“Disney’s Boring Digital Production System”: Legendary Animator Has Warning for Stagnant Company

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Illustration of a classic mickey mouse, looking sad with droopy ears, against a pink striped background. he is depicted in black and white with red shorts.

Credit: Disney

The Walt Disney Company has been on a losing streak for years, and one of the greatest living animators has some warnings for the animation industry.

Steamboat Willie
Credit: D23

Arguably, in the massive behemoth that is the Walt Disney Company, the Walt Disney Animation Studios arm might be the most iconic. While the upstart Marvel Studios has become the corporation’s biggest money-maker, Lucasfilm has well-known properties like Star Wars and Indiana Jones, and Pixar receives critical acclaim, Disney Animation has always been upheld as a gold standard for the medium in the Western World.

Walt Disney himself began his career as an illustrator and animator, creating Mickey Mouse with the sadly overshadowed Ub Iwerks before moving on to the first feature-length animated film, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937). Since then, the company’s legacy has been defined in many ways by its animation division.

Snow White singing to Doves on a wishing well
Credit: Disney

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Movies like Pinocchio (1940) and Dumbo (1941) cemented what a Disney film looked and sounded like in the early years and for decades, the company stuck to that. But over time, Walt Disney Animation Studios became a smaller and smaller part of the company as a whole; according to the typical narrative, the Mouse hit rock bottom with The Black Cauldron (1985), its attempt at an animated fantasy epic that was too frightening for children and too childish for critics.

The Horned King summoning the dead in The Black Cauldron
Credit: Disney

Then the Disney Renaissance hit and movies like Beauty and the Beast (1991) and The Lion King (1994) returned the company to the forefront of animation. Since then, Disney has had highs and lows, but according to anime legend Yoshiyuki Tomino, the company’s move to all-digital production has rendered it “boring” and stagnant.” While this might be a hot take, it is hard to argue against after years of diminishing box office returns and weak critical reviews for new Disney films.

Yoshiyuki Tomino is the creator of the Mobile Suit Gundam franchise, one of the most popular and iconic series in Japanese animation. Along with the late Akira Toriyama (Dragon Ball) and Studio Ghibli co-founder Hayao Miyazaki, Tomino is a towering figure in anime but is not very hopeful for the animation industry as a whole. In a recent interview, he turned to Disney animation as an example of how stagnant and systemized it has become as a whole.

An anime character in a white and red spacesuit stands next to a large, white and red robot against a starry space background.
Credit: Bandai Namco Group

The Mobile Suit Gundam creator spoke to Toyo Keizai regarding Disney and its switch to digital productions, saying, “After switching from hand-drawn to digital animation, many of Disney’s works became disappointing. But that’s how they’re produced.”

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He continued, describing the change in production models for Bandai Namco Group (which owns Mobile Suit Gundam) for the worse and comparing it to modern Disney. Yoshiyuki Tomino said, “It’s like Disney’s boring digital production system today. A creative person must have a crazy side, spiritual, earthy, and indie-like. If you can create a piece of art in a space with fully controlled air conditioning, I think you should do it… I feel there is a danger that sense may disappear.”

An animated girl in a white and purple dress smiles as she gazes at a glowing, yellow fantastical creature. they are surrounded by a mystical, dark blue forest with glowing flowers and flitting white birds.
Credit: Disney

It is not surprising that Tomino would use Disney as an example of how animation has become stagnant and boring. After all, Disney is a leader in the field and always has been. But, if one of the modern masters is calling it “disappointing,” it may be time to question if the Mouse has lost its way.

Do you think Disney animation has become boring? Tell us your opinions in the comments below!

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