Saturday, July 14, 2007

Taking the cartooniness out of the cartoon does not make it realistic

It just makes it bland.

This my biggest complaint about modern animation and it goes back to Disney. If you are going to go to great lengths to take the cartooniness, magic and imagination out of your cartoon characters, then you better replace it with something else - like maybe good specific designs and and an understanding of human nature and individual multi-layered characters.

Rich personalities derived from observation of real life humans interacting the way they really do in the actual world around you.

This never happens.

Instead we dig into the file of "animated" personalities-characters from Disney films or Saturday Morning cartoons. Very inhuman simplistic characters from the archaic past or from the modern TV cliches. These characters don't look, or act like anyone you have ever met nor do they have normal human motivations or believable reactions to familiar and odd situations.

Try taking some typical one-note animation characters out of a cartoon and shooting a live action story with them. You would see instantly how shallow these modern animated characterizations are. Wait a minute...someone did do that! Ever see "Titanic"?


If you don't want to animate silly cartoony characters, and you really have a talent for a more acute observation of human nature, if you understand honest motivations and psychology, you would create characters that aren't cliches torn from previous Disney cartoons, Saturday Morning Cartoons or sitcoms.

You would make stories that come out of the characters' dynamics and chemistry with each other. You wouldn't just take a stock animated feature story, plug stock leads, villains and wacky sidekicks in and then beg everyone to take you seriously, like you are a real FILMMAKER, rather than a mere lowly cartoonist.

But then you'd have to have a way to SHOW the audience this depth of character.

With the drawings, expressions, design, gestures, vocal artistry, etc.

It's not enough to just have the character tell the other characters what their one personality trait is and why they have it. Am I the only one that notices that? "I'm a strong woman living in a man's world and I'm not gonna let a wimpy snot nosed kid like you stand in my way!" "Oh yeah!? Well I'm the villain! I hate people who are happy, because I had a lonely youth with 3 Moms and no Dad."

But most likely, if you really did understood character and story and didn't like imaginative exaggeration, you probably wouldn't make cartoons at all. You would write novels or make dramatic live action movies - which is really what everyone who produces or writes animation these days wants to do anyway. They just aren't good enough to get into the real world of live action.

Bland formula cartoons to me, and to every cartoonist or animator with a mind of his/her own are just big boring lies. They aren't realistic, have nothing important to say (unlike what the producers would have you believe) and are completely transparent. "This is not merely a "cartoon". It is an experience, a study of the nature of the family." That kind of stuff.

No matter what the marketing and press releases tell you about how everything is new and daring and has a message, this is really what it comes down to:


Conservative animators and definitely executives just don't like cartoons. Real cartoons are too much fun at once. It's too-big helping of imagination and the audience doesn't deserve that. Serious animation people want to poo in the ice cream.

They have a million theories as to why an audience couldn't bear to sit through non-stop entertainment, but the theories are just a mask to cover up the real reason: Bland people make bland entertainment.

Worse than than that, they see to it that talented people don't get to use their talents, whether their talents are observational or imaginative, or some combination.

How many artists have been told to tone down their stuff, even if it is not "wild" at all or "Tex Avery"?

"Trace those model sheets! More pathos! More contrived misunderstandings between the two bland characters who are obviously in love! More crowds! More camera angles! Let's have someone die! More Pop culture references than the competition! More pores! No soul! Our movie is QUALITY!"

You would think that with the billions (not an exaggeration!) of dollars being spent on formula cartoons every year, someone would be smart enough to carve a measly few million off to make imaginative cartoony cartoons that take advantage of the medium.

They'd clean up, because there would be no competition at all.

41 comments:

John said...

John Man I hate to say it but the way Cartoons are now that I got a feelinng that even if they were cartoony theyd still be the same bland charecters that every other cartoon TV Show and movie has they'ed just look better.While that would be somewhat of an improvent what we really need is creative minds working on all aspects of it not just the style its done in.But if that were to happen imagine how great things would be cartoons would start to be relooked by the general pubic and could finally have back their old glory.While your definitly right we do need more cartoony looking cartoons we need real stories and interesting charecters and situatins for them to be in that havent been done a million times before and while i know you realize this there are too many people who automaticly think that if it looks cartoony its definitly great(although anyone who comes here knows better).My point is we need people who are good at all sorts of vital parts of cartoons bt unfortunutly money talks and when all those morons go see the next stupid disney movie their just gunna make more of same instead of lookin for people with real minds! We need real caroons despritly now adays so people can realize what they coulda had if disney didn't rule the world!

