Wednesday, December 14, 2011

WATCH THIS: First Contact

A combined CGI/Live action production from the Media Design School. Very, very well done. Certainly better than most of the crap on SyFy, although, to be fair, SyFy is shooting for that.

Monday, December 12, 2011

WATCH THIS: Hedgehog In The Fog

This is one of the strangest, yet most hauntingly captivating animated works that I have ever come across. It is a must-watch for any animation fan.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Annie Award Nominees Announced

The nominations for the 2011 Annie Awards have been announced, and there are, of course, no real surprises in store. As usual, almost every major animated film has been nominated for something. Kung Fu Panda 2 is leading the nominations, but seeing as many of the awards are technical, this isn't surprising; Kung Fu Panda 2 was a technical marvel. I don't think that it deserves Best Picture, though. I think that honor certainly belongs in the hands of Rango.

On television, I find it absurd that Star Wars: The Clone Wars was even nominated. It is terrible. This isn't coming from a Star Wars fanatic, either. It's just a bad show. How they could nominate that and ignore The Venture Bros. is beyond me. Moreover, nominations for the Kung Fu Panda and Penguins of Madagascar television cartoons is a travesty. There are children's cartoons that so wildly exceed both of them in every way as to make these nominations a crime. Where's Adventure Time? Where's Thundercats?

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Betty Boop Film Class

Not much to see in this episode of Betty Boop. The reason for watching it is that, in classic Fleischer style, you could not possibly predict the ending. Of note, the dance at the end is rotoscoped, which was still something that only Fleischer was doing.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

New Pixar's Brave Photos And Trailer!

Dammit! I need to be more up on this. These photos have been on the interwebpipes for nearly a week!

The style of the characters appears to be a break from current Pixar models. I don't mean by the texture. Unfortunately, the texture of Pixar films is more-or-less identical from film to film. All of the characters appear to be made out of the same "stuff." Still, their model for humans has followed early Pixar, à la Boo from Monsters Inc. and Wall-e, or the Brad Bird look from The Incredibles, Ratatouille. Here, they've mixed it up a bit. The Disney influence still shines through loud and clear, which I guess isn't a surprise seeing as everyone that started Pixar cut their teeth at Cal-Arts, but it is different, which is nice.

Also, the trailer is terrible. Probably Pixar's worst trailer. Not as bad as Dreamworks movies usually are, but still pretty bad, with no tempo, and too much noise.

Regardless, my excitement cannot be tempered. This is the film event of 2012 for me.

Merida encounters a wisp.

Merida sits with her royal family and views suitors.

The fathers of the suitors.

Friday, October 21, 2011

A Very Short Rango Review

Rango is the best, most daring animated film since The Incredibles. Unlike so many animated productions of the last twenty years,  this film will last.

I frequently use the word "last" when referring to films. By this, I mean productions that become part of one's own narrative. Seeing the film nestles into one's mind, and the experience, the film, the emotions, the initial reactions, all of the elements of witnessing the film become frequently accessed memories.

Films that do not last are those without daring aspects. They hew closely to formula and desperately avoid insulting people. For example, The Fifth Element. It has lasted. It gets shown on TV at least once per week, variations on the movie are released on disc at least once per year, and the movie is famous enough to have been the first movie Sony released on Blu-Ray.

Compare this to another Bruce Willis movie from the same time: Mercury Rising. NO ONE remembers this movie. I only remember it because I wanted to write this paragraph.

Or perhaps more apt for this writing, look back on the animated films of yore that are remembered. They are dark, daring, and exciting. The Secret of NIMH, The Last Unicorn, or The Plague Dogs. compare these truly great works to a work that is masquerading as daring, but is actually just Disney formula wrapped up in darker paper, The Black Cauldron. Why do you think anime absolutely conquered the young male market in the United States? Because anime was dark and exciting. It wasn't stupid musicals filled with cute side kicks and happy endings.

Rango, more than any animated movie out of the US that I have seen in decades, captures that darkness. It captures a sense of danger, juxtaposed with comedy and color. There are moments of beautifully abstract, philosophical ideas combined with near-grotesque images. Rattlesnake Jake, a late-in-the-film bad guy, apparently had young children crying in theaters. Great! That's what you want! If the movie does not have an emotional impact on children, it will never be remembered. It will never become part of a child's personal narrative. They will take no lessons into adulthood. It is as though the movie never existed.

Rango exists and will exist for some time. It is that good.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

John Lasseter Defends Cars 2

John Lasseter has given an interview discussing Cars 2 to the New York Times. First, he denies that Cars 2 was a money grab. I think anyone who argued that it was knows nothing about the rise and operations of Pixar.

That's not to say the Cars 2 was good. Quite the opposite. I thought it was not just Pixar's worst film, but a bad film in most repsects. But because of Pixar's, and Lasseter's, history, I don't think that any judgments can be drawn from the film and extrapolated out into the corpus of the Disney Company.

The comment of Lasseter's that had me worried was his declaration that “This is not an executive-led studio." Perhaps this applies to Pixar itself, but as I argued in my post Why Tangled Reveals That Poison That's Still Inside Disney, there is no evidence to support that this applies to the rest of the company. Truly, Disney appears to be one of the most executive-led companies on Earth.

Lasseter further defended Cars 2 by saying that he makes films for "that little boy who loves the characters so much that he wants to pack his clothes in a Lightning McQueen suitcase.”He succeeded insofar as he made a movie that only a little boy could enjoy.

The reason why this is a disappointment for me is that their earlier films did just that, but also transcended the "kid-flick" mentality and construction to become something lasting, something great. Cars 2 will not last. Even if you think that it is a good film, I can't imagine anyone arguing that it will last. Wall-E will last. Toy Story will last. Cars 2 will not.

Finally, the article refers to Cars 2 as being the frontrunner for Best Animated Film and the Oscars. This is absurd. If Rango doesn't win, I'm going to have a fit. Granted, the Oscar's are certainly known for absolute stupidity. Hello, Shakespeare In Love.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

My New Design House

I'm starting a new design house. I specialize in web design, brand design, and brand management. My prices are very competitive and I work incredibly quickly. If you want a solid brand, and a website that is mostly devoid of fluffy Flash and Javascript, thus concentrating on the actual, I dunno', content, hit me up. Check it out at

Monday, September 12, 2011

Why "Tangled" Reveals The Poison That's Still Inside Disney

There is a big update just before the list of citations.


When Disney bought and then disseminated the neutron star of talent that is Pixar into the rest of the corporation, many people, myself included, saw this as the beginning of a new era for Disney. John Lasseter's immediate takeover of in-production films like Meet The Robinsons, Bolt, and the various Tinker Bell DVD's likely resulted in those films being quite good, and at times legitimately touching, when they were on track to be as pathetic as Chicken Little. The 2009 release of The Princess and the Frog, the first traditional animated feature since the "udder" catastrophe that was Home on the Range, seemed to cement the perception that Disney might be returning to the veritable ejaculation of talent that began the Disney Renaissance, and in a greater sense, the animation renaissance of the late-80's and early-90's and Disney Corporation's veritable rebirth into the Goliath that it is today.

There has been, of course, a great deal of progress. Disney immediately stopped production of its endless stream of direct-to-video sequels, which saw its final abomination in the form of Cinderella, ugh, III, and its final work in the form of a third Little Mermaid film. That in itself is a big improvement, and certainly worthy of praise, but there is still something off, and I see it most prominently in the recent movie Tangled. Basically, the disease that caused Disney to fly off the rails in the 2000's is still there, threatening to derail the company yet again.


Depending on how old you are, you might not fully grasp the depths to which American animation had fallen. The 70's and 80's saw some of Disney's least-remembered animated films, and television animation was atrocious. In fact, some 80's TV animation was so bad, it became good again. Cartoons like Turbo Teen were so unbelievably horrific, the only way to explain their existence was to assume that the creators had consciously set out to craft something that bad.

