Disney Animated Canon: ‘Big Hero 6’

Disney Animated Canon: ‘Big Hero 6’

The follow up to 2013’s Frozen was a Disney film that was decidedly different than its predecessors, but still retained a bit of that classic Disney charm, and that film was an adaptation of Marvel’s Big Hero 6 comic book. After their acquisition of Marvel in 2009, Disney began researching a number of Marvel storylines for an animated film.

The studio would eventually land on Big Hero 6, and this comic was purposely chosen because of its obscurity. Disney’s version of Big Hero 6 borrows a handful of ideas from the source material, but is largely its own film with its own unique characters and story beats.

Nightlife.jpg

As always with Disney films, the team dedicated a lot of man hours to realizing the look of the film. They created unique rendering systems to convincingly represent foliage, city skylines, cars and buildings. Most notably, Disney created the Hyperion system, which allowed them to create realistic lighting effects across the entire film.

With the character of Baymax, Disney wanted to avoid creating a typical robot. Director Don Hall was inspired by a burgeoning technology known as “soft robotics”, which aimed to give safer and more flexible components to machinery. This tech would serve as the inspiration for Baymax’s non-intimidating “marshmallow” body.

Warm.jpg

As far as superhero film narratives are concerned, Big Hero 6 is pretty standard. Protagonist Hiro’s character arc is a simple, “great power, great responsibility” story, with some personal maturity thrown in for good measure, while the villain is just flat out seeking revenge.

Hiro is a 14 year old prodigy who graduated high school at 13, and spends his time participating in illegal bot fights. After some sly coercing from his older brother, Tadashi, Hiro decides to enroll in the San Fransokyo Institute of Technology.

Bros.jpg

Hiro and Tadashi’s relationship is the emotional throughline that carries Big Hero 6. Tadashi meets a tragic end pretty early on in the film, and Hiro’s journey with coming to terms with this loss is the motivation for every single one of his actions.

Big Hero 6 did a great job of making me care about Tadashi before he was killed. He served as a responsible mentor figure for Hiro, and did his best to keep him on the right path. Even after his death, he still provides support to Hiro when he needs it the most.

Group Selfie.png

Hiro starts out a bit rough around the edges, but he eventually matures into a young man reminiscent of the older brother that he looks up to. He went from being fully prepared to have Baymax kill the villain, to simply apprehending him like a model superhero, and I can really get behind character growth like this.

Aside from Hiro, Tadashi and Baymax, there are a few other characters that round out the film’s principal cast, namely, GoGo, Wasabi, Honey Lemon and Fred. These four characters, along with Hiro and Baymax, make up the titular Big Hero 6.

Town.jpg

These characters are charming, but also a bit on the generic side. Taking a look at just about any still image of them will tell you most of what you need to know about their personality, Wasabi being the major exception. GoGo is the tough and edgy girl, Honey Lemon is the hyperactive and enthusiastic one, and Fred is the laid back, comic relief guy.

Although I found myself really liking these guys, they definitely needed more screentime. Hiro meets each of them when Tadashi shows him around the school’s lab, and this scene was a great introduction for them.

Villain.jpg

But one of the more jarring plot elements of the film is how quickly Hiro and the group become best friends. Aside from their introduction, the group doesn’t have a proper scene with Hiro for some time after Tadashi’s death.

In that time gap, there is one really bad montage that shows snippets of the group helping Hiro with his entrance exam project. Fast forward, and the gang behave as if they have been friends for years.

Big Hero 6.jpg

We also don’t really get to see the team as actual superheroes for very much of the film. I don’t have any real issue with this narratively speaking, as I felt it showed just how inexperienced they are when they take on their first mission, and it was nice getting to know them just a bit before they suit up.

The one plot element that I actively dislike is the villain’s daughter. Up until the reveal that she is alive, Big Hero 6 did an excellent job of subtly highlighting a parallel between Hiro and the villain, and I felt that bringing her back really cheapened the arc of an already simple villain story.

Pals.jpg

Big Hero 6 has some truly beautiful scenery. The film doesn’t do very much with the setting of San Fransokyo with it comes to narrative, but it does provide a backdrop for a few really well done scenes, the best of which is Hiro and Baymax’s flight through the city (though special mention goes to the trip through the portal).

Seeing the pair soar through the sky is reminiscent of many classic Disney films, and I really appreciate that the team let this scene breathe and just be visually impressive. It was also really cool how this scene fed into the story, as the whole purpose of them flying was to gain a higher vantage point for Baymax’s scanner.

Hello.jpg

Though a bit generic at times, Big Hero 6 still displays that Disney magic. The brotherly bond between Hiro and Tadashi, and by extension, Hiro and Baymax, is genuinely touching. The film has a lot of heart, with gorgeous visuals and cool action scenes to boot, and has a very unique spot in Disney’s line of animated classics.

Advertisements

Disney Animated Canon: ‘Alice In Wonderland’

Disney Animated Canon: ‘Alice In Wonderland’

Walt Disney was a man who never truly gave up on an idea once it came to him. He would simply shelve the thought until he could give it life in a meaningful way. Such is the case with 1951’s Alice in Wonderland.

