When John Lasseter joined the Disney company, one of the things he promised was the return of hand-drawn 2D animation, since Michael Eisner and his cronies decided to shut it down after a string of failures such as Atlantis: The Lost Empire, Treasure Planet, and Home on the Range. Lasseter's original plan was to make hand-drawn films in addition to CG films. The pattern was after a CG feature, a 2D feature would follow. For a while, that seemed to be the case. First there was Bolt (the first film of the New Age), The Princess and the Frog, Tangled, Winnie the Pooh, and Wreck-It Ralph. Since Ralph was CG, we would assume that the studios next film, Frozen (lame title by the way), would be 2D to keep up this pattern. As it turns out, however, Frozen will be CG. But Frozen will be an interesting beast; similar to the short Paperman, Frozen will combine 2D and 3D. Whereas Paperman was 2D drawings over 3D animation, Frozen will be 3D renders over 2D animation. On one hand, the characters will have the movements of 2D characters thus keeping the talent of the animators alive. On the other hand, Frozen will have the look of a CG feature. It's a nice experiment with animation and it looks great; but we would like to see straight-up 2D animation on the big-screen again. Since there is a large demand for it, why doesn't Disney deliver? Well, the answer is a little... complicated, to say the least.
Let's start with The Princess and the Frog, the first 2D feature Disney produced since Home on the Range in 2004. The film made over $250 million at the box-office on a very modest $105 million budget (way cheaper than the avergage CG feature). That's certainly impressive compared to some of the previous 2D Disney films (Atlantis - $186 million. Treasure Planet - $109 million. Home on the Range - $103 million) and considering it was released near blockbusters like Avatar and Alvin & the Chipmunks 2. It also helped that critics and fans responed happily to it. It was a success, bit it wasn't the massive Lion King-sized hit Disney wanted.
Then there is Winnie the Pooh: 2011 Variety. Sadly, Pooh made a measly $33 million at the box-office, just barely making back it's very small budget of $30 million despite wide critical acclaim. Releasing it next to the final Harry Potter film did not help its cause.
Compare Princess and the Frog and Winnie the Pooh to Disney's most recent CG features: Tangled and Wreck-It Ralph. Both features did a lot more business than both films. Tangled made $590 million with a steep budget of $260 million - Making it the most expensive animated film of all time! - Ralph made $471 million on a decidingly cheaper $165 million budget. Both films got just as much acclaim as Princess and Pooh.
Now why could it be that Disney 3D films are doing better than their 2D films? Why would the company lose confidence in hand-drawn feature animation and fire some of their best animators? Could it be that audiences like CG over 2D? Could it be that the marketing didn't make the films look interesting? Find out in part 2 of this editorial when I discuss the problem that Disney has with 2D animation.
Go to Part 2!
UPDATE: Frozen did not use the same technology as Paperman!