Wednesday, September 12, 2007

My Quality Criteria




Well, this whole blog is dedicated to my own view of what makes quality, but I thought I'd just spell it out.

There is no one ingredient that makes "quality" for me. I like a lot of different things. Mainly if something grabs me, then I like it. It's afterwards that I try to analyze why I liked it, mainly so I can learn and improve my own work.

You don't have to have every possible good ingredient in a work of entertainment for me to consider it "quality". Mainly it has to be fun. I can break down fun into separate qualities:

Charismatic Fun CharactersNot very many animation cartoonists have succeeded in creating truly charismatic characters with defined personalities. They mostly happened at Warner Bros.

Popeye came from comic strips, which were more consistently successful in creating strong characters.

The Flintstones came from the Honeymooners. I guess that was kind of cheating, but the designs and voices brought a lot to the characters.

There are lots of cartoons I like that have star characters, like Woody Woodpecker or Tex Avery's MGM cartoons, but there isn't much to the characters themselves. The cartoons have other traits that make them entertaining.


This includes not just the drawing style, but the whole attitude.

You can have caroony drawings, cartoony animation, cartoony voices, music, sound effects and on and on.


Humanity is an outlook that certain artists have. They share it with regular folk. It's a clear and honest look at life.
These creators observe the world in its raw, funny and humanly faulty truths.
They make art that reflects and exaggerates real human motivations, characteristics and what regular folk on the streets find amusing. It's not polished up, sweetened and made phony. Warners was such a breath of fresh air when it found its style, because its whole attitude was reality-even though the cartoons were highly imaginative and much more cartoony than Disney. They reflected real people. They weren't archaic artificial abstractions like Disney cartoons.
Mickey is a cute character but has no soul.

Disney and his followers - to me, lack humanity and that's the main reason I can't get into them. Even if there is some measure of skill, it's not enough. It's not a skill in telling life's stories or noting the interesting things about human nature, it's a skill in whitewashing life or now imitating what has already been done by previous whitewashers.

These creators are just too polite to admit life and humanity as they are in all their glorious imperfections, blemishes and rudeness.These simplistic characters don't act like real people, they don't have honest recognizable motivations. It's like what Christians think people should be, rather than what talented entertainers observe life to be really like. As if they get their characters out of film school books instead of from the street or the neighborhood.

Nowadays the main characters - that we are supposed to root for- are positively wimpy and I can't imagine anyone wanting to identify with that. That doesn't mean the cartoons can't be successful. But I think if there was competition from more sincere less naive outlooks of humanity, it would be harder for these things to make money.

Creativity- Impossible Things That Can Only Happen in CartoonsI'm amazed at how little magic there is in cartoons anymore. It used to be an innate obligation among cartoonists. It was our job to do the impossible and make it seem real. Unfettered imagination fell out of fashion in the 60s and has never truly recovered.

SkillI certainly admire skill. Bob McKimson is one of my all time favorite animators and when he is directed by Clampett he is super entertaining.
Classic Disney cartoons are skillful, but that's not always enough for me.

I can study Kahl's animation with awe and mathematical admiration, but it doesn't move me the way fun animation does.

I think every artist should amass as many skills as possible-but recognize the difference between skill and style. Skills are style neutral.

Skill is not an end in itself. It's merely your tool kit.

The more skill you have, the more variety of creative things you can make-as long as your skills aren't confused with stylistic cliches.


Fun is not the same as funny. Swing and Rock 'N' Roll music is fun but not usually meant to be funny.

Woody Woodpecker cartoons aren't particularly funny, but they are lively, colorful. musical, wacky and

Betty Boop is really fun.
Fun as opposed to dreary.This kind of movie reminds me of the feeling of going to your room without supper. Or doing your homework.

FunnyNot all classic cartoons are funny, but most strove to be. I always strive for it, even if I don't always succeed.

Did it Blow My Mind

Now I don't expect every cartoon to blow my mind, but the ones that do are at the top of my list.

I borrowed this phrase from Eddie, because it's so right.

Does It Swing?

To me, cartoons and lively music go together. My favorite cartoons tend to be musicals,

The Fleischer cartoons are probably the swingingest of all time. They had the best music during the swingingist period in American history- the 1930s.

All through the 30s, mostcartoons were timed to songs. This gave way in the 40s to a more straight ahead style of timing. Chuck Jones for example would time his cartoons sstraight ahead (although to beats) and Carl Stalling would score it aftewards.

Clampett continued the 30s tradition of timing the whole cartoon to music and songs, not just to a beat.

You don't have to have every single quality I listed to make a great cartoon, but the mnore you have, the more I will love it.

Here's one that has almost everything and in heaping helpings:

Post Mortem:

Well sadly most of the qualities that I look for in cartoons are considered corny now, or have just been forgotten. You don't have to have all these qualities in a cartoon to be quality, but the more you have, the more quality it is to me.

I'm amazed by how many people will argue against all this, and how vehemently. I get this comment a lot, "Why do all cartoons have to be funny and cartoony?" And I always answer, "They don't. But why can't at least a few be?"

Eddie says I should go further and demand that they all be. In my honest opinion, at least 80% of cartoons should strive to do the sorts of magic that only cartoons can do, but we don't even have 5% today. Cartoons should by definition be cartoony. Shouldn't most music be melodic?

It's truly baffling to me how much energy and argument I have to summon up just to convince the world to let us have fun again. "Oh Pleeeease have some ice cream!"

That's why this blog exists. To try to revive some excitement for what made cartoons cartoons in the first place. To bring back lightness and joy to cartoons. Distilled fun. Without the filler.