Should we worry about the future of Lucasfilm’s animation department?

"Tatooine Rhapsody." Star Wars: Visions. Courtesy of
"Tatooine Rhapsody." Star Wars: Visions. Courtesy of /
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Netflix guts their animation department

In April of 2022, the animation community saw the start of a horrific year in the world of streaming services.

Originally reported by The Wrap, but I’m also sharing the same article that was published on Yahoo since it is not behind a paywall, Netflix sewed confusion in its Kids & Family department when it quite suddenly canceled many highly anticipated animated projects like Jeff Smith’s comic adaptation of Bone. They also fired several of their executives from their animation departments.

There was a time when Netflix was a haven for animation. They boasted supporting creator-driven original series and movies. Phil Rynda, who was one of the fired executives, had been told that Netflix wanted “to be the home of everybody’s favorite show.” But when the new Netflix Co-CEO, Reed Hastings, came in, that mission statement changed. Instead, they focused on more third-party series they paid for, not produced, like the upcoming new Boss Baby series. And even then series creator, Brandon Sawyer, had to clarify that none of his crew was fired. Because they work for DreamWorks, not Netflix. Which is very much the point here. It’s cheaper for Netflix to pay for the right to stream content made by other studios than pay for it in-house.

This came on the heels of a confusing time for creators. Netflix has become infamous with creators for giving them data for their shows that makes no sense. Oftentimes, this “staged data” was given as a way for the company to back up its choices when it came to renewals and cancellations. But oftentimes, these analytics was nonsense. Dominic Bisignano, the creator of Centaur World, was given analytics with no context of what it meant for his series. When he asked for clarification and if his show would be renewed because of the data, he was denied an answer by Netflix. Bisignano ended up leaving the streaming service for Cartoon Network. Creators have described this method as “manipulative” as there was a lack of transparency from the company.

City of Ghost by creator Elizabeth Ito is another example. The series had a perfect score on Rotten Tomatoes and even won a Peabody Award. But when the new Netflix mission statement came down, she was hit with all the same confusing data before Netflix canceled her show. Ito left Netflix for Apple.

There is also the ongoing argument that Netflix doesn’t promote its series and relies on word of mouth. To be fair, this is an issue across many services. Creators like Disney’s Amphibia Matt Braly pointed this out many times on Twitter about the Big Mouse.

Netflix, Disney, and other companies rarely make toys and merchandise for their original shows. To refer back to the Saturday Morning Cartoon history, toys mean money and money means more of a show.

There’s also another issue when it comes to relying on word of mouth. When your target demographic for these series are children, then the reasoning falls apart. Children don’t have jobs, or credit cards, or get to decide what streaming services are in their homes. All they have are whatever their parents pay for. They don’t have social media accounts and children aren’t breaking down the complex themes and character development on the playground. It absolutely kills that idea.

Netflix sabotaged its own animated series with lack of promotion and then gutted them from the streaming service for “not performing well.” There is still plenty of upcoming animated shows and movies hosted on the platform. Dead End: Paranormal Park from Hamish Steele just announced its season two dates. Nimona is slated for 2023, but it was bought up by Netflix after Disney shut down Blue Sky Studios. When Disney dropped Nimona, the movie was 75% complete. This probably sounds familiar to projects like Batgirl canceled by Warner which will be discussed in a moment. By buying Nimona, Netflix didn’t have to put as much money into finishing the project. And they still host their Academy Award-nominated movie The Mitchells vs the Machines which was made by Sony Pictures Animation, another third-party purchase.

Once a welcoming studio for animation, Netflix showed its true colors when it came to saving money. And animation was the first to fall. In-house animated series look like they’re becoming more of a thing of the past for Netflix.

Also as of writing this article, layoffs are still happening within the company five months later.

This went into a tumultuous summer for the animation industry. After bailing out streaming services during the pandemic and what happened at Netflix, these creators felt emboldened to make a strong push to be seen as equal in the industry.