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The Science Survey

We've got the news down to a science!

The Science Survey

We've got the news down to a science!

The Science Survey

Are Newer Animated Movies Really That Bad?

While not every animated movie from the 1980’s or the 1990’s is a work of art, to many animation fans, the 2010’s have heralded in an era of shockingly bad animated movies with cookie cutter stories and bad animation. Do these claims hold any weight?
Walt Disney, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
‘Snow White,’ created in 1937, was one of the first full length animated movies ever made, and the film made Walt Disney the household name he is today. Still a popular movie today, ‘Snow White’ is one of the first examples of classic animation that many people admire. (Image Credit: Walt Disney, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

For many people, animated movies are a source of nostalgia. We grew up watching them, cuddled on our couches as the sky darkened outside. The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, and so many others are focal points of our youth. Even today, upon rewatching from an older point of view, these films still manage to elicit the same feelings of wonder and awe that arose in us as children. 

There is power in animation. It is not bound to the same rules of reality; movements become more dynamic and eye-catching, and facial expressions are less contained. Traditionally, animation is used to tell stories unsuitable for real-life acting. Do you want to make your character fly through the air? Sure, you can do it on a set, but it might appear clunky and haphazard. With a good animator, however, this same set of motions becomes whimsical and beautiful. 

Regardless of just how expansive animation can be, it is mostly thought of as a kids’ genre, partially because of the wealth of children’s content that is animated. However, with the recent surge of popular animated media — both domestic and foreign — amongst multiple different generations, this stigma has slowly started to erode. Arcane, Vox Machina, and Scavenger’s Reign are all animated shows that have come out in the past few years to critical acclaim and are not designed with children in mind at all. 

At the end of the day, however, a good amount of animated media at home is designed for children, and this is particularly evident when we talk about animated movies. Almost every animated movie that I can think of that has been released in the past decade, from Coco to Inside Out, has been designed and marketed to kids. Looking at the demographic who is mostly consuming these movies, this makes sense. 

Some animation connoisseurs in recent years have started to converse about these animated movies, however — more specifically, their quality. Animation-wise and story-wise, these people have concluded that the newer animated movies just aren’t cutting it. Weaker animation, stories that rely on overly familiar beats, and soulless corporate maneuvering have led these movies to lack the magic that make older animated movies so timeless. 

For others, this answer isn’t as clear-cut as this. Are the movies actually bad, or have these people just aged out of the target demographic? Is there actually any huge difference in quality between newer and older animated movies, or are these people proselytizing about nothing? 

To come up with an answer to this — if there is an answer, as this largely comes down to your personal opinion — let’s do some analysis. Comparing older animation to newer animation, without even going into the specifics of movie making or contrasting these films’ artistic merit, there is a very stark difference between the animation styles of these films. Newer animation has a heavy use of 3D techniques, with a very liberal dose of CGI. It’s also much more visually bright, with an almost oversaturated quality. This is pretty to look at, but it definitely takes its toll on our eyes after a bit. 

Older animated movies show more diversity in their animation styles. We have your typical “old Disney” look, with picturesque hand-drawn scenes, but there is also claymation, cutout animation, rotoscope, and so many others. These styles added a level of creativity to these movies, allowing them to stand out from the pack. Think of the eye-catching style of Coraline, and how it gave the world around her a sort of texture.

To be clear, these styles are still utilized in newer animated movies but not at the same frequency they were before. In fact, pre-2010 (which is where most of these newer animation naysayers base their arguments off of), you’d be more likely to run into a movie using these styles. You have Paranorman, made with claymation, or James and The Giant Peach, made using a combination of live-action and stop-motion animation. There’s Davey and Goliath’s Snowboard Christmas, Corpse Bride, and Wallace and Gromit. My point is that there used to be such a wide variety of artistic styles in animation, which nowadays has been usurped by the same flat, brightly colored look of today. 

While the minds of many animation fans consider this look to be lesser in comparison to traditional styles, when done well, this style of animation can be a true visual feast. Ericka Wilson ’24 said, “3D animation might be very visually different from 2D animation, but that doesn’t mean it’s bad. In fact, a lot of modern movies are quite fun to watch artistically, and can compete quality wise with older movies.” Take, for example, the newest Spiderman movie, Spiderman: Across the Spiderverse. With its unique shots and contrasting visuals, it is perhaps one of the most visually dynamic movies that has come out recently. 

3D has been utilized in live-action movies since the early 20th century, with the creation of the movie The Power of Love. During the 70’s, computer scientists intended to take this one step forward and figure out how to animate in 3D. Enter designer duo Edwin Catmull and Frederic Parke, who became the first to test out this new experiment. They created hands and faces using digitized rigs, and these first prototypes spawned into an appearance in the 1976 film Futureworld. Catmull would go on to co-founded Pixar Animation Studios, and, in 1992, the studio came out with the first ever 3D animated movie, one which has lived on in the hearts and minds of those who grew up watching it, Toy Story. 

