Could Disney Return to Hand-Drawn Animation?


Could Disney Return to Hand-Drawn Animation?
The short answer to that question is yes. Our discussion about what Disney Animation looks like under Lee’s leadership in the wake of John Lasseter’s departure led into some talk from Del Vecho, who is now WDA’s senior vice president of production, about the possibility of hand-drawn animation returning to the studio, and what they would need in order for that to happen.

Jennifer, what kind of changes have you made to Walt Disney Animation since taking over after John Lasseter’s exit?

Lee: For us, we’re very focused on the films that are in production right away. It was Ralph [Breaks the Internet] and Frozen [II] and Raya [and the Last Dragon], and the sense of sameness of keeping our story trust going and working. One of the the things that I’m excited about is we really want to develop new talent from in house and bring new talent in. Having our rooms really reflect the world we live in.


I can see this possibly happening if Disney comes up with some genius NPR tech that doesn’t necessarily completely eliminate the human touch from frame to frame, but drastically reduces the number of hands necessary.


I think that, ultimately, it comes down to the audiences.

In the one camp, we have older adults. They may well embrace hand drawn animation as a return to form. These same adults may be burnt out 3D animation. It’s everywhere and not all of it is great.

In the other camp, we’ve got kids and younger adults. To some of us, it almost seems like yesterday. However, “Toy Story” is closing in on 25 years old now. There’s a whole generation that has grown up with 3D animation and prefers it. This younger audience sees old school hand drawn animation in one of two ways. They either view it as a relic, something that only their (grand)parents would watch, or as something hip and retro - as if they just discovered it.

Hand drawn animation has become more an acquired taste for a lot of viewers. Given the choice between the modern CG re-imagining of “The Lion King” and its 1994 hand drawn counterpart, I’m not sure that I could convince my 11y nephew and 7y niece to sit down for the latter. It’s generational. Theirs would probably ask, “Why does it look so cheap and flat?” If you showed today’s kids how old school animation was done, they’d wonder where the computers were and so forth. Stuff that older adults know to be innovations to the art form, younger audiences take for granted. A lot of them even play with simple 3D animations software in school.

And there’s the problem. You don’t have to win over the older adults. They don’t care. They consume all sorts of animation on all platforms. Kids… That’s where the money is. You have to win them over if you want to succeed financially. Unfortunately, at least here in the states, hand drawn animation has become lower tier. It’s become a form of animation typically relegated to lower budget web and TV platforms. It’s not wholly an issue of visual quality either. It’s also about perception and market segmentation. 3D took over the big screen where budgets, revenue, and marketing possibilities were all higher. 2D took over TV and the web because budgets could stay low, production times could be kept short, and styles could vary to favor indie design.

If Disney is going to return to hand drawn animation then they need to do something different. They can’t try to emulate Japan. That’s a different market with different tastes. They can’t just give audiences more realistic looking hand drawn stuff either, an extension of the mindset started with “Snow White.” Audiences might scratch their heads wondering why more effort wasn’t put into making CG films “better” - whatever that means. I think that, going forward, Disney is going to have to embrace stylized animation - something to set them apart from the CG and 2D Disney eras. Imagine, for example, the art of a Chris Bachalo or a Bill Seinkiewicz come to life as ultra smooth and surreal 2D animation. Disney’s hand drawn people need to embrace style.

Comic readers have been enjoying endless diversity of style for 80 years. There’s an artistic style for every reader. Disney stuff, unfortunately, has maintained an unmistakable “Disney style” to it. That’s not to say that it all looks the same, regardless of traced characters or keyframes. It’s just that Disney’s 2D animation has rarely ventured too far out of a certain visual comfort zone. They need to have each one of their new movies have a distinctly different signature look in the same way that we’d never mistake a Todd McFarlane from, say, a Ryan Ottley. If they’re going to go with hand drawn animation then they have to go with signature styles and elevate them with all of the 2D and 3D tech at hand. Don’t just “return to form” because audiences might not fully embrace that.

Me? I don’t care. 2D or 3D, it’s all the same to me. I want good stories. That matters to me far more. I’m tired of the sequels. Remakes and reboots need to go to hell. New stories? Sure. Just make sure that they’re ACTUALLY new. Don’t simply take an old 80s movie, replace the people with talking cars, and then claim that you were “inspired” by experiences on family road trips - or some such nonsense. Younger audiences might be fooled, but older ones know when you’re being lazy and ripping off old and sometimes forgotten favorites. Story is king. If you’re copying somebody else then you’re just a usurper and pretender to the throne.

Personally, I’ve never seen story as being Disney’s strong suit. They’re technically great and produce animation at the highest level. They’re also amazing at marketing; They know how to milk that cash cow until it’s a dried out husk. They also attract amazing voice talent. Story? Meh. Historically, they’ve either just recycled old fairy tales (eg. Cinderella) or outright stolen ideas from animators too poor to fight them off in court (eg. “Kimba”). There have been a handful of unapologetically new story ideas from Disney, but they’re grossly outnumbered by the remixes and revamps. Disney’s tactic, thus far, has been to cloak these old/ripped stories in new songs by the likes of Elton John or Randy Newman. Audiences have fallen for it too, much in the same way that they somehow believe that the “Star Wars” sequels aren’t just reheated and rehashed nostalgia.

If Disney wants to be and stay king then they need to figure out what the competition is doing right and what they’re doing wrong. That, imo, is far more radical than just returning to hand drawn animation.

Also, wouldn’t it be refreshing to see a Disney movie that isn’t a sappy morality play or tired romantic musical? I know that Disney has their audience to maintain, but one of the attractive things about other studios is that they venture outside of that Disney lane now and again to appeal to adults craving other genres. Modern audiences, kids and adults alike, deserve more than just singing clocks or “aw shucks” happily ever after endings.

