Animation has become one of the most popular forms of media around. Both TV series and movies have had extreme success using animation. Animation allows studios to create whatever they want however they want. It’s much easier to create a fantasy realm and giant snow monsters by animating them like in Frozen than it is to craft them in live action. Plus, animated characters obey whatever physics the animators want them to. Because of this, animation has only grown more and more popular over the years.
One of the best parts of animation is how many different styles there are. The LEGO Movie, Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse, and Raya and the Last Dragon all showcase their own unique style of animation. Unfortunately, one type of animation is becoming forgotten by big-named studios, and that’s 2D animation.
2D animation used to rule pop culture. Films like The Lion King are visual masterpieces that were hand-drawn in 2D. Studio Ghibli showcased how beautiful 2D animation can look while Warner Bros. stretched the boundaries of what 2D-animated characters were capable of with the likes of Scooby-Doo and Looney Tunes. However, the wonderful artwork of hand-drawn animation is now almost completely ignored.
In the 90s, the lovable Nicktoon, Rugrats, used quirky 2D animation that became recognizable to anyone who grew up with it. There’s now a reboot series of Rugrats on Paramount+ that uses the same voices and celebrates the nostalgia of the original, but it’s animated in 3D instead. Two of the three Spongebob Squarepants theatrically released films and the Kamp Koral spin-off series focus on 3D versions of the characters instead of the iconic 2D the series is originally known for. Studio Ghibli, which has crafted some of the greatest hand-drawn animated films ever, recently released Earwig and the Witch, their first ever 3D animated movie. Even the new Space Jam film showcases a scene in which Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, and their friends transform from 2D to 3D animation. Disney hasn’t released a 2D animated movie in well over a decade. Every studio that’s known for 2D animation is moving away from it.
These studios need to realize that 2D animation still has a place. Netflix proved that with their animated holiday flick Klaus. It may use techniques used to create some 3D visuals here and there, but it’s all crafted in 2D and is absolutely stunning. It shows how truly beautiful modern 2D animation can be. Imagine how fantastic of a 2D animated movie Disney could make nowadays if Netflix can create something so wonderful.
Other examples of 2D animation still exist, but not quite in the same way. Rick and Morty offers some fun visuals, but usually focuses on simpler designs compared to what Disney or Studio Ghibli are capable of, and doesn’t always take full advantage of 2D animation like Looney Tunes does. It works for the style that Rick and Morty is going for, but the quality and prestige of the 2D animated films and shows that used to reign supreme aren’t as present.
3D animation doesn’t look bad by any means. Films like Wreck-It Ralph, Toy Story, and The Mitchells vs. the Machines prove how visually pleasing it can be while also showing a lot of detail on screen. It’s just unfortunate that it feels like it’s erasing another style of animation. Both should be used for media where they are the most appropriate. For stories that need the characters to bend and stretch in odd ways, survive over-the-top slapstick moments, or focus on motion over design details, 2D is still the way to go. For showcasing closer attention to detail or a lot of background activity, 3D is typically stronger. One shouldn’t need to erase the other, but big-named studios seem to only want to give their attention, time, and money to 3D animation.
It’s truly sad that creating movies like The Lion King or The Prince of Egypt aren’t even in the minds of studios. To them, it’s a thing of the past even though it still definitely has a place. It would be fantastic to see what the likes of Disney could do with a modern 2D animated film.