subscribe: Posts | Comments

Is Hand-Drawn Animation Really Done?

Comments Off on Is Hand-Drawn Animation Really Done?

At a recent shareholders’ meeting for the Walt Disney Company, CEO Robert Iger said that, to his knowledge, there are currently no hand-drawn animated films in development at the studio’s feature animation arm. This caused a sudden uproar from animation fans, upset at the implication that the art form is again being shelved from the House of Mouse. However, this is a gross overreaction to what Iger has said. Unlike Michael Eisner’s announcement in 2003 that Disney would be firing its traditional animators and going exclusively to computer animation, Iger has stated none of the sort. His exact words are that “there are none currently in development”, not that they’ve sold off the desks and pencils yet again. Hand-drawn animation is not dead at the Walt Disney Company, it is simply searching for its identity.

To best look at this case, one needs to look at the two films Disney produced upon returning to traditional animation. The Princess and the Frog was a resurrection of the classic-style fairy tale complete with songs and a female lead falling in love. Winnie the Pooh went back even further by taking direct inspiration from the featurettes the studio made in the ‘60s, based upon A.A. Milne’s beloved stories. They were exceptional films that succeeded in being throwbacks to a bygone era. And that is essentially what these movies were: throwbacks. The best way for Disney to bring back hand-drawn animation in a major attention-grabbing fashion is to create something new, original and creative, not unlike their 2002 hit Lilo & Stitch. That film was successful, because it had a unique premise done very differently from the studio’s norm and also had a fantastic marketing campaign that was willing to bend the rules of what they were known for and the longevity of the Stitch character is proof of this. On the other hand, however, Disney fudges the numbers. The Princess and the Frog was profitable, even more so than the computer-generated features they had released for the couple of years prior. However, it did not reach the major expectations one would think from a heavily marketed “princess” feature.

And there is the proof in the pudding. It does not take a nationwide survey to see why The Princess and the Frog did not make as much as the Pixar productions. Putting “Princess” in the title may have seemed like a brilliant move, considering the amount of dolls Disney has sold under that toyline. However, motion picture marketing works differently than merchandising. While you can have separate toys for each gender, family films need to grab the attention of both, and no boy would be interested in seeing a film with “Princess” in the title. Following Pixar’s model of basic one-word titles, Frogs would have probably been a better and more demographically neutral title. Even Disney noticed it by immediately renaming their computer-animated adaptation of the fairy tale Rapunzel to Tangled. Meanwhile, the Pooh franchise has been downgraded into being aimed exclusively at toddlers in the last decade, thus turning off a potential audience over the age of six, who feel they’ve outgrown the bear. Despite highly-praising reviews and trailers targeted at nostalgic university students, it is not a surprise that Winnie the Pooh (which had a third of the budget of Frog) hadn’t even come close to making its money back.

Since then, the hand-drawn adaptation of The Snow Queen was switched to a computer-animated film and long-serving traditional animators like Andreas Deja and Glen Keane have since left Disney to work on independent projects. While it is true no hand-drawn features are currently at work at the studio, animator John Kahrs (formerly of Pixar) has developed a new technique that melds the two styles together. His Academy Award-wining short Paperman wowed audiences both on the big screen and when Disney officially released it on the Internet last month. Though it was computer-generated, the animators gave a hand-drawn look to the film with the female lead taken directly out of Keane’s drawings. The reception to Paperman has shown Disney there is an interest in this type of animation from the general public, and the studio is in early development of a feature film using the same technique, directed by John Musker and Ron Clements (who also helmed The Princess and the Frog). The Animation Guild Business Representative Steve Hulett has also revealed a new hand-drawn short will play before Disney’s Frozen. This animation is not dead at Disney, but rather, there is simply a shifting period in order to figure out how it can capture an audience’s attention again. As I wrote earlier in this article, the best way to tackle this is by not going for a classic approach or fairy tale adaptation, but a newer story in the same vein as Lilo & Stitch or their recent success story Wreck-It Ralph.

However, even if in the unlikely scenario that Disney chooses to abandon hand-drawn animation yet again, the medium will never die. In Japan, the large majority of animation produced is of the hand-drawn variety. Studio Ghibli, the famed studio co-founded by Hayao Miyazaki, will never stop making films in that format and other studios in that country will also keep producing them. In Europe, many independent productions are made every year, including Sylvain Chomet’s The Triplets of Belleville and The Illusionist in addition to other acclaimed works such as A Cat in Paris and Ernest & Celestine. Very recently, adult animation director Ralph Bakshi was finally able to achieve the funds to complete his long-in-development project Last Days of Coney Island. Bakshi’s first feature film in over two decades is certainly an event to be celebrated. Meanwhile, Paramount Pictures and Nickelodeon recently greenlit a new feature-length SpongeBob SquarePants movie, while 20th Century Fox has high interest in releasing a big-screen Family Guy movie. So, even in Hollywood, there is still a small amount of interest in a hand-drawn animated film. There was a time when stop-motion animated films were relegated to shorts at festivals. This has since changed drastically with three major stop-motion films released last year to acclaim and Academy Award nominations, with Laika and Aardman having more projects on the way in the future.

While computer animation is certainly dominating the landscape of American cinema, hand-drawn animation has not gone away and that includes the hat building in Burbank. One day, a new film will break out and be a massive hit worldwide, and the other animation studios will start buying paper and pencils once again. The bugle has not begun playing the Funeral March for hand-drawn animation and it never will.

By: Stefan Ellison


Page 499 of 524« First...102030...497498499500501...510520...Last »