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 Call it outdated?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.