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The Death of Disney’s 2D animation

Courtesy of Walt Disney / Public Domain
Alice in Wonderland (1951) – Alice in Tulgey Wood by Walt Disney is licensed under Walt Disney, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons CC BY-ND 2.0

Disney has always been a well-known name in every household for decades. Since the early 2000’s Disney has almost completely switched to 3D animation for their movies. While these films are visually stunning nothing compares to their iconic 2D animations.

Disney’s first-ever animated movie that used 2D animation was in 1937 with their debut film “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.” In just its first year of release, it made over 8 million dollars in revenue and many were in awe with its fluid hand-drawn animation. This film was the start of many 2D animated movies for years to come.

All of their animations were made by a team of people using many different techniques, but their main way of animating was cel animation. This technique is very painstaking and precise, it is done by layering a semi-transparent paper on top of each other and drawing every frame by hand. Early animation from the 40s-50s used cel animation to make short skits to entertain younger audiences. These skits lacked plot and mostly relied on gags to draw the viewer in. Snow White was a huge step in the animation industry by being the first full-length 2D animated movie.

Disney’s early films quickly caught the public’s attention. The character’s movements were fluid and lively, the colors and backgrounds popped, and the voice acting was natural. After the success of Snow White, Disney continued to pump out some of their most iconic movies ever.

Cinderella, released in 1950 was another one of Disney’s most successful movies. While just being marketed as a princess movie for children, Cinderella takes a more artistic approach than their earlier films. The best example of the stunning animation is towards the end of the movie, the scene of her dancing with Prince Charming is nothing but magical. The fluid animation almost makes it look like two people are actually dancing together. While the smooth animation is beautiful, the thing many artistic viewers notice is the backgrounds. All of the backgrounds were hand-painted and stuck to a beautiful cool palette for their color scheme. The water twinkles and the ballroom has a gorgeous purple hue to it. With the backgrounds being handpainted, it gives them a more classic personal feel. Everything about this movie is visually stunning, whether it’s the lifelike animation of Cinderella’s skirt while she runs, or the magical backgrounds, Cinderella will always be a classic.

Alice in Wonderland, released just a year after Cinderella in 1951 has become a very iconic movie in pop culture. The strange feeling of the movie can be compared to more creepy movies such as Coraline and Beetlejuice. The character designs are interesting and strange, and the backgrounds perfectly fit the vibe of the movie. This movie is definitely different from other early Disney animations, with it being a whimsical story instead of a princess story. The odd plot and story aspects made Alice in Wonderland an immediate classic, with many movies, songs, and animations inspired by it being made decades after its release.

Disney’s classic 2D animated movies were a massive hit. These movies are the reason Disney has been able to stay so relevant for all these years. Disney’s first full animated 3D movie was in 2005 with Chicken Little. The switch from fluid and artistic animation to 3D models was a big one. Many want Disney to switch back to 2D animation, but the reason for their switch does make sense.

Many animation studios, not just Disney have completely switched to 3D animation as their main form of making films. 2D animation takes a lot of labor, each frame is handmade by a team of real people. This is a very labor intensive job, with sometimes low pay due to all the companies’ money going towards the film instead of the workers. Disney made the decision to completely switch to 3D animation because it lowered labor costs. Although 3D doesn’t have the same look as 2D, it is much easier for a large group of workers to make a movie more efficiently. A lot of money has to go to the technology of 3D animation,but this is still cheaper than paying each individual artist for every single frame they hand draw in 2D.

Fans feel that newer Disney movies lack the charm that they once had. Aria Anderson, a lifelong animation lover says, “ I like the 2d animation so much more than the newer 3d. I feel like the point of cartoons is to be at least a little unrealistic, but Disney is trying so hard to make their characters and settings look real. In cartoons there aren’t any boundaries for how you can animate things but it seems as if disney is trying to take away that charm. Aside from all this, I just find 2d way more comforting and interesting to watch. I grew up with a lot of 2d movies so that may be why I’m so biased, but I honestly still prefer it to this day despite how amazing and realistic animations have become with the new technology.”

Another animation fan, Allison Rosperski adds, “My favorite 2D animation from Disney is Hercules. Hercules’ wonderful 2D animation conveying the adventures of Hercules and his gang. I prefer the animation in that movie over modern 3D. While yes it may be an easier way to animate 3D animation is by this point repetitive and bland.While 3D can be good when done correctly it mainly just looks lifeless compared to 2D. 2D can push a lot more with their animation, and I just find it more satisfying to view.”

Even though many look at Disney’s old movies as a staple in their childhood, it is not likely that Disney will return to making feature length films using 2D animation. They still produce many cartoons on their various networks, but the chances of them making a 2D movie is very slim.

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