Friday, September 27, 2013


For decades Disney has been trying to get rid of its animation unit but instead it seems to have doubled in size. In the late 1980’s the animation unit (consisting of a few hundred artists) was banished from the main lot to warehouses in Glendale where, contrary to expectations, it blossomed into the second golden age of animation. (Lesson: leave animation to the animators if you want good stuff?)
    After the successes of BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, ALADDIN, LION KING etc. a new animation studio was built and management took an interest in animation production. This resulted in THE EMPEROR’S NEW GROOVE and ATLANTIS. Layoffs followed.        
   After the hand-drawn but formulaic PRINCESS AND THE FROG did poorly at the box-office in 2009 and star animator Glen Keane quit in 2012, the pencil animation department was gutted in 2013. Today, it looks as though Eric Goldberg and Mark Henn are the sole pencil-wielding survivors and we wonder what they're working on. If anyone knows please leave a comment here.
    Remember how hopeful we were for the future of hand-drawn animation when John Lasseter took over at Disney? But his comments five years later  seem to indicate consumption of company Kool-aid and no hope of a hand-drawn feature from Disney any time soon.
    It’s sad to see a much-loved art form die, especially as all the arguments that have been made for its discontinuation seem to be specious:
- It requires too many artists and the studio needs to cut back on human resources. But the 2013 digital animation department, which produces safe and derivative content for very young audiences, is even bigger than the old pencil animation unit and produces far fewer hits.
- Hand-drawn animation takes too long to produce. It takes 3 to 4 years to produce a hand-drawn feature and 3 to 4 years to produce a digital feature.
- Hand drawn animation is too expensive. Computer hardware, software and animators cost as much if not more than pencils and paper and artists.
- Nobody wants to see hand-drawn animation. As Lasseter himself said, nobody wants to see BAD hand-drawn animation but they do still want to see hand-drawn animation. The proof is the stunning popularity and box-office successes of BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, ALADDIN and THE LION KING, all just as hand-drawn as the less well-made box-office flops BLACK CAULDRON and PRINCESS AND THE FROG.
    Disney is making shiploads of money from hand-drawn animation by merely marketing the hell out of existing animated classics (all hand-drawn, of course) putting them on Broadway and making live-action film versions of them like CINDERELLA and MALEFICENT. But can this go on forever? Won’t the animation unit have to make something memorable to market the hell out of sooner or later? How much merchandise can you wring out of WRECK-IT RALPH and who even remembers CHICKEN LITTLE?
    Interesting shorts involving hand-drawn animation like PAPERMAN and GET A HORSE are made from time to time but sadly, despite the interest they generate, they’re never followed up by a feature film.