Disney fans born before or during the turn of the century likely associate Disney's animated films with a distinctive two-dimensional style. Beginning with Snow White, these animated movies have become a staple in most Disney fans' childhoods. However, with the advent of Tangled, Disney animation would see a shift into a three-dimensional style of animation. Disney was not new to 3-D at this point. Before Tangled, there were films such as Bolt or Meet the Robinsons. However, Tangled marked the first Disney princess film to be animated in this style; the two-dimensional princess films concluded with 2009's The Princess and the Frog.
The trend of 3-D animated Disney films has continued into the present. Most recently, movies such as Encanto have continued the 3-D trend, with Encanto gaining widespread praise from critics and audiences alike. With this recent success, it would appear that 3-D animation is the current reality of Disney films, but the two-dimensional style still holds a special place in our hearts.
Update July 5, 2023: With plenty of upcoming animated releases, this list has been updated with even more reasons Disney should consider releasing a 2-D film.
Alongside their newer, 3-D animation style, Disney has also begun to favor live-action, particularly live-action remakes of their classic films. Live-action has long been a part of the Disney movie-making process, with remakes such as 101 Dalmations dating back to the 90s, Disney has had a larger emphasis on remaking classic films for new generations in recent years. Whilst tales like Maleficent and Cruella attempt to tell a new version of events, many are direct remakes, creating even more distance from the 2-D animations with remakes for audiences to watch instead.
With the boom in both 3-D and live-action Disney films, it feels like the original charm of the Disney animations of yesteryear could be behind us. Here's why the next feature-length animated Disney film should be animated in 2-D.
2-D Animation Is Beloved by Older Audiences
Now more than ever before, cartoons aimed at children are being designed so that adults watching can get something out of them as well. Examples of such in recent years are Steven Universe, Gravity Falls, and She-Ra and the Princesses of Power. Disney is no exception to this trend, with the humor in their movies being able to appeal to audiences of all ages. On this note, however, adults who are intrinsically put off by animation need a push to help them watch the movie.
A Disney film with 2-D animation would then appeal to the nostalgia of the adults who enjoyed Disney movies as a child. The animation style for them would be less off-putting and more inviting since they were intimately familiar with it at a young age. In terms of box office revenue, children won't be the ones buying their own tickets to the theater and going in just by themselves. They'll almost always have an adult, and if Disney were to make their next movie 2-D instead of 3-D, more adults would be drawn willfully to the theater of their own accord.
2-D Animation Gives More Artistic Freedom
There's no denying that Disney's recent 3-D animations are incredibly impressive and visually beautiful. The 3-D animation Disney uses is a technological feat, and it's no wonder audiences continue to flock to the cinema to see them. With that said, there's no denying that the beauty in the artistic freedom that is so evident in their older 2-D animations has been somewhat lost.
Audiences need only look at some of the most impressive scenes from the older films; the Prince transforming in Beauty and the Beast, the way Cinderella's dress sways and sparkles, Aladdin's magic carpet ride. The 2-D animated films ooze with creativity and uniqueness, with it being clear to the viewer where an individual's creative and stylistic choices were implemented throughout. Even down to the backgrounds, which are intricately designed to compliment the characters on screen, Disney's 2-D movies feel distinctive and have a personal touch.
2-D Animation Can Still Attract Younger Audiences
There have been a few children's animated television shows that have ventured into a 3-D animation style. 2012's Green Lantern: The Animated Series, 2002's Jimmy Neutron, and 1994's Reboot come to mind. Being years apart should be indicative of how children's animated programming is sparse. As can be inferred, the rest is animated in a 2-D style. SpongeBob SquarePants, one of the most successful animated series of all time, is animated in this style, and long-running animated series such as Regular Show or The Fairly Odd Parents are also.
This is all to say that the audience for 2-D animation is still young and thriving. With the exception of 2020's Earwig and the Witch, Studio Ghibli has successfully produced timeless 2-D animated films that are beloved across several generations. As anime grows more mainstream, the more accustomed audiences will become to its primary style, which is 2-D. Disney then doesn't face a huge risk of breaking the current mold and making their next film, 2-D. Regular fans will, of course, still flock to it, and the children who make up Disney's primary demographic won't feel alienated since the bulk of animation that they're exposed to on television will look similar.
2-D Animation Will Feel Fresh Again
It's no secret that audiences get bored with repetitiveness. And while 3-D animation is more of a style than a genre of storytelling, audiences will eventually crave something new. Or, at the very least, something new will become more appealing to them. While 2-D animated Disney films have been around a lot longer than 3-D ones, many children have likely grown up knowing only 3-D animation theater releases. In this case, 2-D animation will be a fresh take on the art form for them since they likely don't associate it with feature-length films as much as previous generations do.
The same can be said for adults whose reliving of childhood 2-D animated movies have been relegated to streaming services and DVDs instead of the big screen. Especially if said adults have children, they will likely not be accustomed to seeing anything without a third dimension in the movie theater. If Disney were to revive the 2-D style for their next movie, it would become a fresh experience for the audience, young and old.
2-D Animation Will Stand Out Against Competitors
Whilst Disney remains a powerhouse in the animated movie market, it's no secret that some of their most recent releases have taken a hit at the box office. Elemental, Pixar's latest film, underperformed at its opening weekend, becoming Pixar's second-lowest three-day opening weekend ever. Whilst Disney is most people's first thought when discussing animated family films, brand recognition is not enough to get people into cinema seats.
With more and more studios creating blockbuster animations and creating memorable characters, such as Minions or Toothless from How to Train Your Dragon, Disney has more competition now than they ever have. The best way for Disney to ensure they're keeping audiences interested is to make movies that stand out from the crowd, and in a sea of 3-D animated movies, 2-D animation could be just the thing to do that. It would also help Walt Disney Animation distinguish itself from Pixar, as the two computer-animated film divisions for the same company might confuse general audiences as just "Disney" as opposed to two unique approaches.
The Future of 2-D at Disney
Whilst many of Disney's releases may indicate the end of their 2-D animated movies, fans of their classic art style shouldn't lose all hope. Wish, Disney's upcoming animation releasing in November has breathed life into 2-D. Using a blend of both 2-D and 3-D, Wish looks set to combine the best of both worlds, giving it that intricate and personalized look whilst maintaining the fluidity and realism 3-D has to offer.
With Wish already receiving widespread praise from fans for its fresh and interesting art style, this could mark the beginning of a new era of animation for Disney, with a style that has something for everyone. The success of Wish could even be enough to convince Disney to give an entirely 2-D movie another go. 2-D is a strong part of Disney's history and not one they should give up on.