As a life-long animation fan, I fear that the Disney studio is currently stuck in some kind of creative lull. With each new feature I find myself less and less engaged, and have come to the conclusion that it’s all the fault of the homogenizing effect of CGI. While films like Brave and Wreck It Ralph are certainly technical feats (nor without any visual merit) to my old-fashioned 2D sensibilities they are lacking a sense of independence in their design that made Disney’s early output so beautiful and ultimately timeless.
Which is why, when I first saw the impressive concept art contained within The Art of Frozen, I was encouraged to see the return to some of that magic. A return to traditional storytelling routes with a fairy tale based on Hans Christian Andersen’s The Snow Queen, and a design ethos that (to me anyway) clearly references the incredible work of Eyvind Earle in Sleeping Beauty. It’s colour theory, folk art references, bold geometric landscapes and fantastic character designs from Bill Schwab all give promise of a particularly good-looking film to come. Michael Giaimo and Brittney Lee also feature with stand out with work that shares my taste for classic Disney. But as the shots from the finished film reveal, much of the charm is lost in their computer equivalent, leaving characters and ultimately a film without a visual language of its own.
I have faith that Disney will return to more experimental visuals once the current trend changes (you can see something brewing in the great Paperman short) and viewing the brilliant work in The Art of Frozen only encourages me further. For what ever might be lost in the film i’m glad this book exists to allow a chance for this otherwise unseen work to shine.