Walt, like many other children, adored the original Lewis Carroll Alice novels during his early years, and the story was one of the first ones that spoke to him when he originally conceived the idea of a feature length animated film, even before Snow White.

Rabbit Hole.png

Funnily enough however, Walt’s original vision for the film was a hybrid of live action and animation. But by 1946, production on the film moved forward as a fully animated feature, with the most commonly cited reason being Walt’s dissatisfaction with Paramount’s 1933 Alice adaptation.

A rough version of the film was completed by 1939, but Walt had a number of issues with both the art direction and the tone of the script. Due to a combination of economic factors such as World War II, and the production of other Disney projects like Bambi and Pinocchio, Alice In Wonderland was once again put on the backburner.

White Rabbit.jpg

In spite of its on again, off again development cycle, Alice in Wonderland did eventually see completion. Out of all the classic films in Disney’s canon, this film is one of the more interesting ones to study from a story structure perspective.

The film opens with Alice casually ignoring lessons from her teacher, followed by her singing the wonderful song, In A World Of My Own. A hop, skip and a white rabbit later, and Alice is floating down a hole into the titular Wonderland.

Tea Party.jpg

Wonderland is a place where anything can happen. Everything that shouldn’t be, is, and nothing is impossible (though some things are certainly impassable). This gives the film the perfect excuse to just go absolutely crazy with its scenes and set pieces.

Alice in Wonderland has scenes that are so distinct and drawn out that you could blink, and almost think you’re watching an entirely different Disney film. One scene in particular, the story that Tweedledee and Tweedledum recount to Alice, goes on for minutes without showing our cheeky, blonde heroine.

Other Twins.jpg

 

Speaking of characters, Alice in Wonderland has an almost staggering amount of them, but the film handles such a large cast in a masterful way. With the exception of the White Rabbit, the Cheshire Cat and Alice herself, no one character sticks around past their unique scene.

But each and every one of them manages to be memorable because of how interesting their segments are. One of the Wonderland denizens that Alice encounters is a hookah loving caterpillar with a strange habit of emphasizing his vowels, but she also comes across a doorknob who never really gives straight answers.

Alice and the Queen.png

The most notable characters are the Queen of Hearts and the Mad Hatter, but even they pale in comparison to the infamous Cheshire Cat. Not only is he perhaps the most quotable (and cryptic) Disney character of all time, but he occasionally appears to chat with Alice, sometimes even giving her a bit of helpful advice.

Alice in Wonderland isn’t about some grand journey. Rather, it is the story of a curious little girl. With the nature of the story being simple curiosity, Alice doesn’t need to change or grow very much over the course of the story. Instead, she is the perfect vehicle for the audience to enjoy Wonderland.

Mad Hatter.png

The story aspect that fascinates me the most about Alice in Wonderland is her pursuit of the White Rabbit. This is what sets Alice on her journey to begin with, and also what convinces her to plunge deeper and deeper into Wonderland.

And what intrigues me so much is the fact that she never catches the rabbit. She goes through multiple tumultuous situations, but never claims the prize she was after in the first place. I’m sure there’s some really deep meaning behind that, but I’m not quite smart enough to figure it out.

Cave Painting.jpg

My only major problem with the film as a whole is Alice’s breakdown scene near the story’s end. She tearfully laments the fact that she is trapped in such an unsettling place, and desperately wishes to return home.

My issue with this scene is that it had no build up. Up to this point, Alice was an energetic young girl who longed for a place beyond the boredom of the real world, making her tears and sorrow feel forced. This scene was probably necessary to provide context for when she does eventually go home, but there still needed to be a more gradual emotional escalation.

Caterpillar 2.jpg

Alice in Wonderland was far from a critical darling upon its initial release. It was panned by fans of the original Alice stories, and Disney was accused of  “Americanizing” the source material. The film wouldn’t be celebrated for years after its release, and eventually gained quite the following with youth culture due to its association with psychedelic drugs (something Walt himself was unhappy about).

Beyond this fact, Alice in Wonderland was looked upon more kindly by general viewers in the years after its release, and I personally appreciate how bold the film was for how it handled set pieces, as well as the wonderful animation that accompanied them.

Cheshire Cat.jpg

Alice in Wonderland manages to be both whimsical, and stylistically different from its sibling films in a way that makes it almost unsettling at times. Wonderland is such a great setting to explore, and it amazes me that Disney’s team created a place where anything can happen, but nothing ever feels disjointed or out of place.

Alice in Wonderland is a great watch, even if just to see how insane a place like Wonderland can be. Mystery is around every corner, and you never know who or what you’ll run into next. If you ever decide to go, I’d recommend avoiding any cats with big smiles and wide eyes.

Disney Animated Canon: ‘Bambi’

Disney Animated Canon: ‘Bambi’

Historical facts for this essay were drawn from the bonus features of the Walt Disney Signature Collection release of the film, as well as this fantastic article written by Johnathan North of the Rotoscopers.

