Get Animated! Comments
Newest Material at John Cawley

Double Vision?
I've seen the posters for Tim Burton's BIG FISH appearing everywhere. Is it just me, or does Burton's poster ape the design for Stephen Sondheim's INTO THE WOODS? Maybe it's just a case of the same artist doing both posters. In the "believe it or not" category, during the 1990s Burton was set to do a film version of Sondheim's musical tribute to fairy tales. Jim Henson's company had also expressed interest in a movie version of the musical. Neither film ever got made.

My Pixar Prediction
By the end of this decade, I predict Pixar will have either completed or announced their first live action project.

Seems everyone is a buzz (lightyear) that Pixar will possibly move into "2d" animation. In some ways, it is a logical move for the studio to expand it's output for both creative and financial reasons. Technically, Pixar could become the next Disney studio. Which means the next logical step will be for them to begin looking into live action production. Just as Disney discovered the quick return on live action production allowed him to maintain his more lengthy animated productions, I think Pixar will follow suit. Whether they go slowly with partially live action films (anything from a SONG OF THE SOUTH to a ROGER RABBIT), or just jump in. Knowing how many animation folks want to go into live action, I doubt they'll have trouble finding crew to move over. It might even attract some live action folks into animation.

Critics Back In Action
I generally do not make a major comment about something I have not seen, but I am amused by the criticism being leveled at LOONEY TOONS BACK IN ACTION. While the main press is basically talking about such things as story, acting, directing, and such, most of the animation webbers seem to be focusing their barbs on the handling of the animated characters. The attacks tend to be in the "Daffy wouldn't do that" group. I find such complaints to be largely pointless and without real merit, even without having seen the film.

Would Daffy have a wife? Would Daffy cook himself in an oven? Would Daffy be a real duck? Would Daffy be a human in a duck body? Would Daffy be humble? Would Daffy be arrogant? All of these very different views would be correct, as Daffy HAS been these things in various classic shorts. For someone to state "Daffy wouldn't do that" is to ignore the variety of Daffy's history and to deny Daffy's ability to evolve as a character.

Many of the folks who complain about the different approaches of the animated characters in BACK IN ACTION are the same ones who bemoan the big studios for forcing the characters to remain part of the past. Wanting to have their cake and eat it to, these webbers seem to be saying, the classic characters need to move forward for modern audiences, but only in a direction pre-approved by the webbers. Hence they are attempting to do the same thing they accuse the "suits" of doing. These webbers chant the characters need to be more than just kid-fodder, but they can't make fun of WalMart!

In my mind, the classic characters were just that - comic characters. Whether Daffy was a real duck, a western sheriff, Robin Hood, a door to door salesman, an annoying hotel guest (or bellboy), or simply a cartoon character, he was Daffy portraying the role. In the great tradition of classic comics from Chaplin to Keaton to the Stooges (all of which were basis for the classic creations), Bugs, Daffy, Porky, and even Mickey Mouse were comic characters able to be placed in any situation. It was this unpredictability that made their personalities and shorts so entertaining.

If I were ever to lay the blame at anyone's feet for the leveling of the Warners characters, I would probably pick Chuck Jones. Chuck is the one who began placing rules on the characters behaviors. Those who worked with Chuck know he was pretty much a control freak. Once he had decided the personality of a character, it could not waiver. As Chuck re-developed their personalities over the decades, the characters went from being wild, wacky, unpredictable comics to standardized formula comedians seen in sitcoms. (Joe Besser, a truly great and often underrated comic, once stated the difference between a comic and a comedian was that a comedian needed jokes to be funny, while a comic only needed a situation.)

I don't think many of the newer attempts at Bugs and company over the past 20 years are extremely successful. The blame is usually due to less than great writing and derivative directing. However, they are light years better than Jone's later specials, which featured the characters living in a world that more resembled 60s sitcoms than classic cartoons, or the endless limited edition cels which featured the characters in oh-so-cute situations looking oh-so old, fat and fay.

A writer/producer friend once said he hated that fans had gotten into films, comics and animation. He discussed how fans were so anal based on every character aspect. "A good writer", he would state, "is interested in a good story and a good character". "A fan," he would continue, "is more interested in whether the 12th story is accurate to the 212th story." I would probably add animation fans often seem more interested in whether the characters match some specific moment from a short (or series of shorts), than the characters being funny, different or unpredictable.

Annie Award Apathy
For those who really scour animation sites for awards, you have heard of Asifa Hollywood's Annie Awards. The more casual entertainment reader/scholar, may be totally unaware of the honor. The latter would also be in the majority. The Annie Awards have been around for decades, and still have not entered the general mindset. Though Annies strive to be a major award, even with the 90s boom in animation, they are basically in the same realm as the Saturn Awards.

