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.