Admittedly, most of what I've had to say lately regarding animation coming out of Disney has been pretty critical. I make no apology for that, as I feel they should not be above criticism when I feel it's warranted. However, a couple days ago I came across something that I suspected I wouldn't care for, yet imagine my surprise when I actually found it to be quite charming!
It's a new TV series called Jake and the Neverland Pirates, which apparently has recently premiered on the Disney Junior block on the Disney Channel in the U.S. Several episodes have been posted on YouTube for viewing, and I must say that from a visual standpoint anyway, the show looks very impressive. I'm actually aghast at how good the animation looks, both appealingly designed and fluidly animated. In short, it looks better than most TV animation and almost approaches (but not quite) feature quality, though that quality is somewhat deceptive in that it is still being done using a type of "symbol" animation (I believe), yet in a far more sophisticated manner that mimics full keyframe animation. According to this site, someone named Clint who would appear to be involved in its production, claims that the animation technique is created through a combination of using ToonBoom Harmony and Maya software. What's incredible to me is how much it resembles traditional handdrawn animation, while apparently not utilizing that process at all! Additionally, the series boasts some intelligent art direction, with pleasing visual design in a colour palette that is rich without being gaudy.
I was also pleasantly surprised to learn that this series has been produced at Mercury Filmworks, back in my hometown of Ottawa. Although the series is certainly aimed at the pre-school set, there's some fun, cartoony characterization, and, while they've been redesigned in a less threatening, kid-friendly style, I surprisingly don't even have any major objection to the way that Captain Hook and Mr. Smee are portrayed in the show. The voice work is very true to the original characters and, despite their makeover, I think the integrity of their personalities has remained intact. All in all, I think this is a nice little series that I can see young kids quite enjoying. For me, it's a big step up from the CGI look of Mickey and friends in Mickey Mouse Clubhouse, a show that I frankly find hard to look at. With Jake, it seems like Disney is trying to be more faithful to its traditional animation roots, even if it's been simulated through the use of new technology.
So, a big congrats to all involved in creating each episode of Jake and the Neverland Pirates - it looks great!
By the way, if anybody from Mercury would like to give more background to the production process, please feel free to do so in the comments section. Thanks!