The Obstacles Facing Roger Rabbit 2

At this point, it’s been over 20 years since the original Who Framed Roger Rabbit, a film that perhaps single-handedly resurrected interest in the classic cartoon shorts of Hollywood’s Golden Age. Despite being wildly successful (thankfully, as it was the most expensive movie ever made at that point in time), a sequel was never made.

There are a couple of reasons why a sequel was never made. Number one, Hollywood wasn’t near as sequel crazy as it is today and number 2, the complexities of the original film made it somewhat more difficult to produce another one. No, I’m not talking about the animation, or anything technical, it is he sheer number of characters required lengthy and exhaustive negotiations between all the rights holders. You may have noticed that the original film had neither Felix the Cat or Tom & Jerry as the rights to neither were secured prior to production.

Why do I think a sequel won’t work? Well, why do you think a sequel wouldn’t work? Perhaps because sequels invariably share the same set of problems. TV Tropes has a good rundown of the symptons associated with what they call, sequelitis. The plot isn’t a continuation, bit characters that became popular are given way more screen time than they should be allocated, new characters appear that add nothing of value, etc. etc.

The original film was notable for many reasons, not least because it used a huge cast of already popular animated characters and introducing a few that appeared well known despite being brand new. That’s why Baby Herman, Jessica Rabbit and even Roger are still known, they have created a link in the audience’s mind between themselves and the classic characters of yore. A sequel will most likely copy some elements of the character but discard the deeper stuff that matters.

Another aspect is time. It’s been over two decades since the original and the times have changed. Roger Rabbit succeeded because it was different. Animation didn’t get a lot of respect from people in the 80s. Roger Rabbit (along with The Little Mermaid) helped change that and establish animation as an artform that could deliver the goods at the box office. There was little to no competition unlike today, where a new animated film is released, on average, every couple of weeks. The quality of said films is also astounding, thanks to the folks at Pixar who raised the bar so high.

Finally, as everyone knows, sequels inevitably have a lower budget than the original. In animation (moreso CGI than traditional) this is partly because computer models and sets have already been constructed, however, corner are still cut in areas such as story development, size of the crew, etc. The difference is always noticeable and in the case of Roger Rabbit, it would definitely be noticeable. If you make the most expensive movie ever and spend less for the sequel, it will look different.

Of course, there is the test film for a CGI version of Roger from 1998. It’s embedded below along with the test from the original film. The two cannot be compared in overall quality, but notice the difference in the animation. The newer one says a lot about the attitudes of executives towards sequels of classic films.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yw77Vt6sgdc]

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u0hNbcJO6EM&feature=player_embedded]

Animators and VFX artists: The Differences And Similarities That Should Be Celebrated

There has been some talk over recent years as to whether visual effects artists are really animators by another name. They certainly share a lot of common skills and traits, but there remains a gulf between the two professions.

For starters, visual effects has traditionally been concerned with adding bits and pieces to traditional, live-action films, whereas animation has always been about creating everything from scratch. These classifications were fine until a few years ago, when the likes of Robert Zemeckis’ The Arctic Express began to really blur the lines at which VFX ended and animation began.

Fast forward to this year, and you had Richard winnning an Academy Award for best visual effects. There is nothing really notable here until you realise that Richie actually trained as an animtor in Dublin!

There are still many differences that, at least in my opinion, mean that although there will continue to be a convergance of professions in the areas of technology, looks and skills, there will remain a few fundamental differences.

Animators and VFX artists should realise that they can work together in harmony, complementing each other. It would be a shame to see the two camps descend into petty rivalry, especially around awards season, when the issue is most likely to crop up.

Apologies for the short post. The topic merits more discussion, which by all means can be done in the comments below.

What Does the Google/Verizon Deal Mean for Animators?

There’s been a lot of hoopla on the internet over the last couple of days in regards to the announcement that Google & Verizon have joined together with the aim of constructing a framework that would help legislators create a new set of regulations governing the internet and the content served on it.

