Why Hand Drawn Disney Movies Will Always Hit You In The Feels
As a child growing up in the mid-'90s, I was raised on a nutritious diet of 100 percent hand drawn Disney movies: think Aladdin, The Lion King, Pocahontas, Cinderella, Beauty And The Beast and the ever-underrated Mulan. Sure, I was drawn to the warmth of these films in terms of dialogue and storyline, but it was the visuals that really acted as a sucker punch to the feels: those sumptuously colored, crazily ambitious hand-drawn movies that I was lucky enough to see in cinemas.
But in 1995, everything changed when Toy Story dropped and sent shockwaves throughout an entire industry. It was a massive success with critics and audiences alike (and, to give Toy Story its due, what other film has a 100 percent positive rating on Rotten Tomatoes?). Somehow, it failed to charm me, though. Rewatching it today, it's easy to see why. It's funny and entertaining and the dialogue's far sharper than anything in say, Cinderella, but the CG animation still leaves me cold. Maybe I'm just a crusty old Luddite, but it still feels hard to emotionally engage with characters that look like computer game characters.
"What?" I hear you cry. "That's such an incredibly narrow-minded, ignorant point of view. The entire video games industry would crumble if this sort of thinking was genuinely relevant." Maybe so, but it holds true for me.
And yes, the standard of animation has come on by leaps and bounds since 1995 — but still. I can't quite imagine a standard of computer generated animation that can compete with the subtleties of expression the pen allows for.
I mean, look at this. Mufasa's facial expression here contains volumes: he's simultaneously indulgent and satirical in his response to Zazu. And the way Zazu's eyeballing him back? Ugh, I can't even.
Remember this? After some sparring, some making fun of each other, Aladdin and Jasmine are tantalizingly close to kissing before the palace guards bust into Aladdin's place. I mean, look at the sheer longing in those two beautiful cartoon human faces. Now tell me that the entertainment industry's doing totally fine without hand-drawn movies, thank you very much.
There's also just the undeniable fact that hand-drawn looks funnier. Check out the Mulan still above, when Mulan disgraces herself at the matchmaker's and inadvertently upturns a teapot over her. Can you really keep a straight face looking at that? Drawing with a pen, rather than a mouse, allows more room for exaggeration somehow (and no, I don't have any science to back this up, it just does).
Still, this isn't the end of the road for 2D animation. In 2012, Disney made a romantic comedy short, Paperman, which uses the animation form Meander, which was created by accident and which, according to Retrojunk, "combines the techniques of traditional hand-drawn animation with modern computer animation." It's a nice halfway house between pen and computer — for me, it offers the same emotional depth as old school Disney. And the Academy obviously agrees with me, because it took home an Oscar for Best Animated Short Film. See for yourself:
And this isn't the only sign that 2D animation is due a resurgence. In summer 2015, veteran Disney animator James Lopez (who has worked on The Lion King, Hercules, The Emperor's New Groove, Paperman amongst others) put together a team, which amongst their number included other ex-Disney animators and they crowdfunded a new 2D film: Hullabaloo . While they asked for just $80,000 for one short, within 35 days they'd fundraised almost $470,726 to produce four shorts: clearly the appetite for hand-drawn films hasn't abated with time, even if it's not the trendiest form of animation at the moment.
So, despite the 2013 announcement that Disney would not work on 2D films for the moment, I'm not giving up hope altogether. As with clothes, movie styles are dominated by fashion: one of these days, hand drawn's going to be sexily retro and cool again, and when that day comes, I'll see you in line for tickets for the new Disney movie.
Images: Walt Disney Pictures (5)