The man most widely credited with fostering the rejuvenation of not only Disney's animation, but its entire film production system, is Michael Eisner.1 Eisner was instrumental in driving Disney to rediscover the values that Walt Disney himself had original used to achieve wild commercial and critical success. Walt thought that movies should be entertaining, honest, accessible, and artistically sound. Decisions weren't made for wholly commercial reasons. Commercial success would follow artistic integrity, and, for Disney at least, it did.

But after Walt's death in 1966, and also Ub Iwerks in 1971, Disney saw a slow but steady decrease in studio production quality. 101 Dalmations, considered by many2 to be Disney Animation's most technically perfect film, was 1961. Then, we have a string of animated films that are remembered as enjoyable and not much else. From 1966 to 1985, Walt Disney Company won a single Academy Award, for special effects in Bedknobs and Broomsticks,3 while Disney's most financially successful film of the 1970's was, ugh, The Apple Dumpling Gang.

By bringing Disney back to its roots, Eisner fomented the creation of Gummi Bears on TV, and The Great Mouse Detective in theaters. Neither would be a runaway success, but they both proved that expensive, high-quality animation was still commercially viable. The payoff would truly come in the wild, historic success of The Little Mermaid. Anyone who has, and has friends who have, seen the film knows how well it sticks with you. It's as though every element of the film was meant to burrow into the pop-culture module of your brain, readying it to, at any moment, throw a Scuttle quote into general conversation.

The Little Mermaid was a rather big gamble. At $40 million, it's budget was twice that of the preceding Oliver and Company, and over three times as much as The Great Mouse Detective. The gamble paid off, though, and pay off it did. To the tune of $211 million, and countless millions more in VHS and toy sales. And who knows how much profit has been made from attaching Ariel to the endless money-printing machine that is the Disney Princess product line.

Fast-forward sixteen years, and Disney is a rejuvenated powerhouse. The 2000's saw more movies produced than the 1990's and 1980's combined. Disney Company was nominated for more Academy Awards in 2009 alone than all of the sixties, seventies, and eighties. In fact, every element of Disney Corporation was vomiting money all over stock holders... except, that is, for its heart and soul: animation. Home On The Range failed. Brother Bear underperformed. Treasure Planet bombed so badly Disney had to restate earnings. The last critical and financial bright spot was Lilo & Stich, which was way back in 2002. Traditional animated features were against the ropes.


When Michael Eisner announced the end of traditional animation at Disney, he explained it by positing that audiences had grown tired of these, and instead wanted to see CGI films. He neglected to mention that every traditionally animated film Disney had made in the past five to six years was either marketed poorly or received poor reviews (Rotten Tomatoes scores of 55%, 38%, 70%, and 48%4), and traditionally animated films from other studios were even worse.5 It's as though the Eisner of 1985 had been replaced with a doppelganger Eisner that more closely resembled the blithering idiots at Disney who fired John Lasseter.6

The core of this problem is manifold, but, I think that one very visible aspect of it best encapsulates the totality: Disney cannot figure out what the fuck to do with boys, and it's apparently driving them insane.

In Atlantis: The Lost Empire7, if you watch the director commentary on the DVD, there is a moment early in the film, viewable here... or until Disney acts like an asshole and takes it down. Fast forward to the 8:00 mark for the applicable events.

Helga, acting all seductive, with a distinctly film noir staging, sits down, exposes her shoulders, and then dusts off her knee. In the original staging of the scene, she was supposed to hike her dress up slightly to reveal a Betty Boop-style garter. Disney nixed the idea, saying it was too provocative. Something that, if kept in, wouldn't have even garnered higher than a G rating... was removed from the film. Disney may as well have included a disclaimer in the trailer saying "Just in case you were expecting something different, remember, we have no balls whatsoever."

Remember, scenes like this were put in, hell, the entire movie was created, specifically to attract tween and teenage boys.8 How well do you think that they did considering they didn't even have the cojones to include something that was shown on Betty Boop in NINETEEN-THIRTY? Damn poorly, that's how. Because, shocker, Disney is a massive, soulless, limp-dicked company.

At least, it was.

Pixar was to end this. Pixar was the company that produced films like Wall-E and The Incredibles, two films that Disney as Disney would never have greenlit even if someone was aiming a 300mm naval canon at their genitals. Pixar didn't set out to produce family friendly films, They set out to produce good films that just happened to be appealing to all age groups.

The first strategy, the one that produced Atlantis, is the executive-directed strategy. It's a psychology that holds over from the old studio system days. It frequently works. The second, the one that produced Toy Story, is the artist-directed strategy. It also frequently works. Ideally, like the functioning of a good government, these two strategies find a balance. The executive keeps the artist in check, since artists are a squirelly lot and you can end up with a complete disaster like Heaven's Gate if they are left unmonitored. But in return, the artist is the one who maintains direction, purpose, and quality in the production. The executive is usually unskilled in the ways of art (frequently, they're unskilled in the ways of anything), and is at his best when leaving an artist alone except to restrict the budget and sniff out possible bombs.

At Disney, that artistic element had died. In fact, the two biggest animated successes for Disney since Tarzan, Lilo & Stitch and The Emperor's New Groove, were both produced with spotty oversight and under atypical situations.9 Essentially, the only way to succeed in Disney was to avoid Disney as much as possible.

In the movies that actually had budgets and oversight, the results were either poor or horribly misconceived. For example, no artist would have ever considered Treasure Planet a good idea. They would have immediately realized that shoehorning something that was edgy10 into the classic tale was not only needless, but also utterly, completely, tragically, lame. And in the world of entertainment, lameness is toxic. Your company may as well be run by lepers.


And so, after much circumlocution, we come to the ultimate point of this article. Tangled is trying so hard to be hip, there is only one way to explain its bloated, desperate, $260 million existence: Disney's core is still tragically uncool and dominated by executives. Truly, in my review, the strained desperateness of Tangled was the most salient element of the film. That is the biggest issue with the executive approach to film production, the films end up actively trying to be something, in this case cool, and when they fail, the lameness is all the more glaring.

And really, that isn't a shock! The men11 that run these studios were never cool! They were not the cool kids. They were the nerds and the unpopular ones. And even if they weren't unpopular, by some stroke of luck, they undoubtedly didn't know why they were popular. Kids don't understand things, people in general have a habit of forgetting what it was like to be a kid, and then companies expect these same people to know what kids want! It's a recipe for failure, producing things that quantitatively should be successes yet aren't, like Treasure Planet, and alternatively producing things that become certified über-hits for seemingly no reason, like Silly Bandz.

In this void of understanding, we have analysts, interviewers, marketers, advertisers, social media specialists, artists: all of the people who try to quantify coolness. They do this for the same reason that many people12 get into psych studies: it makes them feel like they exist on a level above others. Just as philosophers of old, like Socrates, claimed that physical pleasures like sex were for lesser men probably because they were ugly and couldn't get any,13 these experts know what it means to be cool and popular, so if they aren't cool and popular, it's because they're choosing not to be. If you can't be cool and popular, intellectualize it. They then convince other people, who also don't understand how to be cool, to buy their services.

The thing is, though, coolness and popularity are different things, and while they frequently walk hand-in-hand, they needn't always. Popularity is being liked by people, but coolness is confidence, which frequently attracts people to you, but as I said, it needn't always. When a movie is desperately trying to be something, it is not confident, and cannot possibly be cool, and thus cannot possibly be appealing. This is the reason why movies by the likes of Quentin Tarantino, who is by all accounts a colossal geek, are still cool. Tarantino is a consummate artist who only cares about his vision and is resolutely confident in it.

