I just read an interesting commentary from Toonzone's Ed Liu regarding what he feels are the big problems with Disney's recent animated features, in particular "The Princess & The Frog." He brings up some interesting points and I agree that there doesn't seem to be one big problem that needs to be addressed but rather a bunch of smaller ones that, added up over the years, are now resulting in disappointing box office returns even for good movies.
I definitely agree that putting "princess" right there in the title had to have scared off some boys. I also think that the extremely strong performance of Avatar had to have hurt it a little with those same boys. It's totally baffling to me, however, that a seemingly wretched movie like "Alvin & The Chimpmunks: The Squequal" managed to do so much better than it.
This is a point that I've been making for awhile but I think one big problem with Disney's newer films is the style of animation. No, I don't mean the switch from traditional to CG back to traditional. I mean the style of drawing the characters. I don't know if there is a technical term for the shift or even an exact impetus for the switch but, trust me, it's there. In many of the older films, especially the extremely popular early 90's stuff like "Beauty & The Beast," "Aladdin," and "The Lion King" that I remember growing up with, the characters were always smoothly drawn and appeared, for lack of a better term, "realistic." (And yeah, I know that they really aren't too realistic with the giant eyes and such. But they just seem more "Disney real" if that makes sense.) Then sometime in the late 90's there was a shift to drawing with much harder edges and absurdly exaggerated features. And this wasn't just at Disney, I've noticed it in many of the cartoons I see on television today. I don't know if it's an attempt to look more like anime or what but it's one of those things that's always bugged me.
Take a look at these two screenshots from later Disney films: This one from "Tarzan" and This one from "The Princess & The Frog."
Then look at these two from the 90's golden age: This one from "Aladdin" and This one from "Beauty & The Beast."
Notice the difference in the animation? The difference in the character's shape and edges. Doesn't the first set seem a little...off? Perhaps its just my bias as someone who grew up during the time of the second set and to kids from today maybe those two are the ones that seem wrong.
It's not like I'm saying this is the reason for the film doing so poorly. But what I am saying is that if Disney really wants to remind people of the times when they made good films then they need to do more than just go back to the princess storytelling template: they should go back to drawing the films the same way as well. Maybe then they'll erase the stigma that the disastrous end of the Eisner era created.
Then again, maybe it's the old Disney park curse. Films where the attraction opens in the parks before the movie opens in theaters always do below expectations. No idea why. It's just a bizarre coincidence/fact of Disney life.
Read the article and see what you think: Part 1 and Part 2.
I wrote a paper on the decline of traditional animation for a class way back in 2004. I should dig that up and see how it relates to this discussion.
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