Tuesday, September 20, 2005

How does Happily Ever After last? Until now, apparently. Disney announces the suspension of all hand-drawn animated feature films for the "forseeable future."
In a New York Times article recently posted on their website, we learn that Disney has suspended their hand-drawn animation studios as they pursue the far more immediately lucrative and appealing CGI market, releasing computer-animated films to compete against other studios such as DreamWorks and Pixar whom have cornered the market until now.
I understand the business-driven necessity to adapt to the marketplace, but I also am disappointed in Disney, who has no problem making a profit from it's own nostalgia, apparently has no qualms about flipping the switch on a 70-year old industry-leading studio that has shaped America's culture.
Now I am the first to admit no lost love for Empire Disney. The animation studios has not released a great feature film since Aladdin (which I'm sure is an opinion that everyone agrees with.) The last 13 years or so for Disney has been tough. Not only has the quality of their films been depleted, but for the past decade now, they have been overshadowed by the immergence of the CGI animated film. Considering today's youth, how could an "old-fashioned" cartoon expect to compete with the shiny, new animation?

Let me say this: I am as big a fan of the CGI films that have been released to date as anyone could be. I find Pixar's work to be amongst the finest and cleverest film making being done today. DreamWorks' Shrek films have been not only commercially successful, but also creatively. (An aside: One must be careful to watch the new few years' of CGI filmmaking. The quality of computer-animations first decade I believe is largely because it was an industry with something to prove; they couldn't afford to make a bad film. Now that it has been established, watch and see if the filmmakers get sloppy - Robots or Valiant, anyone? Market saturation can only lead to a majority of clunky filmmaking, as opposed to the sleek, shining gems we've had the fortune to live with thus far.

Okay - that aside, let us discuss the tragedy of shutting down Disney's hand-drawn studios. With the exception of Lilo & Stitch there has not been a Disney animated film that has entertained me anywhere close to the way Pixar's films have done. This is mostly the fault of poor scripts and stories. I was watching a segment of The Emporer's New Groove on the Disney Channel the other day, and was struck by how good the animation was. Irregardless of what the characters were saying or doing, I was struck by how every nuance of the dialogue and the mood of the character was translated beautifully - and all of it done by hand. So let's say it now: These animators are fantastic! If there is any tragedy here, it is that these artist's work will not be created anymore. The animators at Disney studios deserve to have work for them for the rest of their lives. The fault here lies in other departments of the film production. Script-writing and storylines are all less about telling a mesmerizing story and more about inserting social agenda for us to observe played out between bears and lions. What if Peter Pan were to be re-made today? Do you think that the Lost Boys would go hunting Native Americans? Would the Pirates be carrying walkie-talkies instead of firearms? Somewhere along the line, the innocence was ripped out of Disney and replaced by a depressing humanism that felt it necessary to instruct children through the song and dance of animals that it's not enough to get along with other people. We must learn to understand and love them. What the #$%!??!! Obviously this sort of approach is working in their movies, because they've been doing so well. . .

So, the long and short of all of this is that while I feel it is shameful to pull the curtain close on such a cinematic tradition, perhaps it is the sort of re-thinking the Disney must do so that they are able to begin making films again as great as Beauty and the Beast. The only sadness I have in this is that the artists whose work was known through these films will not be able to share their talents with us. I share their apprehension about joining the digital revolution. I see no reason why these two Disney studios could not co-exist, as long as Disney is willing to invest in something beyond the quick-buck fix of a digital animation studio. People will return to these traditional hand-drawn films, and if Disney's not careful, the next generation of hand animation films may not have the name "Disney" on them.


P.S. The silver lining: Toy Story 3

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