This is in comparison to a person that we've all known well, or perhaps have been:14 the uncool geek. We're told to not care that people are making fun of us. We're told to be confident. We see other confident people doing confident things, and we try to mimic that. Unfortunately, it's not real confidence. It's mimicry of the gross aspects of the behavior, not the wellspring of the behavior itself. This never works because it is painfully apparent that we are overcompensating. It usually comes across as annoying and only serves to cement our position as uncool.

To achieve that coolness, we must become truly confident in our existential self. We must know, both intellectually and emotionally, that we are worthwhile entities. Because only from this do we achieve a genuine representation of ourselves, and that genuineness is key to being seen as confident. You can't be putting on a show or consciously trying to be one way or another. Because trust me, everyone knows.

This sort of realization usually just comes with age, and by the time we're all in our thirties, we've mellowed. But that's life, and this isn't Walgreens, it's the movie business. And here, to achieve coolness demands a great deal of control from the artistic side of the equation, since the executives have no existential self about which they can feel confident. They are soulless, so they must systematize and quantify the gross aspects of coolness in an attempt to make money. It is the behavior of that poor, high school geek, taken to a Brobdingnagian level.

I like to derisively refer to executives as "idea" people. Because, when you're a super-duper-important idea person, you don't need to get your hands dirty actually doing things. You sit around in your air-conditioned office doing the hard work of brainstorming brilliant stuff.

Part of that process is, of course, believing that they know what people want. This is, of course, arrogant nonsense, even if it's entirely understandable when you understand the uncool, inartistic perspective from which these people are coming. This is the blind arrogance that produces films like College, Rollerball, and just about every Christmas-themed film of the past twenty years.

That is what Disney has been doing since Hercules; they've been letting their geekiness show. This is also why Disney has had such a terrible time appealing to boys, because they are hyper-sensitive to anything geeky. As Hercules and later films would show, if you aren't hip, don't try to be. You'll fail and just look dumb. By the time Home On The Range came out, Disney may as well have been Steve Urkel, because it was the next worst thing: men in suits.

The executive approach isn't entirely doomed, though. As I mentioned, it can, with the intervention of skilled artists, produce works of lasting quality. Dreamworks is possibly the greatest example of a group of immensely skilled people producing great entertainment while being lead by another group of people whose IQ's might be low enough to qualify for disability benefits.15

Dreamworks' creative teams made Antz, a great film, when the executive directive was little more than "copy A Bug's Life".16 They managed to make Over The Hedge funny when the trailer hinted at how horrid it could have been. And recently, they made Kung Fu Panda and How To Train Your Dragon into great films. These are seriously skilled people. But even they can't work their magic on everything. Bee Movie was only tolerable, and Shark Tail was just abysmal.

While Dreamworks has managed to find success with incompetent executives and skilled artists, Disney has lost that compromise. But, man, when the two were in-sync, during the Disney Renaissance, the results were nothing short of astounding. It resulted in the absolute rejuvenation of an entire company. If anything, Disney's success in that regard should be used as a constant reminder of how great things can be when many people work as a well-oiled machine. Auteurs are great, but not nearly as reliable as artists and executives, dreamers and pragmatists, working together to create great works.


The problem with executives is that, once money is being made, they find a way to wedge themselves into any and all processes. Because, again, they think that they are skilled auteurs, they think that they know what's going on, and as such, need to have their fingers in every pot. Because, ya' know, their brilliance just makes everything better.

So a company can start with a great creative direction, or maybe soul is a better word, which, if correctly managed, starts to earn buckets of money. This sort of transition from obscurity to success can be seen in many companies. Lots of money results in little internal pressure to force out idiots, and a poorly managed company inevitably ends up infected with large cancerous lumps of idiots surrounded by other idiots.

While this transition was undoubtedly under way in the early 90's, what with the runaway successes of Touchstone Pictures and Disney's new animation, I think that the first visible indication of the cancer was the direct-to-video release of The Return of Jafar, a sequel to Aladdin. Walt would have never allowed a sequel. He was, in fact, explicitly against sequels. In his mind, great artistic works stood alone because they had to.17

Once a company ejects the artistic motivation for making movies, which is a constant force from the talentless18 executives who desperately want to feel important, we're left with people trying to guess what the market wants, as opposed to driving into some new artistic ground. Do you think that executives would have ever created Grindhouse, or Requiem For A Dream, or anything that David Lynch has ever done, through focus groups? Of course not! Focus groups tell you what people think they want. It doesn't tell you what they actually want, and it certainly doesn't tell you what they might want and don't even know it. For that, you need art.

It should be noted that nearly all movie companies suffer from a similar illness. Namely, they are all run by idiots. And just like Dreamworks and Disney, sometimes the artists can transcend what the executives give them. A great recent example is Nickelodeon and its concept call that resulted in Avatar: The Last Airbender:19 action without any violence. This limitation was stark to someone who's grown accustomed to analyzing the texture of an artistic work, and the limitations imposed by Nickelodeon were apparent at every turn. No hitting, no usage of words like "kill" as active verbs, and no deaths. Basically, especially from the perspective of boys, the very definition of lame. Here, though, the art side was so good, it was able to overcome an executive perspective that is one of the worst in the business --Nickelodeon is a cold soulless shell run by brain-eating zombies20-- and produce something that captured the imagination of boys and girls across the country.

Unfortunately, Nickelodeon's true side shone through loud and clear with the management of Avatar. Toy lines? What toy lines? Boys? What are those? It's as though Nickelodeon wasn't expecting to actually get something good. This clusterfuck culminated in the grotesque abomination that was The Last Airbender.21

This is not to argue that all companies are necessarily ill and there's no way to avoid it. Disney managed it for over a decade, so have others. The Weinstein Bros. simply do what they want. And Dreamworks was actually founded on these ideals. It was supposed to follow in the footsteps of United Artists in being a different kind of studio. Unfortunately, instead, it mutated into the same suit-run monstrosity that all of the other studios were.

I pick out Disney from the rest because their illness seems the most bizarre. I also pick them out because Pixar was, is, different. Pixar was supposed to fix the problems in Disney and stop the bean-counters from simply slinging out another Aladdin sequel to DVD. And they did make many good changes, like no more Aladdin sequels, for example. But these lingering issues, the core issues, remain.


Disney has mastered the young girl market with aplomb, but every other market eludes them. And instead of going at it from an artistic perspective, they continue to grind out shit from focus groups. No wonder Disney has green-lit two more Pirates of the Caribbean films; it's the only franchise for which boys have shown anything but disgust.22 Disney XD, a television channel, has shown some significant improvements in ratings and penetration in the young male market, but that has yet to translate into greater acceptance by those boys when they get older.

No, we still have Disney being driven mad by boys, and as they flail about, they cover everything that they touch with whatever the hell executives sweat. And what does this have to do with Tangled? Simple. It's named Tangled! It was to be named Rapunzel until it was renamed, and rumored to have undergone an eleventh hour rejiggering at great expense, in a desperate attempt to appeal to boys.23 Variety lampooned the decision, likening it to naming The Little Mermaid "Beached."

Disney tried to defend the decision, saying that it was because the movie wasn't purely about Rapunzel, which is stupid. Beauty and the Beast wasn't simply about a beauty and a beast. Pocahontas wasn't just about Pocahontas. Aladdin was more about the Genie than anyone else. The logic of that argument just doesn't add up. But Disney's ENTIRE HISTORY supports the assertion that they made the name change in an attempt to attract boys.

That is what Disney has done with Tangled. They let their geekiness show. It's a toxic geekiness that infects the board rooms of some of the most powerful companies on Earth. I am attacking Disney because, as I mentioned, their infection is almost entertaining, but also, and more importantly from a cultural perspective, the nature of this geekiness is strongly masculine.

