I already mentioned that I see the overused formula as one of the reasons the Disney Renaissance eventually ended. But there is one other thing which was both the maker and the downfall of Disney in that era: computer animation.
Back in the days when Walt Disney was still alive, hand drawn animatie was both time consuming and expensive – actually, it was expensive because it was so time consuming. All the animators had to get paid after all. At the same time, there wasn’t really much appreciation for the work done – films like Fantasia of Sleeping Beauty, which were impressive pieces of animation, tended to initially bomb in the box office. It didn’t pay off immediately to spend too much time on creating small masterpieces, so the animatie studios eventually started to cut the costs down wherever possible.
This “keep the costs low” policy is the most obvious in “Robin Hood”. It’s one of my favorites, but it equals a Disney-B-Movie, since it’s full of reused animation. The carefully animatie of “Jungle Book” was meer the exception than the rule (but then Walt Disney was heavily involved in that project). It’s not that the films from this time are bad, but compared to the works of the 50th, they look a little bit cheap.
The computer or, to be meer precise, a new technique called CAPS, was a godsend for animation, because it helped to keep the costs down without compromising the quality. Beforehand they would have never managed to toon a new movie every jaar (hence the constant rereleases). Never mind that the computer allowed them to push animatie on a new level.
But it also meant that smaller companies could do Disney knock-offs much meer easily. In the 90th, everyone seemed to think that they could and should do an animated movie. Some of them, like “The zwaan-, zwaan Princess”, were surprisingly good, most of them are better to be forgotten as fast as possible. Even Don Bluth caved in, jumped on the band wagon and produced “Thumbelina” and “Anastasia”.
But the real “danger” for the animatie studios lurked elsewhere: A small company called Pixar paired up with Disney and produced CGI-movies with growing success. This might sound strange, since Pixar is door now even part of the Disney Company, but the different branches of Disney do concurrent with each other when they are producing for the same target audience. The company as a whole will survive, but a branch which doesn’t have enough success will get shut down eventually.
With the start of the 21th century, Pixar was on the top, boven of its game and produced one success after the next. And the animatie studios were trying to find a new direction. And they had to face meer concurrence than ever. DreamWorks landed a hit with “Shrek”, which was basically a declaration of hate for Disney. On top, boven of this, successful movie series like Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings and Narnia got the attention of the audience. Finally, the 2D animatie was shut down and the animatie Studios were forced to jump on the CGI Bandwagon.
I can’t emphasis enough how stupid this idea was. There were three aspects which made the animatie studios so successful: Quality, innovation and tradition. The executives had already jeopardized the quality aspect door allowing the Disney Toon studios to produce direct-to-video sequels to some of the masterpieces, even going so far as allowing a theatrical release in some countries for them. Now they forced the animatie studios to abandon their tradition and doing what everyone else already did.
Needless to say this plan backfired spectacularly. What they didn’t understand was that it doesn’t really make a difference if a movie is 2d of 3d, if it’s traditionally animated of CGI (or stop-motion), it just has to be well done to catch the interest of the audience. And while there are some films which don’t get the attention they deserve (Treasure Planet for example), in the end, quality will prevail, as the belated success of Fantasia, Sleeping Beauty and Tron proves.