Hand-drawn animated from major Hollywood studios is basically dead at this point. No major studio has a 2D-animated film in active production, and it’s a shame. While it’s not shocking that 3D has pushed out 2D like color pushed out black-and-white, it happened much faster, and it’s much harder to get a 2D-animated movie made.
It was slightly easier to get a hand-drawn film on the big screen back in the 1990s, and when Brad Bird’s The Iron Giant opened in 1999, its style of animation was still fairly prevalent. Seeing the Signature Edition last week (read my review here), I felt like I had stepped back in time even though the new, remastered version looks even more incredible. It’s a gorgeous film, and I wish there was more 2D-animated movies on the way.
I got to speak to Bird about The Iron Giant, and while I’ll have plenty more from our interview soon, I wanted to share with you what he said about the state of 2D animation:
What are your thoughts on where 2D is right now? Do you think it feels like it’s vanished completely?
BRAD BIRD: I actually think it’s a lot more valid than other people do. I think the industry tends to like to think in the narrow sort of mindset of a businessman, and businessman absolutes, and movies really exist in a much grayer region of dreams and stuff like that, and instinct is prized in movies, it’s not prized with the businessmen in movies, but movies themselves often reward instinct rather than pie charts. And what has not been done is that there’s been no American animation done on Disney-level quality that has really gone into different genres. For instance, there’s never been a horror movie in animation executed at Disney-level quality and hand-drawn, I’m not talking about CG I’m talking about hand-drawn, but it doesn’t take a lot to imagine how cool that would be. If you think of the scariest parts of Snow White or Pinocchio or Fantasia with Night on Bald Mountain, you could do something really scary in animation and I think if you did it right, if you did it with all the art that Spielberg did Jaws, I think that it would be an amazing experience because there’s something intuitive about when people are drawing directly with their hands.
The problem is that every time people have deviated from the Disney playbook in hand-drawn animation, they’ve done so with staff that are nowhere near Disney-level talent or Disney-level budgets. So you have things like Heavy Metal, which not all of them are great, but a couple of them are really interesting, but they didn’t have the money or the artists to pull them off at the level that maybe they should’ve been pulled off. Where as in live-action film there are all kinds of new films being done in different genres where people can really execute an idea at a top level. It’s just that animation rewards grooming a team and keeping a team in place. That’s why when studios try to emulate Disney on the quick-and-cheap they always fail, because Disney has refined their animation team over years, they have a history of it, people go to Disney and know that there’s going to be a job after the movie, there’s going to be another movie. And when you assemble animation teams the way you do a live-action film, you’re often struggling a bit to get a cohesive team together, so if you have a team that works well together, you’re hoping for another film so that you can refine the team.
But for someone like me who wants to move back and forth between animation and live-action, that becomes its own challenge, but I absolutely think that hand-drawn animation is valid and I actually hope to do one in the future with a large budget and a longer schedule than we had on Iron Giant. [emphasis mine]
I would love to that happen, and it’s a shame that getting a talented director like Brad Bird, or any top-notch filmmaker, to do a hand-drawn movie, feels like a longshot these days. It’s the story that matters, and the medium should serve that story. There are some stories that stylistically would be better served with hand-drawn animation than with 3D, but we’re not getting hand-drawn animation anymore.
I continue to be a big fan of Bird, and I hope that his future films are successful so that one day he’ll have the power to return to hand-drawn animation. That would be a sight to see.
Come back soon for my full interview with Bird, and in case you missed it, click here for what he had to say about The Incredibles 2. The Iron Giant: Signature Edition comes to theaters on September 30th and October 4th via Fathom Events.