Last week we took a look at the history of animation, studying its evolution up through the Disney Renaissance and the rise of Pixar. As 3D, computer-generated animation becomes the medium of choice for most major studios, it begs the question. “Is 2D dead?” The real question here is what does 2D animation being “dead” equate to?
In the worst case scenario, that would mean that there would be no 2D animation studios ever, but such a scenario is highly unlikely save for the case in which there’s a zombie apocalypse. If that were the case, you’d have a larger, more immediate problem, but I digress. From a realistic, industry perspective, the death of 2D simply equates to no more 2D animated films released theatrically. Now you may think that this is also impossible, but it’s far more likely than you may think. To study this further, we first have to take a look at the box office numbers.
The 1990’s was the point where the most American 2D animated films were released theatrically to date. The highest grossing animated film of that period is Disney’s The Lion King, which is currently slated for a 3D re-release in theaters this month. Worldwide, the film raked in over $700 billion during its theatrical run. Now let’s take a look at the last 2D animated film made by Disney before putting an end to their 2D operations back in 2004, Home on the Range. It only raked in $103 million, not even recouping the budget used to make the film.
The reason for the decline can be attributed to the advancement of computer technology, setting the stage for companies like Pixar to enter the scene with their highly successful series of animated shorts and features, with the original Toy Story raking in over $300 million during its initial run. At the same time, companies like Dreamworks and Fox Animation threw their hats into the ring with hits like Shrek and Ice Age respectively. Long story short, computer animation became the new “in” thing as more CG films were made and 2D began its decline at the box office.
Looking at the present trends, the future of 2D animation is looking fairly grim here in the United States, with both of Disney’s attempts at revival, The Princess and the Frog and Winnie the Pooh, performing with mild success that pales in comparison to the Renaissance of the 90’s.
While 2D animation may disappear from the box office, there are many other areas where the medium thrives. So for those of us that may wish to return to the days where 2D reigned supreme, there is a faint glimmer of hope that lies not on the big screen, in the United States anyway, but on the small screen.
Next week, we’ll take a look at the success of 2D animation on television, and analyze the rising popularity of foreign imports, including the many massively popular animated series that come from Japan, and the “kiss of death” that once was the straight-to-video market. All this and more will be found in The Globe’s new column, The Weekly Reel, debuting next week.