Hand-Drawn, CGI, or Live-Action?

Computer animation has a complicated history. When it was first introduced around the mid-90s, it was amazing and innovative. Then, as it slowly started to take over our favorite princess movies and shows, it felt more like an invasion of art. Michael Eisner did not with this when he claimed that traditional animation was no longer relevant in the early 2000s. Today, the medium has advanced so much that it blends seamlessly with live-action movies, blurring the lines between animated and live-action features. Most modern sci-fi movies lie somewhere in the middle. Which medium do we prefer for our princesses? It's undeniable that traditional animation came first, starting with Disney's Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs in 1937. Today, it's rare to see an animated feature that's not made by a computer. Disney is taking advantage of this technology to transform all of their animated princesses into flesh and blood actresses with mixed results.

Pictured above are three incarnations of Belle, one of Disney's most famous princesses.While it's pretty obvious here that the original hand-drawn version is the most beautiful, I am in no way trying to argue that traditional animation is the only form a princess should take. It is my personal favorite because that's what I grew up with, but I can see the benefits of other mediums. In this particular example, I think the problem is that each version of Belle is clearly a downgrade from the one before. The original 1991 classic was nominated for a "Best Picture" Oscar and had tons of love, attention, and money poured into its production. It is a visual feast and even makes use of early CGI for the classic ballroom sequence without tarnishing the hand-drawn art in any way. In comparison, the CGI version of Belle from Sofia the First was done on a TV budget in a simplified style to match that of the show. It works well for Sofia because she's a little girl, but the other princesses never look quite as lovely as they did when we first saw them. Then, there's Emma Watson, who basically ruined the character by refusing to wear clothing, makeup, or hairstyles that were traditional of the time period. Couldn't they at least find someone who could sing?

Of course, all art is subjective. There's no one "true" way to create a princess. The way I see it is that the first art style used for any given princess will always be the best. Every attempt to convert them comes off looking like a cheap imitation. CGI works well if it's done on a large budget with special care given to the designs. I think Tangled benefited greatly from its medium, allowing Rapunzel's hair and satin dress to shimmer in the sunlight and look heavy when wet. It also helps that the legendary Glen Keane animated her by hand as a template for what he wanted the artists to recreate on the computer. The simplified style used for her in the TV series doesn't look as nice as the movie even though it's a lot closer-looking to traditional animation. It's made on a smaller budget with simplified designs. As a curly-haired woman, I'm grateful that CGI allows princesses to have realistic-looking curls that could have never been produced with hand-drawn animation. Merida and Moana probably would not exist the way we know them without technological advances in computer animation.

Live-action princesses also have their advantages. Their costumes have the potential for far more detail than any animator would have time to draw or texture into a computer. They also convey a sense of realism, which is why they are perfect candidates for movies about traveling to a fantasy realm from the real world. Giselle becomes more real both literally and figuratively in Enchanted, and while I personally prefer her animated form, her live-action counterpart does have some lovely costumes that would have been difficult to recreate in animation. Live-action movies have the benefit of selling more tickets to people who are familiar with the actors, something that My Little Pony: The Movie tried to do with animation and failed. The only live-action princess movies that don't work as well are the ones that are converted from animated classics because they are trying to recreate a type of nostalgia that is not reproducible.

I see no reason that these three mediums cannot coexist together so long as they do not try to replace each other. Traditional animation is great for making moving art that looks and feels like another world, CGI is great for adding subtle details that feel realistic without being too real, and live-action is great for costumes and actresses the audience can recognize and relate to. However, the first version of any story will always be the most inspired and the most original. Trying to change it too much takes away from the artist's vision, which is why I was never crazy about Frozen.


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