Ian Bogost has a theory about Every Computer Animated Film Ever that boils down every plot into a universal structure, not too dissimilar from the monomythic Hero’s Journey. I don’t have much to add about the narrative conventions of the genre, other than to seize upon one point Bogost makes in passing and to expand upon it. The hero of nearly every computer animated film ever is, as Bogost puts it, an “anthropomorphized creature protagonist.”
As I commented on Bogost’s post, I’d argue that the “anthropomorphized creature protagonist” is a technical effect of what we might call the platform of CG films: for at least twelve of the last fourteen years (going back to Toy Story in 1995), humans, especially their faces, were simply too difficult to render in CG. So Pixar and Dreamworks had to make do with anthropomorphizing Potato Heads, cars, rats, bugs, fish, and so on.
What I find fascinating about the genre is how the technical limitations of CG transformed the more standard Disney princess story. From the late eighties to mid nineties we had Ariel, Belle, Jasmine, Pocahontas, and Mulan. And suddenly, nothing. No more princesses.
The animated princess is a thing of the past.
A final thought: is it a coincindence that post-Toy Story we find the most “othered” princesses: Pocahontas (1995) and Mulan (1998)? Is it a sign of multiculturalism or some sort of reaction to CG, the death rattle of pen and paper animators?