By that, I mean that the geeks who control these boardrooms are almost entirely male. Because of that, the toxicity of trying to figure out what constitutes cool means that the grossest, most culturally prescribed standards are what become most represented in the works. Don't know what's cool? Throw some sex in there! A smattering of sexism and gender roles. Add some generic romantic drama to taste and voila! A movie. This twisted male perspective, programmed by a society that's quite terrible in many ways, is what determines what gets put on screen.24

I hate this for artistic reasons, since I like to see good movies get made. Sometimes, movies are so bad, I ponder about who thought it was a good idea to continue past story-boarding, past the initial script treatment?! But I also hate it for cultural reasons. I don't entirely begrudge Disney for embracing and catering to aspects of the zeitgeist to make money, but when they could help to mold that zeitgeist through works of powerful artistic merit, they simply follow it. Instead of a groundbreaking work, we get the painfully derivative Tangled, which copies Shrek... nine years after Shrek premiered.

I should stress that Disney is a rock-solid company with multiple revenue streams. Their adult-oriented films continue to earn awards and bring in money. Their games and toys earn billions every year. Their amusement parks are singular creations, unique on the face of planet Earth. They are financially secure in essentially every way. But as Disney said, you cannot top pigs with pigs. Disney's ability to blaze new trails, to break new ground, is woefully limited. Lots of money is to be made grinding out chum, but when a company becomes so infected with the mechanisms to grind out chum, they make money at the expense of long-term prestige and viability. No matter how small or how hidden, the infection can line the dominoes up and then trigger their fall, destroying a massive company no matter how stable and diversified it might seem. It happened at IBM. It happened at GM. It happened at Nokia. It happened at Disney once before, and it can happen again. If Disney doesn't start pushing the industry, and themselves, forward, this future will forever loom over them. Like some grim reaper, silently waiting for a moment to strike, the specter of deadly irrelevance is ever present.


Whither the avant garde? To what end is Disney? Are they nothing more than a soulless corporate monster, destined to earn buckets of money, and whose only legacy will be the great works of its founder? No! They needn't be that and they shouldn't be that! Disney is the only major corporate entity in Hollywood that has taken serious chances. No other company would have produced Tron. No other company would have produced The Nightmare Before Christmas. Yet today, they stagnate.

Pixar certainly continues to break narrative ground, but even though managers and representatives from Pixar have been scattered about the Disney corpus, we're not seeing this creativity in any large amount in other areas. Instead, Brad Bird is doing Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, John Lasseter and friends are remaining in Pixar, and aside from their personal baby, The Princess and the Frog, there's nothing that really diverges from the trajectory that Disney was on before the Pixar acquisition.

As I mentioned earlier, I think Pixar's presence has resulted in a quality increase.25 Even if a film is derivative, it can still be a good derivative. But this only means that the art coming out of Disney is, instead of being done in finger paint, in beautifully stroked oils. The paintings themselves are still fucking still-lifes of fruit. In essense, I see Pixar as better at sailing the ship, but they are still going in the same direction. I wanted more than that. I wanted to see a massive, philosophical shift like the one that triggered the Disney Renaissance. I wanted to see a rebirth.

I have not seen that, and I think that we suffer for it. We suffer because Disney remains as sexist as it ever was and artistic developments that we could be seeing, we aren't. Animation quality, especially on television, remains at a pitifully low level of refinement and writing. And movies that could be capturing the minds and imaginations of children, films that help to define a childhood, are not being made. We will not see another Last Unicorn. We will not see another Secret of NIMH. We will not see another Ren & Stimpy. We are stuck with a single way of doing things: the Disney Way. And apparently, even Disney can't break free.

Post Script:

While writing this, Cars 2 was released to a widespread critical hate-fest. I don't consider this indicative of anything wrong with Disney since it came from Pixar studios and was helmed by John Lasseter. If it had been anyone else, I would have happily called the film a shallow money grab, what with Cars having earned more in merchandise sales than any other Pixar movie. But Pixar has definitely earned the benefit of the doubt. Hell, they've earned the benefit of the doubt for the next decade.

I have recently seen an episode of BBC Horizon which discusses the nature of "evil" and of those who are generally referred to as psychopaths. A study mentioned in the episode highlighted that psychopaths in business are four times as numerous as psychopaths in other economic sectors. This is explained with a psychopath's ability to manipulate and charismatically work their way up to high-paying positions. The problem is, that while they are very good at manipulating, they are terrible at actually doing work. They underperform ordinary people by a wide margin.

Specifically applicable to this article is that psychopaths do not feel other people's pain, as it were. They can intellectualize things, but they cannot directly feel things. They cannot empathize with, and thus get inside the shoes of, an average consumer. They would be immensely cool, since they are the very embodiment of confidence, but would have very little idea why. Sound familiar?

It wouldn't take many of these people to infect a company with cancer. And since manipulation is what they do, they will be highly aggressive in surrounding themselves with protective sycophants, which only causes the cancer to grow.


1: Although it should be pointed out that one of Disney Corp's biggest changes, the 1984 creation of Touchstone Pictures to make adult-oriented fare, was instituted by Eisner's predecessor, Ron W. Miller, who would be kicked out one year later in favor of Eisner.

2: Not the least of which is John Lasseter.

3: The fact that Tron did not win a special effects award is one of the great lapses in judgment for the Oscars. The drought of awards was broken in 1986, under the Touchstone banner, with Paul Newman's Best Actor award for The Color of Money.

4: Compare that to a string of reviews from the Disney Renaissance, starting with The Little Mermaid and going forward in time 90%, 65%, 92%, 92%, and 92%.

5: The King and I- 13%, Heavy Metal 2000- 0%, Road to El Dorado- 49%, Titan A.E.- 51%, Osmosis Jones- 54%, Loonie Tunes: Back in Action- 56%, Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas- 46%, Curious George- 69%. The Wild Thornberries Movie was a bright spot, with an 80%. I'm not considering Japanese animation here, since anime is basically its own genre.

6: Truth be told, the Eisner of the 2000's might have been the same Eisner in the 80's, since the initiating force behind the rejuvenation of the Disney animation department was Roy Disney, who would also be the driving force in ousting Eisner with the Save Disney campaign in 2003. A good chronicle of the events can be found in the book Disney War, by James Stewart. Not that James Stewart. Another one.

7: Why they called it that is beyond me. It wasn't an empire at all. I guess the name made about as much sense as Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas, which had nothing to do with seven seas. It involved, at most, two.

8: I don't think it can be overstated how obsessed with boys the entertainment companies are.

9: The Emperor's New Groove was chaotically produced over the course of six years, changing form from a traditional Disney film with a sweeping soundtrack produced by Sting, to the goofy buddy flick that it finally became. Lilo & Stitch was an attempt at producing a film for a smaller, more economical budget.

10: Another thing that I hate about the executive approach is its development of buzz words like "edgy." You would never hear an artist describing something that they want to produce is such ridiculous, focus group-developed words. It reminds me of an excellent episode of Daria, where a writer for a popular teenage girl magazine comes to the school and pretends to be a student, while Daria, of course, sees right through her shallow attempts and categorizing, packaging, and then selling social concepts.

11: I say men because the amount of sexism in Hollywood is rather shocking. A great discussion of this was written by the New York Times' movie critic, Mahnola Dargis. Further discussion of it was done at Jezebel.
12: Including me, if I'm being completely honest. Many, if not most, of the people that I knew got into Psych studies because it made them feel like it gave them an edge over other people. Like they got it, while others didn't. It's a boost for those who weren't cool or popular and knew it, and for those who are otherwise lacking confidence.

13: Nietzsche was the first to really call them, and Socrates specifically, out on this. The trend is easy to see. Show me a philosopher who thought that sex was beneath him and I'll show you a philosopher who was ugly. Hello, Schopenhauer!

14: I certainly was back in middle school. Ugh. Those days sucked.

