Archive for March 2010
Personally when it comes to the ever-increasing usage of 3D animation over 2D animation in our cartoons and animated films, I find most of what is produced to just be a lifeless, soulless product with Famous Celebrities (and sometimes Top 40 Singers of the Month) providing voice work just because the studio can afford them and use shallow pop-culture references to make up the bulk of jokes; not because the celebrities actually fit the character they’re voicing or, in the case of most of the Pop Singers who voice some of the characters, have talent or skill in acting.
This has become a bit of a case with Dreamworks Studio, who’s now the only standing animation studio that could be called a rival of Walt Disney Animation Studios. When they first started out, the movies they made such as The Prince of Egypt and The Road to El Dorado actually had a lot more mature content story and character-wise compared to the Disney films out at the time (as well as the movies Disney made that tried to have mature themes were flops at the box office); even Shrek, one of their first 3D animated movies was a very clever and well-written movie, and its sequel, Shrek 2, had a nice balance of pop-culture and character-driven jokes along with a clever continuation of the story. However… Dreamworks personally went through a really long, low-brow slump with CGI animated movies, basically much like I described them above, such as Shark Tale, Bee Movie, Shrek the 3rd, and Over The Hedge (though Over The Hedge arguably had more clever/ funny moments). However, Dreamworks seems to have gotten better with the release of Kung Fu Panda, and their most recent film How to Train Your Dragon, which is not only nicely animated, but also written real well and has heart in its story.
How to Train Your Dragon tells the story of Hiccup, whose father, Stoick the Vast, is not only the leader of Berk, their town village, but also is the strongest and most revered dragon-slaying warrior; whereas Hiccup himself is very weak physically, is usually ushered to the sidelines by his father when a dragon attack occurs, and prefers tactical planning rather than just charging in blindly. During an attack on their village by the many species of dragons, Hiccup tries to capture a type of dragon called a Night Fury, a legendary dragon that is rumored to be extremely deadly and elusive. He manages to shoot it down with a catapult net, and tracks it to where it crashes in a remote forest, but can’t bring himself to kill the dragon; instead, he cuts the net and the Night Fury flees. Following the incident, Stoick, realizing that he can’t keep Hiccup sheltered forever, decides to enroll him in dragon fighting classes taught by Gobber, whom Hiccup also teaches under in blacksmithing. Despite initially being snubbed and mocked by the other students, Hiccup begins to learn more about dragons by the textbook; as well as the fact that he again finds the Night Fury in a small canyon area, unable to fly.
The biggest strength in this movie is undoubtedly how the bond between Hiccup and the Night Fury (whom Hiccup names Toothless) develop over the course of the movie. Though this hasn’t been the first movie that features “A Boy and his Pet” plotline, it’s still done very well with plenty of charm and heart (though that also may be credited to Chris Sanders, creator of the Girl and Her Alien Disney movie Lilo and Stitch, who also had a hand in directing this movie). The character of Hiccup is also a big strength of the movie; sure, he’s very awkward and bad at fighting, but for what he doesn’t have physically, he makes up for it with tactics, planning, and knowledge, and uses those aspects to great effect throughout the movie. The art and 3D graphics are also very amazing, especially during the action/ flying scenes; and the characters are nicely designed.
I guess the only minor complaint I could make is since How to Train Your Dragon is based on a book, there’s bound to be some cutbacks, particularly of the minor characters and their character development/ fleshing out. However, and this is probably because I haven’t read the book or the series in general, I barely noticed at all. This is definitely one of Dreamworks’ stronger animated CGI films that they have released, and I wholly recommend seeing it.
Although there was only 3 episodes made, the famous Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, and Elmer Fudd “Rabbit Season/ Duck Season” cartoons, also known as the “Hunting Trilogy” by Chuck Jones, are considered some of Jones’ best and most important cartoons that he’s directed. Looking back on my childhood, I distinctly remember these three cartoons being the most-played during the days when both Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network used to run their own Looney Tunes block programs. Now that I’m much older, I can definitely see why these cartoons are easily considered some of Chuck Jones’ best and are so re-watchable; although the plot is essentially the same throughout the cartoons, the rapid-fire jokes, set-ups, and interactions between the characters are all perfectly timed and well-written.