Basically up until now, all traffic has been treated as equal no matter what. That means that a text file is given the same priority as a video stream. In years gone past, this was not a problem, mainly because there was more text files than video. However, with the advent of YouTube, Hulue and netflix et al, there is concern that things will not be quite as equal as they were.

The reason? Well, there is a perception out there that the pipe owners (Verizon, Comcast, etc.) will begin accepting payments by content providers (YouTube, Hollywood studios, your local TV station) in return for allowing their content to flow faster through the pipes. The idea being that if you want higher quality entertainment, you will have to pay for it (because  the content providers will only pass the costs onto you).

When you think about it, that is not much different to now. If I want to see Mad Men or whatever the latest hit is, I have to pay for cable. The problem with the idea is that it favours certain players over others. Witness Comcast’s purchase of half of NBC-Universal. Can you take a guess who would get top priority on the Comcast network if bandwidth space became an issue?

That’s not particularly fair. It may hurt the larger players, but it will absolutely crucify individuals. Imagine if you’re an animator/filmmaker, and on your website you have a page with your demo reel on it. How well do you think the video will play unless you cough up a fee to the ISP to ensure that you’re viewers see it at full quality? Are you gonna pay a fee like that? I doubt it. I wouldn’t, and the truth is, I probably wouldn’t sit around to wait for your video to load if you didn’t either. Who loses out? Everyone.

The internet is proof positive that when there is minimal regulation in an area, business thrive. YouTube would not have even got off the drawing board if the founders had to pay a surcharge on the delivery of their videos. Time and time again, we have seen that consumers have realized that the only commodity that the internet costs them is time. Money doesn’t even factor into it ever since AOL went to a flat monthly fee.

Besides, they way things work now is pretty OK. If I want my videos to load faster, I’ll cough up an extra $10 a month to Verizon to bump up the speed cap on my DSL line.

The biggest problem is perhaps the assertion that the “mobile internet” is separate from the fixed one. This is complete nonsense. Granted, there is only a limited amount of the wavelength spectrum available, but that does not mean that mobile users should have to settle for a different standard. Heck, if you wait much longer, Wi-Fi should be near ubiquitous in cities across the country. Why should I pay a data plan to the mobile carrier when I can find an free hotspot?

Again, this only hurts the small folks, i.e. you and me. If it will become hard enough to watch video on the regular internet, how hard do you think it’ll become on the mobile one, which by the way, is just the regular one on a smaller screen?

Animators and studios (big and small alike) need an open internet now more then ever. Why should either the ISPs or Google dictate how they can and cannot run their businesses? Charge them for the connection, charge them for the extra, scarce services that they decide they need, but don’t run rampant over the top of them in the scramble for profits. In the end, everyone gets hurt.

[sigh] You’d expect that a free-market economy like this would operate a little differently wouldn’t you?

Posting a TV show online: When Should It Be Done?

Today, I was going to post a review of the new TBS (or is that tbs) show Neighbors from Hell, which debuted there last Monday. Well, clearly this post isn’t about that because, without beating around the buch too much, it isn’t online in legal form, well, not exactly. Apparently it is on iTunes, but being the true geek that I appear to be, I run Linux, which iTunes doesn’t support and probably never will.

So with no premiere episode to watch (yet), here are some thoughts on when TV shows should be put online for folks to watch.

The folks over at the MPAA and RIAA would have you believe that putting anything online, hell, even not putting it online is an invitation for anyone and everyone to “pirate” it for their own nefarious purposes. Of course, nothing could be further from the truth. If I wan’t to watch a TV show online it’s because I want to watch it whenever I damned well please. Why should I have to schedule my time around the whims of the network? I shouldn’t, and for the most part, I don’t.

Anyway, networks are discovering (through the handicapped genius that is Hulu and the absolute genius that is Netflix) that allowing consumers to view your stuff online is actually a good thing. Not only does it do wonders for older stuff, but even new stuff as well as people are much more likely to watch a show they missed online rather than wait for a rerun. The Economist recently did a special report on the current and future state of television that is well worth a read.

