As we wait to see what happens with Meet the Robinsons, Walt Disney Feature Animation’ second CG-animated feature after Chicken Little, we’re even more curious to find out how things will change at the House of Mouse now that Pixar’s John Lasseter and Ed Catmul have taken the reins. Jim Hill of Jim Hill Media recently reported in his blog that the duo pulled Lilo & Stitch director Chris Sanders off of his CG-animated American Dog feature, and now there is new speculation about the reason for his departure from the project he helped conceive.
Now that Pixar is part of Disney, one would think that CG would be king at the studio, but that may not be the case. As Hill postulates, Lasster and Catmul may want to see Disney return to what it has done best since its inception, traditionally animated movies.
There was a time when the name Disney was synonymous with feature animation and a Disney release was a major event. Today, however, all of the major studios and a growing number of independents are in the business of making toon features and cranking them out at a rate of two a year. With Pixar committed to making one animated feature every 12 months, Walt Disney Feature Animation (WDFA) is dedicated to filling out the year with one of its own. And since Pixar is already a top CG studio, it doesn’t make much sense for the team at WDFA to try and compete on the same level. Chicken Little was a box-office hit, but few would argue that it exhibited the technical aptitude and grace of storytelling found in any of Pixar’s films. Likewise, Meet the Robinsons, though based on a popular William Joyce book, has thus far been met with apprehension as industry insiders and the general public wait to see more before getting excited. But what would get us excited? A 2D feature made with the care and heart that went into such enduring classics as Snow White and Lady and the Tramp, and more contemporary favorites like The Lion King and Beauty and the Beast.
If this is indeed the intention of Lasseter and Catull, it won’t be an easy road, and the fault lies with both Disney and Pixar. As films like Toy Story and Monsters, Inc. whet the public’s appetite for the 3D look, Disney created the notion that 2D was best served on home video with their many direct-to-video sequels, or ‘cheapquels’ as they’re often called. CG became the preferred theatrical style and 2D is now something you rent. Everyone says it’s all about story, but that’s the reality we’re faced with as we hope for a return of hand-drawn animation by the company that all but invented the art form. Shaking the stigma attached to 2D won’t be easy, but if anyone can do it, it’s Lasseter. Disney currently has one 2D feature in development, The Frog Princess, and its success or lack thereof may be a make it or break it decider. Rumor has it that Lasster and Catmul also want to make Glen Keane’s Rapunzel: Unbraided in 2D.
Hopefully, Sanders will get to make his American Dog as he envisioned it with another studio, considering gorgeous CG conceptual images that have been released. However, the sight of light boxes fired up all over WDFA would be a thing of beauty in itself.