Emmett said...

Mr. K,

I truly agree with much of what you say here. I would like to understand more of it.

To better understand, could you provide some examples of the good work and examples of the bland stuff.

Roberto González said...

I'm a lot more benevolent with new stuff than you are, but still, I agree. It happens every time. In a comic the author usually does what he wants to do. In a cartoon series there is some kind of trends or censure. But feature films are the worst. The more people involved the more cliche-filled and unsincere it gets.

For example, in Wallace and Gromit shorts I see more originality in the plot and type of villains than in the feature film (which was pretty good for today standards, but still).

However, my opinion about this whole "taking advantage of the medium" thing is that it's not strictly necessary to go surreal, or at least not too much. You mentioned something about Family Dog, there were some aspects of it you said you like about it, but I guess it's not something you love. Anyway, the pilot episode of the series I thought it was canonic. It was not very surreal but character expressions were funny, personalities were good and the dog has acting that you couldn't do with a real dog.

The same thing partially happens with the Simpsons. Maybe a fantastic actor could play a good Homer, but you know what, that's probably got worst recently cause I actually find the look of the characters in The Simpsons funnier than in most real-life action these days. So the Honeymooner comparison is valid, but maybe a little out of date.

But Family Dog had not rigid on model characters like the Simpsons, but good designs and the first cartoon has good plot and dialogues. I actually like it better than the rest Brad Bird stuff (which I still find good) but it has become more realistic and Cal Arts like. Family Dog looks a lot like Chuck Jones, there is one guy in the pilot episode watching the match next to the master of the dog that looks totally like a Chuck Jones design.

It's too bad that the Family Dog series didn't seem to have the same natural writing or character interaction. And though animation was good for modern tv standards it wasn't almost never as good as in the pilot episode.

I would like "sitcom" cartoons to be a lot more like Family Dog and a lot less like Family Guy.

If a George Liquor episode were wrote with good character interactions I wouldn't mind if nothing extremely surreal happens.

You seem to pinpoint this in those Flinstones post, that surreal stuff doesn't have to be THAT evident, but I would be interested to see this point more explained.

Of course something like the Looney Tunes is almost totally absent these days. The most similar to it were your cartoons and the best parts of Spongebob. That style is great and should come back, I am not making excuses for the bland stuff. I am just saying you can have some fun with cartoon character interactions as long as you have good, fun designs, even if the plot or even the visual elements are not very surreal. And you were still taking advantage of the medium if the shape of the characters is impossible for example. I mean, even Roger Ramjet could be filmed in live action probably, in therms of plot, I'm almost sure some of the plots could be done. But the characters would look like real humans, that are not as funny as strange-shaped ones.

In fact that's why all those movies that translate cartoony characters to life action don't work. Cause the actors are not nearly as fun as the cartoons. And they sometimes get the special effects so perfect the actors can almost do everything the cartoons did, yet they doesn't have such funny expressions or shapes. I guess you know about the european comic Asterix and its awful real life action adaptation. Of course the scripts in the movies are also shit, but even if they had the exact same script than the comic I think it wouldn't work. And Asterix has some surreal elements, but not a lot of them.

JohnK said...

Hello John

I appreciate your thoughts. But man, press the spell check button!

Hi Emmett, if I did, everyone would freak out.I wanted just the concept of all this to sink in first.

But I'm getting to it.

harpo said...

'but I'm getting to it."
this is gonna be fun!

Some of John's comments kinda blow my mind (open)
but there's nothing I can't agree with.
Freak me out man!

Roberto said...

John, who is actually telling artists to "Trace those model sheets! More pathos! More contrived misunderstandings between the two bland characters who are obviously in love! More crowds! More camera angles! Let's have someone die! More Pop culture references than the competition! More pores! Our movie is QUALITY!" because it sounds like an executive is saying it.

I did some digging and I found out that some of the people who worked on Shrek are actually screenwriters.

CM said...

