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Published on April 13, 2013 By Frogboy In Everything Else

imageI’ve been doing a lot of reading on Walt Disney recently and he tale is both amazing and quintessential.  His professional life was a conflict between his desire to do amazing work with the challenges of running a business.

Early in his career, Disney was devoted to moving “cartooning” into being a serious art. His first true sound cartoon, the famous Steamboat Willy, required the invention of numerous new technologies in order to synchronize the sound with the animation.  It was Steamboat Willy that put Disney on the map as a leading animation shop. 

Disney’s dedication to quality regularly put his company on the verge of liquidation. For most of his life, he was in debt. Disney cared little about money other than as a means to further his goals.  When he became the first to use 3-color Technicolor, it resulted in the cost of his shorts being vastly higher than those of other studios and no one really knew whether people would care about true color cartoons.  It turned out they did.

Even as they struggled to pay the bills, Disney embarked on a wildly ambitious project – a feature length cartoon.  Snow White. One of the things I was really surprised to learn about is that no cartoon before or since (including Fantasia) had as much love and attention put into it as Snow White.  Every frame of that movie was scrutinized. Every line, every tiny piece of animation was meticulously gone over.  One has to go back and rewatch Snow White to truly appreciate the kind of attention given to that movie because it’s unlikely anyone will ever be able to equal it.

Disney would produce two more feature length cartoons that would have near that level of attention – Pinocchio and Fantasia.  Neither of those two movies were the success of Snow White and it nearly ruined them.  As a practical matter, a movie like Snow White wasn’t practical to make because it had to be a massive hit in order to justify the cost/risk and no one bats 100%.  Bear in mind, Pinocchio and Fantasia are considered classics today and nearly destroyed Disney. 

Disney would make one more movie that even attempted to approach the quality of Snow White – Bambi.  And like Pinocchio and Fantasia, it was initially considered a failure because it didn’t make enough money to justify its cost.  There were extenuating circumstances to be sure (the loss of foreign markets during the World War II period) but it proved that even if you made a great movie that normally would be considered a “hit” it wouldn’t be enough given the costs associated.  As a result, Disney never even attempted to make a movie that approached these.

imageIf one looks at other great Disney feature cartoons like Cinderella, Dumbo, Lady and the Tramp, etc. you will find that the different in animation quality is very different.  And that’s because Disney found, to his sorrow, that most people just didn’t care about ultimate quality in their animation. “Good enough” would suffice.

In fact, just look at 1-frame from Cinderella and compare it to a frame from Snow White and the difference is massive. But Cinderella was a hit nevertheless.

Deep down, most creative people dream of being able to forego concerns of cost and focus purely on ultimate quality even if it doesn’t make business sense.  Disney didn’t care about the money, he wanted to move the art form forward.  In the early days of his studio, he had total control over quality but after Bambi, he would never truly regain it. After that, investors, bankers, etc. would force Walt to find the point of diminishing returns on quality versus profitability. After that, Disney films would become “good enough”. 

Thankfully, technology has moved enough that animation is starting to approach the levels of Snow White again. But if you think we’re getting close, watch Snow White again and then compare it to say Lion King, Aladdin or some other modern Disney hit and you’ll see that even with the amazing technology we have today, we still can’t equal the love and care that translated into Snow White.

Comments (Page 1)
on Apr 13, 2013

Great Post. I've often said that even the cartoons of today don't even come close to the quality of those back when I was a child. Remember all those great " Looney Toons " cartoons ? And others dating back even further. Those were some incredible animations and graphics back then, and I can tell that what you stated is true, that "good enough" is sufficient for todays productions. They obviously have given up on quality and opted for a better profit margin. What a shame , and quite sad really.        -- Ace --


on Apr 14, 2013

At least in gaming it seems animation quality matters.  Look at the success of the Skullgirls donation drive (800K)

As a side note, the lead animator for that gate is a daughter of one of the Disney animators.



on Apr 14, 2013
on Apr 14, 2013

Odd timing...

Now a days, when is it that the talent that made companies famous is not put to the curb? 

Even if they do a retro hand drawn film, it will be outsourced like everything else.


Shanghai, China and Burbank, California (April 10, 2012) – The Walt Disney Company in China, the Ministry of Culture’s China Animation Group, and Tencent, China’s largest internet service provider, have formed a partnership, “The National Animation Creative Research and Development Cooperation,” to advance the country’s animation industry. The organization, announced at a signing ceremony in Beijing today (Tuesday), will serve as an incubator to train local talent and develop original content that will entertain audiences in China and worldwide.

“The National Animation Creative Research and Development initiative is focused on nurturing local talent and recognizes the importance of developing original local animation content,” said Andy Bird, Chairman of Walt Disney International. “Disney’s involvement builds on our expertise and long term commitment to nurture the local original animation industry. As founding partner we look forward to working with this new creative partnership in creating content for the Chinese and international marketplace,” he added.

Mr. Bird was joined at the ceremony by Liang Gang, Chairman of the Board for China Animation Group, Ren Yuxin, a senior executive of Tencent, and Gao Zheng, deputy director general, Cultural Industry Department for the Ministry of Culture.

As part of the initiative, Disney will provide its expertise in storytelling from concept creation and story development to market research. Disney will work with the China Animation Group and Tencent to foster local content across mediums, including television, motion pictures and digital platforms, for distribution in China and internationally. Tencent, one of China’s largest Internet service portals, will provide online marketing support. 


