Animation has been around since the 1800s and has evolved from simple pictures on paper for fun into the phenomena that it is today. Animation comes in many forms, from hand drawn on thousands of pieces of paper to today’s movies filled with incredibly complex 3D computer generated images. Recently, however, with many “live-action” remakes, animation has been more of a tool for big companies to make more money, rather than focusing on telling a new story that cannot be told with any other medium.
The early animated shorts such as Looney Tunes and Silly Symphony were a fun escape into another world where anything was possible and the laws of physics had no meaning. These worlds had their own “cartoon physics.” They could get away with practically anything, as long as it was funny. Gravity doesn’t work until you look down, you can peel off a hole from the ground, everything falls faster than an anvil, etc. (For a full list, see http://www.dgp.toronto.edu/~karan/courses/csc2529/cartoonlaw.htm) Part of the reason that everyone loves these shorts is because they aren’t grounded in reality. They live in their own world.
Recently, there has been a fall of 2D animation and a rise in CGI, which in several cases has lead to an increase of realism in the films. However, it comes to the point where the visuals look so realistic, that viewers can’t tell where reality stops. Even the backgrounds of animated movies have begun to look photorealistic. For example, when the first Frozen 2 trailer came out, the ocean waves crashing down looked like it was shot in person. Rather than creating new stories, the last five years have been filled with similar live action remakes that have blended reality and animation with varying degrees of success, such as The Jungle Book, Cinderella, and Aladdin. Taking it a step further, every single shot of the new Lion King remake is 100% animated, yet it is generally referred to as the “live action” Lion King. The Lion King focused so hard on making the animals realistic that the animals ended up practically expressionless, sacrificing style and personality of beloved characters. Some of the animators that worked on the original movie refused to even see the remake. Movies like these appear to have shifted the focus away from the art of storytelling and entertainment towards showing off the latest technological advances.
This push for more realism lead to a recent filmmaking disaster. Sonic the Hedgehog is a video game character. The initial trailers for the Sonic the Hedgehog movie featured a more human-proportioned, “realistic” version of Sonic. But let’s be honest, it is not nice to look at. It’s almost as bad as Cats.
Luckily, there was such an uprising about this design that the studio went back and completely redesigned Sonic, restoring his animated features. His eyes are twenty times bigger, his nose is more stylized, his gloves returned, his body is smaller with longer and skinnier legs. In short, his appearance is much more accurate to the very cartoony video game. This stylization made Sonic much better, enhancing the plot by emphasizing that this character isn’t from our world, even if he is in it at the moment.
New technology is opening doors to endless possibilities within the world of animation. Animation has made it possible to see things like a tree named Groot talk with a racoon in space. Animation can be utilized to dramatically enhance our world and the characters within it, supersizing our movies and plots. But animation started as visual entertainment and an escape from reality. This current push for realism throws the founding principles of animation out the window, especially exaggeration and “squash and stretch”. Animated movies need to get back to their core, stop retelling the same old stories, and literally get back to the drawing board, crafting new adventures that can only be expressed through this unique medium.
Two weeks have passed since the World Health Organization declared coronavirus, also referred to as COVID-19, a pandemic. Various institutions and workplaces rushed to close down on-site gatherings, and a series of regional lockdowns set off an official call for possibly the only solution to current situation – quarantine. Amidst such growing social stress, quarantined individuals have also found themselves overwhelmed with boredom and lack of social interaction. Where would they find entertainment, liberation, and communication in a virus-free space?
Animal Crossing franchise is one of Nintendo’s most successful and commercially stable games. In this popular social simulation series, players build their own community in a small, forested village where they can interact with animal neighbors and perform rural activities such as fishing, gardening, bug catching, and fossil scavenging. There is no grand objective in the game, but small tasks involving loan payment and museum exhibitions keep the players busy. Animal Crossing also allows users to customize their clothings and home interiors, a feature strongly highlighted in the newer series. Soothing acoustic music complements Animal Crossing’s cute animations to make it the epitome of stress-free fantasy-scape.
ANIMAL CROSSING: NEW HORIZONS
On March 20, Animal Crossing finally came back with a new addition to its series, the New Horizons. Animal Crossing: New Horizons sets itself apart from previous editions by starting on a deserted island and establishing a community from scratch. Users have to invite neighbors from nearby islands to become village residents and wait through construction processes for island developments. Although the game’s real-time pace seems slow at first, its relaxing mood has become a great appeal to today’s busy society.
