The Little Mermaid, Aladdin, The Lion King, Toy Story: These are the animated films that have captured our hearts, wowed critics and defined our generation. These films catalyzed the new age of animation, kick-starting a rich and fresh visual style and incorporating new and interesting conceits — animated animation, if you will.
Today, however, these films seem like a thing of the past.
In recent years, there have been few memorable, original animated films, beckoning one pertinent question: Where have all the great animated films gone?
Of course there have been critically and popularly successful films since the late ’80s and ’90s, but with a series of sequels, trilogies, 3-D reboots and lackluster releases to account for a large portion of animated works in recent years, the animation film industry is suffering.
A big reason for this comes from laziness on the part of animation studios. Instead of pushing for fresh and interesting ideas, many studios rely on the financial security of popular series because they have already developed a fan following that practically ensures success — if audiences saw a film once and liked it, they’re more inclined to want to see it again or watch the sequel.
Many films have fallen victim to the allure of sequels, trilogies and sagas, and have in turn become one-trick ponies. This summer’s Ice Age: Continental Drift, for example, proved to be another tired installment of the Ice Age series, one that added little to nothing new to the franchise and merely cherry-picked off old ideas.
Not all animated series are doomed, though. The Madagascar series, for example, improved over time; the characters became more developed and the storylines more fleshed out, making the third film the best reviewed yet.
Then there’s the animation studio Pixar. To its credit, Pixar has produced stellar works in the past decade, such as The Incredibles, Wall-E and Up, all of which have proven to be incredibly lucrative and critically successful. And though the Toy Story series did just as well as — if not better than — these original films, it would be refreshing to see future animated works opt for new stories and fresh ideas, rather than rehashing proven success stories.
True, Toy Story 3 and Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted are the exception to the norm. They prove that not all series lose their creativity in the extension of a story. Still, I — and I’m sure most moviegoers would agree — would like to see something original, something unexpected, something that does more than build upon a popular franchise.
Let’s be very clear about one thing: 3-D re-releases in the form of The Lion King and Finding Nemo are the furthest thing from the answer to that plea. Here, audiences see yet another example of laziness on the part of the studios who refuse to innovate in fear of losing out on the next big series.
Listen up, studios: Audiences aren’t stupid, and they understand that using conversions is the quickest way to capitalize on popular franchises. What I want — and again, I imagine most moviegoers do as well — is for more energy to be put into creativity than conversions.
In order for animated films to reclaim their former glory, we need original films that elevate the art of animation and bring fresh ideas to the screen, rather than re-hashing old, tired series — seriously, no more Ice Age films, please.
But when a film like ParaNorman comes along and wows critics and audiences alike with its refreshing style of animation and interesting conceit, there seems to be hope. It might not be the second coming of animated film, but it is exactly the kind of film that will rejuvenate animation.
As far as Hotel Transylvania and Frankenweenie are concerned, I would really, truly like to say that viewers should watch these films, as well, but I’ve unfortunately read average reviews about both. As with ParaNorman, however, they might not be the saving grace of animated film, but they bring something new to the table: Hotel Transylvania modernizes the classic monster film and Frankenweenie is the first black-and-white, 3-D, stop-motion film. At the very least, it’s encouraging to see something different.
So, for the sake of the next generation, and for the medium itself, animated films need to recapture their former glory; they need to take a step back to the basics and focus on making original works that are visually and conceptually stimulating. Besides, our generation grew up in the golden age of Disney and the following generation lived through Pixar’s prime — it’s only fair that the next generation gets to experience the joys of animation as well.
C. Molly Smith is a junior majoring in communication. Her column “Keepin’ It Reel” runs Wednesdays.