15: John Kricfalusi, creator of Ren & Stimpy, when he pitched ideas to Dreamworks executives for CGI films, recounts a great yarn. They didn't start with a story, or characters, no, they started with a setting, and tried to figure out what would be funny. No art. No creativity. Just vacant, hollow, commercialism. His post is available at


17: Walt Disney's oft-quoted maxim of "You can't top pigs with pigs," was in reference to follow-up cartoons to his hugely successful Three Little Pigs animated short. Basically, the first cartoon was a huge hit, but Disney felt that as an artist, you must always push forward with new risks and ideas. If you have a huge hit with pigs, how can you top what you did before... with more pigs?

18: I know I keep referring to executives in highly derogatory terms, but it does generally apply. I mentioned all of the other companies that were driven to ruin by cataclysmic management without a productive core. Recently, we have Nokia, who was beaten by the art-obsessed Steve Jobs and Apple. In the past, Motorola, IBM, General Motors, Sears, all of them were pushed to the brink. Other companies were pushed past the brink. Right now, at this very moment, the unfolding of the MGM debacle continues to emphasize the importance of an artistic core which is corralled by executive handlers. When the executives push out the artists, doom is guaranteed.

19: This information can be found in the art companion book for Avatar: The Last Airbender. The creators of the show discuss the idea process and their eventual pitch to Nickelodeon. While they never frame their discussion negatively, when you read between the lines, the stupidity of Nickelodeon is evident. And even if the book didn't exist, the mere existence of The Last Airbender the film proves that Nickelodeon has no clue what to do with quality when they stumble upon it.

20: Nickelodeon has since changed its tune regarding, apparently, everything. They've pushed hard to make the brand less dorky with what amounts to soft-core tween porn in the form of Degrassi, which is still wholly aimed at girls, and Nicktoons, wholly aimed at boys. Nicktoons is so comically trying to prove its coolness bona fides that it, again, comes across as desperate. No punching in Avatar? We'll fix that and have nothing but punching in other shows! Hello, Dragonball Z!

21: The Last Airbender was the second worst-reviewed film of 2010, losing only to Vampires Suck. And this was the year that Marmaduke came out, so you know it's BAD.
22: Pirates Of The Caribbean is, again, a wonderful example of what happens when a company pushes the boundaries. The production of the film was fraught with argument and controversy inside of Disney because it was to be groundbreaking, and a lot of people thought it was a bad idea! It's the first Disney-branded film with a PG-13 rating, and easily the most violent. There's drinking and sex and murder: all of the things that boys like! I can only imagine that everyone who thought it was a bad idea has since been fired, considering that, if you remove Pixar films, the top box-office hits of the past twenty years made by Disney basically include the Pirates films, Alice in Wonderland, and The Lion King.

23: This might explain what I noticed in my review, that most of the first trailer's material doesn't actually appear in the final movie.

24: You can understand why I'm so obsessed with seeing movies written and directed by women. They have a different perspective on things simply because society has forced a different perspective on them.

25: To determine this, I gathered the Rotten Tomato scores for all direct-to-video films from Disney leading up to the Pixar purchase, mid-2006, and then counted anything from late-2006 and beyond as post-Pixar. Pre-Pixar: 44%, 0%, 0%, 57%, 57%, 0%. Post-Pixar: 67%, 50%, 88%, 83%, 100%. The real shock are those Tinker Bell movies. How in the bloody-blue-hell did those end up being good?

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Betty Boop Film Class

Betty Boop's development has been something of a rocky road. Some of them are amazing, like Bimbo's Initiation, while others elicit more of a "huh?" reaction, like Betty Boop For President. Many of these I simply skip, but a few, even if they're lacking in some areas, have something worth mentioning, like Louis Armstrong's early appearance in I'll Be Glad When You're Dead You Rascal You.

Today's selection sits between these two types and I'm mentioning it primarily because of later, better cartoons. Betty Boop's Crazy Inventions plays, to me at least, as a direct precursor to Tex Avery's Of The Future cartoons that would premier with the House Of Tomorrow, sixteen years later.

What strikes me when watching the two cartoons back-to-back is how much progress was made in those intervening sixteen years. It reminds the viewer that, even though Betty Boop had come a long way, and Disney's epic Snow White was only six years away, these were very much the wild west days of animation. Skills and principles that, today, animators can, quite literally, buy in a book, were being developed every day. When this cartoon was being made, cartoons were essentially still being invented.

It's not simply the animation, though. The comic timing and staging of Avery's later cartoons are leagues ahead of Fleischer's cartoon, but the general philosophy is there: set the stage, introduce concepts, wacky action, deliver the punchline. But where Fleischer's hadn't advanced his timing and still had much of his staging and concept rooted in the stage performances of Vaudeville, Avery was a master of delivering quick jokes and moving on. Truly, the radish burper is one of my all-time favorite jokes in the history of cartoons. I laugh near-hysterically every time.

And finally, interesting for no other reason than "well... isn't that interesting" purposes is what I believe to be the first representation of a helicopter in the history of movies at the end of the cartoon.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The Legend of Korra

I recently ranted about how much I hated the portrayal of Cheetara in the new Thundercats. I then reviewed Thundercats and called it the best action/adventure cartoon in some time. One of the big differences between it at Avatar, which I thought was technically better in most respects, was that there was very little sense of danger in Avatar, since Nickelodeon's ridiculous requirements mandated no violence. Thus, no one ever died. The show even made fun of itself after a character kinda'-sorta' dies, but they never address it. That was the creators giving a somewhat playful middle finger to Nickelodeon.

Nickelodeon has since reformed and is desperately trying to attract boys, a demographic that they essentially abandoned to Cartoon Network, by proving that they too have characters that punch each other.

This creative freedom appears to be in the new Avatar, where even the trailer to the show is more violent that the entirety of the original Avatar. I hope that this translates into a greater sense of danger and drama than the limp-dicked elements of the first series.

But while the original Avatar paled in comparison to the drama of the new Thundercats, it positively mopped the floor with it when it comes to representing female characters.

In Thundercats, Cheetara, who is one of two major female character thus far, is a strong, powerful character who does much to save the day. She is also constructed like a post-Photoshop Playboy model and dresses accordingly. Thundercats imported one of the worst elements of comic book-dom: females are valued as much for what they say and do as for how they look.

Compare this to Avatar: The Last Airbender, where fully half the cast were dynamic, visually distinct females. They are never portrayed in a vulgar, sexualized way. They are portrayed just as the males are portrayed.

The Legend of Korra appears to be putting an even more powerful female front and center. Her body is still attractive, incredibly fit, and feminine, but it is also realistic and not blatantly exploitative. It's excellent.

All that said, I'm not against sexual exploitation. I've never had problems with Playboy, or porn, or general sexual portrayals of both men and women. We are sexual and it's entirely reasonable to celebrate that sexuality in imagery.

My problem is with cultural norms that sexualize women to the detriment of other attributes. There is a persistent theme of women not being valuable unless they are attractive, regardless of what else they might be able to do. In comics, and in Thundercats, this is taken to an extreme with wildly overt, exaggerated, near-comical sexualization.

If we're just selling sex to men, as with porn, that's fine. But with cartoons like this, we're selling a collection of values to highly impressionable kids. We should be selling them aspirational ideals. Ideals of being physically healthy, honorable, strong: these are great things! But continuing to pump our boys and girls full of overt, sex-based valuations for women does us all harm.

Moreover, I think that it is bad business! How many girls are watching the new Thundercats? If Warner Corp's stated demographics are to be believed, it's not many. Compare this to Avatar, which has a gargantuan female following. Opening night, The Last Airbender (**shudder**) at my location was 50/50, with more women dressed up in costumes than men. Of the two other showings that I have knowledge, both had about as many women and men. An inaccurate sampling, to be sure, but it must have some truth.