The final film in Walt Disney Animation’s Golden Age lineup is none other than Bambi. Bambi was originally released in 1942, but Walt Disney had actually planned for the film to be the follow up to Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Bambi turned out to have quite the arduous production however, so the project was put on the backburner so that the team could focus on Pinocchio and Fantasia.

Unlike the other Disney films of this era, the original story of Bambi was not a children’s book. Written by Austrian author Felix Salten, Bambi, A Life in the Woods was a distinctly adult novel, making it much harder to adapt into a story that is more in line with the rest of Disney’s catalogue.

Owl.jpg

Bambi also presented Walt and his team of animators the challenge of accurately representing realistic animal movement patterns. Up to this point, Disney was known primarily for their cuddly and cartoony animals, and not so much for realism. As such, Bambi became the first film to utilize a practice that is still employed at the company to this day, and that is detailed research.

The animation team was given the opportunity to get up close and personal with many of the woodland creatures that are featured in the film. Walt had them study various elements of animal anatomy so that they could better understand their movements. Disney is quite famous for this level of authenticity, as they did the exact same thing with animal walk cycles and fur patterns for The Lion King, as well as the Swedish structures featured in Frozen.

Bunnies.jpg

Watching Bambi’s movements in the film really drives home just how dedicated they were to being as realistic as possible. Bambi is just as lanky as any other newly born fawn, and way that the deer leap and bound across the meadows is very impressive.

Bambi was one of Disney’s greatest breakthroughs in what is known as effects animation. Elements like raindrops and lightning were of great importance to the film’s aesthetic. The animation team would spend hours watching water drip and breaking glass, all in an effort to better render these moments in animation.

Flower.jpg

Another challenging task for the film were the backgrounds. Forests in real life are thick and obtrusive, making them a poor match for Bambi’s more cheerful moments. As such, the team opted for softer, painterly style backgrounds.

Walt himself wanted to the film to have a greater sense of depth than Disney’s previous efforts, and he used the 1937 short film, The Old Mill, as a test bed of sorts for new camera techniques (not unlike what was done during the Silly Symphonies),  giving the film a much more realistic framework.

Older.jpg

The story begins with the birth of a young fawn named Bambi. Almost the entire forest shows up to witness the first moments of the soon to be prince of the forest, and Bambi quickly makes friends with a young bunny named Thumper (and later, an absolutely adorable skunk named Flower).

The major narrative themes of Bambi are growth and discovery. Bambi doesn’t embark on some grand quest across the land, he is simply a young fawn learning his place in the world, and of the responsibilities that will one day be his.

Father.jpg

Eventually, Bambi is forced to learn the harsh realities of the world beyond his comfy little thicket. Humans are the primary antagonist in Bambi, and hunting season is an especially harrowing time for the residents of the forest. The hunting element is an important footnote in this film’s history, as it was actually disparaged by real world hunting organizations for its portrayal of the sport.

One of the most famous scenes in the film is the death of Bambi’s mother. As she is enjoying spending time in the meadows with her son, she notices the presence of humans. Without hesitation, she instructs Bambi to race towards their thicket, but she is unable to join him.

Fire.png

Disney’s history has no shortage of tragic moments, and this was perhaps the start of them. What I find really interesting about her death is the way in which Bambi reacts to it. As humans, we typically go through a period of mourning for our loved ones. But as an animal, and one with great responsibility, Bambi is forced to continue his growth without the aid of his mother.

Bambi is somewhat of an oddball in Disney’s Golden Age, as it was not as critically lauded as its predecessors. Disney’s audience was conditioned to expect whimsical fantasy stories from the company, but Bambi, although still upbeat at times, was much more grounded than say, Pinocchio or Dumbo.

Faline.jpg

Bambi was also not financially successful. World War II prevented the film from being released in European territories, cutting off a significant area of profit for the company. And again, many critics did not like that the film was not a fantasy, even Walt’s own daughter!

But Bambi has proved itself to be a film that earned the respect it rightfully deserved. Subsequent re-releases of the film allowed it to become profitable, and in 2011 it was inducted into the National Film Registry at the Library of Congress for its resonant message of nature conservation.

I feel that Bambi was a great film to cap off Disney’s Golden Age. As a fan of animation and Disney history, I really appreciate just how different it was compared to its sibling films, with its greater emphasis on realism. Bambi is a great film, and I’m certain that it paved the way for more mature storytelling and theming in animated films.

Twins.jpg

Disney Animated Canon: ‘Pinocchio’

Disney Animated Canon: ‘Pinocchio’

The Walt Disney Animation company was on top of the world after the success of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. The film was a technical marvel and a critical darling, and Walt Disney and his team truly showed what animation was capable of. Looking to further innovate in the field of animation, Walt used the profits from Snow White to build a new studio, and upgrade most of his crew’s equipment.

Walt Disney was a man who was simultaneously able to live in the moment, and look forward to the future, so while Snow White was in production, he already had his eyes set on the company’s next feature length film, 1940’s Pinocchio.

Happy

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was the result of years of experimentation in animation techniques, musical sequences and narrative, all culminating in the first ever feature length piece of animation. It is a historically ambitious film, but the studio sought to achieve even greater heights with their follow up film.

