Tuesday, March 1, 2016

"The Magic of Disney Animation" Retrospective: Introduction.

Ask anybody on the street what the first word they think of is when you say "Animation". More often than not, the one word they will immediately answer with is Disney...
With good reason. Since their foundation in 1923, they've stood the test of time while many other competitors fell from their former glory, or withered away into obscurity, and they've been behind some of the most beloved animated shorts and feature length films of all time. Though we can point to all of their shady dealings as a global corporate superpower (remember the lemmings?), with their gargantuan power and hold over Hollywood, as well as some of the biggest moneymaking franchises right now with Star Wars and the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the fact remains that they are, and will always be a staple of our childhoods. Their animated output are some of the first things we're ever introduced to, and the iconic images, characters, and music are all immediately burned into our memory from that point on.

The studio came about when up and coming animator Walt Disney  decided to take on his hobby as a full time career, and in 1923, founded his own production studio in Hollywood. However, his road to success wasn't without its rockiness. When Disney was commissioned to create a brand new character for Universal Studios, his studio invented the character Oswald the Lucky Rabbit. Though the character was successful, Disney eventually drifted away from Universal, due to producer Charles Mintz lowering his studio's wages, losing not only many of his animating staff, but the trademark to Oswald himself. It's perhaps by no coincidence that Disney and Universal remain fierce rivals even to this day.
In his frustration, he took to creating a brand new character, one that he would have the sole rights to. One whose simplicity was where his charm lay... His name was Mickey Mouse. With the release of Steamboat Willie in 1928, the character grew into an instant overnight success. I don't think even Walt could have imagined the impact the character would have had over eighty years later, becoming the mascot of the entire Disney enterprise, and one of the most beloved characters ever created, eclipsing Oswald in popularity.

And the studio kept moving along from that point, creating revolutionary new short films that ushered in the age of sound and color in film, but Disney had bigger ambitions in mind. One idea he had was that of creating the world's first fully animated feature length film. A genius idea in hindsight, but one that was met with skepticism, despite the studio's prolific name and their impressive pedigree. It seemed like a disaster in the making, with friends and family attempting to talk him out of it, the man needing to mortgage his house to help fund it, and many outlets predicting that it would sink the studio once and for all. What film would Walt be crazy enough to risk everything on? Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs...

The rest is history. Next year, this very film will celebrate it's eightieth anniversary, and it led directly to the creation of many of Disney's most cherished films, from Pinocchio and Fantasia to Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty. Sadly, Disney passed away just days after his 65th birthday in 1966, leaving behind a legacy that few would ever dream of achieving with his many films, shows and specials, and his immortal theme parks. Even in the following years, his animation studio continues to be one of the most powerful and crowdpleasing forces in cinema even without his guidance, and despite their ups and downs like any other company, they've (mostly) always kept to their same signature quality. With 54 films having been released under their Disney Classics banner, this year will see them release their 55th and 56th with Zootopia in March and Moana in November. They clearly show no signs of slowing down anytime soon.

And in anticipation of their two big releases this year, I plan to review every film in their Disney Classics lineup. I won't be able to do this daily or weekly like past retrospectives given how little time I have, and how many films are in their roster, so I will instead be doing smaller reviews for six films on the 28th of every month (and the 13th in November). Minus Zootopia and Moana, which I will be reviewing separately following their initial releases. It's gonna be a lot of hard work, but I look forward to it all the same, and hope you'll join me for the ride.

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