Disney 2D animation reached its pinnacle in the 1990s. It was the gold standard for animation, attracting the best talent in all aspects of the genre. At its peak, Disney animation employed over 600 individuals from the years it took to concept to finish of a film. Seeing Lilo and Stitch in 2002, I had hopes that that my favorite genre was still viable in an increasingly CG world. However, when I saw Treasure Planet the first time, it left me feeling cold and relatively unimpressed by what I saw. I walked out of the theater with the perception that Disney had lost touch with the viewers and that 2D animation was responsible for its own demise.
The Little Mermaid, Aladdin, Beauty and the Beast, The Lion King -- Disney Animation was on a roll. There were plenty of good movies after those, but with the success of Toy Story, Disney started to see that not only were the new CG movies getting better reception, they were also cheaper to make in the long run. Let’s take Shrek for instance, and look at that as the movie it is or the movie it could be. Let’s assume that instead of CG, Shrek was done in traditional 2D animation as well as the three sequels and countless shorts or spin-offs. If Shrek was 2D, that means for every sequel, you need to have all the animators draw, ink, and color every frame. Well, with CG animation, you make Donkey once, you make Shrek once, and then for every sequel you have that same model saved on a hard drive somewhere, and your cost of production goes down significantly. The time to make one movie can shrink from years to months.
CG was cheaper and beginning in the late '90s, making much more money. Originally pitched in 1985, Treasure Planet sat on a backburner until directors Clement and Musker got it greenlit. By the time it was given the go ahead, 2D animation was already in trouble, and after laying off hundreds of employees, Treasure Planet was really the last push of the Disney studios to see if it could make money. It turned a profit after all was said and done, but not nearly enough. Now sandwich Treasure Planet in between Monsters Inc. in 2001 and Finding Nemo in 2003, both of which made a ton of money, and it was clearly the end of Disney 2D animation as we knew it. Watching it in 2002, the movie was a space epic marketed towards boys, with pirate ships in space, comic relief, and rocket-powered wind surfing chases. It seemed like it would be a hit, but watching these things unfold on the screen, I felt so disconnected from all of it. Rewatching it now, I realize that Disney was doing its job and they made a good movie, I had just outgrown it. I didn’t realize it at the time, but that magic I found in earlier Disney movies now felt like an estranged father who buys you a dirt bike for your birthday when all you wanted was a microscope. They didn’t lose touch with me; I lost it with them.