Pinocchio really demonstrates just how much Disney learned about feature length production. Walt specifically encouraged his team to come up with as many ideas as possible, hoping to foster an attitude of unbridled creativity. As such, Pinocchio takes the audience to numerous fresh and exciting locales.

Bue Fairy.jpg

In the opening scene, Geppetto the craftsman is dancing through an intricately detailed workshop with his latest puppet creation, all while being accompanied by his little black cat, Figaro, as well as Cleo the goldfish. Later scenes will show Pinocchio as a member of a traveling stage show, on a whimsical, yet haunting island and even in the belly of a whale.

Pinocchio’s structure is borderline episodic at times, almost as if you could divide the film up into a mini television series. This is largely because the original story of Pinocchio, written by Italian artist Carlo Collodi, was told in individual trades, until they were later compiled into a single book.

Honest John.jpg

This is also shown in the number of one off characters that are featured in Pinocchio. The silver tongued Honest John, the ill-tempered and greedy Stromboli, and even Pinocchio’s naughty friend Lampwick, it’s commendable just how well Disney was able to fit such memorable characters into a rather tight story.

Disney’s adaptations are quite famous for hitting many of the high points and key characters from the source material, but softening them up a bit to make them more appealing (though many Disney films do retain the darker elements of the original stories). Pinocchio is the first major example of this.

Figaro.jpg

Collodi’s Pinocchio was a cocky and brash mischief maker, while the Disney rendition is a sweet but naive little boy. As I said before, this was done to make Pinocchio, the character who was the crux of the entire story, more endearing to the audience. This was so imperative that at one point, Walt halted production on the film in order to perfectly capture the look of Pinocchio.

Many of the original characters sketches of Pinocchio were much more rigid, wooden and, well… puppet-like. The character would eventually be given more rounded, human like edges, while still retaining the look of something made from wood.

Jiminy

 

Another thing that separates the two Pinocchios is the character of Jiminy Cricket. In Collodi’s story, Jiminy was an almost insignificant character, one that Pinocchio actually killed with a brick (he would later return as a ghost). But Disney decided to depict Jiminy as Pinocchio’s conscience, a guiding voice on his shoulder to show him the right way of doing things.

Jiminy doesn’t actually give Pinocchio too much advice, and Pinocchio is usually easily convinced by people like Honest John to do the exact opposite of what he was told. This may seem at odds with Jiminy’s role in the story, but I feel that Disney was aiming not for Jiminy to hold Pinocchio’s hand the entire way, but to represent what it means to be good and virtuous, and I found this to be very effective.

Lampwick

On the surface, the Collodi and Disney takes on the character seem worlds apart, and in many ways, they are. But in actuality, both characters share the theme of temptation. Thematic elements such as fame, fortune, cigars and alcohol are prevalent all throughout Pinocchio, with the pinnacle example being the Pleasure Island segment, (formerly known as Boobyland).

Pinocchio eventually gets swept up with a horde of other little boys, and sent to a seemingly wonderful place known as Pleasure Island. Here, the boys are given unlimited freedom. Cigars and pitchers of beer are easy to find, there are houses that exist exclusively to be torn apart and pool halls are a common sight. However, Pleasure Island isn’t all fun and games. The island’s true purpose is to turn delinquent boys into donkeys to be captured and sold.

Horror.png

The scenes depicting the boys transforming into donkeys are genuinely unsettling. As a child, this was one of the few things that I was frightened of, and as an adult, the animation still manages to elicit chills and beads of sweat out of me.

The look on Pinocchio’s face as he witnesses his friend Lampwick sprout ears really shows the power of an animator’s hands, and I especially love the way Pinocchio discards his cigar and alcohol with utter disgust. As a whole, Pinocchio’s animation is positively breathtaking, so much so that it’s almost hard to believe that only a handful of years separate it and Snow White.

Beer.jpg

Most of the film’s characters are cartoony and exaggerated, and this gave the team quite a bit more creative freedom. But even the film’s one realistic character, the benevolent Blue Fairy, shows the fruits of Disney’s efforts when it came to animating the character of Snow White.

Pinocchio also has an extremely cool set piece in the form of Monstro the whale. This sequence involved some rather arduous technical skill, as animating water is notoriously difficult. But the team didn’t cut any corners in this regard, as watching this gargantuan whale dive in and out of the ocean, and knocking Pinocchio and Geppetto all over the place was very impressive.

No Strings.jpg

 

Pinocchio did wonderful with critics, and was even the first Disney film to be nominated for the Academy Awards for Best Score and Best Song with “When You Wish Upon A Star”. But the film’s critical success did not reflect its box office numbers. Pinocchio was not nearly as profitable as Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, and it cost about twice as much to produce.

But in spite of its financial failings, Pinocchio is still regarded as one of the best Disney films of all time. The film has no shortage of iconic moments. Pinocchio’s nose growing when he tells a lie, the Blue Fairy, Jiminy Cricket,and especially Pleasure Island *shudders*, all of these moments have managed to stick with audiences decades after Pinocchio was released.