With the novel coronavirus spreading rapidly, many people are placing themselves under intense isolation period. In times like this, the terms ‘freedom’ and ‘control’ could have never been so tempting. Animal Crossing: New Horizons offers players great amount of control over their character’s life. There are no complex tasks or customization enforced, keeping the game simple as possible for players to control. Thus, it is the major reason why Animal Crossing’s sales and popularity skyrocketed since its release – quarantined consumers were in high demand of such ‘freedom’ and ‘control’. With the game, they could set aside realistic concerns when exiting their homes for an outside adventure.
In a time where people are unwillingly separated from their loved ones and restricted from group activities, it is critical to reconnect to the communal senses. Animal Crossing allows its users to focus on community, family, and friendship – the game’s three most essential elements according to its creator Katsuya Eguchi. Players are encouraged to develop friendly relations with animal non-player characters and are allowed to engage with other users through internet connection. Simulation games, especially if targeted to all audiences like Animal Crossing, help acknowledge the need of social interactions rarely noticed elsewhere.
Animal Crossing and other like social simulation games provide a virtual space for individuals to freely express their lives. Players find themselves merged into the characters they create, building communities and setting goals that are often times too difficult to manage in real life. When the world closes itself under the boundaries of a pandemic, games like Animal Crossing help withdraw burdens coming from sudden social changes and transfer our minds onto a visible landscape where players can catch up to foster their creativity and communal connection.
The Walt Disney Company, founded in 1923 as the Disney Brothers Cartoon Studio, has weathered almost a century–persisting through major wars and crises. The Walt Disney Company’s ability to adapt to situations and engage with its audience during crises has allowed it to persevere.
The Company has often taken positive action to help during times of hardship such as during World War II when the Company had almost 90% of its animators producing war-time propaganda. So the company has shown its ability to engage with situations, though that example is a dated one.
They have also shown their ability to adapt, for in the face of the death of Walt Disney, a man so important to the company they had a life insurance policy on him for investors, the company was able to find a new creative groove. Now The Walt Disney Company, under new management after the recent departure of CEO Bob Iger, faces a new challenge; a world on lockdown while the deadly coronavirus pandemic grows.
Can The Walt Disney Company persevere through this new terrifying moment in history?
Disneyland and Disney World
On March 12th 2020, The Walt Disney Company announced the closure of the Disneyland and Disney World theme parks due to spreading fears of the Coronavirus Pandemic in the United States. The precedents for the closure of the Disneyland park in Anaheim are the day of mourning after the assassination of JFK on November 25th, 1963 and September 11th, 2001 due to fears that the parks could be targeted.
The closure of the parks is a reflection of just how bad this crisis has become, for as the barometer of the precedent shows, the moments in history when the parks have closed have been truly monumental. Points in time that have irreversible altered the world that we live in. The world was never been the same since the assassination of JFK, and it has most definitely been made unrecognizable after the attacks on September 11th.
Today the parks stand empty until further notice, and according to the New York Times the Disney Company has already lost $175 million due to the closure of its China parks–though they are starting to reopen–and is set to lose a great deal more with the temporary closures of parks, cruise lines, and stores in the United States.
Though Disney will be taking a major hit to their financials in the coming months, they were willing to take the necessary steps to comply with Governor Gavin Newsom’s orders in the State of California when he asked for no gatherings over 250 people back on March 12th. While some companies have resisted closures, like GameStop–claiming themselves as essential businesses–Disney has not resisted and has closed down stores across the country. While it is simply them following requirements, it is still more than some companies have done.
Similar to GameStop’s resistance, Knott’s Berry Farm–another Southern California theme park–resisted Newsom’s orders and took four days longer to close its doors than Disneyland. This period of time, though short, put not only the public, but Knott’s Berry Farm workers, at risk. Disney has shown willingness to simply do the right thing in comparison with other companies.
Current Film Productions and Upcoming Releases
Beyond the parks, Disney productions have ceased work across the world. The Last Duel, Home Alone, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, and The Little Mermaid have all stopped shooting, as well as all the upcoming Disney Plus Marvel television shows. Not only has production halted, but films completed and slated for the summer months like Mulan (2020) and Artemis Fowl have been pushed back or cut from the schedule entirely.
These productions shutting down mean that thousands of people are out of work: entertainment workers who now have an inability to find new opportunities while they wait out this crisis. However, closing down production will protect these workers from risking their health. Disney once again was forced to close down and suffer the consequences of financial loss in order to do the right thing by their workers.