I'm unable to find the actual demographics, which I suspect skewed slightly male. But what Avatar showed is that if creators legitimately try to attract females, the profits are significant. The Last Airbender was an awful film, and the reviews showed that, yet it still made money. I seriously doubt that those profits would have happened if not for the large female turn-out.

So kudos to the creators of Avatar for being both business savvy and not so blinded by their erections as to create a thoughtful, realistic female form.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Favorite Movie Poster

Great movie posters are a rare breed. Usually, they're thrown up for no other purpose than to simply say 'THIS MOVIE EXISTS!' Today, movie posters are a damned desert of art, aesthetic, and inventiveness.

With the advent of Photoshop, posters have somehow gotten worse, with most of them simply following the "line of faces" design. These say "LOOK! LOOK! A MOVIE WITH THESE PEOPLE IN IT! What's it about? THAT DOESN'T MATTER! LOOK!"

For me, though, the biggest failure is that today's posters so rarely provide a sense of wonder. They don't provide a promise of adventure, or romance, or terror. There was a time when movie posters were painted by skilled artists. Some of the posters were so amazing, they've become iconic images, like Star Wars original poster. The images on the poster look nothing like the movie! But, it doesn't matter. The poster sold itself. Now they're simply cobbled together by a Photomonkey, earning 30k, from stock photos.

This is one of my favorite posters. It's for the movie Camelot from 1967, if you couldn't guess from the huge CAMELOT on top.

I didn't like the movie all that much. I've never really liked overly dramatic portrayals of Arthur and Camelot, especially the ones that focus on romance. And the fact that the Arthur legend is absolute and total hogwash, with the real Arthur likely being a total prick, well, I just can't swallow the pill.

But the poster! The poster is great. It's got a bit of a Mucha-ish flare to it and absolutely promises wonder and fantasy. It has texture, and color, and drama. The poster makes you want to be near it, to look at it, and think about the experience that it portends.

I think that a positively minuscule group of directors today understand how important the poster is. It's like the album art for music, even though most people don't even own the LP or CD anymore. The trailer and poster are things with which the director absolutely must be involved because they are part of the gestalt. A film is not simply a series of images, projected on a screen. A film is the sound, the smell, the food, the temperature in the air, the case of the DVD, the commercials on TV.

A poster is the movie, just as much as the frames on the film, and the actors on screen.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Thundercats Review


I posted a swear-filled rant about sexism in Thundercats about a week ago. And after a lot of comments, I decided that I should review the actual cartoon.

My criticisms of Cheetara remain unchanged. Her presence in the cartoon is the most extreme manifestation of comic book females that I have yet seen in a cartoon and this is a bad thing. The cartoon is being aimed at kids and we have study after study showing why exaggerated imagery like this has negative effects on a child's psychology. While the weight of responsibility for rearing a child falls upon the parent, we should not be introducing previously non-existent sexist tropes into children's media.

That said, after watching the new Thundercats, how do I think it holds up? I'm not going to say "read on!", I'm just going to tell you. It was very good. It was a breath of fresh air for a variety of reasons.

While it kinda' pissed me off every time Cheetara's ridiculous double-D prow was on screen, the rest of the cartoon delivered everything that you could want from an action-adventure cartoon, and this is why it's such a great show.

Action and adventure cartoons have seen a real dry spell for A LONG TIME. We had Avatar: The Last Airbender... and that was it. I mean, seriously, when was the last decent adventure cartoon? What do we have today? Ben 10, which is awful, and Teen Titans, which is serviceable.

Nickelodeon and Disney have their boy-oriented properties in the form of Nicktoons and Disney XD, and they are both trying desperately to build audiences. Disney has loaded up their network with Asian-produced Marvel properties which are all pretty bad. And Nickelodeon paid a bucket of money to acquire the rights to Dragonball Z Kai to convince boys that people now punch each other on Nick.

But it is Cartoon Network that has almost completely owned the boy market since the introduction of their Toonami/Rising Sun anime lineup in the late 90's. Cartoon Network has carried the banner of adventure cartoons and, perhaps because of the monster success of imported anime, original productions have languished.

We've had a few here and there. A He-Man update, which wasn't very good. A few permutations of Transformers, also not very good. This new Thundercats is the first one that felt like, one: it actually had a budget; and two: it actually had writers.

The new Thundercats, if the show holds up, is the best adventure cartoon since Avatar. Neither show is as good as the gold standard, Batman: The Animated Series, but then again, nothing is. The character design is a bit bland, and the animation is pretty stiff at times, but it's much better than most actual anime. The dialogue is also more than a bit stilted at a couple of points, but I consider these minor issues.

While I think that Avatar was better, in both design and writing, it was hampered by Nickelodeon's hilariously-conservative regulations. No deaths on screen. No mention of the word "kill" in a positive sense. No punching or any violent physical contact. It really sapped a lot of sense of threat from the cartoon. If it hadn't been for the skill of the creators, Avatar would have sucked. Thundercats has a real sense of danger and drama. The action scenes seem real and more mature. There's more energy to the fights.

If you're looking for nostalgia, go somewhere else. This is a complete and total reimagining of the show. I at least now understand why Lion-O sounds prepubescent, but they still should have given his voice more weight. You get the impression that he and Tygra are both well into their twenties, but only Tygra sounds like it. I've never liked the snot-nosed kid rising to power story. Well, Sword In The Stone was alright.

So in conclusion, the new Thundercats is a good cartoon. I think that it has a lot of cool images and action sequences and it stands a good shot at being the kind of cartoon that sticks in boys' minds. I say boys specifically because girls don't statistically watch many cartoons, and Cheetara certainly won't make them want to with this cartoon.

Oh, and they kept in Snarf. I actually kind of like him, now. He doesn't say anything.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

WATCH THIS: The Pirates! Trailer

Aardman is releasing their newest stop-motion cartoon. While Flushed Away was rendered to look stop-moed, it was still CGI, and the texture from clay and hands was missed. I look forward to this in a big, big way.

And after you've watched that, watch the British version, with more music and more name.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

New Cheetara Comparison

From athletic B to a thundering D.

I have posted a full review of the new Thundercats here.

Cartoon Network is releasing a new Thundercats show. Aside from the fact that Lion-O is apparently voiced by some prepubescent 15-year-old boy, it was Cheetara that pissed me off the most. (A number of people have pointed out who voices Lion-O. I am well aware that it is Will Friedle. I looked at the cast before writing this. I still don't like the voice. He sounds like his testicles haven't formed yet, which is impossible for a man who looks like a body builder.)

Let's break down the new Cheetara in comparison to the gold standard, the actual Cheetara.

Is there a fucking chunk missing from her?! Where the hell are her internal organs? Why does she look 17, yet have breasts that would net her lifetime membership as a Playboy centerfold?

Why doesn't she look like, I dunno', a woman? A woman who is capable of doing things, like saving the day?

And this is only the beginning. They repeatedly misspell WilyKit and WilyKat in the written media.

They spell the names differently ON THE SAME PAGE.

And as WilyKit so wonderfully illustrates, having a bare midriff is apparently one of the defining characteristics of being female in modern cartoons. Just like in Teen Titans, where 50% of the female population is bare! Except for the outsider goth chick. She's the only one covered. What the fuck is this? The Breakfast Club with 25% more fiber and sexism? And notice how the females have their legs and feet posed compared to the males? Yeah.

Remember girls, don't stand too strong or you risk being intimidating to boys!

Obviously, this blog is somewhat predicated on the objectification of women, but I make it explicit, and also make sure to explicitly state that images are just that, images. Women are not actual objects, they are people! Cartoon obectification, like with Betty Boop, is fun precisely because it is cartoonish. No one has ever aspired to look like Jessica Rabbit or Betty Boop.