Real Boy.jpg

Pinocchio may not have been the follow up to Snow White that it needed to be in terms of financial success, but it more than made up for it by just how lovingly crafted the entire project is. The film perfectly encapsulates the idea of Disney magic, right down to it’s famous song about wishing upon stars. Anything your heart desires is sure to come to you, so long as you believe with all of your heart.

Disney Animated Canon: ‘Tangled’

Disney Animated Canon: ‘Tangled’

The Walt Disney Animation company is currently enjoying a second renaissance of sorts that is known as the Disney Revival era, and the film that started it all is 2010’s Tangled, the 50th film in Disney’s Animated Canon. Tangled had somewhat of a tumultuous production cycle, and was even officially cancelled until John Lasseter decided to revive the project shortly after its cancellation.

Tangled is estimated to have spent about six years in production, and its roughly $260 million budget makes it the most expensive animated movie of all time. But the time, money and effort that went into Tangled was all worth it. Not only was the film a huge success at the box office, but it was Disney’s most critically acclaimed film in years.

Looking Outside.jpg

Tangled is the first film that sprang from Disney’s decision to focus strictly on computer animation, and it is their first film that I believe matched their sister studio, Pixar, in terms of sheer visual fidelity. I never felt that Disney’s previous attempts at computer animation stood up very well against the company’s contemporaries, with 2008’s Bolt being a notable exception (and a film I find to be a bit underappreciated).

One need only look at Rapunzel’s hair to realize that Tangled is pushing the boundaries for what can be done with animation. One of my favorite things about Disney and Pixar is the fact that they aren’t just interested in telling cool stories, but also challenging themselves with various feats of animation.

Outside.jpg

Rapunzel’s hair is 70 feet long, and animating all of that blonde was one of the most arduous parts of the film. To better learn how to manage so much hair, Disney actually brought in a woman named Kelly Ward. Ward has a PhD in hair, and instructed the team on the different ways that hair reacts to things like light. Disney is quite famous for this type of authenticity, as they did similar studies for the animal walk cycles in The Lion King, and the snow effects found in Frozen.

Rapunzel’s hair is gorgeous, but it isn’t just for show. Her hair’s length and color are an important part of the film’s narrative, and actually contain special rejuvenative properties. Rapunzel is also capable of manipulating her hair in a variety of ways, the most notable being her ability to use it as a rope, which makes for a deadly attack when paired with her patented frying pan.

Wake Up.jpg

Tangled’s narrative carries a tone that would not feel out of place amongst the films from the Disney Renaissance. It’s a modern, comedy styled rendition of a classic fairy tale, and it still packs the emotional punch that is to be expected from Disney. I really loved how well paced the story was, as the film spends just the right amount of time on pretty much every scene.

Tangled also has a fantastic cast. I’ll go more into detail on Rapunzel in a bit, but her companion, Flynn Rider, is one of the standout characters of the film. He’s a twist on the conventional Disney Prince archetype, as he’s somewhat of a mix between the brash and arrogance of Gaston, and the better qualities of someone like Prince Eric.

Mother Gothel 2.jpg

Tangled also gave us not only the best villain of the Revival era, but one of the best villains in the company’s history. Mother Gothel is deliciously evil, and she reminds me quite a bit of other Disney greats like Scar and Cruella De Vil. Her evil smirk alone is enough to qualify her for best Disney villain.

Before Moana came along, I always struggled to decide on a favorite Disney Princess. But whenever I would attempt to finally pick one, I always found myself to be more drawn to the ones that were full of life, and embodied personal dreams. I’ve always loved Ariel from The Little Mermaid. I greatly admired her dream of seeing the world beyond her home, and the way that Disney was able to capture this passion through animation.

Kingdom.jpg

I find Rapunzel to be the modern version of everything that made Ariel great. She has always longed to see what lies beyond the walls of her tower, and to get an up close view of the lanterns that fly every year on her birthday. Her eyes always have a certain shimmer to them, and this, in conjunction with her youthful appearance, makes her one of the more adorable Disney Princesses.

One of my favorite moments in the film is when Rapunzel takes her first steps outside her tower. She’s initially reluctant to let her feet touch the grass, but her pure delight at the new sensation, as well as the look on her face, made me feel genuinely happy.

Love.jpg

Seeing her dash through the fields and splash in the ponds (to the obvious delight of Mr. Rider) was a really special moment, and this excitement, and sometimes fear, is a constant throughout the entire film. All of this culminates in her boat ride with Flynn, in which she finally gets so see her birthday lanterns take flight.

Tangled is one of the most important films in Disney’s catalogue. It took the essence of what made Disney films special in the first place, and brought it back in a new and exciting way. This film paved the way for others such as Frozen, Moana and even Pixar’s Brave, and it absolutely earned all of the recognition that it received. (Side note: I’m really excited to see Tangled featured in Kingdom Hearts III!)

 

Disney Animated Canon: ‘Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs’

Disney Animated Canon: ‘Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs’

The historical facts found in this piece were pulled from personal knowledge, as well as the various bonus features that can be found in the Walt Disney Signature Collection release of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.

The Walt Disney Animation company is the house that was built by a mouse. The foundation for everything that the company represents today was established by the Mickey Mouse shorts from the Golden Age of animation, starting with 1928’s Steamboat Willie.

