Wednesday, January 03, 2007

A New Era of Disney Animation

Disney Studios soon returned to the quality of its heyday of animation from the 30s and 40s with advanced, more mature animations in the late 80s and 90s, including the tale of the headstrong young mermaid Ariel in The Little Mermaid (1989). The popular and highly successful film earned $84 million at the box-office and insured the revival of animated films.

An updated version of Beauty and the Beast (1991) with a strong heroine, Belle and a Beast (a mix of buffalo, lion, and gorilla), was nominated for a well-deserved Best Picture Academy Award (the first nomination for Best Picture ever received for a full-length animated feature), and the theme song "Beauty and the Beast" won the Best Original Song Oscar. Aladdin (1992), a film that moved beyond the traditional fairy tale, used computer-generated imagery, and was designed for a more adult audience - it marked a significant change in Disney's output. It received a phenomenal five Oscar nominations (and won two for Best Original Song, "A Whole New World," and Best Score). At the time of its release, it was criticized for its negative, 'Americanized' representation of Arabs and non-western cultures. The film featured improvisational comic Robin Williams as the vocal for Aladdin's blue Genie.

The complex, advanced The Lion King (1994) was the first Disney film based upon an original story, rather than upon a well-known children's narrative, although its story-line was derived from elements of Shakespeare's Hamlet, classical mythology, and African folk tales. And it was also Disney's first film to totally disregard human characters. The wildebeest stampede scene integrated 3-D computer animation with traditional animation techniques. After setting a box-office record (of over $312 million at the box-office), The Lion King spurred a boom in animation production and merchandising, and other animation production studios besides Disney entered the picture.

[Some Disney critics firmly believe that The Lion King was blatantly derived from Kimba the White Lion. Kimba was originally known as Jungle Emperor (Jungle Taitei) when it was serialized as a comic from 1950 to 1954, and it later became Japan's first color animated TV series in 1965. Fifty-two episodes were released in 1966 in English under the title Kimba The White Lion from Tezuka Productions. Disney supporters claimed that the similarities were only coincidences.]
Another exceptional film (a coordinated effort released by Disney (Touchstone), produced by Steven Spielberg's Amblin, live-action directed by Robert Zemeckis, and animated by Richard Williams) was the Oscar-winning Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988), a remarkable blend of animated imagery and live-action human characters. It was filmed as a tribute to the entire pantheon of cartoon characters from Disney, Warner Bros., and MGM, and other studios in the 1940s. Its animation was revolutionary in a number of ways: (1) it used light and shadows in new ways to produce remarkably realistic, 3-D effects; (2) it extensively panned and moved the camera to reduce a static look; and (3) it had the car'toon' characters interact flawlessly with real-world objects and flesh-and-blood people as much as possible.

Warner Bros.' Space Jam (1996) also featured Looney Tunes characters within a live-action film with basketball superstar Michael Jordan. Other films that used the same techniques to mix live-action and animation were: The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle (2000) and Joe Dante's Looney Tunes: Back in Action (2003).

No comments: