Software, Hardware, Silverware

A Eulogy for 2D Animation

Ironically, it’s been John Lasseter who’s championed 2D animation within Disney. Since Lasseter became the Chief Creative Officer at Walt Disney Animation Studios, they’ve released two traditionally-animated films to critical acclaim: 2009’s The Princess and the Frog and 2011’s Winnie the Pooh. Unfortunately, they weren’t financial successes, and CEO Bob Iger has no plans to continue the program. The bottom line: CGI films are making more money.

Cinderella’s Castle Set Against a Blue Sky

The past century taught us to expect more of Disney. From the Apple-like attention to detail in their early animated films to their equally detail-oriented theme parks, Disney built a corporate identity that didn’t look all that corporate. The Disney we love isn’t focused on profits, it’s focused on art.

That Disney still exists, but only in one private division: Pixar. I’m not harping on CGI films at all. I love Pixar. Thanks to Pixar, quality animation continued into the computer age. Computer animation can be just as beautiful as hand-drawn, traditional films. But is anyone arguing that Wreck-It Ralph is superior to The Princess and the Frog? I don’t think so.

Pixar has its strengths, and it sticks to them. Brave wasn’t its best effort and Cars 2 didn’t do so well commercially, but that isn’t going to stop them from pushing on with their craft. Pixar (like Apple, hmm) is a company with a culture based on the quality and artistry of their product, and not on making money. Revenue is secondary, needed only to finance the next piece.

It’s fine if Disney wants to experiment. Experimentation is good! But it should be done for artistic reasons, not monetary, and not if it leaves your core culture in tatters. Wreck-It Ralph and Tangled are great films, but Disney need not abandon their roots. It makes good business sense, but it rejects their values. Here I’ve been harboring under this idea that good business sense isn’t Disney’s top priority. Maybe I’m deluded.

There’s still artistic value left in traditional animation, and Disney has traditionally been the only consistent purveyor of the form. It burns me to see this company I’ve respected, and whose products I’ve cherished, abandon the medium and values I associated with it.