The Creation of the Animation "Genre" - Part Three

In this three-part blog series, GFT Youth Board member Kasey travels through the history of animation on screen. This final part looks at the dawn of CGI and how animation has developed for contemporary audiences.

You can read part one here and part two here.

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In 1995 Pixar revolutionised animation with the first ever computer animated feature length film called Toy Story. Just like Snow White the film opened the possibilities for animation further than anyone had ever seen before beginning a new era of digitally animated films. Aside from its technological innovation Toy Story was also hugely popular due to its story about two toys that didn't see eye to eye, creating universal appeal.

It wasn't long before other studios grew curious about the new format and wanted to test it out too. The 90's wasn't all about new technology though, Aardman's 'claymation' films created new British icons Wallace and Gromit with their shorts The Wrong Trousers and A Close Shave.

Walt Disney Animation also began to blossom again with what many describe as their renaissance era turning back to rose-coloured fairy tales that previously made them a household name such as Beauty and the Beast, The Lion King and Aladdin. On television, Japanese animation was finally going global with help from the Pokémon, furthering the relationship between animation and toys. Adult animation also made a comeback with The Simpsons, filling the prime time spot that animation hadn't seen in over 20 years.

The 90’s was a time that saw great expansion in the world of animation with new studios suddenly popping up and becoming instant front runners. This trend would begin a new sense of competition within the industry that would only increase in the 2000’s.


DreamWorks Animation was created in 1994 after Jeffrey Katzenberg left his head role at Disney where he significantly contributed to their renaissance era in the early 90’s. Katzenberg wanted to mirror his prior success at Disney with his new studio, creating CGI films like Antz and hand drawn tales like The Road to El Dorado. These early attempts from DreamWorks were a moderate success but it wasn’t until 2001 when Shrek was released that DreamWorks became a true threat to Disney.

Shrek was a film that mocked Disney with its aversion of fairy tales and use of an unattractive and messy ogre as its lead. Their victory in capturing Disney’s young market saw a new generation of children who favoured comedy and CGI over fairy tales and hand drawn animation. This triumph was brought to the attention of the public when the Academy handed out their very first award for Best Animated Feature in 2002 to Shrek. However this award wasn’t all that it seemed, many criticised it for alienating animation and fuelling the – still relevant – discourse that “animation is a medium, not a genre” and should be praised as such too.


In the following years films like Ghibli’s Spirited Away and Aardman’s Wallace and Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit also won awards but were in clear minority compared to the vast CGI nominees and winners. By the late 00’s animation had gone through a complete tonal shift which saw comical adventures like Ice Age, Kung Fu Panda and Cars flooding the market. Hand drawn films simply didn’t have mass-appeal anymore and slowly fell into obscurity.

In 2011 Disney released their last traditionally animated film, marking the end of the rocky decade. After a string of experimental films that failed to draw in crowds the 2010’s saw Disney go back to their fairy tale strategy, this time with a CGI twist. This reinvented style gave Disney the record breaking Frozen, quickly becoming the highest grossing animated film of all-time. Disney was not alone in their achievements with films by Pixar, DreamWorks and newcomers Illumination also topping the highest grossers list too. Out of these studios there was only one whose success was often met with high critical acclaim.

After a decade in the industry Pixar’s reputation had been well established as an anomaly in the industry. Their films had a huge child market but often explored darker themes such as grief, loss and even environmentalism which connected with many adults. Regardless this era saw Pixar partake a trend that many if not all of their contemporaries joined: franchises. Animation, much like Hollywood during this period, was not spared from ‘sequelitis’ with the amalgamation of this era coming to life with 2019 version of The Lion King, a remake of the 90’s Disney classic that blurred the lines between live-action and animation with its photorealistic style.

Back on television remakes and long running series remained but original ideas were also growing just as popular. The demand for fresh ideas was on the rise thanks to the new ability to steam. Increasing platforms gave animators a newfound freedom in their content which saw both adult and children’s animation thrive with shows like Adventure Time, Steven Universe, Rick and Morty and Bob’s Burgers not to mention animes One Punch Man and My Hero Academia.


The latter half of the 2010’s also saw a number of outliers like Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, Isle of Dogs, Your Name and Klaus appearing. They proved that everyone could appreciate animation with their showcase of original stories and unique styles to accompany them, nevertheless films like these were few and far between. As we enter the 2020’s the future of animation seems more uncertain than ever but for the time being the stigma that surrounds animation doesn’t seem to be disappearing anytime soon.

It’s hard pinpoint exactly when animation became known as a children’s genre within the public psyche. Some cite the phenomenon beginning with Disney’s fairy tales in 1937 whilst other argue it was the toys of Saturday morning cartoons in the 1980s or even Shrek in 2001 and the new market for CGI. In reality there isn’t one true point, the reputation has developed over the years through a string of popular films and shows which all capitalised on the family market.

Of course animation is much more than the mainstream productions mentioned and creating films the whole family can enjoy is not a bad trait, nor does it determine the quality of a film. The issue with this stigma is that it heavily impacts what studios are willing to make, creating a huge barrier for possible new audiences who may believe that animation is ‘not for them’. This ultimately leads into a cycle of children’s content that determines how the animation industry is represented to the masses, with those unaware missing out on a range of amazing world and stories.

Animation may champion the children’s genre but it is definitely not a children’s genre – in fact, as already proven, it’s not even a genre.


This three part series was written by Kasey, a member of the GFT Youth Board. You can catch up with the previous two parts below.

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