Just a random drive-by thought—

Many studios try to do genuine depth of character, but for them it amounts to nothing more than another fill-in-the-blanks template. What they do is take a stereotype and rather than playing it for the expected stereotype-based yuks, they carefully insert one characteristic that doesn't fit the stereotype. Look, it's a plucky female who's smarter than all men, but she secretly likes arranging flowers! Look, it's a Southern religious fanatic, but he's gay! Look, it's a bald suited corporate executive, but he likes dressing up in women's clothing! Oh wait, that's almost become a stereotype anyway.

All they're doing is faking sincerity.

Good points all, John; that said, though, Ratatouille does do a better job than many contemporaries at avoiding these pitfalls, which perhaps isn't saying much, but damn if it isn't a fun movie to watch.

Craig said...

Hello John,

A friend turned me onto your blog last year but I've only now started actively reading your posts. I am not an animator and work in live action, however I still appreciate good animation and often enjoy watching the older stuff from the 30's-50's. I did enjoy your cartoons as a kid so first, thank you for those experiences :) I've read this recent series on design principles and character design and honestly I think the concepts apply well beyond animation. Thank you for making the effort on these posts!

I've tried to think about a few examples of cartoons that I like on TV, but it's difficult. What kind of format are we talking about? Cartoons made in the old shorts-before-the-movie are the best to me. I remember a few of these before theatrical film on the edge of my memory in the 80's and I loved the few Roger Rabbit cartoons Disney produced. I can't recall any I've seen in theaters since that time.

Most of the cartoons I grew up on were cable TV reruns of Fliescher Popeye, Betty Boop, Superman, Warner Bros character cartoons, MGM cartoons (mostly the Tex Avery shorts) and too many others I probably couldn't name if I tried. There were also many Film Board of Canada cartoons and Ren & Stimpy in there somewhere. And then there was some assorted 70's anime by Tezuka and Leiji Matsumoto that had a completely different impact on me.

I don't see that kind of imagination on TV any longer. I know there are great animators out there, but I imagine that what you say is very true, that many of them aren't allowed to create something silly just for the sake of being silly or to make a cartoon with almost no plot just to try out ideas. That's the stuff I remember being fun to watch. Now it's as if hammy bad jokes with bland, nonthreatening plots with flat drawings are all you get on TV shows.

What on earth happened to having fun? I think you're right. If bland people make bland animation then there must be more bland people in the producers seats these days. I feel it's almost been the same with live action films for the last ten years-- with a few exceptions.

Live action film has its power in the use of time-image and use of visual space and montage to build upon ideas. Animation has those things but it also has the ability to explore completely surreal ideas through the drawings themselves and through a language that has almost infinite possibility because you can invent a gag almost on the spot simply by drawing it.

I hope I've made sense out of this reply. It is frustrating that the cartoons that are commercially successful right now bear almost no resemblence to the cartoons that made the medium great and fun and interesting decades ago.

-Craig

Josh "Just What the Doctor Ordered" Heisie said...

I'm really sick of the "contrived misunderstandings" you mentioned. I'm an eighteen year old hormone driven teenybopper, but I can put up with romance in movies if I must, but do it WELL. Other than that, I'd just rather the sex scene, and then get on with the plot.

In most movies, it's all painfully obvious, predictable and sickening.
-Character is introduced.
-Plot begins.
-Love interest is quickly introduced, then dissapears again (hero knocks her suitcase over or something)
-Plot continues
-Meet again and fall in love
-Sex scene
-Plot continues with an overly complicated "love story" pasted on
-There's a big misunderstanding (some hooligan makes her think he cheated on her!)
-Hero saves the day
-Back in love!

Old movies weren't much better though in that respecet. Most of the time, the love plots were just as cheesy. But at least the guys were always handsome and manly, as opposed to the pansies in movies now. The girls are still hot, but the "manly" guys look like lisping swishes! There's only a few heroic heroes now!

Eddie Fitzgerald said...

good point! Bland people do make bland cartoons but executives seem to prefer them sometimes, I guess because they're team players and won't rock the boat. Entertainment corporations should do what rock n' roll execs used to do and tolerate excentricity from proven performers.

litlgrey said...

Oh my GODDDD-DD-DDD-DD, John, I SO much agree with you on this! And you are entirely right, it came from the stultified atmosphere - the rigidity - of Disney.
And now with Flash, CGI, animatics, the problem is even worse. It's simply impossible to get a computer to simulate the robustness of either a character or a scenic element that the skilled human touch can provide.

