What Happened to 2D Animation? Awaiting Disney’s (glorious?) return

Posted on 14 March 2009 by Quaid

I really think that every generation can be defined based on which Disney movies it saw growing up.  I’m part of the Lion King and The Little Mermaid generation, and I realize how lucky I am.  

Disney hit its stride in the late 80′s and early 90′s.  From ’89 to ’94, Disney released The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, and The Lion King.  For a while Disney was like…well, Pixar.  It seemed they could do no wrong.  They were getting Oscar nominations, breaking box-office records, and wowing audiences each time out.  Each Disney hand-drawn film was an event–one of the most anticipated films of the year.

Then something happened.  No, it wasn’t computer animation making everyone bored of cartoons as Michael Eisner would have you think.  There was a loss in magic.

The last good 2D animated Disney movie was probably Pocahontas, and that one is debatable.  In The Hunchback of Notre Dame, the Mouse House tried desperately to grab at the high-brow tone that made Beauty and the Beast such a success.  It didn’t quite work, so the studio went in a different direction.  Hercules was a desperate change-up, and every movie after that seemed to be grasping desperately for the magic that was, sadly, gone.

But for good?  It sure seemed like it with movies like Mulan, Tarzan, and Fantasia 2000.

By this time, Pixar had released a little movie called Toy Story, and Disney 2D films were barely a blip on the radar.  Hollywood was obsessed with 3D computer animation, ignoring the fact that Pixar was more successful because they told better stories, not because of the tools they used.

It didn’t matter. Disney, after redeeming itself somewhat (in my opinion) with Lilo and Stitch (notice how I won’t mention Treasure Planet or Brother Bear), closed its 2D animation studio.

And you have no idea how much that pissed me off.  You’re really just going to give up on the format?  Call it outdated?  They were cowards, unwilling to find new and compelling stories with new and compelling characters.  Instead, they’d focus on the technology, pouring millions of dollars into their 3D animation department to make Dinosaur.  When it was an unmitigated disaster, I felt retribution.

There was all kinds of drama during this time.  The laid off animators formed Legacy Animation Studios to “continue the legacy of Walt Disney.”  This is about the time that I was on a borderline boycott of almost all Disney products…which made my love affair with the Disney-affiliated Pixar very complicated.

So then…well, it got messy, and I don’t necessarily want to go into all the gory details.  Pixar’s contract came up for renewal and political positioning made it look like they might partner with a different studio.  In the end, though, Eisner was ousted and Steve Jobs and John Lasseter of Pixar gained immense influence over Disney.

When John Lasseter, the director whose successful film Toy Story had made the Disney higher-ups declare the death of 2D, took over as Chief Creative Officer of Walt Disney studios, he helped to jump-start the division least likely…traditional 2D  animation.

Don’t get me wrong.  Bolt (Disney’s first 3D film under new management) and Pixar’s amazing Wall-E have proven that 3D is alive and well and will be for a long time.  But there is still a special place for 2D.  I believe the magic is still there, and I love the idea of animators hand-drawing every cell.  I love the organic feel.  I love the simplicity, and I love the beauty.

For the first time in over a decade, I am looking forward to a hand-drawn 2D animated film.  It’s called The Princess and the Frog, and it’s coming out on December 11 of this year.  All of this came to mind with today’s news (from Blue Sky Disney), that a trailer for the film will be attached to Up this May 29.

I hope Lasseter can bring the magic back to Disney.  I hope he can make me stop whining about how evil this corporation is.  I hope I can get one ounce of those feelings I had watching Beauty and the Beast for the first time.

It’s a different animal.  There is a pure wonder in 2D animation that I’m not sure 3D can ever match.  Maybe it’s just childhood nostalgia, but if it is, I want it for my kids.  To think, there is an entire generation of children who did not grow on Disney 2D animated films.  It’s sad.  And I hope it never happens again.