When we try to sell narratives to kids, we're selling a huge package of ideas, values, concepts, and images to them. If we want to sell them strong female characters, we need to sell them something that isn't so stupid-sexist. REAL women are not objects. REAL women are capable. REAL women can be strong heroes without also being sexy. When we make cartoon versions of comics for kids, we should avoid copying over the worst aspects of comic books, such as the almost comical level of female objectification and sexism.

Compare this to Harry Potter, because, why not? It's big. It has female characters. Like Hermione. Is she sexy? Does she spend all of her time in skin-tight spandex with her belly button showing? NO! Of course she doesn't! Because she is an actual character, whose values come from her actions and personality, not because she's got a flat stomach.

I mean, what the HELL is next?! Are we going to see a Wonder Woman cartoon where she's selling diet pills, or Tygra offering Ripped Fuel in episode 2?

To the creators of the new Thundercats. Thanks for ass-fucking my childhood memories. Go fuck yourselves. And learn how to spell.

UPDATE: Comics Alliance has a good article discussing the rampant sexism in comics that I see here. It's annoying in the comic book world, but it is positively infuriating in a TV show aimed primarily at children.

UPDATE: I've received more comments on this post than any post I've ever done, so please take the time to read the other comments and responses before commenting yourself.

And while I have posted a few of them to make a point, I will delete any posts that are basically just swearing at me.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

A Very Short Cars 2 Review

The lesson of Cars 2 can be summed up in "be nice to retards, they just might save the world."

Cars 2 opens fabulously, with a thrilling, action-packed five minutes centered around the British spy Finn McMissile. It is both legitimiate in its own creative right, while also being a spoof of spy films. This is the high point of the movie. It's all downhill from here.

We then cut to Mater, who is helping some car which has broken down in the desert. The dialog immediately shifts from witty and fun to being lifted straight from an episode of Full House. It. Is. Awful. It gets worse when Lightning McQueen shows up a minute or two later, since McQueen is not a moron, and any dialog between someone who is a moron and someone who isn't is necessarily going to be strained and unrealistic. And holy shit, is it strained and unrealistic. The relationship between Mater and McQueen would only make sense if written and staged like the relationship between Charlie and Ray in Rain Man.

Mater is a wholly unlikeable character for all but the youngest or stupidest. He is a raging idiot with essentially no redeeming qualities other than that he is not mean. This does not a person make. McQueen would not be his friend. Half of the shit that Mater pulls in Tokyo (spelled Towkyo... cute) would ruin a friendship in real life or in any other movie.

When McQueen feels bad for snapping at Mater, it should not be in the way of a friend as proposed in the movie, but in the way that one feels bad for slapping a dog for peeing in a corner. It makes no sense. And this doesn't even touch on the logical issues regarding McQueen's regret for not standing by his friend, when his friend happily abandons him during a race for a pretty lady. The lesson is hollow on all levels.

Mater takes up the vast majority of the movie, reminding you in nearly every second how contrived and stupid the setup is. His story is a fish-out-of-water tale where he is mistaken for a spy and it reminded me of The Man Who Knew Too Little. That was another movie where a goof is mistaken for a spy, but at least in that one, the protagonist is actually somewhat skilled, even if some of it is unintentional. And even there, it didn't work all of the time! So you can imagine how badly Cars 2 fails in this regard.

I liked Cars well enough. It was very simple, but pleasant. Cars 2, on the other hand, annoyed me at nearly every turn. It's fun for all the time that Mater isn't on screen, but he's on screen for 90% of the movie. Or if, barring reduced Mater time, they had toned down Mater's profound retardation by five to eight notches, it would have worked. But they did neither, and the movie suffers for it.

Monday, June 27, 2011

New Teaser Trailer for Pixar's Brave!!!

SQUEEEEE!!! We've all been waiting for a long time, but Pixar has finally released a teaser trailer for Brave. It played during Cars 2, but who gives a shit about that movie?! Fucking cars with faces. Gimme' real people with a real adventure! Not Larry the Cable Guy being retarded.

Friday, June 10, 2011

What I Mean When I Say Bad

I've mentioned a countless number of times about how terrible American animation had become in the early and mid 1980's. The decline started way back in the 1950's, after the studio system was dismantled. After that, pre-run cartoons declined in popularity and development shifted toward television. But since the profit models hadn't really been all figger'd out yet, the budgets for cartoons intended for television were usually a fraction of what they had previously been.

Some artists made due, such as Chuck Jones and Friz Freeling, who knew how to apply their small budgets to achieve high quality (They would dump money into character animation and skimp on the backgrounds). And even though the major studios were reducing their animation budgets to the point of creative anemia, Hanna-Barbera emerged as the standard bearer for cheaply-made but still high-quality animation in the form of The Flintstones, Jetsons, and Scooby Doo. The remnants of great feature animation and Hanna-Barbera sustained animation and produced its fair share of memorable things for about twenty years. It was nothing compared to the amazing works of the golden era, but it was still good.

That twenty-year period went from about 1955 to 1975. We saw the release of The Flintstones, the creation of Speedy Gonzales and The Pink Panther, and renewed interest in golden-era cartoons when studios began to air them on television. But we also saw the closure of Warner Bros. Cartoons, and the slow but steady gutting of animation departments at every major studio, in favor of cheaply-made, outsourced productions that made increasing use of foreign countries.

By 1980, American animation was restricted to small studios, crappy Japanese animation, and compilations produced simply to let studios repeatedly re-release their old animation. Hanna-Barbera continued to produce entertaining fluff, like Captain Caveman and The Teen Angels, which I still love, but by and large, it was an animated Dark Ages.

Obviously, all that has changed. In 1984, Muppet Babies was released and became an absolute mega-hit, dwarfing the success of even The Smurfs. And in 1985, we saw the creation of Disney's Adventures of the Gummi Bears, which was a complete reversal of what had been happening. While animation was still primarily handled in Japan, large budgets and American key-frame animators kept quality at a level that other studios wouldn't match for half-a-decade.

Two of the big reasons for the changes were the emergence of cable TV and VCR's. Cable gave studios an entirely new broadcast channel on which to sell advertising, allowing them to monetize new animation as well as old, golden era animation. And the biggest one was definitely VCR's. This provided a direct financial link to the consumers of their product. Before, their money was third-hand at best. They produced, and then received flat payments per episode from stations, who would then sell advertising, and it was the advertisers who would actually make the money from the consumer.

VCR's allowed studios to broadcast and then sell the tapes with only one middle-man, the store. They also gave birth to the rental market, which skyrocketed to popularity because it allowed parents to, at any time, shut their kids the fuck up by popping a VHS tape into the player. And as any child from the 1980's can attest, renting tape after tape of cartoons at Major Video was a rather substantial part of weekly life.

These new profit vectors gave studios the money that they needed to initiate a renewed golden age of cartoons. The Animation Renaissance of the late 80's and early 90's was directly responsible for shows like The Simpsons, Family Guy, Spongebob, and the creation of Cartoon Network.

But until that grand era, until that most glorious time, we had shit like this. Poorly written, poorly animated, poorly designed, insulting, and downright stupid. While this one came from 1992, the origins of this cartoon date back to 1983. I chose this one specifically because it's sexism is almost funny. And you thought The Flintstones was bad.

WATCH THIS: Kung Fu Cooking Girls

This is a pleasant little animated ditty from China. The animation is much better than most anime, but it's still mostly east-Asian in principles. It's funny how the graphic tropes of anime have so completely invaded the animation of both China and Korea.

Click the CC button for (poorly translated) English subtitles.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

We Finally See Pixar's Princess Merida

This is old news, but I wanted to talk about it.

I can't begin to describe how happy I am to see a Pixar film that stars a female. Hell, ANY animated film starring a female is great news.

