By Izzy Ronsse, Alexandria Allen, Eline Achterberg, Nick Hiatt & Malene Nielsen
Disney animation has been key in the development of many children. Almost everyone in the Western world grew up with Disney films, both newer ones as well as all-time classics. In this presentation, we will tell you more about Disney Animation films, including the history and the development of the films throughout the years.
On December 5, 1901, Walt Disney, creator of Mickey Mouse and founder of Disneyland and Walt Disney World was born in Chicago, Illinois. When Disney grew to the age of 7 he began sharing is love for both art and photography, selling his paintings to his schoolteachers and friends and family. At the age of 21, Walt decided to leave for Hollywood where he met with his brother that lent him 250$ and a place to stay with him and his uncle where they shot live-action films in his garage. Shortly after, “Alice Comedy” gave them a chance for production where they blew all expectations. In 1928, the well-known Mickey Mouse was created and used at first in a silent film entitled plane crazy, but was never released because of the inspiration to make his screen debut of “Steamboat Willie” which was the first fully synchronized sound cartoon which will be talked about more in depth in further slides. Disney accomplished a tremendous amount of breakthroughs in his industry and throughout his career, a man named David Low, a British political cartoonist, went as far as to call called Disney “the most significant figure in graphic arts since Leonardo.” In his lifetime, Disney won 950 honors, 48 Academy Awards, and 7 Emmys stemming from prestigious colleges such as Harvard, Yale, USC, and UCLA.
Disney Animation Studios
In 1940, construction was completed on Disney’s Burbank studio. The previous staff of only Disney, his brother, and now wife has grown to upwards of more than 1,000 artists, animators, story men and technicians. However, during the war, the world was in a poor economic conditions, and Disney’s productions were operating at losses. Disney had to choose: try to make ends meet and wait out the economical downfall, or use the money to create more eccentric and powerful films that would once again take off. Walt decided to go against the odds and create new films using the money that was captured to produce films in Great Britain. Turning the negative of a trapped cash flow into a positive was a classic Walt move. Four films would eventually be made during the late 1940s and early 1950s, the first of which would be Treasure Island.
Disney Animation Films
On November 18, 1928 Walt Disney and Ub Iwerks put out their world renowned cartoon Steamboat Willie starring Mickey Mouse. Steamboat willie was the third Disney animation to feature Mickey Mouse. Steamboat Willie is traditional hand drawn animation that was then transferred to transparent animation cels and painted. This was one of the first cartoon widely received with sound so it broke new ground and became a hit. The cartoon was a co-creation between Walt Disney and Ub Iwerks. The reception Walt got after this inspired him to keep working and to build up the company.
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs
Based on the Fairy Tale from the Brothers Grimm Walt Disney released his first full-length movie on February 4th 1938. This is a lighthearted version of the story from Walt and his crew. In 2008 this movie was given the award of “The greatest American animated film of all time”. It changed the way movies are made and how they can be made. Cartoons were taken seriously for the first time and this movie paved the way for other movies such as Beauty and the beast, Up, and Toy story 3 for being able to get nominated for best picture at the Oscars. It is a classic movie and beautiful, Walt Disney put his heart and career into this movie.
Based on a children’s story by Helen Aberson and illustrated by Harold Pearl, this film was released in 1941. During this time World War II in Europe had caused Disney Studios to get into some financial trouble with the lack of box-office sales from it’s previous animations. Dumbo was intended to be a low-budget film to get Disney back on its feet. Resulting in the animation’s lack of lavish details in comparison to Disney’s previous animation features. To compensate for this, animators of the film focused extensively on the “acting” of Dumbo’s character. Moreover, Dumbo had a budget of $950,000 and made $1.6 million at the box-office. In addition, Dumbo along with Snow White are the only two classic Disney films that render watercolor backgrounds. Also, Dumbo was the first animated film to be released on home video.
Based on the novel The One Hundred and One Dalmatians (1956) by Dodie Smith, this is Disney’s 17th animated feature film. 101 Dalmatians had a budget of $4 million and made $215.8 million at the box-office. Walt Disney was not as involved in this production, and mainly only attended its story meetings. Bill Peet was the only man on the job in terms of the production of the story, in which marks the first time in history that a single person created a story for Disney. After the flop of the very expensive Sleeping Beauty (1959), Disney Studio’s was in another financial crisis, and had hope that 101 Dalmatians would help them get back out of their financial rut. Ub Iwerks, whom was in charge of special processes at the studio, had been experimenting with Xerox photography to help in the animation process. Animators were able to use this technique in relation to this feature film and saved half of what it would have original cost them to animate all the dogs and their spots. In addition, this film also signaled a change in the graphic style of Disney’s animation, having a more stylized look in comparison to the graphic look of Sleeping Beauty. Moreover, 101 Dalmatians only features three songs, which is fairly unusual, compared to the other animation features that came before it.
Many of you are also probably familiar with Toy Story. Toy Story was produced by Pixar but released by Walt Disney Pictures in 1995. It was the first feature-length film that was completely computer-animated, so it was quite a radically new concept. At that time, Pixar did not develop feature-length films yet, only short computer-animated clips, but Disney asked Pixar to produce Toy Story. Toy Story was at that time, in November 1995, the highest-grossing film on its opening weekend, with earnings of $373 million worldwide. It is still considered by many critics to be one of the best-animated films ever made. Toy Story had a huge impact on Disney animations and the industry in general, being extremely innovative the first completely computer-animated film.
