Munir: Welcome to another A Decade Of, where we review animated films from certain time periods. This time, we are discussing the most current decade of Disney Animation to coincide with the release of Frozen II. As always, we’ll begin with an overview of the decade before we delve into specific reviews of each film.
The 2000s were not kind to Disney Animation. After the Renaissance ended with Tarzan in 1999, Disney Animation was no longer the undisputed king of animation. More studios were created during the 90s and early 00s, making the competition more fierce. The main one was Pixar, which jumped into the fray with Toy Story in 1995 and immediately became an instant success. The following decade, Pixar easily took the animation crown as most studios adopted CGI animation instead of the hand-drawn technique. All the films from the Emeryville studio were met with critical acclaim and huge box office earnings. Disney Animation, on the other hand, was struggling to maintain a sense of identity and a place in the industry. Overshadowed by Pixar and DreamWorks Animation, Disney Animation began suffering losses economically but also from critics and audiences alike. Excessive corporate meddling contributed to this disarray, and many projects suffered from it. There were some bright spots (Lilo & Stitch, for example), but overall, that decade was very tumultuous, reminiscent of the 80s, when Disney was also in a crisis. In 2007, after Disney bought Pixar and John Lasseter and Ed Catmull took control of the ailing studio, things started to change. But it was the most current decade where Disney Animation again rose from the ashes and became a powerhouse studio, as it was before. Most of the films from this decade have become very popular and profitable, and have given Disney the upper hand against other competing studios, even going toe to toe with Pixar. What do you think of this decade, Virginia?
V: I do want to say that, personally, I tend to think that people are too hard on the 2000’s in some regards. There were undoubtedly duds for Disney during this time, but they made some good films too, and they have had worse decades. Getting back to this past decade, it’s been very impressive overall. Aside from Winnie the Pooh and Frozen, on which I have mixed feelings, the 2010s have produced a lot of great films and one of my personal favorite Disney movies. 2010’s Tangled is my favorite Disney animated film from this decade and one of my very favorite Disney films. Conversely, I’ll say Winnie the Pooh is my least favorite this decade, despite my love for the characters. Do you have a favorite and least favorite, Munir?
M: Before I answer, I agree that people are too hard on the 00s, and many films have been rediscovered recently. However, I think overall, the 00s were troubling for the studio and the people that worked there because morale was very low. They felt like their work didn’t matter. Now, returning to this decade, I also agree it has an impressive output overall, and I like all the films they have released. If I have to pick a favorite, I would say Zootopia. My least favorite would be either Frozen or Ralph Breaks the Internet, but again, I like them all. One thing that I miss, though, is that Lasseter said that he was going to bring back traditional animation. While he did greenlight The Princess and the Frog and Winnie the Pooh, he then backtracked that decision, which was obviously supported by the top brass. And yes, both films underperformed, but you have to see the circumstances behind their respective releases to see why. We’ll talk more about Winnie The Pooh when we review it. In the case of The Princess and the Frog, the marketing, name change, and proximity to Avatar hurt its prospects. I don’t believe that to be an indicator of people not wanting traditional animation anymore. While I like the films they have done this past decade, I also miss the technique they practically invented and perfected since Walt founded the studio. Now, most American animated films are animated in CG, and I would like to see WDAS return to the technique that made it famous. That would also set it apart from the competition.
V: Maybe we should do the decade of the 2000’s some time so we can go more in-depth on that. Zootopia is a great choice. It’s a very clever movie with gorgeous visuals and likable characters. I would like to see traditional animation make a comeback. I don’t have a preference for any medium over another, but I like to see a variety of methods being utilized. I love that Laika is keeping stop-motion animation alive, and the Jim Henson Company is still at it with puppetry, but in the United States, we don’t see much hand-drawn animation anymore. That is a shame.
M: Exactly. I don’t think any medium is better than the other, but I do think that CG is being overused now, and that is starting to make the films look alike. I would love more variety, and Disney Animation, which made its name and fame with the hand-drawn technique, should be leading the charge. This decade was also one of many triumphs for the studio. It gave them their first Oscar for best animated film for Frozen, a feat they would repeat with Big Hero 6 and Zootopia. Meanwhile, their shorts films Paperman and Feast were also awarded the top prize. Frozen also became the highest-grossing animated film of all time (a feat that was surpassed by the creatively-bankrupt remake of The Lion King but could be reversed again once Frozen II hits theaters). And, last but certainly not least, it was the decade where a woman finally directed an animated film at the studio. Jennifer Lee, who started as a writer on Wreck-It Ralph, directed Frozen and its sequel and now is Chief Creative Officer at the studio. While these things are worthy of celebration, this decade also saw the disgraceful departure of John Lasseter after allegations of improper behavior were uncovered. We talked about this in our Decade Of review of Pixar, but it’s worth mentioning again as Lasseter was credited with revitalizing Disney Animation once again, and the manner of his departure was shameful and utterly disappointing.
V: It’s interesting because, while I like Big Hero 6 and like some aspects of Frozen, Zootopia is the only one of those films that I think deserved the award. 2013 wasn’t a fantastic year or anything, but I thought Hayao Miyazaki’s The Wind Rises was vastly superior to Frozen. On the flip side, 2014 was an incredible year for animation. That year brought us The Lego Movie, How to Train Your Dragon 2, The Boxtrolls, Song of the Sea, The Book of Life, and more. In 2014 and 2015, it seems to me that Disney took home the best animated feature trophy more out of voter apathy or lack of watching all the films. However, both Paperman and Feast were terrific. The worst thing about the Lasseter controversy is that it had to come to this. Shame on Disney for waiting until it was a big deal to act. And even then, his punishment was basically a 6-month paid vacation for an already successful director, studio chief, and vineyard owner. I know companies do things like this all the time, and likely will continue to do so because they never suffer for it. They kept this scumbag in a position of power as long as they could because they don’t care about their employees. As a fan, it was disgusting and devastating to learn the truth about a man that many of us regarded as the next Walt Disney.
M: Agreed. It’s even more infuriating when you think how “indignant” they acted towards James Gunn when those old tweets were released. They fired him on the spot, but they never even condemned Lasseter; they just let him go with a hefty sum of money. Returning to the films, I’m glad Disney rebounded and is back on its feet again. However, if there’s one aspect that I have to complain about with these films (aside from the lack of traditional animation), it’s the overuse of the secret villain twist that started with Wreck-It Ralph. It worked really well in that film, but not so much on the rest. In the end, I also miss the classic, larger than life villains that have become iconic and timeless.
V: I couldn’t agree more. Let’s fire someone on the spot with no investigation of wrongdoing because of decade-old internet posts, but sexually abuse and intimidate your subordinates for years? No problem dude, here’s a paid vacation and a letter of recommendation for your new job. Hypocrites. That’s how you know they were just virtue signaling with Gunn. They don’t care about the integrity of their employees, or whether they actually pose any threat to others. I also agree about the villains. Mother Gothel was the last traditional Disney villain, and I miss them. King Candy has been the only good product of the plot twist trend.
M: Let’s hope we’ll see a return of that archetype in the next decade (or maybe in Frozen II, who knows?). Overall, I think this has been a solid decade for Disney Animation. Their output has been consistently good, and while some films are not great, they are not terrible either. Let’s hope the next decade will build on the strength of this one while also innovating the medium. They should bring fresh and diverse voices and perspectives to honor and continue the legacy Walt Disney left behind.
What do you think of Disney Animation’s more current decade? Let us know in the comments and come back for our review of Tangled!