The first cartoon that was made, Rabbit Fire (1951), is essentially the classic archetypical “Rabbit Season/ Duck Season” cartoon. Daffy Duck lures Elmer Fudd to Bugs Bunny’s home due to “survival of the fittest… plus, it’s fun!” However, Bugs Bunny tells Elmer Fudd that it’s duck season instead of rabbit season, which irritates Daffy Duck and initiates the whole “Rabbit Season/ Duck Season” debate. Personally, Daffy Duck steals the show in these cartoons, although some may argue that he became stereotyped from his typical screwball personality and into a self-serving foil for Bugs Bunny’s jokes and set-ups. However, his facial expressions and the gags where he gets shot in the face are part of why these are so hilarious. Also worth noting is the ending to this cartoon, which has Bugs and Daffy ripping off papers declaring “Rabbit Season” or “Duck Season”, all culminating with them seeing a paper for “Elmer Season”, teaming up and turning the tables on a now-frightened-for-his-life Elmer Fudd.
The next cartoon that was made was 1952’s Rabbit Seasoning, which takes place in the same location (though it’s now taking place in autumn, while Rabbit Fire took place in spring) with very similar conditions, only this time having Bugs and Daffy argue who Elmer has shoot now (or, as Daffy puts it in one scene as he’s falling into Bugs’ insidious grammar trap, “pronoun trouble”). Much like Rabbit Fire above, the strongest points about this cartoon are the shotgun gags, the banter and interactions between Bugs, Daffy, and Elmer, and for visual comedic effect, Daffy’s hilarious facial expressions.
1953’s Duck! Rabbit! Duck! is the final cartoon in the trilogy, this time having the scenario take place during the winter season and having the main “Rabbit/ Duck Season” argument be what hunting season it really is (of course, it’s Duck Season, but Daffy’s not about to admit that). What makes this cartoon hilarious is its steady buildup to the ultimate punchline: Daffy keeps getting shot as the result of his own arrogance and Bugs’ clever tactics, and finally breaks down, telling Elmer Fudd to keep shooting him. Elmer Fudd, just as confused as Daffy, asks Bugs Bunny dressed as a Game Warden what hunting season it really is, with Bugs simply replying, “It’s Baseball Season!” The scene of a now-mentally snapped Elmer Fudd chasing after and shooting a baseball is still one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen in my life.
The whole Bugs Bunny/ Daffy Duck rivalry that these episodes produced also paved the way for more cartoons in which these two teamed up as comedic foils, as well as the fact that, on a personal note, they stand out as a sort of memorable aspect out of my childhood. It’s just very interesting to know that something that’s so popular and iconic with these two characters simply started with only 3 cartoons, but then again, Chuck Jones certainly knew how to make some of the most hilarious and memorable Looney Tunes cartoons.
Duck! Rabbit! Duck!:
Post #1: My review of Rock-A-Doodle (February 1, 2010)
Post #2: My discussion on the Looney Tunes cartoon “Duck Amuck” (February 15, 2010)
I’m going to admit something that will probably get me flamed through the Internet: Avatar, while admittedly very wonderful in the terms of visual and technical achievement, had a very by-the-numbers, been-there-done-that plot that showed no subtlety in beating the viewers repeatedly in the heads with its Aesop of “White people were cruel, heartless monsters who killed the poor Indians and drove them off their land for wealth and we should feel bad because we’re killing our planet in the name of Money.” Yes, I agree that white people were complete bastards to Indians, Africans, and even snubbed the other European and Asian immigrants that came over later on in history. I apologize on behalf of anyone who’s ethnicity is White/ Caucasian; what more do you want from me? It is indeed sad that prejudice and racism still exist to this day, however I’ve heard every chestnut about how we should respect the ourselves and the world around us. I’m sorry James Cameron, but subtlety wasn’t your forte in this movie. On the topic of subtlety, other movies I’ve seen that advocate this same message, for all of the preaching that they do, have at least shown that there’s no such thing as “black and white morality”, but rather “shades of grey”. Avatar had nothing of the sort; the sides were clear from the start that the “noble, blue-skinned, savage-but-gentle Naa’vi” were the Good Guys, and the “cruel, industrial, trigger-happy Humans” were the Bad Guys.
What point am I trying to make, exactly? Well… to put it simply, you don’t have to be incredibly preachy and dumb down your message to make an environmental themed movie effective. Case in point with critically acclaimed Japanese filmmaker Hayao Miyazaki’s 1997 (it came out in America in 1999) award-winning film, Princess Mononoke.
