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Up! Where They Belong – Disney, Pixar, and the New Golden Age of Animation
The Disney/Pixar film’s “UP” nomination for Best Picture at the 2010 Oscars restores Disney to its rightful place as the undisputed king of animated film, a throne it has held for the better part of the past 100 years. Arguments over what constitutes an animated film aside (some claim that appellation for Up’s co-nominee Avatar), this is only the second time an animated feature has been nominated for the prize (the first was another Disney film – Beauty and the Beast, from 1991, which somewhat ironically lost out to the Silence of the Lambs, which, one might say, resembled Beauty and the Beast in more ways than one. ‘a title.)
Although popular opinion has Avatar as a favorite to win the Best Picture award, the mere fact of Up’s nomination is vindication of Disney’s purchase of the company in 2006 and speaks to the courage and commitment from Pixar Chairman and CEO Steve Jobs and creative genius John Lassetter, now Pixar’s Chief Creative Officer, as well as Disney Animation Studios.
Disney’s wisdom in not only acknowledging the financial worth of Pixar, but also the artistic worth of its creative team, takes the company back almost a full circle to the very early days of animation, when founder Walt Disney got very soon realized that he would not be able to achieve his creative and business ambitions on his own, and set about employing the best artists and writers available.
His first major collaboration was with friend and former co-worker Ub Iwerks, with whom Disney had worked at the Pesmen-Rubin Commercial Art Studio in Kansas City. While Iwerks wasn’t the only animator Disney worked with, he was most influential on the early films, most notably in his development of the now-iconic Mickey Mouse from a former Disney character, Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, whose he had lost the rights in a contractual dispute. Using the new character of Iwerks, Disney made the risky decision to invest in new cinematic sound technology, introduced the previous year in The Jazz Singer.
Although 1928’s Steamboat Willie, featuring Mickey Mouse in his third appearance, is often cited as the first synchronized sound cartoon, it was actually preceded in 1926 by Max and Dave Fleischer’s My Old Kentucky Home, and in 1928 by Dinner Time, created by Paul Terry, later founder of Terrytoons. None of these predecessors were successful at the box office, but Steamboat Willie caused a stir. With him, Disney entered the big time and embarked on an extremely productive phase in which several Mickey Mouse cartoons (including his first two – Plane Crazy and The Gallopin’ Gaucho – remade with sound) were remade with sound. been released every year, along with a number of other titles featuring a growing stable of popular characters.
Disney had combined technical superiority with artistic excellence and business acumen, and this combination of attributes earned him and his company a place at the forefront of the animation industry, a position which he cemented four years later when he signed Technicolor to a two-year exclusive contract. using their new color processing technique for cartoons.
In the late 1930s, Walt Disney had ambitions to develop animation even further. He made the risky, but ultimately profitable leap into animated features with the wildly popular and successful Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs in 1938, a film that began several decades of box office dominance for Disney, with iconic films like Bambi (1942), Song of the South (1946) and Cinderella (1950) join modern classics like 1989’s The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast (1991) in the pantheon of great movies – both animated and others.
It’s no surprise, then, that the Disney Company recognized the potential of the revolutionary new medium of computer animation when Pixar made its first feature film Toy Story in 1995. Disney and Pixar entered into a distribution partnership for Toy Story and the subsequent Pixar release which, though not without the occasional contract disputes and personality clashes, ultimately led to Disney’s purchase of a majority share of Pixar. True to the history of these two leaders in motion picture animation, the quality of Pixar’s work has steadily improved, and with the appointment of John Lassiter (also a former Disney animator) as Creative Director of both companies , there is no reason to doubt that this will continue. It can only be a matter of time before a Disney/Pixar movie receives the recognition and respect this often underrated art form has deserved since the early days of animation.
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