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Disney CEO Bob Iger Says There Are No Current Plans For Hand Drawn Animation – But What Does He Really Mean?

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by Drew Taylor
March 7, 2013 12:22 PM
4 Comments
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At a Disney shareholder’s meeting on Wednesday, CEO Bob Iger said that none of Disney’s companies are planning to develop a hand-drawn feature animated film for the big screen in the foreseeable future. This story was picked up by /Film and Collider as effectively ringing the bell of traditional animation at the Walt Disney Company. To poorly paraphrase Mark Twain, though, the death of traditional animation at Disney has been greatly exaggerated.

This announcement does, however, shed some light onto some projects, like Disney’s next big princess movie following this winter’s “Frozen,” which at this point is being called “The Name Game” and is a bold reimagining of the Rumpelstiltskin fairy tale. Ron Clements and John Musker, who last directed the sorely underrated (and traditionally animated) “The Princess and the Frog,” are developing the project. (Disney freaks will remember that Michael Eisner briefly ousted Clements and Musker, one of the most talented and successful directorial teams at the studio, during his strained emphasis on computer animation; when Iger assumed power he brought Clements and Musker back to the studio.) At least at first, “The Name Game” was supposed to be a traditionally animated feature, but then again, so was “Frozen.” With Iger’s proclamation yesterday, it’s safe to say that “The Name Game” will also be a 3D CGI affair.

The other thing to keep in mind is the wording of this supposed “announcement” -- Iger is referring to movies that are completely traditionally animated. What no one is talking about is that the next great traditionally animated Disney feature is actually going to be some kind of hybrid, most likely utilizing the same technology that was featured in last year’s “Paperman” short. The same effort, of course, that just won the Oscar for Best Animated Short (another good omen that this really is the future of hand-drawn animation at the studio).

Since “Paperman” started screening last year, there have been discussions internally about how to apply the technology (which was designed and animated by a team of less than a dozen animators at Disney, working on the fringe) to a larger animated project. The problem, however, is that the “Paperman” aesthetic, which layers hand-drawn animation on top of a 3D object, is a very specific look. There’s a reason that “Paperman” is in black and white – it helped to dull the occasionally comic book-y look of the technology. So right now everyone at Disney Feature Animation is trying to find a project that will benefit from this process and aesthetic.

Another thing to remember is that Pixar principles Ed Catmull and John Lasseter are still running the creative side of Disney. These are the guys who grew up with Walt Disney Feature Animation; they’re the ones who greenlit “The Princess and the Frog” and (despite its financial shortcomings) made sure the brilliant “Winnie the Pooh” (released in 2011) was also traditionally animated. (That movie tanked, but mostly because Disney, in one of the rare cases of marketplace mismanagement, opened it against one of the “Harry Potter” features. Ouch.) They brought Walt Disney Feature Animation back to a level of excellence that’s beginning to rival the famed “Second Renaissance” in the late eighties and early nineties. They will never, as long as they’re at the company, completely turn their back on hand-drawn animation. Iger was talking about a four-year period. Lasseter and Catmull are in it for life.

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More: Walt Disney Pictures, Pixar , Frozen, Paperman

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4 Comments

  • Justin | May 12, 2013 10:54 AMReply

    This article is wrong about Frozen. Frozen is an adaptation of Hans Christian Anderson's The Snow Queen, not Rumplestiltskin. The Name Game is an entirely different movie that just started to begin the drafting process that is about Rumplestiltskin, some how making him maybe an enchanted princess or a warrior woman, but not a male. The two films have nothing to do with each other other than both being fairytales and being made by Disney.

  • Matt | March 29, 2013 8:41 PMReply

    Yeah, I saw the article on The Guardian's website, and they completely distorted what Bob Iger said. All Mr. Iger said was "to his knowledge", there aren't any hand-drawn animated movies in development, and yet the website decided to exaggerate what he said and write that he announced that Disney would "no longer make traditionally animated movies". Again, complete distortion.

  • Omar | March 12, 2013 4:13 AMReply

    The rumors scared the crap outta me. This article helped A LOT.

  • Liz | March 7, 2013 1:33 PMReply

    Think back to Beauty and the Beast, the ballroom is 3D and Belle and Beast dance in it. It can be done. And well. In color. Again it's just going to be about the right project. And I know John and Ed will find something perfect. On another note, Disney's marketing team really needs to be replaced. They've been making poor decisions on promoting films over the last couple of years. Great movies that should have done WAY better than they did. It might be a case of some movies are more easily marketable (ie. Wreck-it Ralph), but really what that means is they need more creative people in there making decisions for the harder to market, but still great movies.

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