Princess and the Frog Finally Reaches $100 Million

This has to be a disappointment, and, frankly, I'm surprised.  Disney's The Princess and the Frog has finally reached the $100 million mark in its ninth week.  For such a high profile movie - the return of Disney feature animation - this is just a shock.

I haven't seen this movie yet, but in all honesty, I haven't been to the movies since Ponyo back in August.  I just haven't had the time or money.  Besides, a Disney fairy tale isn't exactly my angle (I'd rather watch documentaries and spin Miles Davis records); but I did expect this movie to be a big hit with families, and that doesn't appear to have happened.

Disney has now released two hand-drawn animation films - Ponyo, Princess and the Frog - to great critical acclaim, but tepid support at the box office.  Is there a rational explanation for this?  Could things have played out differently?  How much did Alvin & the Chipmunks and James Cameron's Avatar influence matters?  Perhaps in this economy, there just wasn't enough money to go around.

My concern is that executives will see this as further evidence that the public is no longer interested in hand-drawn animation.  Disney's next feature, Rapunzel, is GCI, and that's a telling sign.  Princess and the Frog was a return to Disney's roots, but it was also a risky experiment.  It was like Chaplin's City Lights and Modern Times, silent film masterpieces in the age of sound.  Between Pixar and Avatar, it will be very tempting for business minds to pull the plug on traditional animation entirely.  I hope that doesn't come to pass.


Dafni said...

that sounds soooo sad and it would be a total loss towards originality and talent if the 2D world vanishes slowly!but maybe the movie will do better since it was not released in Europe until this it might go up :)

nicole said...

Princess and the Frog was actually quite dark and scary. The voodoo images along with the reference to slavery/plantations in the south and the general lack of true palace-type images made it lack the true "fairy tale" feeling.

I left the movie feeling "meh" and thinking that it still didn't hold a candle to classics like Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty. Even Mulan and Pocahontas.

skudfisher said...

I don't know if I would consider $100 million in 9 weeks a disaster exactly but I bet they really push this hard when it comes out on DVD and end up doing quite well. I imagine the target audience for this movie are a lot more interested in watching it 100 times a day at home on DVD than going to see it in a theater.

returnofthesmith said...

Princess and the Frog didn't do that strongly because it was specifically aimed at little girls. You look at the sucessful CGI animated films (Up, Ice Age, Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs etc) they all have broad premises that can be enjoyed by boys and girls. Boys did not want to be seen watching a film called "Princess and the Frog". It also cut out the audience of adults going to see it without kids. To see it, i personally had to find a kid to bring, because i knew i would be the only adult without kids in the theatre and it would seem creepy (which was true).

Ponyo however failed due to poor marketing and theatrecounts.

Both films will be hits on DVD/Blu-ray for years to come though.

Anonymous said...

There's really no need to worry. Lasseter is in charge of Disney animation now, and he has no intentions of letting hand drawn animation at disney die:
Plus they've already stated they planned on released a hand drawn animated film every two years from now on. They're working on two as we speak, a Winnie the Pooh film and an adaption of The Snow Queen!
I don't think there's really any reason to worry.

GW said...

Here's my perspective on animation mediums:

I think that first of all, it's best to think of mediums detail by detail, frame by frame. What lets you move the most things from frame to frame?

Now let's take this idea and apply it to animation, saying that you want everything to move for every piece of every frame. The most pure form of hand drawn animation is essentially images drawn on one piece of paper after another.

Let's take the same idea, but this time apply it to cutting paper. You cut out everything you need to for every bit of every frame.

Then you have to ask, what's the truest form of computer animation? The answer is adjusting every color pixel frame by frame. This takes you back even further, to the development of the pinscreen, essentially a low resolution black and white version of the same idea as a digital monitor.

Then there's clay animation. I'll go with two dimensional clay animation. There's clay painting and clay cutting. Clay painting is painting a 2D surface with clay. You could remove the clay off of the surface after each and every frame and put clay down again.

Clay cutting is a construction where movement in time is modeled out in loaves, with the frames cut out like slices of bread.

There's a very good reason why I brought all of these things up and it directly relates to your subject. No matter what technique you use, it will be refined further and there's not really any one true medium for animation.

Traditional cel animation in general involves drawing, painting and cutting. The xeroxed animator drawings involves a digital system, like the computer or pinscreen.

Nowadays though, most hand drawn animation seems to be done on the computer which effectively destroys the boundary between drawing, cutouts and painting, but those traditions still exist as forms in themselves.

Computer animation, as we think of it right now, is a lot of fancy math in order to convince the audience that they're seeing a three dimensional representation of a world inside of a system of pixels.

Digital drawing tools were used on The Princess and the Frog, which makes things even more absurd. Basically, all traditional animation means right now is outlines, characters that are redrawn between frames, and old background tricks inside of a computer. Hand drawn animation may be make sense outside a computer, but once you're using one, the idea of hand drawn animation doesn't quite make sense.

