Well, time to get even more excited about “Wreck-It Ralph,” the video game-themed animated feature from Walt Disney that’s slated to open this Thanksgiving. Disney has just announced that “Paperman,” a next-level animated short that combines traditional hand-drawn animation with computer imagery, will play theatrically in front of “Wreck-It Ralph” when the film opens on November 2nd. The short recently had its world premiere at the Annecy International Animation Film Festival on June 4th and plays the Los Angeles Film Festival (its U.S. premiere) next week.
“Paperman” tells the story of a young man who has a chance encounter with a beautiful and mysterious woman in Grand Central Terminal (we have those about once a day). It’s told through gorgeously chalky black and white, with an emphasis on mood and stark contrast. “Paperman” is directed by John Kahrs, who got his start at Blue Sky Studios (the Greenwich, Connecticut-based, Fox-owned animation outpost that delivers the “Ice Age” movies) before transitioning to Pixar, and then, in 2007, to Walt Disney Feature Animation, where he worked on “Bolt” and was later an animation supervisor on “Tangled,” working under the legendary (and recently retired) Glen Keane. It was under Keane where he developed a true love and appreciation for hand-drawn animation, and so he decided to tackle “Paperman,” turning what could have been just a research-and-development exercise into something wholly unique and very, very special (with the help of producer Kristina Reed, known around the studio for shepherding “difficult” projects).
What’s more is that this really could be the future of traditional animation at Walt Disney Feature Animation. The format is on its last lifeline (if it hasn’t flat-lined already) at the studio, and animation purists like John Lasseter, effectively running the creative side of all of Disney’s animation departments, who lobbied long and hard, are having a more difficult time insuring that hand-drawn animation continues, especially after films like “Winnie The Pooh” tanked at the box office (though opening it against the last ‘Harry Potter’ wasn’t the brightest idea either). But from a business perspective, computer animation is faster and cheaper, and it’s essentially a battle between commerce and artistry.
For traditional animation to continue at the studio, it’s got to reinvent itself in bold new ways, and “Paperman” is the first such reinvention. Its overwhelming response at Annecy and the decision to attach it to “Wreck-It Ralph” is a very good indication that hand-drawn animation might not just continue at the studio but it could very well flourish, with a nice new lacquer of technology on top.