With the arrival of Zootropolis, it looks like the student has become the teacher once again
This week sees the arrival of Zootropolis in Irish cinemas, which is already on the verge of making $500 million worldwide, with some critics calling it "the best Disney movie ever made".
That's obviously some high praise for the company that brought us everything from Sleeping Beauty to The Lion King, but it's not uncalled for. On top of the hilarious scenes involving sloths and catchy songs performed by a Shakira-voiced gazelle, there's actually a plot involving sexism, racism and police corruption.
Not that the little ones would pick up on it, but the adults in the audience will find their brains getting a Chinatown/L.A. Confidential-style workout not normally associated with "kids movies".
Of course, Zootropolis is only the latest entry in an ever-increasing list of critical and commercial successes by Disney. In reverse chronological order, they've had Big Hero 6 (winner of Best Animated Feature Oscar, $658 million at the box office), Frozen (winner of Best Animated Feature Oscar, $1.276 billion at the box office), Wreck-It Ralph (nominated for Best Animated Feature Oscar, $471 million at the box office) and Tangled (Best Original Song Oscar, $591 million at the box office).
Their last movie before this string of hits was The Princess & The Frog back in 2009, which was Disney's last major release in the traditional animation format. It, too, was nominated for Best Animated Feature at the Oscars (it lost out to Pixar's Up), but made a relatively limp $267 million, and Disney's reaction to this is believed to have been the route for their Neo-Renaissance.
In that same amount of time, the once incomparable Pixar have released three sequels (Toy Story 3, Cars 2, Monsters University), two mostly forgettable originals (Brave, The Good Dinosaur), and one legitimate call-back to Pixar at their best (Inside Out).
When Disney bought Pixar outright back in 2006, Pixar's John Lassater became Disney's Chief Creative Officer for both Pixar and Disney, and it is believed to be this that has bolstered Disney's revival, and that looks set to continue on into the future.
Whereas Disney have been restructuring classic fairytales with modern feminism, or appeasing fans of video games or comic books, or dealing with big issues through the medium of talking animals, their competition is stuck in a rut. Out of Pixar's confirmed next five movies, four of them are sequels (Finding Dory, Cars 3, Toy Story 4, The Incredibles 2) with only Coco - telling a story about The Day Of The Dead - venturing into new territory.
Conversely, while Disney isn't averse to sequels either (both Frozen 2 and Wreck It Ralph 2 are inbound), they're also returning to unique stories of girl-power with Moana, a quirky retelling of Jack & The Beanstalk with Gigantic, and at least one more, top-secret original tale set for release in 2020.
For years, the animated studios looked to Pixar to set the bar for quality in the medium. Now it looks like Disney have learned their lesson, the former teacher becoming a student in order to become a master once again. When you see the multiple levels at work within Zootropolis, and compare it to the been-there-done-that nature of The Good Dinosaur, its clear where the quality lies right now.