Future is bright for animated films domestic, foreign

Published on Thursday, 23 January 2014 23:15 - Written by By Michael Hale, Guest Columnist

Animation isn’t just kids stuff. Not anymore.

Animation as an art-form has advanced far, far beyond some of its most simplistic forms from the ancient past and the pioneering inventions of Eadweard Muybridge. In truth, the art of animation has advanced more within the last twenty years than it previously had in the last two-hundred. From eye illusions, to paper animations, to computer-assisted animation plates, and now to full CGI, animation itself has evolved to encompass new technologies that propel it further and further into the public sphere of consciousness.

In the United States, perhaps no animation house is more respected, well-known and more iconic than that of the Walt Disney Company. Since it was founded in 1923, Disney has come closest to embodying the power and myth of animation itself, and not just for the stories that were being animated. The studio, founded as the “House of Mouse,” has certainly grown in size and scope, encompassing parks, studios, subsidiary companies and countless copyrights.

But what does the Disney studio stand for in terms of its animation? That question has propelled compliments and criticisms of the various animated films based on the economics of the period, the age of the parents as opposed to the children (especially parents who grew up on a prior generation of Disney films), and the popular trends of the time. Needless to say, popular consensus of Disney varies from generation to generation.

So how does Disney fare today? Rather well. A lion’s share of the credit comes from the popular up-swing in content that Disney started releasing in 2009. Popular films, such as “Up,” “The Princess and the Frog,” “Toy Story 3,” and “Tangled,” were released between 2009 and 2010. But much of Disney’s recent popularity and praise recently can be said to have begun in 2012, ironically a year that started with Disney releasing a popular Japanese film called “The Secret World of Arrietty.”

“Arrietty,” a film created by Japan-based Studio Ghibli and adapted from “The Borrowers” book series, was a hit in Japan and a solid success in the United States. “Arrietty” managed to secure almost 150 million US dollars during its run stateside. After “Arrietty” was released came “Brave,” “Wreck-It-Ralph,” and “Frozen.”

The recent release (and massive financial success to the tune of more than $700 million worldwide) of Frozen has incited a cry that Disney might be undergoing a “Second Renaissance,” a term referencing the popularity Disney once received after the release of “The Little Mermaid.” Disney’s decision to circumvent many tropes they themselves created for the animated story/princess genre have lead to “Frozen” being called one of the company’s most progressive films of the last generation.

Returning to Studio Ghibli, the animation house created by Hayao Miyazaki, there should also be cause for both praise and reflection. Under the direction of revered animator Hayao Miyazaki, Studio Ghibli has released such amazing works of art as “My Neighboor Totoro,” “Grave of the Fireflies,” “Spirited Away” and many others. Miyazaki-sama’s final film as chief guide of Studio Ghibli, “The Wind Rises,” has been recently hailed his most profound and personal.

The film focuses on plane designer Jiro Horikoshi, one of the key men behind the creation of Japan’s revolutionary Mitsubishi A6M. The focus of the history of Japanese society by Miyazaki, especially where it concerns the plane that was turned into a dark symbol of Word War II, is important, almost as important as “Frozen” subverting many princess tropes. Both films show that the standard tropes and habits set up by animation as being “formulaic” or only “for children” do not hold water. Animation encompasses a variety of cultural and artistic facets, with some of the best being in theaters at the time of this publication or coming very, very soon to the public.

“The Wind Rises” and “Frozen” represent two different kinds of animation by two studios far across the world, one approaching the final film of their founder and the other rising more and more in popularity after successive, positive releases to children and adults alike. As audiences take their children to animated feature films, take note of how far animation as come, how much it has grown, and rejoice that the future of the medium, be it 2D or 3D, seems brighter than ever.

“The Wind Rises” will be released to United States audiences February 21st.