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The Tragic Story of How Disney Killed the Children's Film

How Disney Killed Children's Films
When I was a child, Disney films were the paramount of our movie collection. Over the last decade or so, that same studio has managed to kill the essence that is children's film. What went wrong?
Anthony Chatfield
There are three categories of films from my childhood. There are those that I watched and loved, but probably will never watch again in adulthood, because I know how horrible they are, and my childhood infatuation was born of my infatuation with something similar. Good examples include The Wizard, Rookie of the Year, and any of The Mighty Ducks trilogy. I have extremely fond memories of all these films, but I'm sure that sitting down to watch them now would result in a painful realization of just how bad an eight-year-old's taste in films can be.
The second category is almost exactly the same thing, except that these are films that I would gladly rewatch with age. They're still horrible, but the campy, kitschy revelations of childhood return with much warmer nostalgic fanfare than other less enjoyable children's flicks. I include the venerable Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, among others in this category.
But, it's the third category I want to talk about today, that of the true children's masterpieces, those few films that I watched over and over again in childhood, and would gladly rewatch today, give to my children some day, and buy when released on DVD again. There were not many films that manage to live up to these standards, but the few that do, tend to be universally acclaimed. Star Wars, Indiana Jones, and The Princess Bride, are all films I've been watching annually since I was a child, and will continue to watch into old age. Disney had a decent corner on this market, once upon a time.
Quality films of universally acclaimed value, good for children and adults alike are almost non-existent anymore in this hyper-targeted, marketing addicted society in which we live. Instead, filmmakers make films for adults or they make films for children, and the middle ground is largely filled with television and garbage. There were very few if any failed attempts on their part, and if you ignore the slight lull in masterpiece production in the years of World War II and in the early 1980s, every animated feature Disney released was a gem. It was however, only a handful of films into the mass production era (starting in 1988, after which a new animated feature was released every 12 - 18 months) that the quality started to dip more and more towards the dangerously low level of output we're greeted with today.
At the same time as Disney released its first truly mediocre animated features, Pixar was getting started by releasing masterpieces of their own. It was as if the torch of creativity had been passed from the hand-drawn to computer generated ages. However, there was no reason for the change. Ironically, the quality of animation dived inversely to the technology of the age. For whatever reason, there was a sharp spike in animation of inferior artistic value during the 1990s, seemingly an attempt by studios to shake things up and modernize the classics and their aging formula.
Instead of merely shaking things up though, the new Disney animation looked merely cheap, and relied almost solely upon fart jokes and shallow characters. Hercules, a story that could easily have been an epic masterpiece, had Disney put the full conviction into it that other ages old epics such as Aladdin and The Lion King (Hamlet) had received, was no better than a protracted television episode. Tarzan, Lilo and Stitch, and Treasure Planet were bad, and The Emperor's New Groove was horrendous (so much so that I'd forgotten it existed, until I started looking up the list of films).
At one time considered a canon of great films, Disney's recent release list reads more like a trainwreck of creative failure, churning out clunkers like Brother Bear and Chicken Little. In the mid '90s, when the company started releasing sequels of its more popular films, no one batted an eye. They were of lesser quality, but still entertaining in a fashion. However, by the time 2000 rolled around, Disney was releasing more than a half-dozen of the direct-to-DVD clunkers every year, and with each new sequel, one more lifelong fan lost respect for the House of Mouse.
Today, years of poor decisions and mass production has led to the complete reformation of the studio. Pixar's head animator, John Lasseter, the genius behind a decade of masterpieces in digital animation, has been placed in charge, and the studio is finally looking to reopen its hand-drawn studios, and get back to the core of what made Disney the leading supplier of children's entertainment in the last 75 years, good stories for all ages.
A few years ago, this article would have been a plea for the folks at Disney to return to their roots and bring back the films that I so utterly fell in love with during my childhood. Today, I'm happy to say that I'd rather write about my hopes for the future instead. While Pixar has regaled us with enough quality films to keep the entire next generation occupied with nostalgic masterpieces in their adulthood, I'm still not convinced that Disney can fully recover from the poor decisions of the past decade.
And should I ever see or hear a hair of information about Chicken Little 2, I'll forever swear off the possibility that Disney is worth any of my time or money.