Will Disney generate content or make art?

So it’s official, Disney bought Pixar. All of the news stories are revolving around the big players: Steve Jobs potential impact on Disney, or John Lasseter‘s new powers. But little is being said about how this merger will effect the artists at the two companies. Will they be given room to create? to innovate? to tell stories? Or will they be required to just make “content” to fuel co-marketing deals?

Bob Iger expressed his joy at Disney’s new ability to “generate content” (see Jon Stewart‘s great take on this), which makes me shudder, just a little. Part of Disney’s problem of late is they have confused their business method (themepark, character licensing, etc.) for their mission (telling stories). Their latest movies have been more about marketing deals with fast food restaurants than about plot, character, and emotion. Don’t get me wrong, those marketing deals are important to the survival of the business. But they are not the reason the business exists. My hope is that Steve and John can help Disney regain its priorities, and make Disney once again a touchstone for our culture. I hope to see Disney become the Bell Labs of storytelling. Bell Labs was a pure research lab where scientists were given room to persue their projects without having to worry about its marketability. This freedom allowed them to become a powerful force for creative science in our country. I hope Disney does the same, giving their artists room to create without business pressure. Disney should be the place where our stories and myths are born, not a place where content is generated.