For those who long for the days of hand-drawn features (you can find some of them in the contentious comment thread here) there is a place, on this very planet, where the pencil-and-paper cartoon is alive and thriving:
A new crop of ambitious Gallic 2-D toons are now aiming for mainstream auds, helped by the international response to such arthouse pics as last year's "Persepolis" and 2003's "Triplets of Belleville."
With lower production costs than 3-D features, the 2-D films enable French producers to get into the toon biz with less risk while bringing Gallic subjects and sensibilities to their projects.
"There is a growing trend towards traditionally animated films that can be considered auteur films, with audacious universes and storylines that cater to family audiences and not merely children," says Didier Brunner, producer at Paris-based animation shingle Les Armateurs ("Triplets of Belleville").
Of course, Disney Feature is producing the hand-drawn Princess and the Frog at a lower price than many of its recent offerings, but over in the land of the croissant, they're working with even lower production costs:
... French 2-D toons have been solid performers on the homefront and abroad. Last year, "Persepolis" grossed $4.4 million in the U.S. and $18 million worldwide; pic was budgeted around $7 million. Michel Ocelot's "Azur et Asmar," with a $9 million budget, grossed $16 million in Gaul. "Triplets of Belleville" parlayed its animated Oscar nom into more than $7 million in the U.S., with nearly $15 million worldwide ...
What American congloms, chasing after the half-billion dollar payday, overlook is that hand-drawn features are viable at the right price-point, and there's no good reason that point couldn't be in the $20-$30 million range in current dollars.
(According to the esteemed inflation calculator, The Rescuers' $7.5 million production cost would be a mere $25.4 million today.)
I think the reason that hand-drawn features have disappeared from American landscape isn't due to cgi being more sexy or "with it", but because the last crop of hand-drawn features (1998-2004) were lacklustre compared to their c.g. competition. (One quick example: Sinbad vs. Toy Story 2? They were released a month apart at the turn of the century, and one did way better than the other. Maybe I'm a Luddite, but I don't think Sinbad crashed and burned because it was hand-drawn ...)
It isn't that hand-drawn features aren't viable. It's that they are perceived by the conglomerates as less bankable than c.g.i. Execs don't stop to consider much of the lack of viability links directly to lousier content, so until that aspect of traditional features climbs to higher elevations (and box office grosses ascend with it), the pencil-and-paper art form will continue to take a back seat to c.g.i.
Might not be fair, but it's the way, sadly, it is. You want to work the hand-drawn side of the divide, wait for the next traditional Disney feature ... or the sequel to The Simpsons Movie.
Or go to France.