Since Pixar’s Toy Story (1995), fully CGI animated movies have only increased in popularity. Disney has left the 2D animation style of its older movies, à la Sleeping Beauty, The Lion King, and The Little Mermaid, in favor of the 3D animation style that has defined its box-office bursting hits like Tangled and Frozen.
What is the reason for this switch, and what feels like a near abandonment of the 2D animation style? The most common reason seems to be efficiency–3D animation does not require the frame-by-frame level of detail that 2D animation does. Disney officially closed their 2D animation studio in 2013, seemingly putting an end to an era.
Yet, in recent years, 2D animation has found its way back into the limelight of success in Sony’s Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse and Dreamworks’s Puss in Boots: The Last Wish. Both movies used a combination of 2D and 3D (CGI) animation styles, with not only an artistic appeal but also a purpose to the art itself. The Spider-Verse movies used a different animation style for each alternate universe–a physical representation of separated realities. In Puss in Boots, 2D animation was used to enhance the concept of storybook pages coming to life, with many frames painted in traditional 2D art.
Both of these movies being incredible pieces of art in animation and storyline makes me eager to see how this may change the trajectory of animation styles in the near future.
Disney’s upcoming princess movie, Wish, will combine 3D animation and traditional watercolor 2D animation. I am excited to see what this means for the movie, and the potential of what this could mean for the future of Disney–is it possible that 2D animation will become a consistent animation style once again?
However, with the encroachment of AI in both casual and workplace environments, I wonder if this will perhaps have an impact on the animation industry–either for worse or for better. The recent discourse about the ethics of calling AI art “real” art could be the push needed to promote more traditional art in movies. On the other hand, perhaps this talk of AI and efficiency may forever cement 3D animation as the efficient norm.
Personally, I hope that 2D animation will be allowed back into the realm of possibility and become something we’ll see more of on the big screen. From its purposeful use in movies like Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse, it’s clear that 2D animation can be used creatively, uniquely, and with purpose. It shouldn’t become a relic of times past–instead, perhaps the form of 2D animation can be used to complement the purpose of the story. And while we’re at it, let’s ensure writers and animators are treated and compensated fairly.