For many people, Disney’s Golden Era (1937-42) remains the apex of cinematic animation. Comprising an almost-unrivalled quintet of classics - Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Pinocchio, Fantasia, Dumbo, and perennial tear-jerker Bambi - it’s a dazzling run that did much to define the medium for generations.
And though the House of Mouse has since enjoyed other periods of creative brilliance - particularly from 1989 to 1999 (The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, The Lion King et al) - that early era has long been the benchmark. Until now.
Over the last few years there has been an embarrassment of riches. Expanding, redefining, and subverting the form in much the same way that Snow White’s life-like movements did in ’37, films such as Spider-Man: Into/Across the Spider-Verse, Wolfwalkers, and Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio have all advanced animation in different ways.
Firstly, there are the aesthetic variations: whether it’s cell animation, CGI, stop-motion or a mix of them all, the plurality of styles is incredibly vibrant. But what’s also thrilling is the variety of voices on show. Rather than the largely white, patriarchal, heteronormative world of Uncle Walt, today’s landscape includes masterpieces from people of every walk of life.
Some of the most exhilarating work from the last 10 years has been from studios such as Laika (Coraline, Kubo and the Two Strings) and Cartoon Saloon (The Secret of Kells, Song of the Sea), who’ve been quietly reshaping the landscape in their own image and bringing culturally specific stories to the fore.
That’s not to say that diversity wasn’t present before – Japanese giant Studio Ghibli has a canon of classics stretching back to the mid-'80s (My Neighbour Totoro, etc) – but the current accessibility of different types of animation, and the rate at which modern masterpieces continue to be made, is now unparalleled.
So yes, Disney is still an important force in animation, but as the world moves on, we’re now arguably in the greatest era of animation yet, the perfect convergence of style, form and content. Or is it just me?