Frozen is another extremely successful Disney animation film. Frozen came out in 2013 and tells the tale of two young princesses. The film was extremely successful, having a worldwide box office revenue of $1.3 billion. It is the highest-grossing animated film of all time. Frozen won two Academy Awards, a Golden Globe, two Grammy Awards and much more. Although Frozen is very similar to other Disney animations, with the main characters being princesses who lose their parents at a young age, Anna’s quest to find true love, and the comic-relief character on the form of Olaf, there are also some aspects that make Frozen significantly different. Key was that everyone can identify with Elsa as she is not the typical princess. She is powerful but not always in control, she means well but causes harm, she is extremely flawed yet good in her heart. This allows more people to identify with her as a person, since everyone feels like they sometimes fail even though they mean well. Even though there were other Disney movies before with strong female leads, a difference is definitely that Elsa doesn’t find her prince charming and love and romance is not as much as central part of the story as is the love between the two sisters. That makes this story quite different from more classic Disney movies.
Walt Disney is known as the Father of animation for his use of new and inventive ways of animating cartoons. The pencil test was a used in new ways by him to do quick sketches of animated scenes to see if it looked good on paper or was worth pursuing. Walt Disney developed the use of 3-strip Technicolor animation, Flowers and Trees, made in 1932, was the first commercial film to use the 3-color dye transfer system. The process of making the colored animations took a lot of time and materials, “animated material was filmed three times through a red, a blue, and a green filter to produce three black-and-white records that were transposed onto three dyable matrices,” then the three different film strips are dyed in three different colors to later all be overlapped to make one colored animated strip. Sleeping Beauty was the first animated film photographed in the super-wide Technirama 70mm widescreen process. For 101 Dalmatians Xerography was introduced. The new process allowed a elegant and unique production style that would replicate the artists’ work via dry photocopying. The strokes of the pencil and outside the lines marks could be seen in the final film. The Computer Animation Production System, or CAPS was developed by Pixar, was used for digital ink and paint. The Rescuers Down Under (1990) was the first CAPS colored and composed film. Cell animation became a thing of the past. Deep Canvas used 3D backgrounds that had the look of traditional animation using CGI mainly used for large shots like Belle and Beast dancing in the Ballroom or Tarzan swinging on vines in the jungle. The use of hand drawn characters with 3D background have been around for a while but in the short film Paperman (2012) the new software Meander had been new and ground breaking. Using one program to both hand draw and computer animate into one. One of the latest things to advance is lighting in animated movie. With the rendering program Hyperion film makers can now use lighting for more complex scenarios and give better feel and depth to the scene.
Pre Transition Era, often called the first wave of feminism, was the time period when women were confined to the stereotype of homemaker, with only 39 percent of American women working by the end of the Pre-Transition period. During this era, Snow White and the Seven Dwarves were created where a naïve princess depends on her seven male friends and a prince for survival. Next, Transition Era, the second wave of feminism leading towards the goal of equality was in play with films such as the little mermaid which centers around Ariel, a sixteen-year-old mermaid princess, who is curious about the world outside her kingdom in the ocean. This is a good example of the progression because it is showing the individual independence. However, although this shows the individuality of Ariel, it falls back into the pre transition era as a princess-need-prince plot. Thirdly, Third Wave of Feminism, the time of the long awaited time where the princess doesn’t need to be dependent of a man. The time period really took off in 1990, but Disney waited officially until 2012 in the release of “brave” which depicts a new version of the female protagonist and breaks the pattern of a princesses’ fairy tales depending on a man for a happily ever after. The most recent and well-known example of this was the release of “Frozen,” which shows the independence of two females that rule over a city. Although three male characters at times accompany them, she does not depend on them, and chooses in her last moment of life to protect her sister from Hans rather than kiss Kristoff and save herself. In the end, Anna’s act of true love saves her rather than her love for a male lead, making her the enlightened hero that Disney has been progressing towards for nearly 80 years.
Since Disney has been featured in countries all over the world, the company has been trying to maintain traditional American values while at the same time realizing the changing times of today’s society. Over the years it has become a dilemma for them, because some of their story plots and characters have led to criticism that Disney films have contained racist elements. For instance, Lady and the tramp (1955), in reference to the Siamese cats, and their songs, eyes and voices. As well, Aladdin (1992), the Arab stereotype of Aladdin flying on a carpet, in which has depicted Arabs as filthy. In addition, The Lion King (1994), the hyenas contained African-American and Hispanic characterizations, used voices of Whoopi Goldberg etc., residing in a jungle ghetto, and their behavior and environment reinforced stereotypes of the two races. Some say there’s something to it. That Disney contains racist elements, others think it’s just people taking things too personally, but there’s a very transparent transition from being a funny caricature to a racist characterization. The company has during the past years tried to come back with responses to the criticism by making more internationally cultured movies and including non-American elements. Some of these criticisms include, the idea that films will reflect and bring sense of the culture portrayed through the visual details in the film. As well, another criticism is the idea that animation broadens children’s outlooks and vision on the world, in which can threaten their cultural identification and values.
From pencil sketches to computer animated production systems, Disney films have changed a lot since Steamboat Willy in 1928, and as we’ve informed, Walt Disney studios has experimented a lot with different animation techniques to end up with the animation styles of their feature pictures today.
Also within gender and race, Disney has made a lot of progress. We saw it with the three waves of feminism, in comparison to Disney’s first princess animated picture Snow White from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, the dependent-naïve-lonesome girl, and its transformation over time to the independent and ruling young ladies in Frozen. We’ve seen how Disney has played around with different cultures and races from Mulan, Pocahontas and The Princess and The Frog for instance, from the criticisms that have been place on the portrayal of each non-white princess.
So it’s easy to say that just living for 20 years, the changes in Disney Animations are outstanding and conform to the society and technological advancements of it’s time accordingly. We’re always waiting for the next Disney film to come out, excited to see what Disney has in store for us next, no matter how old we are.