But in order for any structure to remain stable and prosperous for decade after decade, a few renovations need to be made here and there. Mickey Mouse may be the foundation, but 1937’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs forever altered the course of not only Disney, but the entirety of the animation industry.

Walt.jpg

Walt Disney was inspired to make Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs after witnessing a silent film based on the fairy tale during his childhood. After returning home from a trip to Europe in 1935, Walt began assembling the team that would ultimately create the world’s first piece of feature length animation.

But why did Walt even want to make feature length animation? When word spread about the project, the film was infamously derided as “Disney’s Folly”, and certain critics even believed that the bright colors that accompany long form animation would cause eye strain for the viewers.

Animals

Making matters worse was the film’s ever increasing budget. Walt initially projected the film to cost $250,000 to make, and this number quickly became $400,000. From here, the budget continue to grow until Roy Disney, Walt’s brother, told him that he would have to present the film (in an unfinished state, mind you) to the banks in order to garner further investment.

But against all odds, Walt and his team pushed through. One reason for Walt’s fervor was his belief that feature length animation was the future of the medium, and instrumental to its longevity. Before Snow White, animation came largely in the form of theatrical shorts that were focused on comedy and gags, and while there are plenty of laughs to be had in Snow White, Disney specifically aimed for a higher level of storytelling with this project.

Queen.png

 

“With every laugh, there must be a tear”. This famous quote by Walt perfectly encapsulates the tone and theming of Snow White. The film is funny, charming and whimsical, but also has its moments of profound sadness. The ending is especially poignant, as the viewer is forced to see the normally cheerful Dwarfs in tears over the loss of their friend.

Just as memorable as the tears that followed the end of the film’s story, was the music. When discussing the film’s soundtrack, Walt stated that music would be the thing that stayed with the audience long after their initial viewing. In addition, it was crucial that each song tied into the narrative in some way, even if it’s something as simple as Snow White and her animal companions singing Whistle While You Work as they clean the Dwarf’s cottage.

Concept Art.jpg

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs featured a number of key animators whose efforts were a large part in crafting the film’s distinct visual style. Albert Hurter and Gustaf Tenggren inspired the team with their European artist sensibilities, while famous Disney artist Fred Moore debuted what we recognize as Disney’s aesthetic. But my favorite tidbit about the film’s animation is the fact that Arthur “Art” Babbitt, the creator of Goofy, was charged with animating the Evil Queen, a stark contrast to say the least.

Snow White is one of the best examples I’ve seen of a team that took advantage of every scene in the film. Not a single frame of animation is wasted. Snow White’s hand motions as she scrubs the cobblestones have meaning, Dopey’s hitch step that was given to him by animator Frank Thomas has meaning, even the Queen’s exaggerated arm motions have meaning. Every shot in Snow White looked like it received an equal amount of attention, and the film has aged incredibly well as a result.

Apple.jpg

I’ve said quite a bit about this film without talking about the titular characters, but they are what actually sell the film. Snow White is the first Disney Princess, and as such, she is the standard to which all subsequent Princesses must be held to. Famous Art Director Michael Giaimo stated that it is difficult for a film to not be evocative of the time in which it was made. This means Snow White, as a female, can be a bit more reactive as opposed to proactive at times.

But having said that, I never felt that it made her any less endearing as a character. She is a great representation of some of the most basic, but important human qualities. She is kind, loving and generous, but she’s also not afraid to give Grumpy a playful ribbing every now and again. You can genuinely see bits and pieces of Snow White in every other Disney Princess.

Dwarfs

 

The Dwarfs themselves are all amazing and unique characters, and they are the source of most of the film’s gags. One would think that having seven different characters of similar physical stature (short with beards) would make each Dwarf less distinct as an individual. But somehow, the team was able to really flesh out each of their personalities.

Each Dwarf has a name that gives somewhat of a surface level idea of who they should be. These names manifest mostly in the form of adjectives, giving us Dwarfs named Sleepy, Bashful and Happy. Some people may find the Dwarfs to be rather one note as a result, but I found myself recalling specific moments focusing on each of them after the film ended.

Prince.jpg

The legacy of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs cannot be understated. Symbols like the poisoned apple, the Magic Mirror and Snow White’s fair visage have become permanently ingrained in our culture, and the film gave us the Walt Disney company whose creations take residence in the memories of every child..

The film’s production is the most important story in all of animation history. It is impossible to predict what the future of the medium would have been had it not evolved past the animated short, and the fruits of Disney’s labor were so sweet that the film was immediately regarded as a classic. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs paved the way for all of the stories that are etched into my heart, and for animation to be as prosperous as it is to this day.

 

What Happened To The Traditionally Animated Feature?

What Happened To The Traditionally Animated Feature?

The art of animation has fascinated me for as long as I can remember. As a child, my love of animation was purely surface level, but my formative years were spent developing a deep appreciation for the animation process, the creative minds behind said process, and the history of the medium as a whole, and the most interesting facet of animation history to me is the decline of the traditionally animated feature.

