Goodbye, Magic Kingdom

Via Alas, a blog comes the news:

Sadly, the Walt Disney company is gradually shutting down its 2-D animation department. They’ve decided that the reason Treasure Planet failed and Finding Nemo succeeded is that Finding Nemo was animated in 3-D. That Finding Nemo featured a fresh, funny script and brilliant voicework by Ellen DeGeneres, while Disney’s 2-D features lately have had mediocre scripts or worse, apparently has nothing to do with it.

All Disney really needed to do was hire some great writers and then (and this is the crucial part, the part that executives generally mess up) get out of the way. Instead, they’re shutting down one of the best hand-drawn animation studios in the world.

Moreover, Mouse Planet earlier this month reported “Michael Eisner’s official decree: ‘2-D is dead.'”

The breaking-up of Disney’s classic animation works is news in and of itself, of course, but Eisner’s comment leads me to ponder the mechanisms and processes by which new media forms supplant older ones. Bolter and Grusin would suggest that such a process of supplanting is never complete, that old forms and new ones cannibalize one another’s useful characteristics and find ways to coexist in an increasingly complex media ecology.

But I’m wondering now about media forms that we’ve lost entirely (or nearly entirely), media that were in certain respects “better” (more expressive, more flexible, more whathaveyou) than those that replaced them. For instance: the turntable — not so much for the quality of sound, though of course true audiophiles will argue that point, but for the replaceability of the needle, which made the piece of equipment durable in a way that no CD player (like the VCR, a “disposable” technology, made such because the costs of repair far outstrip the costs of replacement) will ever be.

Hand-drawn animation seems to have a similarly durable quality — clearly a representation of and not an attempt at simulating reality, to be sure, but beautiful in its representational qualities. Will advances in computer animation technologies make the products of the new 3-D animation studios as disposable as the CD player?


  1. Interesting comments. I found B&G’s comments quite persuasive when I first read them, but on recently revisiting them for a paper, I’ve found their concept of “immediacy” a bit broad for my tastes.

    Still, the idea of older and newer media forms drawing represntational strategies from eqach oethr makes sense to me. I also think they might be glossing this economic point that you make–CD players, VCRs, DVD players, and computers are designed to be disposable in ways that earlier “industrial” technologies aren’t (turntable, movie projector, etc).

    I think (hope) we’ll see nostalgic revivals of 2D whenever it becomes financially profitable. Disney (Lucas does this, too) has the habit of creating demand by offering something “for a limited time,” then withdrawing it (usually video/DVD versions of their animated classics). So, I’m guessing that in a few years, they’ll bring back the 2D form we’ve grown to miss (probably the summer after one of their 3D films tanks).

    That’s kind of a rambling comment, but it was a very suggestive post.

  2. As a 2D animator of the hand drawn ilk, I certainly hope it isn’t dead.

    If one visits Photo Arts, one would find folios for sale. Photo etchings of master photographic pieces. This is old technology. Hand bound in leather, limited edition prints. They’re lovely and they have a following.

    Additionally, I’d point to advertising and MTV. It is there that we see trends. Not quite the avante garde, but following a bit later in terms of style, editing, technology. I’m seeing a resurgence of 2D animation there – because of its distinct look and feel (Starbucks, Folgers, Charmin, Wheat Thins…) My prediction is that 3D animation, water effects and fractals will eventually go the way of spinning chrome. The wow factor of the technical aspects won’t be enough to draw us in. (Look at Final Fantasy as an example).

    Your first assertion is the nut – it’s narrative that drives the audience.

  3. I tend to think you’re right, Elouise — reports of 2D’s death have been greatly exaggerated. (As most such cultural death-notices are; if you’re curious, I’ve got a whole book-manuscript [or at least the first chapter of a book-manuscript] about this issue w/r/t the putative death of the novel.) I think, though, that Chuck hits a key point about the economics of obsolescence (and particularly the planned obsolescence of such consumer goods as electronics).

    Hey, Bob? Where are you? Here I am, talking about planned obsolescence and capitalism…

  4. “for the replaceability of the needle”

    But of course, that only makes it durable if the needle is in fact replaced. As the turntable in the English library would seem to indicate, we’re so used to “disposable” technology that we frequently treat the more durable technologies as though they were irreparable out of habit, or perhaps just laziness.

  5. The funny thing is — and of course, Claire, it was that conversation with you in the library that had me in mind of needle-replaceability — that turntable is new. It’s less that the turntable’s needle hasn’t been replaced than that it didn’t come with one in the first place, and that none of us in the department were clued in enough to notice.

    What that says about us, I’m not sure I want to know.

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