Enough reasons though. When is a good time to put a show online. Let’s start by assuming it’s a new show. In that case, the obvious answer is straight away! As stupid an idea as it sounds, the +1 channels found on Sky in Europe are one of the best things ever. Sure all they’re doing is shifting the entire channel back by an hour, but how many TV shows have you come across that you just missed? It may be just beginning on the +1 channel!

Seeing as +1 channels are rare here in the States, the next best thing is putting the show on-demand or online. Putting it up straight away will pretty much thwart any reason a so-called “pirate” has for putting it up instead. Besides that, you can make some advertising revenue from your own site (or on another if your prefer).

If putting a new TV show online straight away is the best time, what about older series? The obvious answer is also, straight away! As you’re probably aware, you can pretty much find any TV show online if you do a bit of searching. Sadly TV-Links.co.uk [Wikipedia.org] is no-more after getting busted on sham charges and just like a game of Whack-A-Mole, about a dozen clones popped up to replace it. For legal purposes I probably shouldn’t encourage or condone you to seek out these means, and I’m not, I’m simply explaining the current situation.

With older shows, the arguments are exactly the same as the new ones. Why force consumers to seek out their favourite stuff by “illegal” means. Give them what they want! The customer is always right after all!

As for animation, Hulu has a rather good selection. It’s not ideal, with a lot of anime both popular and otherwise, like Ikki Tausen, seriously? The kids networks are also fairly decent. I have more experience with Cartoon Network, but Nickelodeon and Disney also seem to be fairly up to speed on getting their shows online ASAP.

The explosive growth in video-on-demand in recent years will hopefully mean that all TV shows will be online soon after they are broadcast. The notion that online viewing pulls viewers away from broadcast or cable viewing is nonsense and the sooner the networks get over it, the better.

Do Characters in Preschool Shows Need Character?

The emphatic answer is yes! Why wouldn’t you give your character, character? That’s how your audience relates to your show. Of course, preschool audiences are somewhat less demanding than older kids but that does not mean they do not perceive what they see on the screen any differently.

With the current regulations regulated to educational TV shows in the US, it would seem that some networks (PBS excepted) seem to throw the bare minimum at that sector of the market. Others fare slightly better. Disney for instance has Little Einsteins and its stable of Disney characters to boot because it’s never too early to familiarize children with your properties.

Someone once lamented that some of those shows basically educate kids, there is little or no attempt to try and create something richer. For example, some shows simply teach the kids their ABCs or 123s with perhaps a little plot mixed in for good measure. This is perhaps the minimum standard for a TV show and the vast majority of shows are much more than this.

However, what sets Little Einsteins apart from other shows? In terms of character, not very much. The kids are kids doing kid things and that is that. It’s a fine concept and it has worked quite well for Disney as well as PBS in the form of Barney the Dinosaur.

In stark contrast stands Sesame Street, the bastion of children’s television in the US. That show has some perhaps some of the greatest characters to ever grace a TV screen in the Muppets. Think about it. Every single one of them is different and has a distinct trait. Big Bird is big and tall but is very understanding and loved by all. Oscar the Grouch hates everyone but also has his sift spot, the Cookie Monster needs no introduction whatsoever, Elmo is actually 3 years old and the list goes on.

Each one of the Muppets has his or her own strengths and weaknesses that are played out every week on TV for the kids to see. They might not full understand it at the time, but they nonetheless interpret it and retain it. Why else would they market Oscar the Grouch T-shirts to people such as myself?

Another excellent series is WordGirl the PBS animated show about a super-heroine alien girl who lives on earth. The show aims to teach kids how to spell but also relies on a significant entertainment aspect that has proven popular with kids and adults alike.

The creators of preschool shows are in a special category of their own. Many of them have a deep passion for their chosen career and display a special talent for creativity that resonates with kids. Networks should allow such creators as much freedom as possible and be open to new ideas. Kids programming is a sensitive area of media that receives special attention from the government and parents groups alike, but that should not preclude the use of charters that are fun, complex and resonate with kids and adults.

Animation Directors Moving to Live-Action: Jumping a (Sinking) Ship?

