It was made official today. The rumor only surfaced a week ago, but in that time many people have gone from surprise and skepticism to hope that maybe it could be great for both companies. For Pixar, it might mean more creative control over their characters and sequels, plus not having to worry about distribution or settling for a partner without the reach into merchandising and vacation spots that Disney has. Interestingly, John Lasseter will also advise on new theme park attractions.
In the old days under Walt, it was common for artists to move between short films, features, and Disneyland design. Walt had a knack for seeing the best skills in people and using them wherever they could be most effective. He also had an instinct for story, a relentless pursuit of quality, and of what people would want to see, or how to sell it. Steve Jobs shares more than a few of these qualities, even if his management style at Pixar has been to delegate more than micromanage. Could Jobs pull another NeXT and infuse Disney with Pixar management and culture, or will he be content to sit on the board and coordinate deals with Apple for video content? Who knows.
For Disney, the benefits of the deal are pretty obvious, since all of the Pixar films have been huge money-makers. What’s less clear is what will happen to all the films currently in production at Disney. We have to assume they will continue mostly unchanged. Disney had a rough and controversial transition to 3d, with many layoffs and studio closures, but they did make the transition and this deal will probably upset that just a little.
There is also still that dream that with a leader (Lasseter) who appreciates traditional 2d animation, Disney might even buy back some of those old animation desks and give 2d another try. Although some of the great directors of the 2nd golden age at Disney have left (such as Ron Clements and John Musker of The Little Mermaid and Aladdin), Disney still has many 2d-trained directors, and now so does Pixar (Brad Bird), with enough 2d fans throughout both companies to form another studio branch entirely.
I read a bunch of weblogs by artists at Disney and Pixar now, so hopefully their views will start to trickle in too. Good luck to everyone at both studios.