Remember when Disney used to be fun?
Fortunately, so does Disney finally.
After years in the wilderness (it’s been seventeen years since their last truly great animation, The Lion King) the studio has once again returned to its core values of taking well established stories and adapting them to modern audiences, something we sort of hoped it had learnt after it’s last wilderness period (the eighties) with the early nineties resurgence (Beauty & The Beast, Aladdin & The Lion King – yes, it is based on a well known story) but proved time and again it hadn’t.
Under the direction of former Pixar head John Lasseter, the studio has returned to its roots. Last years Princess & The Pea was good, but showed that audiences may have tired of traditional animation techniques – instead here we see the story realised (beautifully) with CGI, although for once its not the attempts at realistic depictions but an almost painterly approach but Lasseter’s code remains – Story & Characters are the most important thing, without them everything else is pointless.
The story remains simple, but the approach to it is as light as a feather with no attempt to add anything that would get in the way of the central characters. Yes, morals are learnt along the way, but never in a cloying way that you sometimes got with Disney. For once the central relationship grows out of something more than a few glances (and is hilariously ribbed in the final voice-over, reminding you that this is supposed to be fun) and the villain is villainous not because of their power but because their desires are understandable by all. Yup, Disney once again realises that there are adults as well as children in the audience.
This old fashioned approach extends even to the songs. Disney had gotten into the habit of dragging in well known stars to attempt to produce chart hits rather than songs that fit the film. Here they return to Alan Menken who’s sensibilities lie more in expanding the story through song than providing a memorable hit (although “Mother Knows Best” has been stuck in my head since). The songs are approached organically like the best musicals rather than shoe-horned in with “Here’s another tune”. Once again its fun.
Even the technological aspects feel almost old fashioned. The CGI seems to have been softened to give everything a dreamier appearance, and the emphasis on light (a major aspect of the plot) means it glows, whilst character movement (especially the hands) feels like motion capture. It’s a small thing, but this softening makes the film easier to watch than some other CGI films – although the sheer number of particle systems (leaves, grass – the hair) must have had the animators screaming at times.
Is this another resurgence?
It’s too early to say, but in the meantime it’s good to have them back.