I really don't think that the idea of traditional animation is very relevant anymore. There's much more I'd like to say, including my thoughts on the possible direction of stop motion, but I'll leave it at that for now.

Anonymous said...

How does hand-drawn not make sense if it was drawn in a computer? They use drawing tablets you know

greentea said...

I wanted to see The Princess and the Frog, but I haven't been to a movie theatre in years. It doesn't exactly sound like an original story, for one. And I do wonder if maybe some non-blacks may have been a little put off by it.

I hope Disney keeps trying with 2D animation. Get a good story, something better than Brother Bear and Home On the Range, and hold the cliches. Give it care and thought. Surprise us!

GW said...

I know they do, but that's just moving around pixels. You could make a virtual "cut" just as well with a stylus, or have it trigger some sort of virtual paint feature. Look at this video and see how the pin screen is used for animation:

Hand drawn animation still makes sense as a technique, but when done inside the computer it's really just one possible manipulation of the computer's tools. As you've seen in this video, it's possible to have more than one technique to move the pins, and the same must inevitably be true for pixels.

In other words, I think of it as hand manipulated computer animation. Of course, this refers to pixel images and not raster images, but many similar things apply to raster images. A drawing blown up on the screen reveals the same amount of detail, a pixel image gets fuzzy, and a raster image looks about the same. There really isn't any equivalent to a raster image that I can think of, outside of the computer, so that's computer animation by default.

If a film uses image creation directly on a computer, I consider it 2D computer animation.

Anonymous said...

If you use your hand to draw it, that's hand drawn. I see no difference between "hand manipulated" and "hand drawn". I have a tablet myself and I can safely say that it's not much different than drawing on paper. When I draw something on my computer I say I drew it, I don't say I "manipulated" it.
Take a look at this video:
That doesn't look a whole lot different than the test footage we saw on older films, like hercules and stuff. Someone had to put the effort and care into drawing every single frame, and just passing it off as computer work almost seems disrespectful to me.

GW said...

I don't understand what you mean by passing it off as computer work. Of course there's another character 'drawing' for every frame, but that's not what I was criticizing. I don't consider 'computer drawn animation' hand drawn animation because you're not putting medium on a surface. This is what hand drawn animation developed from, and what I consider it to be. I realize that next to nobody talks about mediums this way, but when you do get down to these specifics, you realize that there's an awful lot of difference between drawing on a computer tablet and using paper.

An awful lot of computer conveniences you use are a result of the fact that you're not working by hand: coloring fills, the ability to erase anything and not have anything left over, and use a wide variety of colors without the need for paint.

There's a couple of things that seem to make for a wide gap between 2D and 3D CGI, and I'll point them out. There's the forward and inverse kinematics instead of the general frame replacement(or for the lazy people, motion tweens). Then there's the computer models, the mathematical particle behaviors, and the technique of rendering.

There's clearly little similarity between 2D and 3D computer animation when it gets deeper into things, at least at present, but there are tools that are destroying the gaps further.

SANDDE allows you to draw in the same sense you're thinking of, but in 3D and on the computer.

Then there's Rhonda, which will let you draw out your wireframes in 3D which throws the stance of computer animation even further into question.

With all of these ways to draw on a computer, with such a continuum, isn't it time to consider hand drawn animation as an artform outside of the computer or switch to new terms altogether?

I'm not bringing this up because I look down upon the effort of people drawing on Cintiqs, and this doesn't make me look down on films using the technique, like My Dog Tulip, My Neighbors the Yamadas or Blue Submarine No. 6. I don't despise your artwork just because it's created on the computer.

Why is it that so many people are so hesitant to mention the flipside of the digital age? There's a reason why we've switched to pixels: they're easy to reproduce, allow for files to be transmitted electronically, and allow for mistakes to be uncovered. Ultimately, though, this comes at the price of a reduced image and there's the uncomforting truth that every work of art made or done using a modern digital computer possesses this common trait. I make a thin exception for The Princess and the Frog for using scanned drawings, but ultimately, hand drawn animators using a computer without acknowledging the computer are digging their own graves and I don't feel sorry for saying so.

David said...

"I make a thin exception for The Princess and the Frog for using scanned drawings,"


Exception ? Do you understand that almost every hand-drawn feature film since the late 1980's has been made by scanning hand-drawn artwork into a computer ink & paint system ? At Disney using their proprietary CAPS system ever since The Rescuer's Down Under (1990) through Home on the Range (2004) and at other studios (including Studio Ghibli) using digital ink & paint systems like Animo, Toonz, ToonBoom, or Retas.

In this respect The Princess & the Frog is not exceptional in any way. Disney has switched from using their out-of-date CAPS system to using ToonBoom, but otherwise the production system used on PATF was not much different than any of the hand-drawn films made in in the time period from 1989 to 2003 .

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