Thursday, January 9, 2014
Deitch on Today's Animation
Gene Deitch, animation legend, recently shared his views on today's mainstream feature animation landscape…
I had originally misinterpreted what he had said, thinking that his piece was a criticism of computer animation given his thoughts on Blue Sky's Epic and how he felt that today's computer animated films "imitate live action movies". Being so used to computer animation being called inferior to hand-drawn, I had assumed that Deitch was putting CGI down. Instead, Deitch is saying that he would like to see something in today's animation world that we all would like to see, really. Something different: Diversity.
He raises awareness of Ernest & Celestine, a French production done in hand-drawn animation that will be hitting American cinemas soon thanks to GKIDS; a film with animation that embraces a great minimalistic style that is definitely not realistic, and thankfully so. Its subject matter (I haven't seen it yet, so I can't say) apparently is not like what we see in a typical American animated feature, either. Now if only a big studio could make something like that!
As I've said here before (and I don't want to spite studios like Blue Sky or Sony Animation), I feel that mainstream American feature animation is kind of stuck in a hole right now. I may be excited for what's to come, but I feel that mainstream feature animation isn't being allowed to break out of the family-friendly comedy romp bubble. Disney ruled the roost for years with family-friendly films, and then Pixar took the torch and made great family films. DreamWorks now makes family films, the other studios follow suit. Even some studios making lower budget fare go for the G/PG family-friendly comedy formula. I look at the trailer fort The Nut Job and I think, "With a $45 million budget, that studio should've pulled off something different!"
I think today, there are two kinds of styles for computer animated films: The naturalistic kind, like Pixar's, which make me think of something like Bambi or Lady and the Tramp. Films like these, for me, look real but also look animated… But you still feel what's going on, you can immerse yourself in the fi;m's setting. The other kind is definitely more cartoony, the likes of Madagascar, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, Despicable Me and Hotel Transylvania go this route. These films still have a naturalistic sheen to them.
But there should be more styles of computer animation, there are many areas that are currently untapped. We need films that look a little less real and embrace different, unique styles. Where's the Yellow Submarine of computer animation? Where's the Rooty Toot Toot of computer animation?
I think we've found the Disney and Warner Bros. of computer animation, now we need find the UPA of computer animation. A studio who will introduce a bold new style that'll contrast heavily with the works coming from Disney, Pixar, DreamWorks, Sony, Illumination and Blue Sky.
In the meantime, hand-drawn animation obviously needs to be brought back to the forefront since it has already tackled multiple unique styles and there are many more to explore. Once head honchos stop believing that all audiences want are computer animated films (sorry to beat the dead horse Disney, but The Princess and the Frog could've done better if the marketing was stronger and it wasn't put up against the likes of Avatar and such), we'll start seeing changes. The optimist in me would like to see Ernest & Celestine get some sort of a boost from an Oscar campaign, do well enough at the domestic box office and start a new trend. It would be cool to see big studios acquire smaller-scale fare, more experimental work and films from all over the world and give them wide enough releases.
Deitch had produced cartoons for the UPA during the Golden Age while also doing his own thing with films like Munro. We need to see more of that in feature animation today; studios doing what they want to do and not emulating Disney or Pixar or DreamWorks, or what has been done before by others. I'm personally okay with someone like Pixar sticking to their style; Monsters University was almost photo real while its accompanying short, The Blue Umbrella, at times felt like an animated live-action film. (Some shots in it really did look too real!) But the fan in me would love to see someone like Illumination, since they spend less on animated features than their competitors, go all out with a CGI film that's unlike anything we've seen before.
Reel FX might be doing so with Jorge Guiterrez's The Book of Life, which I've been championing for a while. Producer Aron Warner says its look is unlike most computer animated films, so that's definitely something to look forward to. Like I've asked before, will it be a game changer? Perhaps. Computer animation and mainstream theatrical animation needs one now, since 2013 gave us a slew of animated features that underperformed… And we also need a film that successfully tackles adult subject matter to be a hit in the states, and create a bigger market for adult-oriented animation. I don't really know if Seth Rogen's Sausage Party will do just that, I have a feeling it'll either create a market for these kind of films or it will set adult animation back 10 years. Adult animation is more than raunchy humor.
Again, it is time to diversify. Time to explore. Things may turn around soon, and now animation pros like Gene Deitch are beginning to speak up for the art of trying new things. Let's hope we see some changes being made some time this year, if not next year…