Some Disney news, and a punctuation rant

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Tinkerbell: Not coming to a DVD player near you, thank goodness.

I want to mention a couple of Disney-related news items that have come from Jim Hill Media, and then I want to make fun of the way Jim Hill writes.

Hill’s site focuses primarily on Disney, and Hill is a thorough Disney-watcher who has come to be the go-to guy when it comes to Mouse House news. For example, he broke the very encouraging news last week that Disney is doing away with its dreadful straight-to-video sequels to its classic films. That means no “Cinderella III: Stepsister’s Revenge” or “Dumbo IV: Doin’ It Dumbo Style!” or “Peter Pan III: The Third Part of Peter Pan.” Sorry, 3-6-year-olds!

What led to this sudden change of heart? Weren’t those DVDs making obscene profits? Why yes, yes they were. But someone in charge realized that the sequels were usually complete crap, and that they sullied the good name of the originals.

That hero is John Lasseter, head of Pixar. When Disney bought Pixar last year, it put Lasseter in charge not just of Pixar’s own projects but of Walt Disney Animation Studios as a whole. We all suspected this was a smart move, because while Disney had lately shown an attitude of “let’s make as much money as we can, regardless of whether the product is any good,” Pixar’s philosophy had always been “let’s take our time and tell a good story.”

Sure enough, Lasseter saw a work-in-progress version of “The Tinkerbell Movie” and declared it to be virtually unwatchable. He halted production and basically said, “Enough is enough.” No more of these. And the $30 million already spent on “The Tinkerbell Movie”? Down the drain.

Naturally, some of the people who work at Disney are upset about all this, which brings us to the second Jim Hill news item. Hill now reports that some longtime Disney employees are jealous of the red-carpet treatment Pixar has gotten since coming aboard, and they’re miffed at how Lasseter is doing things. Some of them secretly hope Pixar’s upcoming “Ratatouille” is a box-office failure, the way so many Disney animated films have been in recent years.

I think some of these sentiments are understandable. Imagine you have a job somewhere, putting out mediocre but profitable material, and then suddenly the big bosses are falling all over themselves praising the new guys they just brought in to run things. You’d be a little annoyed, too.

But then again: Get over it. If the new bosses truly want Disney to produce only the best-quality material, then isn’t that a noble enough goal to get behind? So you wasted a lot of time drawing storyboards for “Bambi III: Thumper Goes Hip-Hop,” and now that project has been scrapped. Boo-hoo. Suck it up and get on board with the new, improved philosophy.

Now, regarding Hill’s writing style. I notice a few things about it that drive me crazy. First is his errant belief that anything in parentheses must start with a capital letter, even if it’s only a phrase appearing (as this one does) in the middle of a sentence. Hill would have written that: “… even if it’s only a phrase appearing (As this one does) in the middle of a sentence.”

Seriously, even to someone who’s not a language expert, doesn’t that just LOOK wrong?

He’s remarkably consistent, too. I skimmed several of his posts and found dozens of parentheticals, only one of which was not capitalized.

He also thinks “i.e.” should be “I.E.,” which is always wrong. Furthermore, almost every time he uses that abbreviation, it’s unnecessary. An example:

Hopefully with [animator Andreas] Deja on hand, [Disney] can avoid any awkward mis-steps when production of “The Princess and the Frog” (I.E. Disney’s first traditionally animated feature since “Home on the Range”) officially gets underway.

The “i.e.” is superfluous. “I.e.” means “that is to say.” It’s not needed in that sentence.

He also always follows up “I.E.” with another capital letter, as in, “I.E. The animation department,” which should be “i.e., the animation department.” Grr.

Finally, Hill is alarmingly over-fond of dashes — a punctuation mark that should be used sparingly. He likes to use them where a normal writer would use commas. For example:

You know what’s really striking about Andreas Deja? Not that he’s [blah blah blah]. But — rather — that this huge talent has such a small ego.

Or this:

Which is why — over the past few weeks — Disney’s PR machine has gone into overdrive. Placing all sorts of pre-emptive pieces in major news weeklys about “Ratatouille.” Which — even as these articles talked up this film’s artistic achievements — they also downplayed the importance of this Brad Bird movie needing to make any real money.

Or this:

“A lot of students tell me that — while they love traditional animation and really want to learn that craft — they still feel that they have to study CG because that’s where the jobs are right now,” Deja explained. “That — to me — is a decision that’s being made out of fear. Which isn’t how an artist should operate. Instead of giving in to fear you should always follow your gut.”

That’s just wrong, wrong, wrong. In every one of those instances, a comma should have been used, not a dash. Dashes are great if you want to draw attention to something — something that deserves emphasis. They can also be useful as a sort of parenthetical statement — one that’s crucial to the sentence — occurring in the midst of other material.

I’m not sure why I’ve chosen to pick on Jim Hill, except that he has a lot of readers and is, as I said, much in demand as a source for Disney news. In the old days, before you kids came along with your Internets and your blogospheres, if you wanted to be a widely read writer, you had to write good! Er, well. You had to write well. But not anymore! Now anyone can become a famous wordsmith, even if his smithing skills are lacking. It’s interesting, or ironic, or something.

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