After Frog, Disney is doing Rapunzel.   I don’t know if we’re looking at a rebirth of the medium, but I’m excited.  Take a look at the still below.  If you don’t get just a little giddy, then shame on you.

16 Comments For This Post

  1. Aimee Says:

    Found your site on del.icio.us today and really liked it.. i bookmarked it and will be back to check it out some more later..

  2. maxima Says:

    woooow that looks graite !!!!

  3. Costi Says:

    you’re definitely wrong man..the huncback of notre dame (one of my fav movies btw) was a huge hit at the box office, it grossed 325 million worldwide. it is true, it made les than precedent disney movies, grossing “only” 100 million in the US, but so did other movies that are considered successful. and disney movies were very successful up to tarzan. i just believe that disney wants to produce 3d movies cos they are less expensive to produce..they are giving up art for money. Indeed, they already got the brand name, so ppl will go see their stuff and think 3d is cool just cos it’s disney..and u r proving them right.

  4. Hannah Says:

    I feel like I could have written this article myself (except for the Hunchback, I loved that movie) All of the really famous Disney classics were in 2D and I am looking forward to seeing a new movie produced in that same style!!

  5. TheTissue Says:

    I have to agree with you that 2-D Disney movies are the best, and I’m just as ecstatic as you to see them coming back. However, I have to disagree with you:
    -Hunchback of Notre Dame was the shiz.
    -Lilo and Stitch wasn’t all that great. Certainly not something I’d call “redeeming”, more like “damning”.

    I can’t wait for this movie either =]

  6. kaleido Says:

    Mulan and The emperors new groove still had the magic if you ask me.

  7. Atari Says:

    I resent the backhand at Treasure Planet. It HAS the Magic, no doubt about that. Maybe you didn’t actually watch it, or you had such different expectations that you were biased, but it has heart, it has some of the best dialogue I’ve ever heard in an animated film. The characters are great, their interactions are enjoyable to watch. The main character is the only character ever made that I can truly say I “relate” to. The music is fantastic.

    You can “not really like” Treasure Planet, but you must understand, and admit, that it is one of the Disney greats.

  8. Max Says:

    WTF Mulan was the best

  9. kayleena Says:

    u gyes are all stuped !!!!!

  10. kayleena Says:

    u gyes are all stuped !!!!!

  11. kayleena Says:

    u gyes are all stuped !!!!!

  12. kayleena Says:

    u gyes are all stuped !!!!!

  13. kayleena Says:

    u gyes are all stuped !!!!!

  14. kayleena Says:

    u gyes are all stuped !!!!!fuck you

  15. Cardinal Says:

    2D animation was set back by Princess and the Frog. Then to see Tangled make so much more money and it’s 3D. I think this will further set back any more Disney 2D film.

    I mean we might see another one…but not in the near future. Not after P&F’s failure. It’s not a failure due to quality. As, it had the best animators on it. But, it failed to capture the magic and essence of Disney.

    Tangled isn’t spectacular but it seems to have the heart and soul of Disney that people have missed. Sadly, it is a 3D film. Meaning, anyone who longs for the return of hand drawn animation will not be satisfied.

    I just think 3D is so much easier to do nowadays since you can use the computer to change things on the fly. High quality hand drawn animation takes so much time and requires much more skill. You have to understand how not only animation looks in 2D but you have to have an engineering background to a certain degree. You have to understand how to instill depth perspective into a 2D world. Whereas with CGI movies…the computers handle all the mathematical stuff. Animators are so spoiled nowadays.

    I remember hearing about the multi-plane camera and how slow and tricky that process was. If even one light bulb broke it meant a huge amount of time and money wasted. With CGI the actual process of filming and editing is so much easier and faster. Even live action film editors are super spoiled nowadays…

  16. Silver Says:

    I agree with this all, but I loved Mulan!
    AND it hurts a lot when I myself make animations. If you look at my YouTube channel, you shall see.
    The frame rate isn’t as high, but I’ve only really started! And I’m 12.

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