IT - 2000 jobs in America gone 


Everything Else 

These people have a hole that can never be filled. 

on Apr 14, 2013


Watch em all <<


*Looks over at his son watching Totoro while typing this*

Indeed. Indeed.


I found I like the stories and animation of the Studio Ghibli group over the Disney fare. Seems my children are more captivated by them as well.

Although, I believe Disney really only kind of "repackaged" the Ghibli stuff for north american release (getting well known voice actors for the english dub and owning distributing rights,, etc).

Still, The Secret World of Arriety (based on The Borrowers) was only recently released, and still very nice, old-school animation.

on Apr 14, 2013

Studio Ghibli is awesome. Best animation and stories I have seen yet. 

2 of my favs 


on Apr 15, 2013

Ghibli is pretty awesome.


That said, Japan is having trouble due to outsourcing of Animation- they've lost their "manufacturing base" as it has been outsourced to Korea.

Also, the animation industry in Japan is beyond brutal.  It's worse than minimum wage in the US for most workers.

Even your average published manga artist has to work a day job to make ends meet.

on Apr 15, 2013

Reminds me of an old saying......There is no substitute for the real thing. As a kid I loved Walt Disney's movies. Daniel Boone being a favorite. His cartoons though were the best, IMO, next to Looney Toons. Fantasia I thought was excellent. Back then I didn't pay attention to the quality differences between them. I just know that I thoroughly enjoyed them. Today there's no comparison. Despite all his troubles Walt Disney put a smile on the faces of millions of kids. I shudder to think of him looking down and seeing what was done to his creation. If you could see him looking down you might see a tear in his eye.

on Apr 15, 2013

Yes Disney made great movies for kids but the adults enjoyed them also.   My grand daughter loves them also.  Disney had a weekly TV show which I miss today.  But the shows were better back then than they are today.

on Apr 15, 2013

I loved Sleeping Beauty when I was a kid.  The end with Prince Phillip Fighting the evil Maleficent turned dragon always got my imagination going. 

on Apr 16, 2013

But to my eyes, Cinderella is way better animated than Snow White. It's the fluidity, mainly -- compare the birds flying around Cinderella's dress to just about any scene from Snow White. And in Snow White, it seems like the animated things are separate from the background in an annoying way. Animating technology must have trumped effort.

on Apr 21, 2013

I prefer the Fleischer Brothers' Gulliver's Travels, myself. Was done quite a few years before Disney's "wildly ambitious project," all the way back in 1939. Disney was said to have learned a lot from it.


Early in his career, Disney was devoted to moving “cartooning” into being a serious art.


I'm curious where you read this. I read up quite a bit on the early history of animation, while working on a book that never did get finished, as I moved off into magazine work. The consensus is that Disney was a very sound businessman and a decent animator, interested in producing cartoons quickly that sold. He only tried moving into "serious art" with Fantasia in 1940, but he and his studio were extremely active for more than a decade before that. There was no serious art about anything he did during that early period. Fantasia, when it arrived, was strictly a one-shot deal that didn't pay off, and Disney never repeated it. By contrast, there were several animators in the teens, twenties, and thirties who saw the medium as a vehicle for art. Check out Lotte Reininger's The Adventures of Prince Achmed (the oldest surviving animated feature, from 1926), and Ladislaw Starevich's satirical work from roughly 1915 through the next two decades, as examples. Or, years before Fantasia, check out the far more experimental "choreographed cartoon," La Joie de Vivre, created by Anthony Gross and Hector Hoppin in 1934. That one's actually been uploaded to Youtube, though Europa Treasures has had it for years. Really worth a view. Would probably thrill a movie house on a truly big screen, instead of the usual mini-screens in a typical modern metroplex.

In his later years, Disney showed considerable interest in beautiful illustrative animation, but that was a style derived from many animators he hired in the 1940s and 1950s. He didn't create it, and the Fleischer Brothers' Gulliver's Travels of 1939 was probably the first instance of it. Sure does look great, though. Lots of style. Note the mix of "cartoonish" and realistic (romantic interests, eeeevil enemy) figures in Snow White and Cinderella. That kind of dichotomy in drawing also came directly from Gulliver's Travels.


Which books about the history of animation have you been reading? There's some really good stuff out there, but also at least a couple by Disney idolators who have a kind of loose relationship with the facts.

on Apr 21, 2013

Outsourcing to other countries, I hate it! Damn people, keep all jobs in the US in the US, keep all jobs in Mexico, Japan, China, Korea, India, the Philippines, etc. in their own countries! Learn to support your own economy and maybe countries wouldn't be in the situations they are today!  You can sell your products to the world, just keep your jobs where they belong!


Oh, and I love Disney, the old Disney that is. This new crap is awful.

on Apr 21, 2013


A couple of my favorite books on Walt Disney are:

Walt Disney: An American Original

by Bob Thomas


Walt Disney: Triumph of Imagination

by Neal Gabler

Fantasia was the last movie that Disney really really put his all into in terms of bringing the standard of art up.  Snow White and Pinnochio had a similar level of effort and thought behind it as Fantasia.  But after the studio strike, World War II and the economic realities of cost of animation vs. box office performance he never really put his heart into anything like he did those first 3 movies except maybe Mary Poppins which wasn't animated (at least, not fully).