Today: May 20, 2024

Janet’s Animation Corner: Stuck In A Rut?

“Most mainstream American animation looks the same.” When I came across this quote by one Mr Todd VanDerWeff my instant reaction was to hit the defence button and activate the ‘affronted mode’. If hissing were appropriate for a woman my age  (late twenties … we shall say no more) I can assure you that too would have occurred.

“…on the surface, mainstream American computer-animated movies boast that slightly plastic quality that makes them so good for simulating toys or bugs or life under the sea.”

Pfft. I spluttered. How dare VanDerWerf. That’s how I said it. Or more like “Van. Der. Werff,” deeper in octave, and in the same vein as you would Voldermort.

The topic of Zootopia came up. Zootopia was also branded “sterile and stuck in time.” Surely this reference couldn’t be directed at he same movie I had seen a mere two weeks ago though? To me, and many others who watched the film, Zootopia was a well-crafted, entertaining piece of cinematic beauty and that was just on the surface. We haven’t even begun to touch on the underlying moral lessons learnt. Courage to break the mould, strength to stand up to adversity, bucking stereotypical views and the need to evolve past racial biases. Simply put, it was crammed with innovative goodness.

For Voldermort, I mean VanDerWeff, to suggest that the works of Pixar and their like were nothing more than formulaic, cookie-cutter films, was madness. Until…I read the article further. Then the penny dropped, clanked, no, slammed itself down on my skull. Let me take you through my brain process…

“This is utter crap.”
“Some people are just so negative.”
“Oh, ok, pfft. I’ll let you have that one point.”
“Two, three. Oh, no! I’m not liking where this is going.”
“Why does this suddenly make sense to me?”
“Dear, sweet Moses! It’s true!”

In fact, I felt slightly ashamed at not coming to this realisation on my own. Now, I’ll be the first to admit, I can be movie blind. Suckered in by the bright, 3D lights and a story with heart, I sometimes forget to dig deep. It was as if I’d been watching through rigged glasses. The lenses set to mesmorise, allure, stupefy or should I say stupidfy. Not. Any. More. Thanks so much for that Van. Der. Werff. Blissful ignorance kaput.

I explored the idea further, striking up movie juxtapositions. Toy Story, Finding Nemo, Zootopia. What do they have in common? Two unlikely traveling companions forced together by circumstances who eventually become friends. However it’s not just Pixar who are guilty of over-milking this money-making, goldmine formula. I need only mention my BELOVED How To Train Your Dragon – a Dreamworks’ creation – to make my point.

Then I was hit by another momentous revelation. Who cares? Does it matter if they’re the same-old-stories so long as the issues being dealt with are different? Isn’t animation just another genre? And correct me if I’m wrong, but don’t genres tend to have similarities that link them togetherNo one is more guilty of sticking to a prescribed formula than the romcom:

“Ooo look, there’s this guy that I totally can’t stand.’”
“And there is the girl who completely gets under my skin.”
“But we hook-up on one random night and end up falling in love on this crazy adventure called life.”

Or some loose variation on this. Theirs is a system that relies on a predictable pattern but the beauty is in the journey the character’s take. That’s where there’s variety of overwhelming proportion. I mean, what’s a wrong with a reliable consensus, so long as the story surrounding it is strong, engaging and, more importantly, different?

Returning to animation, would I like to see more creativity in the genre? A set-up that strays away from the blueprint? Sure. Why not? I’m 100 per cent game for some innovation but the original formula has its place too. I believe the saying goes, if it ain’t broke don’t poke giant, gaping holes in it. Or something to that effect.

Link to the article referenced:

Paula Hammond - Features Editor

Paula Hammond is a full-time, freelance journalist. She regularly writes for more magazines than is healthy and has over 25 books to her credit. When not frantically scribbling, she can be found indulging her passions for film, theatre, cult TV, sci-fi and real ale. If you should spot her in the pub, after five rounds rapid, she’ll be the one in the corner mumbling Ghostbusters quotes and waiting for the transporter to lock on to her signal… Email:

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