Here’s a brief overview on the difference between animation and style, and good vs. great animation.
In simplest terms:
– Animation is about movement.
– Style is about character design, colors, anything not related to movement.
One thing that differentiates good animation from great is the level of detail that’s put into those movements. When the character walks, is their motion limited to simple arm and leg swings, or did the key-animators draw out the motions for their shoulders, torso, hair, and other parts as well? Really skilled animators, if their schedule and budget will allow it, will even add subtle movements to the fingers and face.
An example of great animation that I like to use is this scene from Sleeping Beauty (1958). The level of detail is insane. Everything, the hair, clothes, fingers, feet, everything is moving. And on top of that, their mouths were also animated to match the dialog and lyrics.
Another thing that makes animation look nice is when it’s done on 1s or 2s instead of 3s. Film plays back at around 24 frames per second, and, to save money and time, studios will sometimes only do 8 frames of animation for every second, and then play that animation back at third-speed so it’ll fit the 24 frame space. This is called animating on 3s, which often results in choppier playback than animation done on 2s (12 frames of animation for every second / half-speed playback) or 1s (24 frames of animation for every second / full-speed playback). Sleeping Beauty was animated on 1s and 2s, and most TV shows and anime are animated on 3s.
On a personal note: I think Disney did some of the best animation in history, but anime has far more interesting styles and stories. I’d much rather watch Death Parade again than Sleeping Beauty.