The Golden Age of Animation

May 29, 2016

Traditional wisdom holds that the early days of Walt Disney’s animated feature films represent the golden age of animation. And with movies like Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Pinocchio, Bambi, Fantasia, Cinderella, and Alice in Wonderland it’s hard to argue that particular thesis. Indeed, those adventure films were so beautifully rendered with their glorious hand-painted frames, unbridled romanticism, and heroic archetypes they’ve stood the test of time and are cherished by audiences around the world to this very day. And they were undoubtedly ground-breaking and courageous films as the producers of the time weren’t even sure if audiences would feel emotion for animated characters. As it turned out, theatergoers laughed, cried, sympathized, empathized, and identified with Mickey Mouse, Dumbo, Mr. Toad as well as Doc, Happy, Grumpy, Sneezy, Sleepy, Bashful, and Dopey. And in these trying times, revival houses still play old school animation films on behalf of audiences who appreciate bygone era innocence as well as serious craft and hands-on technique.

But there is an argument to be made that, however blasphemous it may seem, we are now living in the golden age of animation. With the monumental success of Disney’s The Lion King in 1994 followed by Pixar’s computer-animated comedy blockbuster Toy Story, animated films have taken a quantum leap forward. Part of this phenomenon has to do with the fact that studios finally figured out parents who take their children to the movies at great personal expense want to enjoy the experience right along with their kids! This is why there is so much humor in these films that grown ups really get a kick out of, but kids couldn’t possibly understand yet. And so the technical brilliance of digital artistry combined with heartwarming and high-level storytelling as well as the use of top-notch talent has given rise to films that parents and children can truly enjoy together; films like Mr. Peabody and Sherman, Epic, The Croods, The Incredibles, Brave, Tangled, Frozen, Bolt, Big Hero 6, Rango, Monster House, The Princess and the FrogHow to Train Your Dragon, My Neighbor Totoro, Ratatouille, Up, Igor, Zootopia, Megamind, Wallace and Gromit:The Curse of the Were-Rabbit, Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius, Coraline, Free Birds, Despicable Me 2, Toy Story 3, Meet the Robinsons, and the list goes on!

It is perfectly well and good to honor the past and to appreciate artists spending hours drawing one single frame of an animated film, and to enjoy the beauty of true craftsmans’ work; but it is also okay to embrace the future and to acknowledge the benefits of modern technology and to marvel at the incredible level of today’s visual expression and nuanced storytelling. It’s okay, really!

What are your favorite animated films? And do you prefer old school or twenty-first century animation?