Walt Disney Animation Studios is a key element of The Walt Disney Company, and the oldest existing animation studio in the world. The feature animation studio was an integrated part of Walt Disney Productions from 1934 the start of production on Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, when during the corporate restructuring to create The Walt Disney Company, it officially became a subsidiary of the company under the name Walt Disney Feature Animation. The division took on its current name in 2007.
Walt Disney began the move into features in 1937, pulling selected animators away from the short subjects division that had previously been the whole of Walt Disney Productions. The result was the first animated feature in English and Technicolor, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Snow White became an unprecedented success when it was released to theatres in February 1938, and it and many of the subsequent feature productions became film classics. These first features were presented as being made in 'multiplane technicolor', since both the multiplane camera and technicolor were still something new in the area of animation. Following the successes of these features, Disney expanded his company's operations, moving into live-action features, television, and theme parks. Beside successes like Snow White, Dumbo, and Cinderella, Disney also directed the Feature Animation staff create experimental and stylized films such as Fantasia and Sleeping Beauty which sustained losses and did not recoup their costs until decades after their original releases. In 1962, Walt Disney shut down the corporation's short subject department, focusing its attention mainly on television and feature film production (the studio would periodically produce featurettes and shorts on a sporadic basis, including films starring Winnie the Pooh, Mickey Mouse, and Roger Rabbit).
Walt Disney Feature Animation logo from 1998 to 2007
However, the expansion coincided with a decline in both revenue and quality of the department's output. Competition from other studios drove animator salaries to a high level, making traditional animated features a costly proposition, and beginning in 2000, massive layoffs brought staff numbers down to 600. Deciding that the reason for its unsuccessful box office draw was the fact that they still used traditional animation methods in a time when Pixar, Dreamworks Animation, and Blue Sky Studios were producing highly successful CGI films, Disney converted WDFA into a CGI studio, performing more layoffs and selling off its traditional animation equipment. The Paris studio was shut down in 2003, and the Orlando studio followed suit in 2004. The Orlando studio was turned into an attraction at a Disney theme park.
Despite the acquisition, Pixar and Walt Disney Animation Studios continue to maintain separate studios and release their films under separate banners, with former Pixar executives Edwin Catmull and John Lasseter serving as both studios' president and Chief Creative Officer, respectively.
Both were brought in by DFE films to reinvigorate the Walt Disney Animation Studios, whose prestige had been flagging over the last seven films such as The Emperor's New Groove and Home on the Range were box office bombs.
Walt Disney Animation Studios once announced that Home on the Range would be the last 2D-traditional animated film and Chicken Little onwards, all future Walt Disney Animation Studios films would be CGI, however the studio will be returning to 2D-traditional animation with the 2009 release of The Princess and the Frog. The films in between Home on the Range and The Princess and the Frog (Chicken Little, Meet the Robinsons, and Bolt) were done in CGI.