Wednesday, December 01, 2004

The Bipolar Express: what is it with animated blockbusters?

As a kid, I was intrigued and even awed by "Fantasia," partly because my father's love for the classical music score was contageous. Yes, this was more grand and archetypical than the first movie I remembered seeing in a theater, "Mary Poppins." And truly, "Fantasia" was about as close as Disney ever got to Clever, much less ART. Even the recent "Fantasia 2000" was a worthy effort, though it is at it's best when the Bambi-esque bubble gum is kept to a minimum, as in Max Hershfield's "Rhapsody in Blue" sequence, which is both brilliant and bittersweet.

But come on! Since "Fantasia," have all these megabuster animated features really been worth all of the hoopla? Sure, kids love animation. It's made for kids. It's suitable for kids. But besides the relief some animation offers from the mayhem of lots of "mainstream" movies (and thus it's inherent baby sitting qualities), why are so many adults so enamored with this stuff?

I've never seen "Toy Story," the animated feature that supposedly turned adult audiences onto animated features - for which they were then willing and even eager to pay full fare.

Never seen it: am I REALLY missing out on something?

"Who Framed Roger Rabbit?" seduced me a bit (or was it just Kathleen Turner's character? - "I'm not bad, I'm just drawn that way"). Roger Rabbit turned the Toon World on its rabbit ears. And I can see how "Shrek" and "Monsters Inc." might genuinely appeal to viewers 16 and under. But 30 and 40 year olds? Really? I sort of enjoyed both, but after leaving the theater each time, I felt I hadn't nearly gotten my money's worth. I felt as if I were both too old and too young at heart to be fooled by well-drawn fairy tales. (If you think I'm daft, you probably thought any part of "Lord of the Rings" was worth watching. Who falls for this stuff? Can they not distinguish between this bunny/Hobbit drivel and really good stuff?)

I remember when "The Lion King" came out, and two years later, I still hadn't seen it even though people had been acting like it was the next best thing to "Titanic" or something - "must see" movies that make "Seinfeld" seem like Shakespeare. I finally saw "The Lion King" (for free and in a "research mode" of course), and it was clever cliche beginning to end - fine for twelve and under. But you have to wonder about anyone paying full fare to see it... TWICE.

Everybody's been acting as if "The Incredibles" is really incredible. And now a few friends are recommending I see "The Polar Express," the animated version of a very nicely illustrated childrens' book.

Would I REALLY be missing out on much if I didn't?

Are we mistaking sentimental visuals for profundity? And mere cleverness for ART?

What is with Americans' love for wry and clever but otherwise insipid animation? It seems millions are charmed by hackneyed contrivances in animated features that would make them just GROAN if filmed with Real People, and so they're paying up to $10 to see glorified, feature-length (i.e., overly long) cartoons. And they're buying the DVDs for their collections, what, to watch these kindergarten-variety stories five or six times? Do even their happy shiny kids need to see these things a half dozen times? And are these stories worth $50 million?

Are people really so visual and such suckers for cartoon fables and fairy tales? And speaking of fairy tales, the old "Fractured Fairy Tales" on "Rocky and Bullwinkle" were more innovative than most of what some studios are getting for their millions.

Most animated features can't fail to not impress. OF COURSE a bunch of highly paid and strangely dedicated computer nerds and fancy programs can make this stuff up. So what?

A clear choice: I've never played a computer game. Have I missed something? Should I envy those who do play these games?

It seems fairly easy to fool most of the people most of the time, convincing them somehow that computer generated graphics are somehow awesome and amazing. (It is sad whenever I even suspect that people are more impressed by technological wizardry than they are by what humans can and can't seem to accomplish.)

Great acting is amazing. People are amazing. Real world cinematography is amazing. Computer-anything can't come close.

I'll save my money for features that feature fully fleshed-out people.

On the other hand, if you'd like to see an animated feature I can respect, check out Richard Linklater's enigmatic and rather brilliant "Waking Life," but be sure to plug in your grown up adult brain before you begin.


At 12/01/2004 7:32 PM, Blogger Aleksu said...

At times Tom Hank's acting is so cartonish that I really don't know if he is there or if it is a CGI version of him.

Anyway, I was just teasing a coworker that is always talking about video games, concepts like Halo, and Sim City and such things.

I told him that X Box was going to be the demise of Western Civilization, when you get adult males engaged on playing these games instead of living the real life and making sure that we do not go extint as a species.

He thought I was kidding!

At 12/03/2004 9:56 AM, Blogger Lawrence said...

Blex, yeah, exactly I know - no kidding. It's not like we're at the top of our game now - as a culture, as a society. Signs of dysfunction, decline (and the end of empire) are all around.


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