Tuesday, June 10, 2008

The Best Disney Cartoon.

I miss animation. Hand-drawn animation, that is. Computer animation I don't miss at all. It's all around us. There's computer animated commercials, for Pete's sake. Everything is computer-animated these days -- commercials, TV shows, bank accounts, two of Angelina Jolie's kids, you name it, it's been computer animated.

By the way, I predict that will be the next big craze: computer animated adopted kids. I've got it all worked out:

Remember those little Tamagotchi pets that were all the rage? Well, okay, that were some of the rage, a small portion of the rage? Remember, too, when celebrities went nuts with adopting/kidnapping kids because most high-profile celebrities have more money and power than many Third World countries now? (Seriously, can it be very long before one of these celebrities simply buys a country, instead of just importing all of the country's kids? And can it be very long after that until the UN is forced to recognize "David Duchovny" as a member?)

Well, Virtual Kids (TM/Copyright 2008 The Trouble With Roy) combine those two crazes into one loveable rascal/rascette with one big improvement-- when the celebrity tires of the kid, he or she doesn't have to have the nannies raise the child; simply unplug Virtual Tommy and go back to the Hollywood lifestyle!

Mark my words. I was right about Caesar-flavored potato chips -- or I will be, as soon as someone begins producing them and they catch on and are the next big flavor-- and I'm right about this. When you see, on E!, two years from now, a shot of Brangelina and seven real kids plus a computer-animated adorable little moppet, you'll think back to this day and say By gum, he was right! (And you'll then say And these Caesar-flavored chips are very tasty.)

I do miss hand-drawn animation, though. Seeing a good hand-drawn animated movie elevates that movie above the story line and acting and imparts an additional quality to it that makes me appreciate it just that little bit more. It's kind of like if you were reading a good book in a comfortable chair while listening to great music... all while surrounded by the world's greatest works of art.

Sorry. It's nothing like that. That would be cool, but seeing an animated movie is not like that. Still, there's something special about hand-drawn animation; it's more of an art form than a way of simply conveying information. Hand-drawn animation is to a regular movie what illuminated script is to typing.

Disney used to be the king of animated movies; for a while there -- right up to The Lion King-- they were the pinnacle of hand-drawn animation. Then, two things happened to effectively kill off hand-drawn animated movies.

One: Computer animation became possible.

Two: Disney lost any interest in telling stories and instead began beating people over the head with "messages" and/or regurgitating fables.

Those two factors, which should be completely unrelated, combined to result in hand-drawn animation dying. That's because those two factors were combined in everyone's mind with one other factor leading everyone to the wrong conclusion:

The other factor was:

Three: Computer-animated movies made by Pixar made lots of money. Note that I say "by Pixar." I don't believe that a single computer-animated movie made by another company has made any money, and I'm deliberately ignoring Shrek and the subsequent Shrekkage that it spawned because Shrek was an over-rated derivative knockoff of other, better stories, and the sequels were beloved only by critics and Mike Myers. Only Pixar can make good computer-animated movies that don't feature scary-looking things modeled after Sharon Stone and Woody Allen, and even Pixar seems to be losing their touch judging by how bad and boring Cars and Ratatouille are.

(The only portion of Ratatouille I've watched are the parts where an old lady shoots a gun around and there's a stampede of disgusting rats, and the part where the main character sees a rat cooking and yet is then surprised that the rat understands English. You saw him cook! Why is it so surprising that he might also speak English?)

So once computer animation became possible, and Pixar made money, and Disney got taken over by guys who couldn't come up with a different story, everyone looked at those factors and came to the same conclusion. They, as one, realized:

Hey, we'd better start making quality movies that have original storylines or people won't want to come see them!

No, no, no, I'm only making that up. That would constitute critical thinking, which is not in high demand in Hollywood. In Hollywood, the answer that is chosen is, like it is with 8-year-olds, always the easiest possible course. So Hollywood looked at those three factors and said:

People hate hand-drawn animation; let's computerize everything.