Alternatively Warner Brothers committed to maintaining its production schedule and begin shooting their big projects like the third Fantastic Beasts film on March 16th. Again, four days after Disney shut down production, Warner Brothers decided to shut down as well. It seems that Disney has been leading the pack of entertainment companies when it comes to fighting the coronavirus pandemic.
With more people staying home, and movie theaters closed, Disney has also postponed all of its upcoming films. Disney warned in an SEC filing, a report for Wall Street, that the shelter in place orders could have a major impact if the prolonged shutdown changes the way we interact with their products. The report stated that, “our businesses could also be impacted should the disruptions from COVID-19 lead to changes in consumer behavior.”
Our businesses could also be impacted should the disruptions from COVID-19 lead to changes in consumer behavior.
The Walt Disney Company SEC Form 8-K, Mar. 19, 2020
These changes being that consumers, once the shutdown is over, begin to interact with Disney products in a way they did not before. Maybe people are less willing to go to parks with the fear of disease and health risks burned into the public’s mind in the aftermath of this pandemic. Maybe people never really return to movie theaters after they reopen, and big Hollywood productions are forced to release streaming services. We are living in a moment where everything is in flux, and the future of Disney is very much at risk.
Under New Management
At this incredibly unstable time, a management shift has also thrust Disney into a position of greater instability. CEO Robert Iger stepped down from the position on February 26th. Iger, who served as CEO for 15 years, came from ABC and guided Disney in their acquisitions of Pixar (2006), Marvel (2009), Lucasfilm (2012), and 20th Century Fox (2019). He also oversaw the creation of Disney Plus. As he steps down he will remain at the company as Executive Chairman, but Bob Chapek is now the CEO of the company.
Bob Chapek is most famous for his implementation of the vault system at Disney. The vault system, which has met with major criticism from Disney fans, is a system of releasing and holding back animated feature productions; so that they can sell VHS versions, DVD versions, and Blu-ray versions of films while maintaining a demand for the product. Bob Chapek will most likely shift the company away from acquisitions of other content to withholding and reselling the product that already exists.
Chapek’s strategy of the vault system will not benefit Disney currently as they push for Disney Plus. The only strategy that can work is to provide all their back catalogue as a base library on their new streaming platform, and work with the vast amount of IP they have amassed through acquisitions to create new easily recognizable and appealing content.
So while the changes that result in the consumer behavior from this pandemic and shelter-in-place could negatively affect Disney in the short run, Disney is poised–with Disney Plus–in a better position than most media companies to adapt to the changing consumer behavior. If people are quarantined in their homes they will be moving to the digital space and not the theaters.
Services like HBO Max and Peacock are too late, but Disney has an opportunity to bring in a huge amount of members to their service while people are stuck in their homes.
The Future and Disney Plus
Disney has just released two of its biggest films of the year–Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (2019) and Frozen II (2019)–for purchase on digital platforms like iTunes and scheduled early releases for them on Disney Plus. This feels as though Disney is testing the waters for possible releases of major films on the Disney Plus platform. If people come to the platform for Frozen, maybe they will come for Mulan (2020). While Mulan (2020) would not recoup its budget being released on Disney Plus, it would benefit from membership increase in the long run for the platform.
Right now is the time for Disney to be pushing their streaming platform, and that means taking risks on major film releases on the platform. It is time for Disney to adapt to the crisis; Disney’s audience is trapped at home, so the only way to reach them is through Disney Plus. While we may not be getting out of this lockdown anytime soon, Disney should buckle down and take major risks on their streaming service. If Disney wants to succeed in the future they need to embrace that future.
There is a recognized attitude for American audiences to dislike or ignore a film because it is subtitled, joked about in film and tv, it made me curious about the whole bias against international cinema in the states and why this is accepted for the average consumer of content. Why are viewers of “foreign films” classified as either pretentious or scholarly, why are more films not theatrically released like Parasite, and what does the “I can’t watch while also read” attitude imply about american’s perception of what is “foreign”? My first thought is that, of the top film producing nations, The United States is far more used to having everyone else speak english in addition to their native language. However, there is little expectation or standard for Americans to be multilingual, thus in the media consumed by Americans, we have a similar expectation for the media to be produced in our language.