WHY watch a cartoon if not to see the joyous stretching of reality from an envelope pusher like Clampett, Tytla, Avery (whose excruciating racism still infuriates me)... and John, I'd adore it if you would do a post on just the glorious, mid-1940s work of Frank Tashlin. The pose work in "Nasty Quacks" is godhead to me, and I can't even draw!

I had meant to ask a question a short time ago, John, regarding Robert McKimson's one weird deviation from his own model sheet - the "chunky" Bugs of 1948, from which he had retreated by 1949.
Basically... what was McKimson thinking? "Chunky" Bugs isn't attractive in the least - this at a time when Freleng was perfecting the sleek and nearly unflappable Bugs that carried him through the '50s; and Jones' more quietly anarchic Bugs (with ever more stylized big feet and rounded eyes). "Chunky" Bugs just seems toothy, pissed off, and neurotic.

Be of good cheer, John!

Micah said...

What in the real world could be done about it with the blandiacs controlling the purse strings? Here's what I think:

Everyone has to work, we need food and shelter and all that. So go in to work like good soldiers and put out the stuff, but try to inject excitement even if it's slapped down. Most studios don't have such strict contractual agreements as to prohibit personal work at home or take ownership of the same (stop me here if I'm wrong, please.) So build a better mouse trap there. Better still: find a few like minded friends to make a short together with in your garage.

Enough people do this, make good things following not just your ideas here, John, but their own interests, and the things that excite them and you're going to have something. New material for the world to see. An economic structure will solidify around them and when Hollywood sees that people want more variety then things may change a little.

Not much. Cause c'mon. this is real life.

But that's just what I was thinking as I read your post.

Good stuff. I really wish there was more variety in the workplace and the market.

Emmett said...

There are people who work in independent animation. Knowing several of them, I can safely say that they are anything but bland. Independent animators can give themeselves the opportunities that commercial executives don't. The only drawback is that it is extra work in getting their stuff out to an audience (for which there is an audience for, I know because I am part of it.)

I am also a huge supporter of RATATOUILLE's accomplishments. Unlike Dreamworks and such, Pixar seems to do a good job at keeping their work interesting.

julian said...

hi john i hope one day you'll do a long lenght movie without bland character, pathos and all that shit and with great cartoon desing, crazy gags and all the stuff you can do great. i think you must be banned or something from all the big studios for you ideas about how animation should be done and the people you blame for it so it's gonna be hard to get the money from them. it would be great if you consider doing a low budget movie, like the ones plympton does. i love to see rough animation in pencil. anyhow that just one way. do you have any idea for a movie allready in you head? have you ever tryed to make it happend and hit the wall or why is it that you've never made one?? i hope one day i can see a movie directed by you and laught out loud like the good lord want us to do in the theaters when we go out to see a cartoon feature.
best of luck!

JohnH said...

I think an obvious example you could give are the Marx Bros. movies. They made some of the most brilliant comedy of all time, yet the studios eventually demanded they include sappy love stories and idiot plots. Watching a later Marx Bros. movie without access to a fast forward button is horrible.

Jorge Garrido said...

I agree with everything you said, John, but I don't understand why you cartoonists don't DO something about it and become actual executive and shareholders and get some financial capital in these corporations and then demand change.

Instead of being abused cartoonists, become the bosses and management and change things. Wear suits and make speeches at shareholder meetings, buy stock, and work your way up the corporate ladder. All that good stuff.

"After all, heh heh, we are not communeests."

I think if you guys are ever gonna change things you gotta start looking and acting like square executive types. Except when you're making cartoons. Would that be the worst thing in the world? I think that's a fair trade-off.

In any case, that's what I'm gonnna try.

JohnK said...

>>I am also a huge supporter of RATATOUILLE's accomplishments. <<

In what, realistic backgrounds? Not in character of course.

They do have pliable lips now and that's a first for CG animation.

pinkboi said...

The problems here are organizational. The badness and blandness of today's cartoons (and, indeed, today's movies and pop music) is not despite the huge budgets, but because of it! That kind of environment is not the optimal for creativity. When the stakes are high, formulae that are sure to crowd-please will be used time and time again. Psychologically, the quality of the output must matter and matter not too much.

Even if an executive can't understand what makes a good cartoon or a bad cartoon like a cartoonist can, it is his job to use good HR and organizational behavioral principals that ensure consistent output of good work and creativity.

