworthy sites like Film Threat so we can start pushing back against these puritanical activists ruining our society.

  5. Iain says:

    Guys, a heads-up for you. I keep letting a cookie acceptance pop-up that blocks the screen. It can’t be dismissed by pressing the ‘accept’ button. I’m using an iPhone 13, and this is happening with Safari and Chrome. I’m probably not the only one with this issue either.

  6. Luq says:

    FilmThreat, as Lasseter’s biggest supporter, I have to ask where you are getting some of this information from. The Disney employees? Because the way this article was written, it sounds like you guys are assuming things that have an air of truth but are not quite what happened. Certainly the Disney employees would have corrected some of the details in this article. For starters, Raya was not Lasseter’s last Disney film. Much like how you stated Coco was Lasseter’s Pixar film (it was only the last one he saw to completion. He was very much involved with Incredibles 2 and Ralph Breaks the Internet from start to nearing the finish line), the truth is he greenlit Encanto in 2016 and Strange World in 2017 before his departure. In fact, it was revealed way back in 2016 that Lasseter was the one who tapped Lin-Manuel Miranda to write the songs for a new film from Zootopia filmmakers Byron Howard and Jared Bush. Sure enough, we now have Encanto, which manages to feel like a film Lasseter would have overseen (He has hired away a costume designer from that film over to Skydance).

    Second, while the Disney company as a whole has expressed overt concerns about diversity, where are you getting that the directors on Raya and the Last Dragon were replaced to meet the diversity quota? They were replaced immediately after their appearance at D23 2019, when the film was set to be released in 2020. They had a deadline to meet. For anyone who doesn’t know, 1.5 years is the magic number for when creative heads decide if a film is ready or if it is not working and needs new directors. A bit of research into history would reveal that is likelier what happened with this film. This was Jennifer Lee’s second film as the head of the studio. She was still trying to figure out how to lead a studio and in her opinion, this one was not where it needed to be creatively. Whether or not that was the right choice is another story, but credit to Lee, she cares more about the creativity than Pixar does. Estrada was not brought on all by himself to show up the “white guys”, Don Hall (the experienced director) joined him at the same time a year and a half before release date (now March 2021), and Estrada is quoted as saying he will only join the project if Don does it with him. Both were directing other films (Strange World and a now cancelled/postponed film) and stepped in to do this one. This happens all the time there.

    I’m not trying to give Disney any undeserved credit, but I think you guys have not yet scratched the surface of where the deepest problems started. If you want to really uncover some inner workings about the company, like Pixar, find out why Lasseter wasn’t allowed to direct films anymore, because the answer wasn’t that he was “too busy”. He was always too busy to direct films (and shorts) and still made the time, in LESS time to direct more films than anyone else at the studio, which means something changed. Link the timing of when that happened (Summer/Fall 2016) to the time that he ultimately left (Fall 2017). Some groups gradually stole away the power. According to insider and ex-DreamWorks animator Andrew Young, he found out that Lasseter was removed for reasons such as “wanting to make a beautiful love story”. Take into account that when Lasseter claimed to make movies for audiences and not the critics, the subordinates would instead revel in any accolades any chance they got as if in direct disagreement. How is that healthy for a studio’s longevity and not a recipe for destruction? Take into account that employees regularly resented him (see the last 2 chapters of Ed Catmull’s book “Creativity Inc.”, in which Lasseter received 2 1/2 pages of petty criticism on “Notes Day” in 2013). The information is all out there and one does not even have to be an insider. Hope more info comes out

    • Sebastian Olmedo Alba says:

      Where do *you* get your information from?

      • Luq says:

        *I* get my information from directly from reputable news articles and interviews. Hall and Estrada spoke in several interviews about how they were brought on to the project together, a year and a half before the release date which is the standard time for replacing directors on an animated film and usually a last resort. Estrada was developing a different film that never got finished (“Carlos López Estrada Kicks Off his Disney Career with ‘Raya and the Last Dragon’” by A. Felicia Wade) and Hall was working on Strange World when the project hit a curve. I have my issues with Lee but she wasn’t out to “get” the original directors. And they couldn’t have been big Lasseter loyalists, they’re still there – those people all follow him to Skydance, there is no in-between. Lee kept these guys on the project until the last minute, August 2019 at D23, back when the project was set to come out in November 2020 (“Walt Disney Studios Panel Highlights from D23 Expo 2019” on YouTube) . You don’t replace directors that late in the game just for woke/diversity reasons, there’s too much to lose. One only pulls that cr*p with a project that is barely in development/pre-production, such as Wish. Raya had completed about 70% of the process. Hall wasn’t brought in after Estrada “couldn’t cut it”, they were both brought on to fix the film at the same time (“Director Carlos Lopéz Estrada On ‘Raya And The Last Dragon,’ Working With Disney, And His Thoughts On DC’s Latino ‘Blue Beetle’” by Jack Rico). These writers didn’t cite any sources nor quote any anonymous sources with regards to these specific details, and their words contradict (even if in good-faith) what has been published for nearly 3 years.

        Raya was also not Lasseter’s last Disney film. As CCO, John greenlit all films including Encanto in 2016 (“Lin-Manuel Miranda Reveals He’s Making a Secret Disney Film” by Kyle Buchanan) and Strange World in 2017 (“Making ‘Strange World’: The Origin, Evolution and Progressive Representation of Disney Animation’s Sci-Fi Adventure” by Drew Taylor). Wish is the first film he did not greenlight. I also provided sources in my original comment with the book, “Creativity, Inc.” by Ed Catmull where in the final chapters, he stressed how the employees viciously criticized Lasseter with 2 1/2 pages of criticism. From my analysis, they were mean and petty reasons. You can buy or rent the book yourself to find that information, but it’s been out since 2014. I’m all for exposing the wrongs of Disney and I appreciate the main goal here, but I’m not for mixing bits of truth with new rumors and speculation which the writers of this piece admitted they did.

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