Pixar doesn't have a great track record of including interesting females in its lineup. The only director to do it is Brad Bird, who gave us the ensemble cast The Incredibles, with two rich, believable female leads. He also directed Ratatouille, with a strong female secondary character. Toy Story, A Bug's Life, Monsters Inc., none of them had a strong, non-stereotypical female. Even Dorie in Finding Nemo was the stereotypical kind-hearted bubblehead.

I think that Pixar lost the chance to lead the pack when they weren't the first to have a female direct a CGI feature. They've now lost that distinction to Dreamworks who tapped Jennifer Yuh Nelson, who won awards for her direction of the opening animation to Kung Fu Panda, to direct its sequel, Kung Fu Panda 2.

Brave was supposed to be directed by its writer Brenda Chapman, who still holds the distinction of being the first female to direct an animated feature with 1998's The Prince of Egypt, but she will instead receive co-directing status. There are rumors that Pixar has actually moved her onto a future production, and that's why she left. I find that entirely plausible. Perhaps they wanted her there all along and decided that the free marketing that they would have received from her being the first female director was nullified by Dreamwork's announcement that Kung Fu Panda 2 was being directed by a woman.

Regardless, directing is one thing, but it's from the writing where the underlying tone and message of films comes. It's actually rather startling to see the differences between films written by men and women. Men produce bizarre, self-referential (and self-important, if I'm being honest) things like Synechdoche, New York, while women produce equally insightful, but much more entertaining works like Juno.

I wouldn't be surprised if the flavor of Brave is entirely different from every Pixar film up to this point.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Betty Boop Meets Andy Warhol Wallpaper

I know that the whole Marilyn Monroe prints thing is pretty worn out, but I figured that one more version thrown into the global mix couldn't hurt. Behold! Betty Boop subbing in for Marilyn Monroe.

4:3 ratio
From Cartoon Vixens Wallpapers

16:10 ratio
From Cartoon Vixens Wallpapers

Monday, April 11, 2011

A Very Short Tangled Review

Tangled was a movie that really surprised me. It currently has an 89% on Rotten Tomatoes, while having a trailer that made it look just god-awful. It also had LOTS of animation that didn't make it into the film. In fact, most of the trailer didn't make it into the movie. Odd.

If you couldn't tell from the trailer, this movie is hip. Completely, painfully, desperately, hip. It tries so hard to convince us of its hipness bona-fides that it just gets annoying. Yeah, yeah, we got it. You're just like Shrek. You're poppy, anachronistic, and irreverent.

Unfortunately, while Shrek had irreverence right down the bone, Tangled doesn't. At its core, it's 100% Disney, in all good ways and bad. We have "non-traditional," lead characters who are actually rather traditional. We have a bad-guy who's 100% Disney, and songs that are so completely Disney that they actually seem out of place.

That's not to say that many of these Disney elements don't work, they do. It's the fact that the movie is split at its core. It can't decide if it wants to be Disney or Shrek, and it can't be both, because they are essentially antithetical.

This dichotomy results in jarring shifts of tone. I define the tone of a movie as the system of cause-and-effect that it adopts. For example, Loony Toons has a cartoon reality where cause and effect don't really exist. If you get shot, nothing related to actually being shot happens. The fact that a shift in tone can be jarring can be seen in the Family Guy episode where Elmer Fudd shoots Bugs and actually kills him. It's upsetting!

I don't like watching that clip. I experience a severe amount of anxiety and agitation because it shouldn't be happening. Family Guy has NO concept of consistent tone, with episodes wildly flipping between no cause and effect (Peter crashes a blimp into his neighbor's house), to normal cause and effect (Brian discusses suicide with Stewie).

There is nothing in Tangled that gets anywhere close to that, but it happens, a lot. The movie opens with a serious tone, flips poppy and irreverent, switches to "Disney" funny, back to irreverent, serious, funny, and eventually to a moment so dark and serious that it's completely out of place.

There are some very bright spots in the film. The animation is excellent, even if it's 100% Disney. Rapunzel, if hand-drawn, looks indistinguishable from other Disney princesses, and Flynn Rider is your standard, good-looking protagonist. Disney designs came about because it's hard to communicate complex facial features with simple, hand-animated lines. CGI gives the animator an incredibly powerful brush to fashion details and faces. As it stands, Rapunzel and her mother (both real and fake) appear to be separated by five years at the most. The only way Rapunzel looks young is that her boobs are smaller. How inventive -he said derisively.

There is one seriously cool character in Maximus, the military horse. His animation is spot-on, his facial expressions are the most dynamic of the film, truly, he's the only character that really steps outside of the mold to any significant degree. He's far more entertaining than Pascal, the chameleon, either of the leads, or any of the bad guys. In fact, the inevitable money-grab sequel starring this horse will probably be much more entertaining then Tangled.

All things considered, Tangled wasn't bad. A good deal of it was entertaining, but aside from Maximus, it felt like it is: a minor Disney production that will likely not be remembered outside of the occasional Disney Princess product.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Betty Boop Film Class

It's been awhile. Busy and whatnot, but here I'm back, with some new pictures nearly ready to post. First off, though, is a new film class.

By this point in Betty's history, 1932, she was the biggest cartoon character in Hollywood and one of its biggest stars. Mickey Mouse wasn't nearly the iconic star that he is now. It's not hard to see why Betty remained popular right up until the Hays code took effect; she had actual character. Mickey has always been a shockingly bland creation. He has little personality aside from being the archetypical "good guy." That's not entirely surprising since he was created in an era where cartoons were still something of a novelty. You didn't have time to create character, you had staging, events, and sight gags, all of which had to be delivered in less than ten minutes. Disney's later characters would be much more inventive and dynamic, like Donald and Goofy. Truly, the only character to really rise to the level of genius was Goofy.

For a better comparison, compare Bimbo to Mickey. Bimbo always had more edge than Mickey, but was almost as bland. His construct is similar, with pointy ears instead of round. Both Bimbo and Mickey were creations of their time. Koko was a bit more unique, which is funny since he far pre-dated both Mickey and Bimbo. Hell, Koko was essentially a tech demo for rotoscoping. Still, as far as character went, he was a clown and that's about it. Only Betty would become an icon. She would also become the best cartoon creation until Goofy

I've added a cartoon from Disney, also from 1932, which conveniently is the first cartoon appearance of Goofy. Or, really, a proto-Goofy that was referred to internally as Dippy Dawg. It's interesting to see the difference in the cartoons. Disney's cartoon characters were better animated, and each individual frame was better constructed, but shockingly boring in comparison to Fleischer's cartoons. Disney knew quality, but he had a terrible sense for comedy, timing, and direction. The cartoon isn't bad by any measure, but it is undeniably bland.

Alright, enough comparison. I posted this Betty cartoon because it is the second cartoon to feature a now-famous jazz performer in a role. Fleischer loved jazz music and enjoyed working with them and it shows in the music choices for his cartoons. They were less classically inspired like Disney's cartoons. They were also, again, more lively.

This is also another Fleicher cartoon that gets dredged up for racist accusations. Not as frequently as Betty Boop's Bamboo Isle, but frequently enough. It's also a bit more reasonable to see racism in this cartoon. An idiot, monkey-like savage is directly likened to Louis Armstrong. Still, I think that it's incorrect to interpret this as racism. It was a cartoon where everything was stereotyped for visual boldness. We know that Fleischer himself was not racist, and this is more accurate explained as a jazz singer singing the role of an antagonist, just like Cab Calloway did in Minnie the Moocher. Only in that one, we can't extract any racist interpretation since Calloway is represented as a dancing walrus ghost.

Other than that, this isn't Fleischer's best. The timing is a bit slow, the animation isn't as lively or entertaining, and he almost completely abandoned any lip-syncing. If it wasn't for Armstrong, this wouldn't much warrant a mention.