Kobe Bryant Oscar Film: The Wonder of 2D Animation

2018 Oscar ceremony became a huge surprise for the fans of short animated films award section - one of the most renowned NBA players, Kobe Bryant who has never been nominated for Oscar before won a golden statuette for a short animated film “Dear Basketball”. 

Now, the film is pulled off online for several reasons after the basketball legend passed away but the story he told in it will remain with us forever and here is why.

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A universal story

In 2015 Kobe wrote a poem “Dear Basketball” telling a story about a six-year-old boy who would roll up his father’s socks in a ball and toss it an old garbage can in a corner pretending that he is a famous basketball player. 

The poem was written and narrated by Kobe but the animation was created by none other than Glen Keane - the man behind Disney’s most successful 2D animated movies. Kobe entered Keane’s tiny studio and was just stunned.

“He just looks around and just “This is it. It’s perfect”, - said Keane.

“All the storyboarding, the beautiful storyboarding, hand-drawn. It was like the purity of the art. I was like “I’m in heaven” - shared Bryant. 

While the story Kobe and Glen were telling in the film is pretty simple and straightforward, it is exactly the reason why it so attractive.  When Keane was working on a scene of a six-year-old Kobe playing next to his gown up version on a court he got unexpectedly struck - this is not a story about basketball. It’s a story about a six-year-old little dreamer that’s still inside us all. It’s a universal story.

Accepting the award Glen said, “Whatever form your dream may take, it’s through passion and perseverance that the impossible is possible.”

Keane’s passion is hand made animation and unfortunately it is dying out. Though there were other great short animated films that perhaps had some deeper allegories and metaphors than Dear Basketball but it’s the unique hand-made animation that made it stand out.

Disney Renaissance and computer animation

The years of the nineteen eighties and early mid-nineties were the most fruitful years for Disney, nicknamed Disney Renaissance. From a hand of Glen Keane, some of the biggest hit movies, including The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, Pocahontas, and Tarzan came to live on paper and on-screen.

And while Disney was still shocked by Lion King’s immense success grossing 968.5 million dollars in 1994, the crush down of the OO’s was inevitable. Pixar and its 3D animation outflanked Disney and were shooting ahead. The success of Toy Story, Finding Nemo, and The Incredibles kept bugging Disney. That’s not to mention the huge success of Shrek by Dreamwork animation studio. The only thing Disney saw in common between these wins, was innovative 3D animation and quickly grasped what they have to do to stay relevant on the market.

Computer animation for sure has its perks, especially for business development. It’s simply much cheaper than hand-drawn projects; 3D animation doesn’t require such huge teams of animators and is much more flexible to changes.

Unfortunately for hand-drawn animation lots of decisions have to be locked in much earlier and become almost impossible to make any adjustments to the story of characters at a certain point. Due to all of that Pixar were much faster in production. But animation was not the only ace up their sleeve. Pixar managed to gross big revenue by making straight-to-DVD sequels which Disney did not consider doing much. But what Disney didn’t realize about Pixar’s success was its….. Storytelling!

The magic of storytelling

Of course, 3D animation brought some innovations that captured audience attention but the key difference between the two animation houses is simply the art of storytelling. Pixar had much-twisted storylines, that went further than just nice fairy tales. There was finally some backstory to the protagonists.

A villain in Pixar, in contrast to Disney, is actually a villain for a reason: they all have decent motivations and a back story. Pixar bought some fresh breaths not only to animation but also varied the range of stories they tell. 

So when Disney tried to go back to its roots with 2D animation in Princess Frog and Winnie the Pooh and failed - they choose to blame animation for that and closed their 2D animation studio in 2013. The movies were not a total flop - they just didn’t gross as much as other Disney renowned movies and Disney had to find out the cause. 

Disney’s first 3D Princess movie Tangled was a huge success in the box office and frankly, the movie looked fantastic indeed. No wonder Disney saw the pattern in it and decided to put up with 2D animation for good. Now, when Disney has made 2D the box office’s biggest enemy, there’s no chance for a hand drawing animation to survive.

3D vs 2D animation

Disney owns 33% of the total U.S. film market, including the above mentioned Pixar. One more problem with 2D animation is that the adult audience sees it as a bit childish while 3D reminds more a film rather than a cartoon.

So Kobe and Glen Keane created a testament not only to Kobe’s love for basketball but a majestic reminder of how beautiful and elegant is the world of 2D animation. It’s a simple but sophisticated reminder about a little dreamer living inside each of us and great achievements we can get when we let ourselves dream and hope like kids.

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