Sunday, December 6, 2009
Not Drinking the Kool-Aid
I went to a lecture given by a present day Disney animator whom, in response to a student asking him what he thought of Jeffrey Katzenberg and Michael Eisner's claims that 2D animation was dead, answered, "2D didn't die. It just went underground." The audience (of mostly students) seemed to eat that up. Isn't it a tad bit funny that the animator answered one absurd statement with another? Underground is such an odd term. It makes me feel like a fugitive on the lamb. At any moments the cops could close in and declare me irrelevant. After all, my work is not up there on the silver screen. How dare I even exist?
Okay, okay... I'm getting a little carried away. But, let's accept (for a moment) the premise that any animation outside of Disney 2D feature animation is underground. That makes Disney the establishment. And it ain't never been cool to be that. Just ask a 1950's beatnik.
Secondly, Disney is in the nostalgia business. Creatively they are a dog chasing its tail––self-referencing up the yin yang. But what should it mean that animators are back at work making 2D Disney features? And, besides Walt's signature logo, what connection does the new film have to the company that lost its visionary leader in 1966?
The real power and excitement behind a new 2D Disney film is legacy––the illusion of continuity to something we loved. For a moment we could kid ourselves and imagine what it must have been like to be around in 1941, attending the premiere of Dumbo. That's the magic we want for our ticket money and that's impossible for today's Disney to deliver. But, they have the talent to deliver something new if only they were allowed to.
I don't agree with the misguided comments of Katzenberger, Eisner, nor the Disney animator that declared that 2D animation had gone underground. Instead, I'm with Ralph Bakshi who has said that Disney perpetuated a con on the animation world by suggesting that they were the only ones who knew how to make an animated feature––that it had to be done the Disney way. And, at the very least we can forgive the original company for holding that attitude. They earned that right through an amazing period of artistry and innovation. But, that doesn't mean that I have to drink their Kool-Aid and give that same regard to today's Disney. However, I'm happy they have jobs and are making films. I wish them even bigger success than they enjoyed in the 1990s, all the while knowing that some of them couldn't care a fig about what was going on in animation outside their gates. See my point? They sure are hard to root for...
In the years between "Brother Bear," and "Princess and the Frog," despite 2D animation going underground, I didn't loose inspiration––thank you very much. And I don't measure my self-worth (or even the worth of the medium in which I work) based on what Disney is doing or how well they are doing it. I'm too busy trying to build something of my own, as are many of my NYC animation friends and heroes.