Clinton said...

Hi John,

What are you talking about, I think relates to the whole cartoon lineup on Disney's Jetix. The producers there focus more on the message than anything else. You have the "don't do drugs" episode, the "teamwork" episode and so on. These plots are reused over and over again. The characters are thrown into those reusable plots just to preach the message again and again. I think kids don't pay attention to the message at all. They would be more entertained watching a funny looking cartoon character bend oddly and blow up at will. All it takes for cartoons to be cartoony again is for someone to just throw it in the kids' faces. I think the general public is willing to try something new once at least.

Clinton said...

Oh John, a quick question:

When you and Spumco delivered your first Ren and Stimpy episode to Nickelodeon, did Nick put the episode through an audience test? How did that go, and does television animation still do it?

PCUnfunny said...

"More camera angles!"

I remember discussing TITAN AE with one guy and he loved the film but not because of the animation or drawings, but because there were great camera angles. This is probaly the most abused cheater move in anbimted films these days. Just look at any moment in 90's Disney films, they have no impressive animation or artwork they just have fancy shots of mundane stuff happening. Mufasa's pludging to his death or Belle dancing with the Beast,it was all camera angles.

Sean Worsham said...

I don't know if the world is ready for our kind of fun entertainment John, it's getting to the point where it get's harder to talk to other folks around me about fun cartoons or life experiences, they just would rather talk about anime or playing World of Warcraft computer game than anything else. What you as well as I and everyone else here on this blog likes, I'm already beginning to lose hope in the entertainment industry. It seems to me nowadays that a lot of execs try to force everyone that they think their stuff is cool so they create these tabloid style stories and ads in order to get people to think that way. Nowadays everything has to be dark and more realistic (because reality is better pffftt) and to me while doing realistic stuff isn't bad it's doing it right that's the hard part and it seems nobody in the higher chairs want to take that risk. They think people want copies of copies and in order to do that they try to control the media to get people to think that in order to buy their crap.

While I don't mind realistic, cartoony or even in-between these entertainment stratospheres, I just want to live in a world where we can just have fun for once and laugh at ourselves. For me it's getting harder and harder to talk to people around me as I get older. Serious and Emo is in, laughter is out to them (unless it is extreme, mean and spiteful).

It gets harder for me to browse a comic store everyday, not to mention video games and movie outlets. It seems to me the biggest pleasure I have is drawing my best friends in goofy ways (I try my best) or talking to weird folks and looking into their personality and souls. Making a cartoon is the best soul cleansing of all. For some reason when making a cartoon I know I made I don't feel so empty anymore. The biggest reward is watching them smile afterwards even if it is just one person.

We all need to smile sometimes (not all the time otherwise we'd all wear happy helmets XD) for I see less and less of that everyday.

Kali Fontecchio said...

"Bland formula cartoons to me, and to every cartoonist or animator with a mind of his/her own are just big boring lies."

Yes, and it's infuriating.

"You would think that with the billions (not an exaggeration!) of dollars being spent on formula cartoons every year, someone would be smart enough to carve a measly few million off to make imaginative cartoony cartoons that take advantage of the medium."

One would assume so, but alas, no. How terrible! It should be a crime to be stuck in such a long humdrum pit, as we are in, in this day and age. The cartoonist doldrums.


ARGH!

Wutatool said...

"It's not enough to just have the character tell the other characters what their one personality trait is and why they have it. Am I the only one that notices that? "I'm a strong woman living in a man's world and I'm not gonna let a wimpy snot nosed kid like you stand in my way!" "Oh yeah! Well I'm the villain! A shallow no talent bum who has nothing better to do than make money critiquing those who do have talent!"

haha you didnt like ratatouille too much did you. ;) i did find it odd that the character expositioned all that and then hardly ever even showed that sort of crazed side again. i still liked that movie though.

flashcartoons said...

John I think its time for another cartoon series!! Why not, try it again. Make a new series to show these other companies what real animating is. I know you can!!

i would watch them and buy the dvds :)

Sean Worsham said...

I wonder when that George Liquor movie will get made John?

Mr. Semaj said...

I don't understand why you cartoonists don't DO something about it and become actual executive and shareholders and get some financial capital in these corporations and then demand change.

Two words: John Lasseter

If it weren't for this guy, Disney would still be firing their next round of animators over NOTHING, and creating annoying sequels that rape their vintage films.