One place to begin looking into this is formal recognition of a film’s excellence, aka awards. The Oscars represents the American standard for which films released each year are the “best,” and though problematic in many ways, reveal much about what America deems worthy. Steve Rose wrote for the Guardian a piece about Roma, and believes “the foreign language Oscar is already a messy afterthought. It was not created until the 29th Academy Awards in 1956, although special awards were given to foreign films before that. Only one entry per country is allowed.” It is already flawed that there is only one category which international cinema is truly addressed and it was not until Roma and Parasite that they were considered for any categories besides this. There are some other opportunities in shorts and documentaries, but feature length fiction films from other countries or in other languages are typically oddities at the red carpet. To elaborate upon what it means to be considered a “foreign film” is also an interesting and highly biased conversation. Hannah Giorgis for The Atlantic goes in depth about the very recent policy change made by The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Basically, since its inception, the foreign film category required the film to have 50% of the language be not English. While on the surface this seems good in encouraging more linguistic representation, it has other downsides about how “foreign” is defined. Giorgis argues this is not considerate of films produced outside the US where English is now one of the primary languages due to colonization and globalization. She notes that Lionheart, a Nigerian film which includes many Nigerian Languages but uses English to tie them together, as well as The Farewell from South Korea, but neither were accepted as Foreign Films to The Oscars. This brings up many issues about identity, what is not foreign enough, what qualities make a film not American? Is it the amount of crew who are non citizens? Is it simply the language like The Academy likes to think? Is it any film produced and filmed outside the US or released theatrically elsewhere? There is a lot to consider, but our standard of what is foreign is flawed fundamentally. The Academy has since renamed the category best International
This brings us to the conversation about subtitles and language once again. Even if language is not a good indicator of where a film is from, it is important to recognize how rare it is for a subtitled film to succeed or be released on a wide scale. In the UK, it was 2% and shrinking of the box office, hinting to the fact that even in Europe where there is much more connection to other countries and language, exposure and mainstream viability of non english films is extremely low. For the American market, Indiewire repots a drop in revenue by 61% in the past seven years. And it has continued to decrease in popularity even on streaming, they say as well. Though there is no definite or concrete way to measure why this is, it is concerning as far as it’s impact on expanding horizons of americans during this global age. If such a tiny amount of externally produced media is reaching audiences, I am not optimistic that the american sensitivity and interest in other languages, cultures, and creators will increase.
When Zootopiawas released in 2016, it was not only praised for its originality and entertainment values among audiences, but the film was also regarded for its challenge of basic stereotypes through the portrayal of the animal kingdom.
At the beginning of the film, the audience is introduced to Judy Hopps, an ambitious bunny who dreams of becoming a police officer. Already, she is set apart from her meek, carrot-farming family who is primarily concerned with growing their own family. In the same way that bunnies in the real world simply look cute, reproduce, and eat carrots, Judy’s confinement to this stereotype of being a gentle prey stands in the way of her being taken seriously by the police force and her own family. Despite her completing the police training and joining the force, she is still seen as token member of the team, incapable of competing with the predator officers who are larger and “tougher” than her.
Throughout the entire film she is consistently underrated and has to go the extra mile in order to prove herself. Her character reflects the prejudice the many women face in the workplace today. Though these women might be qualified for their positions, they are required to work twice as hard to prove themselves.
“These stereotypes [also] impact how these animals view themselves; for instance, Nick [Wilde] behaves slyly only because he knows he is seen that way by the public eye.” Because he is a fox, he is automatically labeled dishonest. The friendship and partnership between Nick and Judy through the film is initially hindered by labels. He makes comments about her status as a bunny, whereas she constantly questions her friendship with a predator who could potentially be letting her down. Ultimately, Nick becomes a police officer offer himself and rises above the labels that try to paint him as cunning and deceitful.
Savage Predators & the Twist Ending
The entire premise of the film follows Nick and Judy as they find out why certain predators have gone “savage.” When we find out that Bellwether was behind the scheme the entire time, we understand how she manipulated the negative stereotype that predators have, by forcing them to be violent, to secure her power and control over Zootopia. In our world today, stereotypes are used to divide us and pit us against each other. And if we are pitted against each other, people in power can remain secure in their control.
In conclusion, Zootopiasucceeds in reigning in a new era of animated movies that not only aim at representing a more diverse population but tackle many pressing issues that are embedded in our society today. As a film that can appeal to both children and adults, the many layers of this film and the message that it tells about stereotypes is what truly sets it apart. The way Zootopia seamlessly integrated entertainment with a meaningful message should inspire you to be creative and purposeful in your own work. Additionally, I hope this film allows you to view all content on a deeper level and uncover the true meaning behind certain messages for yourself!