I know that I’m critical of Disney’s writing. It just annoys me to see how they can take the animation side of things to the next level almost every time, yet be so complacent and pedestrian when it comes to story. It’s almost like seeing a Studio Ghibli movie “from the minds that brought you ‘Leprechaun in the Hood’.” :stuck_out_tongue: Not at the same level, iow.

Disney needs to have faith that their audiences will embrace stories that don’t fit the mold. Yes. I get that parents like the fact that Disney movies are predictable and safe for their kids, but you can do new stuff without scarring the children. (Although, if you think about older Disney stuff, some of it seems pretty heinous and not at all PC/woke by today’s standards.)

If Disney can’t fix/innovate on the story end then it doesn’t matter if they go with full on 3D or hand drawn. It’ll just be a regurgitation of the same old Disney tropes, albeit with a new visual flavor.

Story is king. Fix that, Disney. No more sequels. No more reboots. No more stealing. No more re-imagined (ie. old) fables. New stuff. Stuff that doesn’t treat today’s kids like yesterday’s. Smart stuff that isn’t necessarily all gumdrops and rainbows. Audiences can handle the shock of innovation and maturity.


My son-12- has mostly moved away from animation as a choice in favor of any action films we let him watch (Starwars, Avengers).
But he used to thrive on 3d animation partiularly Pixar, Dreamworks & Bluesky, etc.

There was only one 2d exception to that-and it still is occasionaly…Miyazaki/Ghibli.

But old school Disney?!..not so much.

Story is King.


There was an interview with Michael Eisner back around the time of OLIVER AND COMPANY and he admitted that he had no desire to do animated films but since it was the legacy of the company, they were making them. However, Walt Disney would re-release his films in cinemas each decade—the new management regards the films as disposable-even their own films like The Lion King are fair game for remakes. CGI animated films work on the brain differently from a 2D film that leans towards caricature. Granted, I think if Walt Disney had access to CGI he might have made many of his classic films that way.

But it all comes down to access to eyeballs. In the current media landscape, it is practically impossible to get patronage for a Western-made animated film. I say western-made because as we have seen, if the film is made in Korea (Train to Busan)or about Iran (Persepolis), it will get mass media attention and marketing in the West (despite having limited audience appeal).
The real critical problem is that if a new Walt Disney came along out of Chicago, he would have extreme difficulties getting a fair deal in the current media environment with the tight control on theme/content that exists. It is not motivated by talent, merit, or true artistic diversity but eccentric ideological interests of a very few. In fact, in 1938 Disney could release Snow White outside of the major studios and have it become the biggest hit of the year because there was still room for more style-thematic voices. Given all the creative options now with digital technology we should be seeing many serious talented people finding success as an alternative to the corporations but the gateways are too fragmented and if any successes did exist you won’t see the corporate media singing their praises. Too busy telling us about the next remake of a remake of a remake with an important message that makes it a must see.

         Ok !   ............................ What was Walt Disney's vision?  

               Does anyone know  ???

I understood that he left in the hands of the animators a program for the future !!!

Not just a program, but also a Holly Big Vision ! Hmm …strange ! Doesn’t it ?

I don’t thing he said : Not to get caught you working in 3d!

But I’m convinced he said : To not catch you daring not to dream !!!

Follow your dreams !
Animators ! Follow your dreams !

Not your crap !

It matters the technique ? … Certainly matter !!
It matter the story ? … It matter as well !

But a dream has a good story and will be painted in an amazing technique! Otherwise it is no longer a dream (but rather a nightmare) !

Disney has always had its own unique style! Disney style is like a dog breed on the street and the other dogs go away! Some are barking, others are laughing, but everyone resents it!
That is why the people from Disney have gone harder to 3d … they wanted to make sure that when they do, they are offended properly!

There was talk of rehearsals, old subjects story … yes! true! But how to explain that they are fascinating! Like the world followed them ??

It need inovation ? It need maturity (what a word in DisneyWorld ! ) ? … Possible ! !
I have no emotions in the future because of it ! Disney has always had great teams of talented people with ideas !

Another is the problem! Let’s not change ourselves!
But even so, I’m sure we’ll keep an eye on what Disney will do !!

And he will do … by any means!


I would love to see Disney return to hand-drawn animation, maybe on a rotation with the modern 3D rendering, there’s just a heart to the hand-drawn movies which the more modern movies lack slightly. I would also like to see a return to some of the fairy tales being done like ‘Hansel and Gretel’, ‘Rumpelstiltskin’, ‘Jack and the Beanstalk’ google street view – I know all about ‘Gigantic’ but it’d be nice to see the old familiar stories being told in Disney’s classic style. Computer animation can still be used, a gingerbread house, the Giant’s kingdom. Basically use the animation to bring the most heart to the relevant story. Another person’s comment about ‘Treasure Planet’ is right, it could have worked better in the 3D animation rather than hand-drawn, whereas in it’s original Treasure Island setting hand-drawn would work and gives me thoughts of ‘Sword in the Stone’. It’s nice to read something about Disney thinking about past styles that have worked well for them, and acknowledging their history and the legacy left for future work rather than constantly announcing remakes.


they maybe purchased studio ghibli for such purpose :


Disney doesn’t own Studio Ghibli and never did. Disney only bought the rights to distribute some of SG’s movies in the West. Aside from that Studio Ghibli started integrating CG NPR into their films going all the way back to Princess Mononoke. It sounds like they’ve made a movie based on their successful video game series Ni No Kune and I suspect a lot of it will be CG from an NPR with some hand drawn characters. No company is gong to hire 200-300 full-time employees to draw animation year round in this day and age.


I have no doubt they are experimenting around with AI to do just that.