My Random Theories
Okay, so a lot of films don't do very well in the box office, and as such are considered flops or failures (some examples, even included in this very site, are Treasure Planet, Home on the Range, Brother Bear, Sinbad, Iron Giant, Princess Bride, etc.). However, I think it's unfair and inaccurate to compare a film's quality to its sales. The films listed above have many, many excellent qualities and are brilliant works of art in their own right, but for one reason or another (be it advertising, target audience trouble, economic problems, etc.) they just didn't do as well. That being said, the point of this little tirade is to show that looking at box office charts and number of DVDs sold won't necessarily give you the best idea of how well-made a film is, particularly in animation.
Okay, I was the target audience age when the first Disney direct-to-video sequel was released (The Return of Jafar (1994)), so I was quite excited to see what would happen next to my favorite characters. It didn't bother me that the animation was substandard, or that some of the voices were different. I never expected it to surpass the original, and no one ever said that it would. To me, it was a fun and interesting new adventure featuring the characters I loved. Since then, I've found a lot of the Disney sequels have been quite good, despite general dislike of them. Many of them are touching, moving, well-animated, have decent music, all in all, most aren't THAT bad. The problem with public opinion on these kinds of movies is that people expect far too much. No one said Pocahontas II was going to try and surpass Pocahontas in quality or style, no one ever said that Lion King II was trying to replace the original. These are additional stories, to be taken or left, but nothing to be taken too seriously. Some of them are surprisingly good, I would give a lot of them a chance.
I wrote a paper not long ago on the possible religious parallels and symbols in Disney animated films (which isn't terribly surprising, considering how many of the original Nine Old Men were quite religious). I believe, particularly in Alice in Wonderland, Pinocchio, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Hercules, and others, there are quite obvious parallels, not only to Christianity, but even to LDS doctrine. It might not be exact, or even intentional, but I believe truth exists and can be found in almost any medium. My paper can be found and read here.
Okay, so with the serious upsurge of 3D animated films, and the serious lull of 2D animated films, one has to wonder... Is the hand-drawn animated film a thing of the past? Is 3D the new standard medium for animation? My dream job for almost 20 years has been to draw and animate for Disney, and now that I'm out of school, with a BFA in traditional animation under my belt, the industry doesn't seem to be in my favor at all. I think it's tragic that Disney, DreamWorks, and some of the other bigger animation studios in America have closed up for good, or transferred all their resources (including staff) to a new 3D studio. The biggest problem with the latest 2D films (while I think most of them have been quite excellent) is that they have had marketing issues, problems identifying target audience, and story and character, not the medium. It seems to me that the industry is buckling under the pressure of having made a few big mistakes, and a few great 3D films, which causes them to think the medium is what's making money. Pixar's films, I am positive, would have been massive hits whether or not they had been animated on the computer. The charm of Toy Story, A Bug's Life, Monsters, Inc., Finding Nemo, and The Incredibles, etc., isn't the medium, but the script, the characters, the story. They would have been popular (may not quite as, because of the visual, eye-candy quality of the medium) whether or not they were 3D. My personal thought on the current situation is that sooner than later, people are going to tire of the novelty that is 3D animation, and realize what rubbish people are churning out just because of the hype of the medium. People will remember the charm and personal humanity that came when you knew the characters were drawn, frame by frame, all by hand. I have faith in the art form, and I don't think that one has to replace the other anyway. Why can't they co-exist? Like the head of the department at school used to say, they didn't get rid of portrait painting just because photography came along.
I take it as a personal offense that Rapunzel, one of my dream projects that I've been doing character designs for since 9th grade, is being made into a 3D film, and being directed by none other than the master of 2D, Glen Keane. Wo for the world of 2D animation when the master himself switches sides.