The story of Princess Mononoke begins with a young man named Ashitaka, who’s the last prince of his dying clan, engaging in battle with a giant boar god possessed by a demon attempting to attack his village. During their battle and the subsequent defeat of the demon, the demonic tentacles (a physical mutation which shows the demon has possessed the body of its host) wound Ashitaka on his arm. The local medicine woman tells Ashitaka that the wound is cursed and will continue spread through his body until he dies, and that there is no cure or hope for him. However, she also reveals that the boar was wounded by an iron musket, and tells Ashitaka that if he travels to the West, where the boar came from, and finds out what drove the boar to become a demon in the first place, he might find a cure. Ashitaka travels to the West and temporarily settles in a prosperous town named Iron Town, located around a giant forest that is said to be home to a great Forest Spirit. Iron Town, which is led by Lady Eboshi, is continually cutting down the trees and nearby forests to make charcoal and smelt iron, which leads them to be constantly attacked by animals, mostly with the wolf god Moro and her “human daughter”, San, or “Princess Mononoke”.
One of the best things about this movie are the characters and how they’re developed. Ashitaka, despite being the hero of the movie, doesn’t take any clear-cut side with either San or Lady Eboshi. He believes that each side has their own valid reason (and they do) for their motivations, but believes that if they reach a middle ground, they’ll be able to figure things out; which is a very idealistic way of thinking, but nevertheless he doesn’t take the “Good Side” just because he’s the designated hero.
Even Lady Eboshi, who I guess would be considered the designated villain of the story, is not all that horrible of a person. She created Iron Town and gave people such as lepers and brothel-girls a place where they would be safe and cared for with no prejudice or mistreatment. She clearly cares about her people and their well-being, but in order for them, herself, and their town to be well-maintained and have food, water, medicine, and the like, she has to keep making iron, even if she has to keep destroying the forest. Unlike the humans in Avatar, who explicitly and blatantly love destroying the forest, Lady Eboshi merely sees it as trying to expand her business and keep her town alive. On the other side of things, it’s perfectly understandable to feel concerned for San and the creatures of the forest, since their home and their lands are being torn down at an increasing rate with no signs of stopping. Worse of all, the hatred that the animals are gaining because of the humans killing their tribes and their land stirs within them, so they have to also be afraid of turning into something, as San puts it, “…that is neither human OR animal.” The only characters that I would say that come close to fitting the “Humans Are Bastards” stereotype are a monk and hunters hired by the Emperor to bring back the head of the Forest Spirit (in hopes that he’ll have immortality), but even then, they’re portrayed as just simply doing this as a job.
Watching this movie about 10 or so years later, the animation still looks incredibly amazing, proving that you don’t have to have top of the line computer graphics to convey your story. Miyazaki’s beautiful, almost oil-painting-like detail on the landscapes and scenery of the forest is simply beautiful to look at. The characters and action scenes move fluidly, never choppy, and the demonic tentacles that sprout from the Cursed Gods are disturbing to look at, as they were modeled in CG, but then drawn over in cell-animation. Adding in a beautiful cinematic score composed by Joe Hisashi, and it’s amazing on both visual and auditory levels.
I know that Miyazaki is a bit blatant in his moral that we should respect our forests and the environment around us, but for me, he conveys the message so it doesn’t preach or talk down to us as if we’re just ignorant mud-people. Whereas Avatar has beautiful visuals, but a plotline that’s been done before with a bunch of two-dimensional characters tied together in an Anvilicious moral message, Princess Mononoke has a commonly done plot but with characters that are complex, and a moral message that, while a bit preachy, is subtly and tastefully done. I would highly recommend watching Princess Mononoke to see an environmental message done right, and to see that Japanese animation isn’t just Pokemon and Dragonball Z.
TVTropes: Definition of Anvilicious
Some Anvils Need To Be Dropped– the opposite of Anvilicious
Mel Brooks probably put it best when talking about trying to find comedy and humor in horrifying events and people, such as the infamous dictators who reigned during World War II: “Rhetoric does not get you anywhere, because Hitler and Mussolini are just as good as rhetoric. But if you can bring these people down with comedy, they stand no chance.”
This was definitely present in the Wartime Cartoons that animation studios such as Disney and Warner Bros. made; very heavy on pro-American/ USA and heavy on anti- Axis Powers, these cartoons heavily relied on bombastic parodies of the infamous dictators that occupied the areas of Europe and Asia, as well as stereotypes of the various ranks of Nazi soldiers. Though the Japanese had their fair share of being stereotyped and mocked by these cartoons, a lot of the Wartime Cartoons focused on the Nazis, mostly because of their heavy, widespread invasion and ever-growing fear. Characters such as Daffy Duck, Superman, Donald Duck, and Popeye all got opportunities to fight the Nazi menace in their own way, much to the enjoyment of people staying at the home-front in America who were worried about how their husbands or oldest sons were fighting overseas, and the constant threat of Axis or Nazi expansion throughout the world. Nowadays, these kinds of Anti-Nazi Wartime Cartoons are usually parodied or have become homages in more recent cartoons; one the best example of this would be the South Park episode where Cartman defeats infamous terrorist leader Osama bin Laden in a manner quite similar to the Daffy Duck cartoons described here.
