It took a while, but Disney has figured out how to combine their classic brand of storytelling with cutting-edge computer animation. Part of me is in mourning, because it’s highly unlikely we’ll see another traditionally animated movie from them again. But at the same time, films like Tangled and (especially) Frozen still have that classic Disney “look” to them. With these films (and even Wreck-It Ralph, to a lesser extent), Disney currently owns Pixar in more ways than one.
Maybe we’re even in the midst of a second “Disney Renaissance.” Some of you might recall when The Little Mermaid breathed new life into the studio after decades of forgettable kiddie fare. Creatively inspired, they proceeded to crank out some of their greatest animated features, culminating with The Lion King, which quickly became the biggest animated film of all time. Then Pixar came along and changed everything. Disney’s brand of animation became formulaic and rote, while rivals like Dreamworks jumped on the CG bandwagon. Disney initially tried their hand at computer animation, but forgettable flicks like Chicken Little and Bolt paled in comparison to Monsters Inc.,Finding Nemo, Shrek and How to Train Your Dragon.
Then Tangled came along, Disney’s first real attempt to return to the type of storytelling they do best (classic fairy tales), and their first film worth seeing in theaters in over a decade (much like The Little Mermaid in the 80s). Wreck-It Ralph followed, becoming a Who Framed Roger Rabbit for a new generation. While Pixar finally began flirting with mediocrity with Cars 2 and Brave, Disney was suddenly back in a big way.
If Tangled is to this century what The Little Mermaid was to the late 80s, then Frozen is today’s Lion King, the epic culmination of lessons learned from the films which proceeded it, resulting in a movie which isn’t arguably different, but far more ambitious. Like The Lion King, its box office and cultural impact is huge. Even if you haven’t yet seen Frozen, you probably know “Let it Go” by now, since it's the most insanely-catchy movie tune since…well, “Hakuna Matata.” In addition, Frozen recently passed The Lion King as Disney’s most successful animated film (and currently the 19th biggest movie of all time, inflation not taken into account).
Is the film actually worthy of comparison to The Lion King? Yeah, sort of, since they tell a similar story…someone is banished from their kingdom, and while in exile, they learn to accept who they are, gather strength from their epiphany and return to save the day from those with a nefarious agenda. It's a time-honored trope, which both films masterfully retell. However, “Let it Go” notwithstanding, The Lion King is still musically superior. On the other hand, Frozen does not rely on celebrity stunt casting, choosing instead to cast people whose voices best suit their characters. As awesome as The Lion King is, we’re acutely aware of the actors themselves, which admittedly does suck us out of the story at times (“Oh, hey…that’s Whoopi Goldberg!”). Then again, many characters in Frozen are generically rendered and resemble those from Tangled, while every Lion King character is distinctly unique.
I guess it’s obvious I hold The Lion King in the highest regard of any animated Disney film. It’s remains the standard by which I’ve judged all of their subsequent efforts, CG or otherwise. Overall, Frozen doesn’t quite reach those heights, but it is arguably their best animated film since then, raising hopes that we’re in the middle of a true second Disney Renaissance.
For more of our unique insights on Disney’s Frozen, check out FKMG’s previous essay, Frozen and the Disney Junkies.