Everything was made using computer software, with not a hand-drawn frame in sight. It was both a commercial success and a quality success, nominated for three Academy Awards. (If you’re wondering why the Oscars didn’t say anything about this achievement, it’s because the Oscars didn’t exist yet). It was truly revolutionary for its time and began a trend of animation studios emulating the style used for this movie. 

Once revolutionary for the industry, this same style of animation would become its bread and butter. With a difference of a few years, movies animated the same way are thought of as ‘lesser than.’ Pixar, which was once a studio guaranteed to bring in money at the box office, no longer faces the same critical acclaim it once had. This may have to do with Disney’s acquisition of the company, as it ousted many animation and directorial figureheads of the studio and paused the development of many of its projects. 

It isn’t only the animation style that’s so hotly contested, no matter how generic it may be — it’s also the stories themselves. If it isn’t a long saga of spin offs, it’s a cookie cutter, copy and paste version of almost every other animated movie out there. There’s seemingly no more creativity in the genre anymore, following the same stiff, augmented pattern: a “quirky” main character, a convoluted quest, a few very awkward jokes to which there is no target audience, and a flashy lights battle to which our heroes journey out of triumphant. We have been there and done that. 

Yet, these are the types of movies that were so entrenched in our minds as kids. The story beats, by and far, are the same. However, that the movies produced now focus a bit less on the romantic aspect of the story, instead pushing a story that is focused on self-worth and confidence. When people make these arguments, they’re focusing on critiquing one sort of animated film — the Disney film. 

Disney has always been looked at as a sort of beacon for creativity, as with Snow White, Atlantis, or Beauty and the Beast. There’s always been an idolization of Disney, and in the West, Disney is the premier animation company. Sorting through some of these complaints made by animation fans, this drop in quality is only cited in movies made by big studios, with Disney as the biggest offender of them all. 

Disney’s main goal, at the end of the day, is to make money. The goal of these big studios, by and large, is to turn a profit. This has always been true of Disney, from the day it was founded to the present. Yet, this has seemingly never stopped Disney from pouring out quality work before now. Or has it? 

Most of the well-known Disney movies we think of nowadays come from either the period where the Disney brothers were the heads of the company, or a little something called the Disney Renaissance. This period took place from 1989-1999, when Disney returned to creating commercially viable and critically acclaimed films, such as Mulan. For the eighteen years in between, due to a cycle of mismanagement and rivalries within the studio, Disney films weren’t exactly making people show up at the theater. 

This isn’t to say that all Disney films are secretly all poor, of course, or to say that no big animation studio ever puts out a good film. This is to say that at the end of the day, artistic integrity isn’t the biggest thing on Disney’s mind (evident by their use of AI advertisements), and to base claims about all animated films made during this period on the failures produced by these huge studios is a mistake. 

While 3D animation is a more costly way to animate, it is a more labor effective way. 3D and CGI animators are not unionized, while 2D animators are. Disney and Sony, to name a few studios, are not typically known for treating their workers well. On Spiderverse, in order to keep to the tight schedule, the animators on the team were overworked, to the point where many of them felt sick even thinking about it. It is even easier to produce a soulless, corporate film that is guaranteed to bring in cash, especially if the people involved in making the films can’t argue against it. 

Outside of these studios, animation still enjoys the same qualities that make us look at older movies with glee. Wolfwalkers, for example, is an absolutely gorgeous film, with a tearjerker of a plot the whole family will enjoy. Kubo And The Two Strings was created by LAIKA, the studio also behind Coraline. The Little Prince, The Breadwinner, and My Life As A Courgette. These movies made by indie studios or by foreign animators tend to hit the soul in a way that the way newer animated movies by these big studios often fail to. Animation as a medium is doing just fine; you only need to look. 

Are the movies actually bad, or have these people just aged out of the target demographic? Is there actually any huge difference in quality between newer and older animated movies, or are these people proselytizing about nothing? 


About the Contributor
Nehla Chowdhury, Staff Reporter
Nehla Chowdhury is an Editor-in-Chief for 'The Science Survey,' as well as a Social Media Editor. Nehla enjoys researching topics for their articles, as well as sharing their observations with large numbers of people. One thing they find appealing about journalistic photos is how they can tell stories to people without using words. Some interests that Nehla has are reading, researching various cold cases, and listening to music. Nehla intends to focus on history in college, as well as pursuing women's, gender, and sexuality studies.