The Evolution Of

Animated Storytelling

Hollywood's way of bringing.
fantasies to life


The evolution of animated Hollywood films is a fascinating journey that has taken us from the earliest days of hand-drawn animation to the current age of CGI and motion capture technology. From the first animated feature, “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” (1937), to recent hits like “Frozen” (2013), “Soul” (2020), and The Bad Guys (2022), the evolution of animated Hollywood films has been a dynamic and exciting journey full of innovation, experimentation, and groundbreaking storytelling. In this article, we’ll explore the history of animated Hollywood films and examine how they’ve evolved over time, with examples from some of the most influential films in the genre.

Hollywood studios such as Disney, Pixar, DreamWorks, and Illumination have successfully captured a worldwide audience with their animation films. Their success can be attributed to their strong storytelling, innovative animation techniques, and memorable characters that resonate with audiences of all ages and backgrounds. With the rise of digital platforms, Hollywood studios have been able to reach new markets and establish themselves as leaders in the animation industry. By leveraging these factors, Hollywood animation films have become popular worldwide and continue to captivate audiences with their creativity and imagination.

Historical Perspective

The early 20th century saw the rise of animated cartoons, such as Gertie the Dinosaur (1914), Felix the Cat (1919), Mickey Mouse (1928) and Betty Boop (1930) made using traditional animation techniques such as hand-drawn frames, rotoscoping and cel animation but It was not until 1937 that the first feature-length animated film was Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, produced by Walt Disney was released. It was a huge success and paved the way for more animated classics such as Pinocchio (1940), Fantasia (1940) and Bambi (1942). Disney also pioneered techniques such as Technicolor, multiplane camera and stereophonic sound 4.

The second quarter of 20th century witnessed some innovations such as stop-motion animation, which used puppets or models to create realistic movements. A few examples of it are King Kong (1933), The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993) and Wallace & Gromit (1989-present). 

CGI – The Game Changer

Moving forward, animation industry witnessed a change with the introduction of Computer Generated Imagery (CGI), revolutionizing the whole way of creating animation. CGI used computers to create digital animations. It was much faster and animators could explore their creative depth and dimensions as well.  The earlier record of first use of CGI was done in a film West World released in 1973, but it became more popular with films like Star Wars (1977). However, it was only after 1990s that industry began relying heavily on CGI animation, as it allowed filmmakers to process more complex visuals and realistic movements. One such example is Steven Spielberg’s Jurassic Park (1993). The success of this film can largely be attributed to the smart use of CGI. Later it was Pixar’s “Toy Story” (1995) that became the first full-length feature film made entirely using CGI animation, and it turned out to be a major success both critically and commercially. Other notable examples of CGI thereafter include films like “A Bug’s Life,” “Shrek,” and “Finding Nemo” totally made using this technology. Hollywood has also seen a resurgence in the popularity of traditional hand-drawn animation, with films such as “The Princess and the Frog” (2009) and “Moana” (2016) using a mix of hand-drawn and CGI animation. This blend of traditional and modern animation techniques has allowed for a unique visual style that sets these films apart from their CGI counterparts.

Beyond CGI: The Future of Animation

As technology continued to advance, so did the animation techniques used in Hollywood films. The use of motion capture technology allowed for more realistic character movements and the development of 3D animation allowed for more immersive and visually stunning films. Disney’s Ratatouille (2007) or Nickelodeon’s Rango (2011) are classic examples. While James Cameron’s “Avatar” (2009) became one of the first films to extensively use motion capture technology and 3D animation, creating a world that was both beautiful and believable, Pixar’s “Up” (2009) dealt with the themes of loss, aging, and regret and Disney’s “Zootopia” (2016) tackled issues of discrimination and prejudice. Animation also became more integrated with live-action films, such as The Lego Movie (2014) or The Lion King (2019).

Breaking Barriers

Filmmakers are also experimenting boldly and this can be seen with inclusion of LGBTQ characters in some animated films. Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast” (2017) included a subtle nod to a gay character, while Pixar’s “Onward” (2020) featured the first openly LGBTQ+ character in a Disney-Pixar film. Such representation might have been important for a cross section of community, but does that create an impact on a larger audience. Would it be possible to make a full scale film on such issues make it a commercial success? Needless to say It’s a creative challenge.

Another significant development in the evolution of animated Hollywood films is the rise of diverse storytelling. In the past, animated films were primarily focused on Western storytelling and characters, with few exceptions. However, in recent years, there has been a push towards more diverse representation in animated films. Films such as “Coco” (2017) and “Soul” (2020) have centered around non-white characters and cultures, offering a fresh perspective on the traditional Hollywood narrative. These films have been critically acclaimed and successful at the box office, proving that there is a demand for diverse storytelling in Hollywood.

The success of animated Hollywood films has also led to the expansion of the industry. In addition to feature-length films, animated content is now being produced for OTT streaming services such as Amazon Prime, Netflix and Disney+. These platforms have allowed for more experimental and niche storytelling, with shows like “BoJack Horseman” and “Rick and Morty” exploring darker and more adult themes than traditional Hollywood films. The rise of streaming services has also opened up new opportunities for independent animators, who can now create and distribute their own content without the backing of a major studio.

Ending note

Animation has evolved from being a form of entertainment to being a form of business, art and culture. Hollywood Animation Industry has come a long way since its inception in the early 20th century. From traditional hand-drawn animations to the latest advancements in computer-generated graphics, animation has evolved and captured the hearts of audiences around the world. With big-budget productions, talented animators, and creative storylines, the industry has established itself as a major player in the entertainment world. However, with the growing demand for diversity and inclusivity in media, there is still room for improvement in the industry. As technology continues to advance and new voices are given a platform, it will be interesting to see how the Hollywood Animation Industry evolves and shapes the future of animation.

Recent releases worth your time and money

The Bad Guys: A DreamWorks Animation film based on the popular children’s book series by Aaron Blabey. It follows a group of notorious animal criminals who try to become good guys by pulling off heists for a noble cause. Featuring the voices of Sam Rockwell, Awkwafina and Craig Robinson.

Light year: A Disney Pixar film that explores the origin story of Buzz Lightyear, the space ranger toy from Toy Story. Featuring the voice of Chris Evans as Buzz Lightyear

Minions: The Rise of Gru: A Universal Pictures and Illumination Entertainment film that serves as a sequel to Minions (2015) and a prequel to Despicable Me (2010). It follows the young Gru as he tries to join a supervillain group called the Vicious 6 with the help of his loyal minions. Featuring the voices of Steve Carell, Pierre Coffin and Taraji P. Henson.

Some major releases to look ahead in 2023

Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse: A Sony Pictures Animation film that is a sequel to Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018). It follows Miles Morales as he teams up with other Spider-People from different dimensions to face a new threat. Featuring the voices of Shameik Moore, Hailee Steinfeld and Oscar Isaac.

The Super Mario Bros. Movie: A Universal Pictures and Illumination Entertainment film that is based on the popular video game franchise by Nintendo. It follows Mario and Luigi as they embark on an adventure in the Mushroom Kingdom. Featuring the voices of Chris Pratt, Charlie Day and Jack Black.

Coyote v. Acme: A Warner Bros. Animation film that is based on the Looney Tunes characters Wile E. Coyote and Road Runner. It follows Wile E. Coyote as he sues Acme Corporation for faulty products that caused him injuries while chasing Road Runner. Featuring the voices of James Franco, Rashida Jones and John Cena.

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