Traditional, or 2d, animation is what made the Walt Disney Animation Company what it is today. The production house rose to prominence with the help of projects like Steamboat Willie and the Silly Symphonies of the Golden Age of animation, all of which culminated in the 1937 release of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, the first feature length animated film. Disney’s history is rife with traditionally animated classics, so it should come as no surprise that they were the company most heavily affected by the industry wide shift to computer animated films.

The Disney Renaissance

The Lion King.jpg

The 1990’s saw Disney return to form in a way that hadn’t been seen in decades. The 1989 release of The Little Mermaid kicked off an era for the company that is known as the Disney Renaissance. In what is widely debated as being the most successful era for the company, the Renaissance era featured beloved classics such as Beauty and the Beast, The Lion King, Mulan and Aladdin.

Almost every film released during this time period was an absolute box office juggernaut, the only exception being 1990’s The Rescuers Down Under. Also of note is the fact that most of the films were Broadway-esque musicals, a theme that the company specifically sought to capture during development of The Little Mermaid.

Ballroom

The Renaissance era is also notable for having a few of its films be record breakers. Beauty and the Beast was the first ever animated film to be nominated for an Academy Award for Best Picture. Aladdin was the highest grossing animated film of all time upon its release, but it was later surpassed by The Lion King, which is currently the highest grossing traditionally animated film, and fifth overall.

Disney was unstoppable during the Renaissance era. They once again became a dominant force in the field of animation, and created some of the most revered films in their entire catalogue. This makes the decade that would follow all the more interesting, as it is a period of stark contrast to the success that the company enjoyed during this time.

The Animation Industry: Post-Disney Renaissance

Surfing.jpg

During the latter half of the Disney Renaissance of the 1990’s, a fledgling animation studio began it’s rise to prominence. 1995 saw the release of the first computer animated feature length film, Pixar’s Toy Story. Released as a joint venture with Disney themselves, Toy Story took the world by storm, and was the start to not only a lifelong relationship with Disney, but to Pixar becoming a name in the animation industry that is synonymous with quality.

Subsequent Pixar releases such as A Bug’s Life and Toy Story 2 solidified the company’s place in animation, and all three of their 1990’s films grossed higher than their Disney counterparts released in the same year. Pixar’s runaway success sparked an interest in computer animation at Disney. They had been experimenting with the technique for quite sometime, and some of Pixar’s animation tools were actually used in Beauty and the Beast, but in 2000 they would release their first computer animated film, Dinosaur.

Toy Story.jpg

 

Dinosaur was a technical marvel by the standards of the time, and is still impressive in some ways today. And while the film was a success at the box office, it didn’t quite capture the hearts and imaginations of audiences like Pixar’s films did. Making matters even worse was the surge in popularity of the company DreamWorks. Previous efforts by the company such as Antz and The Prince of Egypt were critically acclaimed, but 2001’s Shrek was a success on an entirely different level.

Disney’s efforts during the Renaissance era went largely uncontested, but in the post-Renaissance world, they had two major rivals in Pixar and DreamWorks. While these company’s films were very stylistically different, they did share one commonality in that they were completely computer animated. This marked the start of computer animation being viewed as something for all ages to enjoy, while traditional animation was looked down upon as cheap content that is suitable for children to watch after school.

Treasure Planet

Not helping the situation was the fact that the quality of Disney’s films during this time had dropped off significantly. The post-Renaissance era has some undeniable classics in Lilo & Stitch, which I would argue is just as good as any of the Renaissance films, and The Emperor’s New Groove (and Bolt, which I find to be a little underrated). There’s even a few cult classics in Treasure Planet and Atlantis: The Lost Empire. But the rest of the films from this time are mixed at best.

Brother Bear is a decent film, but Home on the Range is arguably one of the company’s worst ones. Chicken Little and Meet The Robinsons were Disney’s attempts at computer animation following Dinosaur, and these films are also somewhat of a mixed bag. Both films have cute stories, but the animation failed to match the quality found in Disney’s contemporaries. In summation, Disney’s failures during this decade were the result of their own films dipping in quality, and the rise of new technology in the industry.

The Disney Revival

Princess Tiana.jpg

Disney’s 2009 film, The Princess & The Frog, is the subject of much debate in the animation community. Thematically, it set the precedent for the Disney films that would follow it, but its box office performance was much weaker than that of its successors. So the question often comes up, should this film be considered the one that started the current era in Disney animation history, the Disney Revival, or is it a transitional film that sits squarely at the end of the post-Renaissance era? 

The Princess & The Frog is an important film for a number of reasons. For one, it was Disney’s first attempt at a classic princess fairy tale since the Renaissance years. Second, it is currently the company’s last attempt at a traditionally animated feature on a large scale. The company did release a new version of Winnie The Pooh in 2011, but this film was a much smaller project than The Princess & The Frog.

Rapunzel.jpg

In 2006, Disney officially acquired Pixar, and two of the company’s founders, Ed Catmull and John Lasseter, began overseeing both Disney and Pixar’s animated features. Disney had previously stated that Home on the Range would be their last traditionally animated film, but Catmull and Lasseter quickly revoked this decision, and decided to move forward with production of The Princess & The Frog. Many key writers and animators from the company’s history were brought back for the project, and the film was seen as a major relaunch for Disney’s theatrical releases.

