Is traditional hand-drawn animation dead? It's easy to think as much, given the fact that the most popular box office draws these days are coming from the computer-rendering animators at Pixar (NASDAQ:PIXR) and DreamWorks Animation (NYSE:DWA). Beyond Lilo & Stitch, Disney (NYSE:DIS) has found little success with old-school ink and paint.

But don't be so quick to bury Disney -- or hand-drawn animation.

Disney is too busy trying to ready itself for life beyond Pixar to see the possibilities here. It's focused on its computer-animated Chicken Little feature and teaming up with young tech-savvy studios to put out computer-rendered flicks like Valiant. Even Aardman Films, the amazing studio behind the stop-motion animation genius of Chicken Run and Wallace and Gromit, is working on a computer-animated feature called Flushed Away to be released by DreamWorks.

And if that isn't enough, you have to factor in the success that Fox (NYSE:FOX) has had with Robots and its Ice Age franchise. The computer-animation field is certainly getting crowded. That's why Disney needs to remember that it all started with a hand-sketched mouse. While the house that Walt built is simply chasing everyone else with computer-generated flicks, it has the potential to lead the revolution back to animation's hand-drawn roots.

Instead, Disney has been shelving animators and outsourcing its projects. While its logic seems to be that it's better to chase the new leaders than champion a fading platform, the truth is that Disney's animation shortcomings were not the result of a waning popularity for hand-drawn animation. Those injuries were self-inflicted; Home on the Range made on computers would still have been a dud. As soon as Disney realizes this, its path to prosperity will not only become clear -- it will be vaguely familiar.

Some more hand-pecked headlines:

  • Last year I argued that "blaming the medium instead of the messenger is akin to blaming your tailor because you gained a few pounds."
  • The crowding of computer animation seemed apparent as early as last year.
  • Share your thoughts in our imagineering-approved Disney discussion board.

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Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz thinks that a great story would be a hit even if it were presented with stenciled stick figures. He owns shares of Disney and Pixar. The Fool has a disclosure policy. He is also part of the Rule Breakers newsletter research team, seeking out tomorrow's ultimate growth stocks a day early.