When I was growing up in the nineties, I was a huge animation fan and the gold standard for quality was always Disney. The VHS tapes my family always watched were Bambi, Cinderella, Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan, One Hundred and One Dalmatians, The Jungle Book, The Rescuers Down Under, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin and The Lion King.
These were the movies that made me into a Disney fan. I wouldn’t become a geek that could name all of their release dates until the 2000s, but the Disney seed had been planted long before then.
Something else that captivated my imagination as a young animation fan was this new thing called computer animation. In the eighties, there were a series of VHS tapes that showcased this new art form that my family watched just as much as our Disney films, including The State of the Art of Computer Animation, Computer Visions and The Mind’s Eye series. It was on these videos that I was first introduced to Pixar after watching The Adventures of André & Wally B., which everyone in my family agreed was the best of all the shorts.
So it was a huge moment when we realized that the same studio behind our favorite CG short was also developing Toy Story for our favorite animation studio Disney.
I continue to be a huge fan of computer animation to this day, and Disney and Pixar coming together felt like a marriage made in heaven. The Toy Story trilogy, Finding Nemo, The Incredibles, Inside Out. These are some of the greatest American films ever made.
The idea of Disney teaming up with Pixar to make CG films is something that I have always supported and I hope their partnership continues, as Buzz Lightyear would say, into infinity and beyond.
But as Pixar movies like Monsters, Inc., Finding Nemo and The Incredibles began overshadowing Disney movies released at the same time like Atlantis: The Lost Empire, Brother Bear and Home on the Range (in addition to the runaway success of films like Shrek and Ice Age), Disney began blaming their box office failure on the medium of hand-drawn animation and decided to shut down the hand-drawn animation studio and work exclusively in CGI, to the shock and dismay of many Disney fans and Disney animators.
According to the documentary Dream on Silly Dreamer, many of the animators took this news hard, not only because they were now unemployed, but because the art form that made them fall in love with Disney in the first place was suddenly being abandoned for no other reason but monetary gain, which was itself a phony notion that assumed that the problem with films like Home on the Range was their animation technique and not their mediocre stories, never mind the fact that Lilo & Stitch was an anomaly that disproved their point about 2D. Yes, it was true that many of the traditionally animated Disney films of the 2000s were not good, but that was because the artists making these movies had little creative control. As one animator put it, Disney had a symphony orchestra and treated it like a boy band.
I took this news hard when I learned of it back in 2004, and while I had hope that the traditional art form would make a comeback after the release of The Princess and the Frog, it seems for the time being that Disney is dedicated to making animated films primarily with computers (it is painful for me to type that).
If you had told me back in the nineties that my enthusiasm for movies like Toy Story was going to lead to the downfall of movies like The Lion King, I would have been in disbelief. There was no way that Disney, the studio responsible for so much amazing hand-drawn animation, would abandon that technique. This was the technique that introduced us to Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, Snow White, Jiminy Cricket, Tinker Bell, Cruella de Vil, Balloo, Ariel and Simba. These movies were classics and many of them could have only been as good as they were if they were drawn by hand.
Computer animation cannot replace hand-drawn animation because they are two completely different things. There are some things that 2D animators can do that 3D animators can never do. How can anyone look at the movies Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and Monsters, Inc. and say that only one of these types of films can exist? One is not better than the other and one is not more worthy of respect than the other. But there are things that one art form can do that the other cannot, which is why I lose my mind when people say they are okay with Disney’s decision to go exclusively CG. It’s as if they have no appreciation for what makes hand-drawn animation so special.
If this is the end of an era (which I still do not believe deep down), I have decided to pay homage to the hand-drawn Disney classics of the past by showing some of the scenes from those films that I think could never be achieved as effectively with CG characters, and this list extends all the way into our current century.