In 2004, Disney decided to shut down its iconic animation studio in favor of making strictly CG films. Many of the loyal crew were fired and it was a dark chapter in animation history. Their new films lacked the story elements that made them such an important studio in the first place. Thankfully when Disney acquired Pixar in 2006, Pixar's John Lasseter became creative director of Disney and rehired many of the animators, stating that he would like to see the company return to its 2D roots in addition to making CG films. Then, Disney announced that their return to hand-drawn animation would be a New Orleans set fairytale featuring the first African-American princess and directed by their primary filmmakers Ron Clements and John Musker (Hercules, Aladdin, The Little Mermaid). Originally titled The Frog Princess, the project initially got some bad buzz for its racial stereotypes. It was rewritten and gained the support of Oprah, who took a role in the film.
The Princess and the Frog has been getting good word of mouth and after a two week limited run, opened wide this past Friday. In its nationwide debut, it made a solid $25 million taking the number one spot at the box office. It marks the highest-grossing start ever for an animated movie in December. Hopefully it will continue to grow in popularity over the holiday season. Its success could mean a revival of this lost art. This has been an amazing year for animation in general, with every style getting a chance to be showcased. I look forward to more diverse and unique approaches to animation in 2010.