Earlier this year, Disney chief executive Bog Iger said that the company has no plans to do another hand-drawn, feature-length film. This news is disheartening to many of us animation fanatics, as anyone perusing the animation blogosphere this year can attest to. The sentiments are predictable and apt: Disney’s legacy began with hand-drawn animation, it’s wrong to blame an art form for bad stories, and it’s depressing to imagine Disney as only doing CG films.
I mean, only 20 years ago, The Lion King made almost a billion dollars worldwide and was the highest grossing motion picture of 1994. “Oh, that was the 90’s. We’re so beyond that now,” a smarmy hipster might say. In 2011, The Lion King was re-released in 3D and made $177 million dollars worldwide. The same year as Cars 2 disappointed audiences worldwide, a 2-D film about a lion cub drawn by hand almost 2 decades prior reminded anyone willing to listen that traditional animation is as marketable and relatable and wonderful today as it ever has been (with the potential to be exponentially more awesome today, as Paperman affirmed).
CG animation is beautiful; don’t get me wrong. Pixar is my favorite company, but it is largely in spite of their animation technique that I love their work so much. I know that seems counterintuitive as their work is so stunning. The sets, the realism, the water, the hair, the bubbles, the clouds, the fur—I know! But, I am a diehard fan of character animation and I see so much vitality in Ariel crying out to be part of our world or in Pocahontas and John Smith meeting for the first time or when Pinocchio realizes he’s changing into a donkey.
There is life there—those characters exist. It’s not that Princess Merida isn’t believable or that Mr. Incredible isn’t, well, incredible. These characters win me over by the beautiful plot and character development—by the story. Merida is much closer to 2-D than, say, Andy in Toy Story, but she is still missing some incontrovertible element found in characters like Peter Pan, Belle, Tarzan and the Genie.
Glen Keane’s concept art for Tangled is what has got me thinking so much about this lately. Years ago, these rough drawings would have been fully inked and colored, brought to life by hand in a process that still seems like a magic trick to me. Today, Rapunzel gets modeled into a CG rig; she is animated more like Claymation than hand-drawn.
I, personally, love Tangled. The music is fantastic, the characters are adorable and hilarious, the colors are bright and charming and the story is very good. However, the ten year old girl in me is sad that she isn’t really alive, like Jasmine or Aurora. She’s cute, but there’s an authenticity undeniably missing in her movements. The distance between the animators and these characters is decreasing as technology improves and Pixar definitely understands this concept better than any company out there right now, but I still think the animation at the beginning of Enchanted (James Baxter is the man) is more captivating and I will continue to hold a vigil for my beloved hand-drawn animation.
How about you, what’s your opinion on the matter?