When I was a child, going to the movies on a Saturday afternoon was a treat. That’s because films geared to youngsters were few and far between. In 1971, for instance, Disney released two family movies: The Million Dollar Duck and Bedknobs and Broomsticks. In fact, between 1960 and 1970, the studio rolled out fewer than 10 films for this audience, and not even half of those were (traditionally) animated features. And back then, Disney had a tight grip on the animated film genre, as only a few 2D animated movies from other studios, such as Hanna-Barbera, made it into theaters.
Today, the situation couldn’t be more different. Old-fashioned theaters with a single screen and single projector have given way to multiplexes, so moviegoers can choose from among 10, 20, or even more films at any given time. With all this opportunity, studios, including Disney/Pixar, Sony Pictures Imageworks, PDI/DreamWorks, and others, have churned out animated hit after hit. This year alone audiences have been entertained by the lovable robot Wall-e, the pampered zoo crew from Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa, the stuffy martial artists of Kung Fu Panda, the Suessian characters from Horton Hears a Who!, and more. Far more.
In 2008 alone, we were treated to nearly the same number of animated theatrical releases that were available during the decade from 1960 to 1970.
This month, Disney has unleashed its latest film star, Bolt, who stars in a feature with the same name (see “Back to the Future,” pg. 20). Bolt has a unique look. It is not exactly the same style as the traditional 2D Disney films from the studio’s second Golden Age. Yet, considering that Byron Howard—whose credits include Brother Bear, Lilo & Stitch, and Mulan—co-directed, the influence becomes clear. However, wielding great influence was John Lasseter, the masterful director of Pixar’s Toy Story, A Bug’s Life, Toy Story 2, and Cars. Achieving the movie’s hybrid look also demanded new CG technology across four distinct areas.
It’s not just the industry giants who are entertaining us. Last month, Sparx Animation (France, Vietnam) released Igor, a twisted tale about a lovable hunchback and his motley group of friends (see the Backdrop, pg. 47). Next month, Fathom Studios (Atlanta) will debut its magical adventure film Delgo, featuring epic battles, bizarre monsters, compelling characters, and stunning environments. And, finally, the storybook-come-to-life The Tale of Despereaux, Framestore’s solo entry into the feature-film arena, will debut in theaters this holiday season.
Another striking animated feature from France, Dragon Hunters, has made its mark abroad but is still hoping for a US release (see “Zero to Hero,” pg. 32). In this futuristic/medieval world, the characters boast a stylized look and the environments are truly different.
Audiences indeed have choices, not just among the animated features, but also among the live-action movies. So, with so many options, is the market becoming too diluted with these films? Is an animated movie no longer the “special treat” it once was? Perhaps. But as long as studios deliver compelling stories augmented with equally compelling visuals, then there can never be too much of a good thing!