The topic of the conversation was totally unexpected since I was not the one who initiated the chat. I confess, I shared his passion even though the subject of today’s animated product was coming from a person who didn’t work in the cartoon business. The gentleman did work in the movie business, however. A noted screenwriter, he had contributed to a number of successful Hollywood films. However, the writers venue was usually live-action not animation. That’s what caught me totally by surprise as we chatted in a half empty theater in the heart of Tinsel Town. The two of us were friends of the director and we had been invited to a special Hollywood screening. There were producers and other actors in attendance and one would have thought if anything was up for discussion it would have been live-action films such as the motion picture we had just screened. Surprisingly enough, the subject was not live-action. The screenwriter was speaking about cartoon animation.
Fearful of being branded a naysayer I hadn’t broached this subject in a while. There’s always the danger of being misunderstood and this has been a problem in times past. That’s the reason I rarely voice my opinion when the subject is raised. It’s often interpreted as, sour grapes or the grumblings of a bitter old timer who’s no longer relevant in the animation industry. Not wanting to appear negative, I’ve often kept my mouth shut. Suddenly, here was a Hollywood screenwriter who doesn’t even work in animation articulating what he saw as ever growing problems in the world of animated filmmaking. And what problems did he see, you ask? The lack of creativity in cartoon making and the fact that it’s difficult to distinguish one animated movie from another. Even when an animated motion picture has a compelling production design, the digital production pipeline tends to homogenize art direction and it’s difficult to separate one animated film from another. The writer spoke about the limitations of hand drawn motion pictures from years past and how the animated filmmakers made those limitations work for them. The very fact that animated filmmaking was restricted by the physical reality of being penciled, inked and painted by hand hardly limited creativity. In fact the opposite was true. The limitations of our craft allowed creativity to soar. The fascinating worlds created with pencil and paint still remains far more compelling than the artificial CGI fabrication we often view today.
However, the screenwriter hadn’t finished his criticism of today’s cartoon offerings. Like live-action, animation has been drifting into a series of narrow-minded, unimaginative stories that appear more focused on selling product than entertaining audiences. The amazing digital technology that pretty much allows anything and everything you can imagine to be replicated onscreen hasn’t really made that much of a difference. Sure, the technology is amazing, but so what? Walt Disney’s animated feature film, “Pinocchio” continues to resonate with audiences today and this is a motion picture made in the forties. In fact, animation goes live-action one better. This amazing medium is storytelling and filmmaking created by hand. The pencil touches the paper and the brush spreads the paint. There is an emotional connection between the filmmaker and the audience that gives the hand drawn animated film something very special. This is not to say a CGI film cannot connect with the audience because clearly they can. However, the filmmaker has to work a little bit harder to cut through the “barrier” of technology.
Let me reiterate these were the complaints of a live-action screenwriter not an animated filmmaker. The very fact that a guy working in live-action could recognize the problems in our industry and articulate them so well was to me, somewhat surprising. However, this was one of the rare times I didn’t have to chime in because this motion picture creator made all the arguments on my behalf without me saying a word.