The Princess & The Frog was a critical darling, and although it did recoup its budget, it failed to meet the box office expectations that Disney had set for it. This was seen as the final nail in the coffin for traditional animation in a theatrical sense, and Disney hasn’t released one in a major way since then.

Elsa.jpg

Box office failure aside, The Princess & The Frog was successful in at least one aspect. It showed that Disney was committed to going back to what made critics and audiences fall in love with them in the first place, the classic fairy tale. I stated before that thematically, the film set a standard for subsequent ones to follow, leading to the 2010 release of Tangled.

Both critically and financially, Tangled was a rousing success. It was the first Disney computer animated film that I personally felt lived up the standards set by Pixar, and was also noteworthy for featuring an art style that blended in elements of traditional animation, allowing the film to stand out in the crowd. The characters and environments in Tangled really do look like they were hand drawn first, and then translated to the computer.

Big Hero 6.jpg

Tangled showed that the house of mouse hadn’t lost its magic, and the other films of the Revival Era helped further proved this point. Wreck-It Ralph was a huge success, but 2013’s  Frozen was an absolute titan of a film. With over one billion dollars in revenue, Frozen is the highest grossing animated film of all time, and one of the highest grossing overall. Tons and tons of Frozen merchandise can be seen on store shelves and in Disney parks to this day, and the soundtrack in particular was a cultural phenomenon.

Frozen has thus far been followed by Big Hero 6, Zootopia and Moana, with Zootopia also bringing in over one billion dollars. But the Revival era films aren’t just insanely profitable, they are considered to be some of the best films that Disney has made in years, which is why the Revival era is oftentimes referred to as the 2nd Disney Renaissance.

Moana

What impresses me the most about these films is the fact that not only are there many more competitors in the field of animation, but each of them is putting out some of the best work they’ve ever done. DreamWorks continues to be successful with Shrek sequels, Kung Fu Panda and How to Train Your Dragon, while Pixar has released classic films such as Toy Story 3, Up and Inside Out, which I consider to be one of the best animated films of all time.

Disney’s old friend Blue Sky is still around, but there are also new players like Illumination Entertainment with the Despicable Me franchise, featuring the over one billion dollar grossing Minions film, as well as Warner Animation Group with The Lego Movie and Lego Batman. Disney has never had to perform in a field this skilled or diverse before, but it is truly commendable that they have been able to not only keep pace with their contemporaries, but outperform them time and time again.

The Future Of Traditional Animation

Paperman and Woman.jpg

In a time where every major animation company is utilizing computer generated animation, what is the state of traditional animation? While the style is alive and well on television, there hasn’t been a traditionally animated theatrical film since 2011, at least in a mainstream fashion. Is traditional animation still looked at as something for children, are have we finally gotten to a time where 2d and 3d animation can profitably coexist? To answer these questions, we need to take a trip just a little ways across the ocean.

In many ways, Japan is keeping the traditionally animated feature alive. Films based on popular anime such as Dragon Ball, Naruto and One Piece still perform incredibly well at Japanese box offices, while original works from Mamoru Hosoda and Studio Ghibli (whose films are published by Disney overseas) make waves worldwide.

Your Name..jpg

2016’s Your Name. has been the most recent success for traditional animation, and is easily the best thing to happen to the medium in the last decade. Not only was it incredibly popular in its native country of Japan, but its national release made it the highest grossing anime film of all time, as well as one of the top ten highest grossing traditionally animated films, with the majority of the other nine being works by Disney.

Speaking of Disney, some of their recent projects show that they haven’t entirely given up on traditional animation. I stated before that Tangled featured elements of the style, but after production wrapped on that film, Disney began work on an animated short known as Paperman, a hybrid of traditional and computer generated animation.

Paperman's Letter.jpg

Paperman was Disney’s first use of a new, experimental technology known as Meander. The purpose of Meander was to more accurately represent the artist’s emotions by being able to more organically create lines and curves. This technology would be used again in the 2014 short, Feast.

Disney has stated that the Meander technology isn’t yet advanced enough to produce a feature length film, but both myself and many other animation fans would absolutely love to see one sometime in the future. It’s been a few years since we’ve seen Meander in action, but I’m confident that they are still working hard on it, as well as thinking about its future applications.

A Traditional Renaissance

Peanuts.jpg

With the success of films like Your Name., in conjunction with Disney’s continued development of the Meander technology, I feel pretty strongly that we will see a resurgence of traditionally animated features in the coming decade. Whether we get them in the form of genuine 2d films like the aforementioned Your Name., hybrid films like Paperman or even computer generated films that are evocative of traditional ones like The Peanuts Movie, I’m extremely hopeful about the future of the medium.

Be it an enthusiastic college graduate, or John Lasseter himself, there’s no doubt in my mind that someone at one of the major production houses is thinking about bringing back the traditionally animated feature. I can only dream about what a modern take on the style by Disney would look like, and I genuinely believe that there is room for both traditional and computer generated animation to both thrive and be enjoyed.