Mr. Semaj said...

To build up on my previous statement, regardless of what the general attitude is about Disney content-wise, it's a good thing that one animator worked his way up the ladder, and is now shearing Disney of its bureaucracy.

We need someone like that for pretty much all of the movie and television outlets. Someone fun who can banish the boring stuff for once. Those who are running Cartoon Network today can't keep their jobs forever.

R. Banuelos said...

I believe most film makers would agree with you on this one. Alot of times when they speak about animation in major media it's on a lower plane then live action. This might be one reason why animators try to make serious themes. I knew a lot of students in art school that really wanted to do Family Guy stuff and dumb boring characters. They would gaurd their little creations too and become egotistical about it. I hated these people. 3D shouldn't be compared to 2D cartoons. What Pixar does is closer to stop motion; they use puppets, sets, and cameras. 2D is on another realm, there is no limitations at all to what you can draw.

On a side note, I don't believe that a real 3D movie has been made yet. Everytime I watch one it seems more like an experiment in film making. There are some elements kind of right, some off, some that have nothing to do with anything else. Perhaps the medium is still too new and we need a "genius" that can wrap it all together. Some one like a Chuck Jones or Tex Avery. Or maybe not who cares.

miss 3awashi t said...

the thing is people keep going to see the sucky movies.
it's sad.
i go too it's a family thing whenever theres a kids movie out our mom and all my little brothers and sister go to see it.
we can't not go it's a family thing.
i swear that the only reason these sucky movies don't bomb is because of thousands of people going to see them to qwell their need for family fun.
in short ,they're making a bratz movie >: ( i think i'm going to vomit

cartoon lad said...

Heh Heh.John K is going crazy.Dont be so serious-people are making their own cartoony cartoons at home these days.

Josh "Just What the Doctor Ordered" Heisie said...

I'm with "Micah". Like minded individuals need to join forces in their garages and basements and do what they love. Figure out a cheap 'elastic, fishing line and duct tape' way to do things and do it. If enough people do what they feel passionately about...maybe something will come of it.

Tibby said...

You need to get the bland ppl out, and get more imaginative ppl (like me) back in. The execs only understand money and ratings. They also tend to hire the bland ppl over the truely inspired ones. For reasons I do not know. Well, that's not true, I know that they tend to hire what they think works or is sellable.

They are affraid to try new things and ppl with passion and true talents mean nothing to them. If you have 1 "bland" artist as the director and the boss, he's going to hire only those who share his style and/or mindset. Not the outsiders (like me - for instance).

If you are so desprate for a change, take a chance on someone new. Not the been there, done that ppl. Cartoons back in the day where fantastice because the bosses where talented and wanted to surround themself with others who where somewhere on the same plane and inspiration as they where.

Execs and directors are affraid to take the gamble on something new. Because the risk for failure is so high. So they continue to go with the same artists, who do the same work, all the same time. Same, Same, same. That and they are affraid to take the gamble on someone who is out on the edge, maybe they are flakey? Maybe the audience will think they are too contovercial or won't like their bizzare styles. It is a huge gamble.

If you want talented and passionate ppl to start the driving again. Hire them - teach them the ways of the masters, and treat them with a tiny bit of respect. And the work quality will show.

JohnK said...

>>The execs only understand money and ratings. <<

Well they know how to waste it, and ratings are lower than ever.

Gavin Freitas said...

I don't understand why you cartoonists don't DO something about it and become actual executive and shareholders and get some financial capital in these corporations and then demand change.

Two words: John Lasseter

If it weren't for this guy, Disney would still be firing their next round of animators over NOTHING, and creating annoying sequels that rape their vintage films.


Excellent point! John fired most of the 3D people at Disney and hired 2D folks. And re-opened the Disney studio. RATATOUILLE's a great flick! A little more cartoony on the backgrounds and such would be cool but those characters are great. Their animation is looking better too, Pixar does it better than anyone that I've seen. I saw a little of squash and stretch in there too. However this movie in NOT a cartoon, but for CG it's getting better.

harpo said...

John: when are u gonna have a new Beautiful People contest?
I'm dying to participate!

Dan said...

