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Getting Animated – The Revival of Old-Fashioned Animation?

We live in the era of 3D and CGI. I remember back in they day there were worries and complaints by all the unions in Hollywood that the advent of perfect CGI would mean the end of actors in Hollywood – why pay Jim Carrey $20m a film when you can create a character for a fraction of that? Needless to say it hasn’t happened yet and I doubt it will. Hollywood and movies have always been the land of personalities. Get rid of those personalities and you have very little. It isn’t the antics of directors and writers that fuel the tabloid industry. So it’s logical that the part of the industry that has been most threatened by the marching on of science is the one where there is already minimal personality. I speak of course of the death of 2D animation. Although I hope I’m being premature – there have been two stories in the past 24 hours that indicated that old-fashioned non-live action films may not be quite dead.

Just a fraction less sophisticated than the animation Wes Anderson employs...

Just a fraction less sophisticated than the animation Wes Anderson employs...

The first is the trailer for Wes Anderson’s The Fantastic Mr. Fox which was released yesterday. It does look fantastic – aside from the fact it doesn’t identify Roald Dahl, simply “from the author of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” – and features a stunning voice cast (Jason Schwartzman, Bill Murray, Owen Wilson, George Clooney and Meryl Streep), but what is really stunning about the look of the film is how remarkable old fashioned it looks. It’s a very traditional stop motion piece which looks more than a little out of place in the modern world of Coraline – but would we expect anything else from wunderkind Wes Anderson? I quite like the way that it does look decidedly un-cutting edge and we’re already psyched to go and see it. There’s no fancy CGI here and certainly no digital 3D. Just old timey fun. I don’t get the almost unanimously negative reaction to the trailer – mostly from on-line critics who claim to covet originality – which Rope of Silicon deals with pretty well.

It does raise the question of who exactly is the target audience for the film, though? I hope it isn’t just geeks like me… because there aren’t a lot of geeks like me. I’m not sure my little sister would go and see t, and I don’t know what age ground of children would be impressed by stop-motion that looks incredibly outdated. Kids aren’t exactly known for their appreciation of artistic merit. So, I guess we’ll wait and see what the Box Office says. Maybe the reason we’ve seen so few traditional children’s films is because retro isn’t bankable.

Still, Disney is releasing two “traditional” (caveat included further in article) 2D films over the next year-and-a-bit. Which is good, since their last major original animated film was the lacklustre Brother Bear a good six years ago. Their last major original good animated film was Lilo & Stitch, seven years ago. So to have both The Princess and The Frog and Rapunzel coming out so close together is great – particularly as Disney are arguably in their element when it comes to retelling fairytales and they are both classic stories.

That's a Rap(unzel)...

That's a Rap(unzel)...

It has been hard, though, to get excited about The Princess and the Frog – where the only media discussion and coverage seems to be centred around the film’s alleged “racism”. I really want to get excited, but it’s very hard when nobody is seeing nothing and we’ve seen next to nothing to get us excited about the film. And I’m a guy who likes to get excited years in advance (I’m anticipating The Special Relationship). So, I’m pleasantly surprised that the concept art for Rapunzel looks so good. It doesn’t look like it’s trying too hard to ‘cool up’ the story, just being a classic in the style of Snow White or Cinderella. Maybe there is a 2D animated release to get excited about.

The “animated” caveat I mentioned further up the article is that Rapunzel is being animated by computer, rather than by hand. So there’s absolutely no way to determine how faithful the concept art will be to the end product. Still, it is nice to see a tentpole release that at least looks to the past. I do wonder how the two Disney films will do at the Box Office. It’s been years since a Disney animated film had a huge interest. The Iron Giant is typically considered the ‘last hurrah’ for the solid animated movie and that was over a decade ago. Many of the kids that these movies are aimed at will never have seen a traditionally animated film. They would have grown up on the Pixar and Dreamworks CGI model and have recently been flooded with 3D movies to further shorten their attention span. I can see many kids having the reaction of “Why should I pay to see the kind of animation that I see on TV all the time?”, particularly when 3D is being increasingly used to lure out the younger audience.

Still, it’s nice to see that these traditional approaches are at least being given a shot. My problem with many of the later Disney movies (most of the animated films after The Lion King, save Lilo & Stitch) was that there was a fairly steep decline in quality. I think that played a larger part in the company losing its market share than any of the technology involved. Pixar has dominated the animation market simply because they are the best there is. Wall-E would still be a classic if it were 2D hand-drawn animation – and it wasn’t the 3D that defined Coraline either. So I hold out hope that these old formats of storytelling aren’t simply invalid. They just need to be carried out with the same confidence and integrity that defines the more successful films. That’s why my sister (hell, my whole family) still enjoys the classic Disney films – The Lion King, Sleeping Beauty, The Jungle Book – because they are great stories. They also look beautiful.

If only you can find the right message for the medium.

One Response

  1. […] must be feeling particularly out of touch. The Princess and the Frog, pre-hyped as the rebirth of classic animation, wasn’t a flop, but it didn’t exactly light a fire under the genre either. With the […]

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