On Wednesday, Disney will be releasing "Tangled," the studio's 50th animated film. You might think that this would be cause for celebration, but from recent stories in the Los Angeles Times and New York Times, it appears that Disney Animation is in the midst of a major freak-out/reinvention. The main takeaway from these articles was that Pixar guru (and Disney Animation bigwig) John Lasseter is in the midst of reviving Disney's slumping non-Pixar animation projects. Oh, and he's done making movies about fairy tales and princesses.
"They may come back later because someone has a fresh take on it," Lasseter's Disney Animation co-chief Ed Catmull told the L.A. Times, "but we don't have any other musicals or fairy tales lined up." One reason is because the studio is fearful of alienating young boys, who supposedly won't see something like last year's "The Princess and the Frog." The other reason, frighteningly, is that young girls consider themselves too cool to want to be princesses.
Media critic Dafna Lemish, who has written about the influence of film and television on children, said in the same article, "By the time they're 5 or 6, [girls are] not interested in being princesses. They're interested in being hot, in being cool. Clearly, they see this is what society values." (That's right: A girl born in 2005 already is worrying about how "hot" she is. Have fun with that, moms and dads of the world.)
So, if "Tangled" (based on the Rapunzel story) will be the last fairy tale/princess movie Disney makes for a while, what will the studio be working on instead? Next year we'll get a new Winnie the Pooh film, and there's talk of "Reboot Ralph," supposedly about an old-school videogame character who has to contend with life in the Xbox era. In other words, get ready for a bunch of animated movies for boys.
This is what the animated-movie world is going to be like for some time to come: "How to Train Your Dragon" producer Bonnie Arnold was quoted in the L.A. Times article as saying, "You see elementary school kids standing in line to see 'Iron Man' or 'Transformers.' To be honest, that's who we're all competing with on some level." Disney has gotten the message, completely reworking "Tangled" two years ago so that it contained more action -- some chase sequences in the movie are inspired by the "Bourne" franchise -- and featured a wise-cracking prince. (We haven't seen the film yet, but we agree with The New York Times' Brooks Barnes' assessment that "Tangled" now sounds like a DreamWorks animated movie, even changing the name from "Rapunzel" so that boys wouldn't stay away.)
Lasseter insists that these changes at Disney are all for the good and that people should give him and his team time to work their wonders. But still it's hard not to be completely depressed by these developments. It's not that we're clamoring for a slew of new "princess movies," but it seems like Disney Animation is now trying to chase trends rather than focusing on just making good movies.
This is doubly ironic since a commitment to quality and a fresh approach is what made Lasseter's Pixar so fantastic in the first place: It wasn't just the animation but the storytelling and heart that give their films their special aura. You would have hoped that Lasseter would have remembered those lessons when he moved over to Disney in 2006, especially now that classic-style Disney animated movies are a rarity in today's climate. Sure, "The Princess and the Frog" wasn't a great film, but what made it fun was that it didn't feel like anything else out there right now: It was a good-old-fashioned animated musical without the pumped-up action-adventure stories that Pixar and DreamWorks do now. Frankly, we're more ready for a new "Beauty and the Beast" than we are for yet another ultra-hip kids movie. The positive reviews thus far for "Tangled" suggest that it's a decent middle ground between Disney's past and future -- we just hope Lasseter doesn't let Disney's legacy disappear completely into that mysterious vault where they keep all their old films.
Disney Animation is closing the book on fairy tales [Los Angeles Times]
Disney Ties Lots of Hopes to Lots of Hair [The New York Times]
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