John - I think a huge part of the problem comes from starting purely with scripts, and the aeons you have to spend in development with any project while the money is raised because the networks only commission in chunks of 26 half-hours, during which it gets all its corners rubbed off by the people in charge of the money, and the scripts are done largely for free, and the (retch) Series Bible, which details the minutiae of all the characters and plots, has been written and rewritten to pitch the series at cartoon forums, again for free, never mind that the goddamn show hasn't even been worked out yet. Add to that the fact that animation writers tend on the whole to be on the way up or the way back down (because we're talking about kids TV here - animation is of course only for kids, at least that's what is commonly believed here in the UK) and you get the same tired retreads of the same tired characters for yet another bland Eurotoon with the same woman doing the same goddamn voice for the same goddamn sassy female character.
Phew... that felt good.

Chris E. said...

This was my complaint with Disney and Nickelodeon. A good example is that typical cliche of some teenager in a high school backdrop, always worrying about their stupid social status in popularity. All in the while, hanging around cliché characters who share the same personality from one show to another--Right down to that freaking slob who'll eat anything. Then, you have that popular brat with the league of soulless, unnamed characters who follow him/her around (usually her). And let's not forget that every adult character is a blithering idiot?

Of course, another good example of a "realistic" cartoon would be this:

http://www.animationartgallery.com/images/KOT/KOTH5.jpg

John_Fountain said...

This is an interesting topic that (as far as I'm concerned) should be discussed in art/animation schools...

Everyone with an art degree has to take 'Art History' but I think a lot of students out there could benefit from a good dose of 'Art Philosophy'... to study the "why" and not just the "how".

Ed said...

You know John, I really wanted to say I get alot out of these posts. When you clinicly break down all that is wrong with an image and then challenge me by asking, "does anyone like this?" as if to say I'm a poor artist simply by disagreeing with you it feels just as shallowly manipulative as when music swells in a disney production and the sheepish and bland hero is forced by fate to kiss the girl. The posts where you talk about a philosophy of entertainment that produces compelling plots and interesting characters makes me want to go out and do things like observe my co-workers interact with those they're paid to pretend to like. These posts inspire me to think and consider and evluate rather than making me first feel like I have to deprogram myself from just imbibing your opinion as law. In ether case, though, I appreciate your blog and what you're doing. You're finally taking back commercial art to a unique art form rather than a confused fine art that has an inferiority complex. You've given it back its respect and it's virility. If even more that what you say about cartoons and art teaching me anything you've taught me what a good teacher SOUNDS like. I feel as though I now have a more discerning ear for those who actually have something worthwhile to say and teach, something which seems important for an art student.

Once you mentioned possibly commenting on superhero cartoons and I would still love to hear your thoughts on them.

Raff said...

John, I'm so glad you're doing these posts, particularly the few before this one, because they're making me think.

I've been trying to figure out what happened to people's imaginations nowadays, and what happened to my imagination - it used to be much better.

A great possibility occured to me: Our private imagination brainspace has been completely invaded! We've been publicly and callously talking about sex, violence, pedophiles and things we'll always be uneasy with so much that we can't even make a single gesture without someone reading into it in a way that's judged against you. Instead of looking for nuances, we look for "possible liabilities".

"Mister Rogers is creepy. He's gentle, it's not normal for a man to be gentle, therefore he must be a monster." No!! He's MISTER FRIGGIN' ROGERS!! You're right, it IS unusual for a man to be that nice and gentle, and that's to his credit.

"You said Mister Rogers is nice. Therefore you're gay." No!

"You've got a problem with being called gay, therefore you're a homophobe." No! Wrong again!

"Your tone is confrontational as you've used the word no. You must have been told you're bad in the sack." NO! SHUT UP!!

Once you used to be able to say "The private dick rose when the cock crowed the next morning" and no one would bat an eyelash (unless the sentence was clearly a double-entendre). Now this comment will show up in 30,000 search engines just on account of those words.

Hell, I don't even think it's legal anymore to draw Little Audrey in a bikini and still have you convinced she's under twelve. Jim Henson wouldn't be able to chain Animal to the drumset (posible slavery reference) or make Crazy Harry blow stuff up (suicide bomber reference).

And that's only one factor. The other thing is this obsession with saving time. Our attention spans shorten as we're told to multi-task and efficiently zip through things faster than the next guy.

And you'll notice that both these problems are somewhat specific to North America, which is why we're increasingly looking to Europe and Japan for entertainment with passion in it.