Wednesday, June 10, 2009

It's An Animation Celebration! (sorry...)

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

I saw a documentary a few weeks ago called The Pixar Story (available on Instant Netflix). In an interview with Bob Iger (the new CEO of Disney and Michael Eisner’s replacement) he spoke about the troubles Disney has had the past ten years or so.

There's more...

While it is true Eisner presided over the production of some of the best work the Walt Disney Company has ever done, beginning around 1994 he began slowly driving the company into the ground. Eisner is responsible for the departure of Jeffrey Katzenberg (who left to found Dreamworks), the shift of Disney’s focus to The Disney Channel (i.e., Lizzie McGuire, Even Stevens, Hannah Montana, etc.), and, as Roy E. Disney (Walt Disney’s nephew) said upon his resignation, the devolution of Disney into a “rapacious, soul-less” company.

In the interview, Iger recounted how shortly after he took over, during the Main Street Parade at Disney World, he realized which floats were getting the loudest cheers. They were the classic Disney films like Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, and Pinocchio and the classic modern films like Beauty & the Beast, The Little Mermaid, and The Lion King.

The difference between these and some of the not-so-classic Disney features like Pocahontas, Hercules, and Lilo & Stitch, it seemed to Iger, was quite simply the story-telling. Where Eisner had decided to end all production of traditional animation in favor of Pixar-style 3D, Iger realized the reason Pixar had been trouncing Disney at the box office from the beginning wasn’t the animation style, but that they knew how to create good characters and tell good stories.

Iger said that this epiphany is in fact what led him to end the Eisner-instigated Disney/Pixar feud and effectively merge the two companies, putting Pixar in charge of Disney’s creative side, and the current Disney people in charge of the marketing and business side.

Iger has it exactly right. I think (at least subconsciously) we all recognize the two great eras in animation—the First and Second Golden Ages. The first includes the great early Disney features:

Tell me as you looked through each of those pictures your heart didn't swell.

Disney's work from Snow White in 1937 through Sleeping Beauty in 1957 (or perhaps One Hundred and One Dalmations in 1961) was the best it ever did. This First Golden Age of Animation was not limited to feature-length films, however. This is also the age of Looney Tunes and Tom & Jerry.

From 1957 forward Disney did good work, but it wasn't quite the same caliber as what had come before (perhaps due to Walt Disney's death in 1966). This era saw the release of The Sword in the Stone, The Jungle Book, The Aristocats, Robin Hood, The Rescuers, The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, The Fox and the Hound, The Black Cauldron, The Great Mouse Detective, The Brave Little Toaster, and Oliver & Company.

I know some of you are screaming at the computer screen right now. Many of these are near and dear to my heart as well, but I think it is safe to say that, on the whole, they don't carry the weight of a Cinderella or a Bambi.

But we said there are two Golden Ages. In 1989 Disney released The Little Mermaid, beginning a new series of classics:

Earlier we said that it was around The Lion King's release in 1994 that Eisner began the downward spiral--the features got progressively worse: A Goofy Movie, Pocahontas, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Hercules, Mulan, Tarzan, Dinosaur, The Emperor's New Groove, Atlantis, Lilo & Stitch, Treasure Planet, Brother Bear, Home on the Range, Chicken Little, Meet the Robinsons.

Granted, a couple of these don't quite count as they're in 3D and a couple are pretty good, but it's the trend that's important. It's no wonder Eisner decided to focus on The Disney Channel, direct-to-DVD sequels, and merchandise. All I can say is thank God Pixar has taken over.

But, of course, like the First Golden Age, the Second was not limited to the big screen either. The late 80s and 90s saw the best cartoons for television ever produced. It is these that we will consider in the upcoming sequel to this post: "Saturday Morning Classics".

Thank you all for allowing Cowtown & Coolage's Chief Star Trek Correspondant this chance to branch out.


Kinsey said...

OK. I agree. And I wanted to clarify: Pocahontas, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Hercules, Mulan, and Emperor's New Groove are the bomb. Have you recently seen Notre Dame? Frollo's song, Hellfire, still gives me goosebumps -- it's that amazing.

Tyler Awesome Coolage said...

Yeah, Thomas and I are not in complete agreement about the best & worst of Disney. Robin Hood and The Jungle Book, for instance, are definitely Classics in my book.

I tend to agree with him on Pocahontas and Hercules, though. I like Hunchback a lot, and I LOVE Mulan. The Emperor's New Groove is very, very funny, but it doesn't feel Disneyish; it's too hip and goofy. Still, a very funny movie.

Thomas Beyer said...

I did say in there that it was the trend that was important. I agree that Mulan is pretty awesome. Lilo & Stitch is alright too. And, despite its Anti-Catholic sentiments, Hunchback moves me too. But Pocahontas and Hercules? (tugs at collar)

Tyler Awesome Coolage said...

Yeah, I forgot about Lilo & Stitch. That's another pretty good one; definitely entertaining, anyway. The whole "Social Service worker is gonna steal you from your sister!" thing is kind of a terrifyingly adult thematic element for a kid's movie, but overall I liked it.

audreythewench said...

I've gotta say... The Brave Little Toaster rocks my socks off. A lamp, a toaster, a radio and a vacuum cleaner set off to find their owner... what could possibly be better? And it's got that great Little Richard song: 'Tutti Frutti, oh Rudy!' YEAH!

Post a Comment