Friday, January 25, 2008

Snooper and Blabber sell Rice Krispies with Trace-backs

This cartoon is an example from a transitional period between the era of classic cartoons and the modern era.I would have liked this commercial a lot when I was a kid. Compared to today's cartoon commercials it has some good points:


You can tell what's going on. And you understand why you are supposed to buy the cereal.

Many modern commercials are incomprehensible. They just throw special effects, swishy cartoon acting and quick cuts at the camera, annoying you and leaving you wondering what you are supposed to buy and why.

Appealing Character Designs:

These characters look like real cartoon characters. They are conservative, but professional and cartoony enough to have some inherent kid-appeal. They aren't Ed's best designs, but much better than most designs today. They at least look like real characters.

Good Voices:

Same point again; the voices are professional and unambiguous. They don't sound like average people like in most modern animated cartoons. It's Daws Butler and Don Messick being underused by a weak director, which is still better than the nothing voices we live with today.

Acting: Uninspired but it's not effeminate.
On the other hand, it could be a lot better. It's directed and animated with lackluster. It shows the beginning of the end of the era of great cartoon animation.
The Posing: The "acting" poses are completely unimaginative. Characters just point to what they talk about, and then spread their arms out to emphasize an accent in the dialogue. No real thought or variety or spark of life.
Squash and stretch and overlap and accents are almost gone. It just barely squashes in anticipations, as if the studio atmosphere is so conservative, that the animator feels guilty even squashing an antic this much. I worked in animation studios in the 80s that would completely freak out if I used squash and stretch in what was supposed to be fully-animated scenes. "Get that Tex Avery stuff out of your brain!"
The animation: It's not really animated. It's inbetweened. To get from one pose to the next, they merely trace the heads and arms and place them in the middle of the poses. It makes the animation look like moving cutouts. This is a sign of ultra-conservatism and fear of actual animation.
These poses remind me of when I worked on The Smurfs. People on the crew would speak in awe of the producer Gerard Baldwin's acting skills. Gerard would act out Smurf scenes with these exact arm gestures and in the mid 80s this was considered Shakespearian.
I wish I had a good copy to show you of Ed Love's fully animated Hanna Barbera commercials for contrast. He uses the same raw materials but makes the animation full, varied, well acted and fun.

There are some great Ed Love bumpers and commercials on the Huckleberry Hound DVD, but they are so poorly transferred that they are badly interlaced and impossible to freeze frame or go through slowly. I'll keep hunting till I can find one to show you.

In the meantime, compare it to the Tony The Tiger commercial I put up the other day. That one has a lot more fun and creativity in the animation.

I've been wondering why in the 1960s the animation in high budgeted commercials became so conservative. Just a few years earlier, we had brilliantly designed and animated super creative commercials. You'd think that cartoons would have continued to evolve into even more creative animation styles. Instead it devolved into stiff, conservative lifeless cutouts and that became the style for the next 30 years. By the late 80s, animators had to relearn the lost secrets of what made cartoons loose, lively and magic.

We rediscovered squash, stretch, overlap, line of action and other lost principles but we still use this simplistic posing and acting style - it just just bounces more now. We have some basic tools again, but have forgotten how to use them to support customized and varied human motions and acting.

Fear of creativity is a legacy we inherited from the fall of animation that started in the 50s and completed its decline in the 60s.
Like I said, there is just enough appealing design in this commercial to have a pleasant retro nostalgic feel, but it's a shadow of what animators were capable of just a couple years earlier.
What made a bold and creative industry fear its own hard-won skills and inventiveness in such a short period of time?
At least there's a pile of sugar to cover up the bland lack of nutrition.

Goodbye fun!!