The Saturn Awards began with a group called The Count Dracula Society. Founded by a horror film fan, the group gave annual awards to horror films. Some time in the late 70s, they added science fiction and fantasy to their genre as the sci-fi craze began to build. Since they were the only group giving note to such top grossing films, they began to obtain some legitimacy.

Asifa's awards actually began as tributes given to individuals in the animation business by others in the business. In fact, Asifa-Hollywood was a branch of the acclaimed and honored ASIFA organization (whose French acronym basically means International Animated Film Society), whose membership was limited to those who made animated films. These early awards were basically lifetime achievement style awards given at intimate banquets. During the 1980s, the oganization expanded to include awards for productions. The move by Asifa-Hollywood was partially due to lack of any serious consideration of such productions, and an attempt to broaden the organization's membership base.

Sadly, after nearly 20 years of honoring top shows, movies, videos, voice talent, artists and such, the awards (and even the organization) are not well known. Like the Saturn awards, the nominations and winners are given small space in trade papers and some metropolitans looking for a headline with a hit film in it. Both award ceremonies are usually lacking any major show of what many would call "A-Talent".

The process for being considered for an Annie is no easy feat. In fact, at least two major animation studios consider the Annie entry process to be the most difficult of all award groups. The style of paperwork, restrictions on video formatting, and often unclear categories make for murky entries, and even murkier winners. At least Asifa-Hollywood folks often vote for the underdog which creates surprises - except for THE SIMPSONS which will win best TV series, even after it has gone off the air.

As I write, the Annie Awards are being worked on. Forms have been sent in. Committees are viewing and recommending. The nominees will soon be announced. The winners will be announced early next year. You might hear about them on somewhere.

Disney's Oscar
The Academy has listed their films available for Best Animated Feature. Since they usually only pick three nominees, it's quite possible Disney could get all three with FINDING NEMO, BROTHER BEAR and JUNGLE BOOK II (maybe even THE TIGGER MOVIE). Unlike last year's winner SPIRITED AWAY, I haven't seen much buzz on any of the foreign produced films.

If Disney does end up with all three noms, or even two, it wouldn't surprise me for Disney to put more muscle behind BROTHER BEAR. The key reason would be if NEMO wins, it will make Pixar even more unwilling to bargain for the next pics. BEAR could be a true dark horse if Academy members use it to make a statement about Disney's classical 2d animation units.

Creator Thinking
I was sitting near a major creator discussing a project with a studio exec. They were discussing the storyline for an upcoming project. I wasn't paying too much attention since I wasn't involved. Suddenly, the creator stated a specific scene needed to be added because "it's standard for all super hero films to have this type of scene." The creator then went on to mention other changes and highlights. He almost always phrased them in the "it is standard" context.

It made me recall how often I hear modern creators, writers and even studio execs, discuss films, books and comics as formulas. Terms are thrown about as if they were reciting the ten commandments: "Origin story", "B story", "character growth", and such. A prominent screen writer recently stated such commandments had come from the numerous books and computer programs for script writers. The writer also said such terms were the reason scripts no longer seemed fresh.

As an occasional writer, I agree story is one of the most important elements. I might even go as far as saying it is the most imporant aspect. Few classic or great films suffer from poor story telling. One is more likely to find any weakness in classic films coming from the directing, acting or effects.

I think this all goes back to the fact that so many in the entertainment business lack real imagination. They can't imagine how a story will play out unless they are given an example of a similar story. Terry Gilliam (TIME BANDITS, BRAZIL) once stated that, eventually, film would become it's own language with directors making new films by pulling scenes and characters from other films the same way a writer pulls words out of a dictionery.

On a secondary, point, the creator was telling the exec that the film being discussed had too much comedy. The creator indicated the film should focus on action, because that's what audiences really liked. I wonder what "standard" animated adventure films he was thinking of? In fact, almost all the recent poor performing (aka flop) animated features were adventure (ATLANTIS, TREASURE PLANET, FINAL FANTASY, etc.).

Previous Comments...
September & October 2003: I Didn't Make Him for You // Disney VS Pixar: Tweedle Dum & Tweedle Dummer // Books I Want to Write

Previous Comments...
July & August 2003: Who Needs To Make Animated Features? // 20-20 Hindsight // Still Disney's King // Moving On... // Death of A Character(s)

Previous Comments...
May & June 2003: Gods of Animation... Or False Profits? // Doodle Development // Why does Animation=Cartoon, but CGI doesn't? // Dreamworks remakes AMERICAN POP! // FINDING NEMO gets $70+ Million Reward for Consistency // Animation in Slo-Mo...

Return to Get Animated! or John Cawley
text and format John Cawley