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Something Wicked this way comes — in the form of the live-action adaptation of the beloved musical in Christmas 2019, we know that. We know a couple other things, too, like the fact that there will be four new songs written just for the movie, and that it looks absolutely awesome. We are super excited.
But where confirmed facts end, fandom's boundless creativity begins. You might have seen the amazing re-imagining of what Wicked might look like if it were a Disney animated movie, with our favorite book and Broadway characters given gorgeous redesigns by Disney artist and animator Minkyu Lee. They're beautiful, fun, and totally believable. Disney fits the style, and an animated movie just seems like something that should happen.
But with the decline of traditional 2-D animation and rise of CGI, everything seems to suggest we won't see much in the style of Disney's beloved classics like Beauty and the Beast, The Little Mermaid and Aladdin again. Most people have given up on the art form entirely.
But not everyone. Disney animator Heidi Jo Gilbert, recently nominated for an Annie award for her work on the How To Train your Dragon spinoff Dragons Race To The Edge, thought it would look amazing as a fully-realized, traditionally-animated movie — and she proved it. She took "Defying Gravity," the climactic song from the musical and storyboarded it, setting her drawings to the music - and teasing us with an idea of what an animated version could be.
Granted, this project is a few years old, but it just goes to show us that there's still power in traditional animation. And the internet agreed — it actually grabbed enough internet attention to have a chance as a serious contender in the NFL's 2013 Together We Make Football contest, and place as a finalist.
But Gilbert made her video for a specific reason.
As it turns out, this entire project was part of Gilbert's attempt to draw attention to declining support of 2D animation. Since CGI has now become the norm for animated movies, the hand-drawn Disney classics we've known and loved since childhood have essentially become relics of the past, with little chance of anything new like them ever again.
That's if you take it lying down. But animators like Gilbert are through accepting limits because someone says they're so. And so are the fans who voted this video into a place in the finals. (If you haven't guessed, this is something I'd love to see regain popularity again too. Traditional animation making a comeback, with today's technology? Yes.)
Gilbert's project came with a personal letter to Wicked's legendary Broadway musical songwriter Stephen Schwartz, and it's this that grabbed my attention for a second time. This isn't just a cool art project; it's a proposal.
Dear Stephen Schwartz,
I know you can relate to the plight of loving a story, loving a medium, and trying to convince someone in power to see your vision! You did it with Marc Platt when you convinced him to make it a stage musical. I’m just approaching you with the same sincerity. Is it possible to talk you out of doing a live action movie adaptation? Would you consider doing a traditionally animated adaptation? In my heart I think the musical needs the medium, and I think the medium needs your musical. I just love them both so much and hopefully that shows through in the story reel.
Heidi Jo Gilbert
Maybe live action movies are the key to a resurgence of traditional animation.
Well, the live action movie is certainly happening, and it really does look amazing. December 2019 can't come fast enough! But there's no reason we can't have both, right? Why couldn't we get animated feature films after their live action versions?
Tons of movies have done it before, just in a different order. Just look at Disney alone — Jungle Book springs to mind. And Alice in Wonderland? Cinderella? Beauty and the Beast? We usually get live action remakes after the animated classic has run its course, sure...but how cool would it be to have an animated one after the live action?
It's not as if traditional 2-D animation is completely dead — it just seems like it here in the U.S. But overseas, in Europe and Asia, it's not only surviving, but thriving. There is a misconception among U.S. studio executives that traditional animation is not commercially viable — but even if the last wave of 2-D movies didn't bring in tons of box office bucks, the art form itself is far from dead.
So maybe that's the trick to reviving traditional animation in the U.S. If you do a full-length animated feature film after the live action film, you'll already have a built-in fanbase. Right? Seems reasonable to me.
In all seriousness, I can see something like this happening, and with storyboards by amazing animators and artists like Gilbert and Lee, the vision isn't even hazy. Wicked, and the thousands of 2D artists and animators dedicated to making it, and movies like it happen. At least it deserves a chance. Till we try, we'll never know.