Warner Bros. used Daffy Duck quite a few times for fighting Nazis; two of the best examples of these would be the cartoons “Daffy The Commando” and “Scrap Happy Daffy“. In the 1943 cartoon “Daffy The Commando“, Daffy Duck goes behind enemy lines to infiltrate a Nazi camp headed by Von Vulture, an obvious stereotype of German commander as he has the evil monocle, is incredibly short-tempered, and even has a bumbling soldier named Schultz (interestingly enough, if anyone has watched the show Hogan’s Heroes, Colonel Klink and Sgt. Schultz could be considered homages to these two). Most of the cartoon involves a series of comedic mishaps with Daffy foiling Von Vulture, but it’s the ending that makes this cartoon extremely memorable. Daffy Duck is fired out of a cannon and lands right in Berlin where Hitler is making a speech; as Hitler is just rambling on in a nonsensical mix of English and German (with a stereotypical German accent), Daffy whacks him with a cartoon mallet, causing Hitler to cry like a baby. What makes this scene so iconic and funny is the entire setup and the way that Hitler is portrayed; the background music is a goofy, organ-grinder mix of “The More We Get Together“, Mel Blanc as Hitler rambling incoherently and bombastically about random things (“MEIN POOMPKIN! MEIN MILK! MEIN HEIMLICH!” just to name a few), and the whole mallet scene, which makes Hitler act like a temper-tantrum throwing kid is all perfectly-timed hilarity (weirdly enough, as I recently watched this cartoon, I got heavily reminded of how one first sees Hitler in Inglorious Basterds).
“Scrap-Happy Daffy“, another 1943 Pro-America/ Anti-Nazi cartoon with Daffy Duck against the Nazi menace, and was also interestingly the last cartoon to feature Daffy Duck in black and white. It features Daffy Duck guarding a gigantic scrap yard, as it’s part of his job as an American citizen (during WWII times, every piece of metal and steel wav very crucial; there were many posters that encouraged American citizens to do specific things to cut down on costs and such). Unfortunately, Hitler isn’t pleased about Mussolini’s downfall due to Daffy’s huge scrap pile, and so, sends his troops to launch one of their most powerful weapons to destroy the scrap pile- a billy goat. What makes “Scrap-Happy Daffy” notable is that it’s a textbook example of American Pride at it’s finest; Daffy Duck even sings a song in the beginning of the cartoon about how the citizens of America can be like him and help the Allied forces win the war by saving specific items (with also a very adult joke thrown in of him pointing to a drawing of a pin-up girl). There’s also a very clever visual gag of how Hitler gets introduced in this cartoon, namely cross-fading from a horse’s backside to Hitler sitting at his desk reading the paper.
The final cartoon that I watched, the 1943 cartoon “The Ducktators” directed by Norman McCabe, is another cartoon encouraging US citizens to buy US savings bonds and stamps, but it’s significant in the fact that it not only makes fun of Hitler, but also Mussolini and Hirohito as well. It begins on a farm with a husband and wife duck expecting their egg (which is curiously black instead of white) to hatch. The egg hatches revealing a duckling with Hitler’s mustache yelling “Seig Hiel!”, indicating, obviously, that he’s Hitler. As the Hitler-Duck grows older, he attracts a goose who bears a resemblance to Benito Mussolini and a duck who is a complete parody of Hirohito, with large stereotypical front teeth and round glasses. The only animal on the barn that tries to stand up to them is one single white dove, but when his peace treaties and requests fail, the dove takes matters into his own hands. This story almost has a Dr. Seuss-like feel to it, as a narrator tells the story in an almost storybook-like tone. Weirdly enough, the ending which features the dove telling his kids how his enemies were defeated (and are shown like animal heads above his fireplace) and the “Buy War Bonds” noticed has been censored since the 1950s (though the whole ending can be found on the sixth volume of the Looney Tunes Golden Collection).
I understand that Disney had their fair share of making fun of the Axis Powers, but Warner Bros. was much more bombastic in the way that they made fun of Hitler and the Nazis; whereas Disney portrayed them as bumbling fools, Warner Bros.’s type of satire seemed to almost be akin to how Mel Brooks portrayed them in The Producers‘ “Springtime for Hitler” segment. …I guess we just sort of came full circle, didn’t we?