It looks like the media is still viewing Disney’s acquisition of Pixar in terms of 3-D computer animation vs. 2-D hand animation. I still think they’re missing the point.
Disney’s new golden age started with The Little Mermaid in 1989 and ran through The Lion King in 1994. Pixar’s unbroken string of hits started with Toy Story in 1995. Disney has continued to release at least one animated movie each year, but hasn’t had a hit on the same level. It’s tempting to say “Well, Disney’s doing 2-D animation and Pixar is doing 3-D animation, so that must be the reason.” But Disney’s own Chicken Little did only passably well at the box office.
I’ve maintained all along that the issue isn’t the animation style but the quality of the movie as a whole. Yes, Pixar is very good at 3-D animation, but they’re also very good at story. Let’s look at Disney’s recent films for a moment—just the films, not the competition, and not the box office take. Has anything from Pocahontas onward been as good as Beauty and the Beast or Aladdin? Or has the quality dropped off? I don’t mean just the animation—the animation is still top-quality in the ones I’ve seen. I mean, is the story compelling? The characters? The premise? Would the average moviegoer look at Home on the Range and say, “I have to see this!”
I think there’s plenty of life in both 2-D and 3-D animation. Disney’s in-house animated features didn’t “lose” to Pixar because they were 2-D. They lost because Disney got boring. Switching from hand animation to computer animation isn’t going to change that.