It’s exciting to see Shyamalan on such confident footing once more, all these years later.
When the Russian director Sergei Eisenstein saw Disney's "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs," he called it the greatest film ever made. High praise from a man whose "Battleship Potemkin" then topped lists of great films. In "Snow White" (1937), Eisenstein saw a new cinematic freedom: Cartoons could represent any visual an artist could imagine. They were no longer shorts for kids, but worthy to stand beside realistic feature films.
In 1940, Disney made its second and third cartoon features, "Fantasia" and "Pinocchio," and they are generally considered to this day to be the best of all the studio's animated films. Perhaps they're so good because they came at just the right time in the development of animation.
The early pioneers (Walt Disney and Max Fleischer in particular) found ways to make their characters something more than just drawings on a screen--to make them seem to exist in a world of gravity and dimension. They experimented endlessly with how an animated character should move, finding a new kind of stylized realism that carried conviction without mirroring the real world. The animation expert Ernest Rister writes: "I wonder if they knew that finding a technique for investing a drawing with a sense of weight and volume would someday be used to create killer bugs or a giant snake in the Amazon."
After the breakthrough of "Snow White," the Disney animators went back to their storyboards with a couple of innovations up their sleeves. One was the freedom to imply that there was space outside the screen. In "regular" movies, characters were half-seen at the edges, they entered and exited, and the camera panned and zoomed through additional space. Early animation tended to stay within the frame. In "Fantasia" and especially "Pinocchio," Disney broke out of the frame, for example in the exciting sequence where Pinocchio and his father are expelled by the whale's sneeze, then drawn back again, then expelled again. There is the palpable sense of Monstro the Whale, offscreen to the right.