The result being that every single animated feature after that was computer-animated, and when they sucked and made no money, too, studio executives blamed it on the oil crisis.

After all, it was the studio executives who made sure that people hated hand-drawn animation by releasing a bunch of crappy hand-drawn movies that existed solely to make a point. There was The Lion King: Let's All Exist Together. There was Pocahontas: White Men Bad, and Treasure Planet: Look, We've Just Given Up, all followed by Lilo & Stitch: Is That Some Kind of Koala Because It's Creeping Me Out? Those were released alongside Toy Story, Toy Story 2, Monsters, Inc., Finding Nemo, and A Bug's Life.

Which is kind of like sending a Patagonian toothfish -- you know it as the "Chilean Sea Bass" and pay big bucks to eat it -- to stand next to Jennifer Aniston and then voting on prom queen.

The results were predictable: animators were let go, computers took over, and the studio executives then began killing animated movies altogether, for unknown nefarious purposes of their own. Why do they hate animated movies? I don't know. Maybe because they can't date the stars of them. But they do hate them, or they wouldn't allow Cars (which I call Doc Hollywood Only With Hot Wheels) and Ratatouille to be made -- let alone the inferior products that don't come from Pixar, like Antz (here's a tip; the "z" in the title made that lame from the start) or That One Movie With The Pigeon Trying To Escape Nazis Or Something.

But way back when, animated movies were still good. They're not good anymore and haven't been for a long time (excepting only Hercules, which somehow slipped through) but they used to be very, very good. To watch a classic hand-drawn Disney cartoon is to see a great but now lost art form at its peak. Even the not-as-great ones, the 101 Dalmatians and The Rescuers, were above average, outdoing most movies and still presenting great artwork and fun songs and storylines. I recently rewatched part of The Sword and The Stone, and just marveled at how each scene was like looking at a moving painting -- and the fact that the animation was engaging and clever and the storyline and dialogue were strong.

The best of all of the Disney product, The Best Disney Cartoon of them all, was by far The Little Mermaid. I'm only a little embarrassed to admit that I've watched The Little Mermaid more times than I've watched The Matrix, The Lord of the Rings Trilogy, and the Indiana Jones movies... combined.

But why not? What's not to like about The Little Mermaid? I know it was derived from the classic fairy tale, and that I said a lot of negative things about simply throwing back a premade story a la Treasure Planet, but there's a very big difference between adapting a Hans Christen Anderson story for an animated movie, as they did in The Little Mermaid, and simply pandering to what you presume are the tastes of your audience by randomly jumbling a bunch of techno-crap into a perfectly good pirate story.

The Little Mermaid had many of the basic ingredients of a great movie, period. It had a good story and interesting characters and kept the story moving along at a good clip without distracting and unnecessary set pieces like Tarzan had. It had excellent songs -- Under The Sea will probably live on hundreds of years as a classic, while Kiss The Girl stands as one of the top 10 romantic songs ever -- and it blended those songs pretty seamlessly with the storyline.

The Little Mermaid then topped that all off with animation that matched the story and songs and improved it, the way icing decorates a cake and adds to its flavor. The undersea landscapes, the waves, the storms, the fights, the bright colors and murky depths and swirling spectacle of it all is a sight that cannot be matched by either reality or computer animation. As great as the underwater landscapes and animation was in Finding Nemo, and they were very realistic and well-done, The Little Mermaid's animation was better, because it wasn't realistic -- it was magical and otherworldly, reflecting just enough of our world to show how unmagical our own world is.

That's something that can't be done with film -- the live action Jungle Book lacked the spirit of the animated version -- and it's something that can't be done with computers, which simply cannot generate the spirit and verve of the human hand. It takes a human imagination with a human pen and a human brush to create something as magical as the world that Ariel and Sebastian and Flounder lived in. With animated films having all but disappeared from the landscape, we-- like the little mermaid herself-- can only long for a world we can only see but never live in, and can only miss what we can no longer have.

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