The Downfall of the Disney Original


By Lainie Pennington, Editor-in-Chief

Where have Disney’s animated feature length films gone? In the last couple of years, Disney has dramatically increased its production of live action remakes of  hit 2D films, but the number of new and original works being produced is seriously lacking.

In 2019 alone Disney is releasing remakes of “Dumbo,” “Aladdin,” “The Lion King,” and “The Lady and the Tramp,” with “Mulan,” and “Maleficent II” among the titles coming out in 2020. Much of the hype around these movies is the promise of a visual spectacle or the reworking of a beloved tale for modern audiences (i.e. making the plot darker, more complicated, etc.,). However, it’s becoming increasingly obvious that these are simply cash grabs preying on our nostalgia  and they do very little in terms of advancing film and animation as an art form.

Is Disney running out of ideas? Maybe. But it is most likely not the fault of creators, and instead is the result of executives pushing a money-making agenda despite the corporation already being incredibly wealthy and an omnipresent entity in nearly every form of media and entertainment. And they have been known to do this in the past. In 2006, Disney fired many of its veteran 2D animators until the newly-appointed chief creative officer John Lasseter hired them back to create “The Princess and the Frog” in 2009, which would later be nominated for an Oscar. It also became one of the last hand-drawn 2D films Disney made as the studio transitioned fully into working with CGI, which is often referred to as 3D animation. This transition marks the end of an era and breaks my heart  a little bit because 2D animation provides so much space for creativity in the effects and aesthetic of the film. It also allows the movie to suspend reality in an effective manner. What bothers me about these “live action” remakes is that they rely heavily, or in the case of “The Lion King” exclusively, on CGI to compensate for the anthropomorphised characters of the original films.

That being said, I loved many of the computer-generated films created in the 2010s like “Tangled” and “Moana.” Just last year Disney’s beautiful story “Coco” won the Oscar for Best Animated Feature, so the evidence is there that Disney still knows how to create meaningful stories rather than just rehashing old ones. But the remakes still earn more in the box office. The 2017 live-action remake of “Beauty and the Beast” earned $1.263 billion in the box office while in comparison “Coco” garnered only $807.1 million.

Like any corporation, Disney is going to follow where the money goes, so if you want to continue to watch innovative works of animation, perhaps it’s time to start looking towards other studios. Where Disney used to be the pioneer in artform— a full length hand drawn film was preposterous until Walt Disney created “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” in 1937— they are now the standby. For example, one film in the running with “Coco” at the 2018 Oscars was the literal masterpiece “Loving Vincent” from Breakthru Films, which was comprised of 65,000  oil paintings that detailed the story of Vincent Van Gogh. In the spring of 2018 Portland-based Laika created the dazzling stop-motion animated “Isle of Dogs” which was nominated for Animated Feature Film category at the 2019 Golden Globes and will likely be a contender in the category at the Oscars as well.

But the winner at the Golden Globes on Jan. 6, and one of my personal favorites, was “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” from Sony Pictures Animation. This wild-card film was one of the most truly original animated movies I have seen in a long time. It blended classic comic- book style art with the sophisticated animation available today to create a playful,vibrant, and joyful work of art; It was so clear that it was created with love and care.

But above all the most important thing about animated films, just like any movie or TV  show, is their ability to make us feel happy and sad and their power to have a lasting impression on our lives. And if the excitement or nostalgia of those remakes provide joy or grounding in these uncertain and turbulent times, then who am I to judge.