Anyone from an economics background could tell you that a monopoly does not induce a spirit of creativity. If one group controls the entirety of an output, what motivation do they have to be innovative? Disney has been the epitome of feature-length animated features for almost a century. Other animations studios may have come and gone, but Disney remained. This monopoly over the animated film market was finally challenged in 1998, when the fledgling studio known as Dreamworks released its first full-length animated feature, Antz. This was a firm stand against Pixar (a Disney subsidiary) and it’s 1998 film A Bug’s Life. Now that computers have made it easier to do feature-length animated films, more studios have stepped up to try and take on the Disney giant. While Dreamworks has seen varying levels of success, they have held their own against the Disney empire and still continue to release films to this day. This week’s two films highlight some representative works of both sides of this animation battle.
How to Train Your Dragon
Length: 98 minutes / 1.63 hours
Being the new kids on the block, Dreamworks took a while to really find what works in an animated film. While Disney and Pixar focused on story and plot, Dreamworks tended toward gags and franchising. Their first real hit came in 2001 with Shrek, which took Best Animated Picture in the Oscars, heralding their arrival as an animation studio. Even though Dreamworks tends to rely on sequels (generally going out to 4 films) and high profile voice actors, it wasn’t until 2010 and their release of How to Train Your Dragon that they really were able to get down to the root of a great film: story. Even though Dreamworks hasn’t really done many classically animated films (for which Disney is well known), they came in on the ground floor of the fledgling computer generated imaging (CGI) animated films, which really gave Disney a run for its money.
How to Train Your Dragon is definitely a departure from the standard Dreamworks fare, which saw a definite shift in 2008 with Kung-Fu Panda. It seemed that in 2008, they finally grasped what computer animated features could be capable of, and fully utilized that to provide a very action packed film. With 2010’s How to Train Your Dragon, the action and spectacular visuals were there, but fused with a great story; which comes as no surprise as it was directed by the same duo that gave us Disney’s Lilo and Stitch. Themes such as “Brain over Brawn” and “Anti-discrimination” were definitely deeper than the simplistic plots that seemed to dominate the Dreamworks landscape. As Dreamworks continues to grow and mature, I look forward to the films they’ll create to compete with Disney and Pixar.
Length: 90 minutes / 1.5 hours
Even though Disney initially used Pixar as their CGI powerhouse, they’ve gradually been able to make these types of films, for which this year’s Wreck-it Ralph looks like a pure Disney classic. And yet, if there’s one thing that Disney has been known for, it’s the classically animated films of the 20th Century. These feature-length films were certainly impressive when you come to think about what goes into making 90 minutes of animation, all drawn by hand. And yet, with 50 animated films, Disney has seen various levels of success over the years, which helps to evolve the studio to match changes in society, while still holding to a high standard of quality.
Aladdin is definitely in the short list for my favorite Disney films (along with Tangled and Sleeping Beauty). I think this is partly due to the protagonist and main focus being on a guy, instead of a princess, for which Disney set the standard. In fact, Aladdin flipped that format on its head by having the street-rat pursuing the princess Jasmine, with whom he had fallen in love, instead of focusing on the princess longing for true love and waiting for her prince to appear. This also provides an interesting twist to the prince/princess formula, since it enforced the importance of riches and background instead of true love, which shouldn’t be restricted by such societal boundaries. Aside from its non-traditional Disney approach, Aladdin is still a fun film filled with action, adventure, comedy, love, and magic. All the elements that have made Disney successful in the past.
2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 animation powerhouses