Growing up, I’ve come to realise that not many films have stuck the same way some of my favourite animated films do. Granted, they were formative to my childhood experience and perhaps there was nothing quite like being 10 years old and putting on your favourite movie on the DVD player to watch over and over again. Looking back at the animations that were released at the turn of the last decade, there were plenty of takers for the scenes that would ever-so-often emerge in the back of my brain—even till this day.
That melancholic Up scene depicting Carl and Ellie’s married life, for one, has always stirred up the romantic in me. Fun fact: I still listen to the ‘Married Life’ soundtrack on days I’m feeling like a soppy human being. Brave, on the other hand, sits like that decade-old reminder about how the Disney Princess collective is more than capable of steering clear of any love interest narrative at all. And if the cinephile in me had to choose that hero solo film that would go on to tug my heartstrings for years to come? It would be that of Brad Bird’s Ratatouille, released in 2007. With each and every scene, tenderness only grew and its imaginative plot line of a rat’s prowess in the culinary world—something that is completely unheard of in real life—was a joyous yet succinct enunciation of how we connect the food we eat to memories of our childhood.
Call me sentimental then, but amidst the recent blitz of endless live action remakes and animated sequels—think everything from The Little Mermaid and Peter Pan & Wendy to brow-raising upcoming releases of Toy Story 5 and Kung Fu Panda 4—I’ve begun to wonder if there would be any film capable enough of rekindling similar sentiments from within. To that end, I’ve gone down the rabbit hole of seeking out more recent animations I may have missed out on, only to find myself a tad stumped at the end of it all.
Notable mentions such as Coco (2017) or Soul (2020) both carried the same emotional softness at its heart, but my insides still tell me something is amiss. I questioned myself: what was it about the older films that I missed? Perhaps it was their sheer imaginative power in bending the rules of reality. Or that the animations of that time simply seemed more playfully vibrant and innovative, while retaining a genuinely heartfelt core.
After all, haven’t animations always been relied on to elucidate a soulful narrative and provide all the ebullient whimsy that would be otherwise difficult to derive from a live action film? Instead then, why have recent animations only steered closer to that of reality? Case in point: Elemental’s proclivity to have all the four elements quite literally personified into characters on Earth that live in Element City. But maybe I digress.
Where my old nostalgic soul really lies then, is with the original animations that never forgot to aspire to greatness. It was, once upon a time, the undeniable strength of Disney’s breath of animations—be it the immense universes of the Princess films or the production house’s trailblazing masterpiece that was The Lion King (1994). As Academy Award winner Lupita Nyong’o swirls in rumours of helming a potential remake for The Princess and the Frog, perhaps all I ask for is for us not to forget the magic that an original animated film can bring. At least, when it’s done right. If an animated film can do exactly what a live remake attempts to (and so much more), why go down that route at all? Lest we forget the true magic of animation; its mesmerising visuals, fantastical world-building and stupendous ability to hit you right where it counts.