Tangled vs Princess and the Frog: The Unfortunate Disney Litmus Test
Sorry, hand drawn animation fans. Bob Iger has thrown down the gauntlet…sort of. At least for the time being, there will be no 2D animation projects undergone by the Disney company.
Gone are the days of classically animated tales such as Snow White and Beauty and the Beast. It’s all CG from here, folks. And I, personally, blame Tangled and Princess and the Frog.
Let me explain.
A few years ago, I kept getting into the same circular debate with many of my friends: which movie was better, Tangled or Princess and the Frog? It could get pretty heated.
“It’s Mandy Moore being a boring idiot for 90 minutes, who wants to see that?”
“Randy Newman’s songs all sound the same. Pick a different chord, Randy!”
Now, looking back, this strikes me as odd. I don’t recall comparing Mulan to Hercules or Aladdin to Beauty and the Beast. Just because the movies came out sequentially doesn’t mean they should be in competition with each other. So why were we so defensive of our favored film, especially those on the Frog side?
Well, because Disney fans intuitively knew that the success of these two films would decide the future of Disney animation. Had Princess and the Frog been a box office smash, we would have most likely seen the return of two-dimensional animation. However, Tangled beat the monetary pants off of Frog, and so we have the recent announcement from Disney that they are not planning on making any hand drawn films in the foreseeable future.
Basically, Disney has looked at the success of Tangled and Wreck it Ralph and the disappointing profit returns of Princess and the Frog and Winnie the Pooh, and decided that people are more likely to pay for CG than 2D.
I feel like we’ve been down this road before, Disney…remember when you eliminated half of your animation division back in 2004? Yeah, you were just as wrong then as you are now.
You know why Tangled was more successful than Frog? It was marketed better. They changed the original title, Rapunzel, to something that appealed to both genders and implied a fun, action packed movie (they’re repeating this strategy with their next movie, Frozen). The previews all heavily featured the male protagonist, who was snarky and swashbuckling. Princess and the Frog went a different direction. They had a beautiful ad campaign; just not a very good one. Most of the previews began with clips from 90’s renaissance films; implying that they were making a film that would fit comfortably on the shelf with these beloved films. Great idea! Except…that appeals to my generation, the 90’s kids who grew up with those films as canon, but not a lot of other people.
In fact, I did a personal poll through several outlets. Most die hard Disney fans preferred Princess and the Frog. It was more of a mature, polished movie. But Tangled had more of a mass appeal. It was a fun romp. It most likely won’t stand the test of time, but it’s a movie that everyone was happy to see a few times.
This is the real litmus test of Princess and the Frog vs Tangled. Disney has to ask itself: do we want to settle for fun, mindless entertainment or mature, perhaps more challenging films? While I personally hope for the latter, it is a legitimate debate. After all, if people want mindless entertainment, who am I to say that’s not right? If Disney wants a new renaissance, they have to redefine themselves as they did once before. It’s a difficult question that Disney must struggle with in order to come into their own again.
Unfortunately, this is not the conclusion Disney came to from their Frog/Tangled litmus test. Instead, they’ve decided that people have lost their taste for hand drawn animation, that the lack of enthusiasm for Disney’s first black princess indicated not the type of film people wanted to see, but what medium people want to see their films made in.
False. From what I’ve gathered from talking to people, audiences for the most part don’t care if the movie is in CG or 2D. They just want to see a good movie. People won’t disregard a good movie because of the medium it’s presented in, and they won’t forgive a bad one because of its medium, either.
Hence, I’m not suggesting that Disney should completely disregard CG as an option. I think there is merit to both methods of animation. But that’s the thing; they are two completely different art forms. CG can do things hand drawn animation can’t and visa versa. Finding Nemo wouldn’t have looked nearly as aquatic and dynamic in 2D, but Beauty and the Beast wouldn’t have had the same charm and warmth in CG. I actually think Tangled would have looked better hand drawn, as would the new Mickey Mouse cartoons. These cartoons would greatly benefit from the warmth that 2D can produce that so far CG has been unable to replicate.
My point is that there is a place for both computer and hand drawn animation in the Disney company. To disregard one entirely is to arbitrarily eliminate multiple colors from your artist’s palette. At times hand drawn techniques could serve the story and tone better, and other times CG will. Let’s use all the tools we have, Disney, to create a beautiful piece of art.
So put away that litmus strip, Disney. Take a hint from the success of Pixar, 50’s Disney, and 90’s Disney. Make the movie you want to see, not just the movie you think we want to see.