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A stumble down the rabbit hole; a recent decline in Disney features?

Image credit: Disney Wiki
Image credit: Disney Wiki
Image credit: Disney Wiki

As Walt Disney famously said in his later life, “All our dreams can come true if we have the courage to pursue them.” This quote along with Disney’s extensive legacy has for the past half a century enchanted both the young and old through reviving the importance of imagination and creative escapisms, from the tedium of worldly reality. Yet, in the light of recent Disney releases, many are questioning whether the animations still live up to the magic of the originals.

As a 90s child growing up in what seemed like a Golden Age of Disney animation, the weird and wonderful world that Disney brought to the front room nurtured among so many a lasting obsession with its enormous volume of films. There is no doubt that Disney is a favourite for people of all tastes; each complex narrative having a distinguishing feature from fellowship to adventure and history to fairy-tale.

Disney’s consistent success during this time is perhaps due to the way in which the features combine worldly realities such as darker themes of death and betrayal- of which can understood amongst older viewers, with a dusting of childhood imagination and magic that made them adored by children.

Disney’s experimentation of fantasy with the sombre in a genre labelled as ‘children’s films’ may have raised questions of suitability. However, it is clear that unlike the simpler narratives of recent Disney films, the older features informed and exposed children to the evil and wrong, such as in The Little Mermaid where Ursula’s macabre lair of souls, and the good and right, such as metamorphosing  pumpkin in Cinderella which captured the essence of fairy-tale. Therefore, helping to prepare children for reality whilst in keeping with the fantasticality essential for children’s entertainment. As a result, it became commonplace during my lifetime to see homes with TV shelves furnished with a spectrum of Disney VHS-tapes in this surge of Disneymania.

Walt Disney created 653 features over his lifetime that grew in success and popularity- evident through films such as Snow White and the Seven Dwarves (1937), and in his later years, Cinderella (1950). Starting rather humbly, Disney’s breakthrough feature was Steamboat Willie released in 1928. This charming, dungaree wearing mouse that although from a modern perspective may seem cinematically primitive- was a ground-breaking milestone in the 1920’s to incorporate synchronised sounds to an animated picture. However, in watching recent additions to this canon of animated features, I, amongst many, are forced to question whether the innovation and complexity instilled by Walt Disney is still present, or whether this series of successful features have declined in quality.

After recently watching many new release Disney films, such as Moana (2016), I felt the craftsmanship of the films I had grown up with had been severely dumbed down. Although I appreciated the way this film captured the exotica of the South Pacific, and an insight into Hawaiian culture- the overall story line was over simplified and unoriginal. The cliche tale of a girl destined to be leader, leaving home to fulfil a task that will restore the people seemed all too predictable. Also, the use of computer generated animation for the setting and characters contributed to the childishness of the film. The absence of the hand drawn cartoons losing the artistic and uncanny nature of the older films.

Likewise the feature Frozen (2013) which although proved to be a huge hit amongst the younger generation over past few years- the story of this so called ‘new classic,’ was also lacking in plot line. Like Moana, Frozen adopts a similar un-dynamic storyline that seem only appropriate and entertaining for very young children. The fantastical thrill of the snowy 1840’s Norwegian landscape was furthermore not given justice by the artificial and impersonal animation.

Whatever happens in the future of Disney animation, it is with nostalgia that so many will look back to the older films with their artistic compositions, moving stories and magical aesthetics.