The New York Times has an interesting story about the state of feature animation, notably the “old style” Disney version (hand-drawn) versus the “new style” Pixar version (computer-generated). It’s a tough field right now, with lots of talented artists getting laid off because people are more eager to see shiny new CG films like Shrek, Toy Story, or Monsters, Inc. I’ve seen a few articles that shallowly pit the old versus the new, instead of revealing the true cause of why traditional-animation flicks haven’t done as well: they’ve been crap.
Disney hit upon successful chemistry with pictures like The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, and The Lion King, but then they rubber-stamped the formula onto everything after. Like too many things about Disney these days (Disney’s California Adventure anyone?), the animated features started to look like the watered-down results of a boardroom filled with market research executives. I stayed away from Treasure Planet, not because it used traditional animation, but because the trailer revealed that it was a blatant rip-off of what some adult thinks every 7-year-old boy wants to see (and has already seen in a dozen different movies).
Unfortunately, a number of stinkers have overshadowed some genuinely good efforts: I really enjoyed Tarzan, thanks to Glen Keane’s excellent animation style and the fact that there was only one musical number (a clever one at that) in the entire movie; I also liked Atlantis: the Lost Empire because it treated its audience like adults (even the kids), and featured great visuals.
When Disney and other studios (see DreamWorks’ Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron) make movies that aren’t dumb, people will pay to see them, no matter what type of animation or technique is involved.