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ANIMATION TODAY: NO PEARLS, LOTSA SWINE

From Chris Wayan's journal, 1986/1/31


I went today to see the 19th International Tournee of Animation. I came away wanting to do cartoons again, but also resolved NOT to do what I mostly saw. I'm sick of characters eating characters, and explosions, and funny faces, and geometric shapes, and Everyman (and they always are -man) and deliberate ugliness as a statement.

I like character stuff and fantasy: especially fantasies you can't fulfill in live film! Come on, people, you can do pratfalls in any medium! The strength of animation is its power to create absolutely ANY creature, ANY world, for about the same budget as making a dull one!

America as a culture limits itself to dull colors and chunky separate pieces, to incongruous caricatures and angular constructions imitating machinery... it's monotonous. Nearly every film that tried to be funny had this look, but even the others did in some areas, and I liked them in direct proportion to the number of areas they broke from convention.

THE BIG SNIT, for example, broke away in terms of being character comedy, with ideas behind it, but it was very conventional in its drawing: their heads were just a tube and a dome--like a million other cartoons.
Or SKYWHALES, with its imaginative culture and language (it took nerve to have completely incomprehensible dialogue). But its characters and colors and movements could have been far more graceful, an airborne otherworld as beautiful as a tropical reef... with "native" music, instead of the jarring score.

The best analogy I can see for the problem is butch and femme. Girls' dolls have a pretty narrow idea of beauty but they clearly do focus on connections and harmony between parts and whole: in physical features, in relationships (caring for someone, dating). Even my niece's toy unicorns or My Little Ponies: you dress them, you learn what goes with what. But butch? In the paper before me is a boy's toy: a robot that converts into a truck, into a plane, into a this and that. The pieces are separate: harmony, the fine points of the relationship between the parts is not important. It's an awkward, crappy car, or plane, or whatever, but what matters is only that it's recognizable. And wow is it ugly! Like a corpse or skeleton vs a living animal.

Now the film characters I get so tired are like butch gone bad: brutally simplified to elements like spheres and sticks and cubes stuck together, with eyes jammed on. And the events in these cartoons feel the same way, just stuck together: connected only in time or space by nearness or contact at junctions where they can be moved... like puppets. The pieces don't adapt or respond to each other (as does say natural skin when a living figure moves): the pieces just shuffle and clank around.

This is why even a dead machine like a sports car can look like it's moving when it's still; why we call aerodynamic lines "flowing." Each part pays attention to all the other parts and to the environment; they think about a real flow, and it shows. As opposed to, say, an oil derrick that ignores its environment and just gets the job done.

Butch can be innovative, and incongruous, which can be funny. But rarely beautiful.

Considering interconnections is beauty. Ignoring them is humor. Okay, that's an overstatement, but where the hell did animators get the idea that every animated work has to be humor? Especially the broadest humor, pratfall humor?

I want to create worlds that probably can only be built through animation, but I don't want to go to all that trouble of creating a universe just to crack jokes. If humor arises from that universe, as from any kind of life, good. But I don't want to sacrifice the natural complexity of fantasy for laughs, and in most modern animation, that's what I'm seeing. The sacrifice of beauty.

NOTE

Out of all the films I saw, I only recommend four (probably available on compilations)

ANNA AND BELLA, my favorite--loose, round, emotional, the opposite of the rigidity I'm bitching about here.
BOTTOM'S DREAM, with its Lucy In the Sky images, is wonderful, though the little donkey figure is pretty conventional... So much goes on, I want to see it again.
SKYWHALES, for its vivid alien world, even if it was a little rough around the edges.
THE BIG SNIT: strong characters, humor, ideas. The same crew did HOT STUFF earlier--also excellent.

On the other hand, CHARADE, the Oscar winner for this year, was a one-joke nothing. Go figure...



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