It has been a topic of debate for quite some time and even within the animation community, there is suspicion that many students who study the artform are really looking for an easy leg-up into the film industry. While this may be true for some, it does imply that animation really is a second-class citizen in Hollywood, despite the proven track record of box-office receipts.

Michael Barrier has an insightful post on the topic of animation directors and the opportunities open to them at the present time. I highly recommend you head over to his site and read it.

In the post, he singles out Brad Bird for not only being perhaps the greatest director of his generation, but also for moving onto live-action and the unliklihood that we will see another animated film from him in the foreseeable future.

In that he may be correct. Brad is no longer at Pixar, where he developed my favourite, The Incredibles, and the somewhat drama-strewn Ratatouille, but is in line to direct Mission Impossible IV. Michael Barrier speculates that Brad may have moved on for the simple reason that he is unable to find a studio that is willing to create his kind of film.

In this he may be right. I wrote on the topic previously and it is fair to say that of the main animation studios in Hollywood, none bar Pixar are suited to Brad Bird. Barrier hints that Brad did not figure in the long-term plans at Pixar, which may be true. In this I am reminded of one of David Ogilvy’s maxims:

If each of us hires people who are smaller than we are, we shall become a company of dwarfs. But if each of us hires people who are bigger than we are, we shall become a company of giants.

Brad is one of the most creative guys in the industry and the reality is he has been left to fend for himself in a sea of sharks. Directing a live-action movie may well be putting bread on his table but it is a real loss to the industry as a whole when one of its best people ups and jumps ship.

Animation directors are a enthusiastic bunch. The vast majority have a genuine love for the artform, and Brad Bird is certainly no different. He has three films to his name and each one is superb. In a way, he’s the Quentin Tarantino of animation, putting out a film every couple of years that wows people every time. The fact that he has a fine attention to detail is secondary.

With just three main studios and smaller independents (although even Henry Selick, director of Coraline has joined Disney in order to develop projects for them) the source of jobs is scarce to say the least.

Live-action represents a bigger pool to swim in with more variety thrown in for good measure. Unless and animator goes the personal or independent route, they are unlikely to be able to create an adult-orientated (i.e. serious) animated film. This is a shame but we have only ourselves and the studios to blame. They will never take a risk with animation, even Pixars supposedly ‘brave’ and ‘experimental’ film Wall-E was still well within the unspoken walls that imprison animation in the family-friendly market segment.

Time will tell how this trend develops. In the meantime, I agree with Michael Barrier in that studio head must make a dilligent effort to retain and nurture key creative talent, not insulate their favourites into an old-boys club of sorts. Fresh faces, even those better than you, will only serve to increase the studio as a whole. Their loss only serves to decrease the gene pool, with a corresponding drop in quality.

Looney Tunes: Why Are They Falling in Popularity and What Can Be Done to Stop It?

Word come through from Cartoon Brew about a feature in the New York Times about the new, upcoming Looney Tunes TV to be broadcast on Cartoon Network leter this year. There was plenty of consternation a while back after the upfront where the show was unveiled. The comments on the Brew then as well as now were pretty much about as big a backlash as you could expect from the animation community regarding classic characters such as Bugs and Daffy. (By the way, I know I’ve touched on this topic before, but this is more of a commentary/opinion post and not nearly as sarcastic as the last one).

The NYT piece made light of the fact that kids these days don’t seem to know much if anything about the Looney Tunes. Quote from the article:

Ask a first grader to identify Bugs Bunny and the response more likely than not will be a blank stare. Dora, sure. Mickey, alive and kicking. But Porky who?

Anyone over the age of 15 will give you a wry smile as all the memories come flooding back. the same can’t be said for youger folks, they may even look at you as if you had two head, or began speaking Japanese!

The distinction was made between the Looney Tunes and Winnie the Pooh in that the latter still pulls in close to $5 billion in contrast to the $1 billion for Bugs & Co. Such a comparison isn’t really fair though. Winnie the Pooh isn’t exactly aimed at the same market, skewing much younger. Additionally, Winnie the Pooh has been longer established and has a seperate set of books to his name, all of which continue to bring in merchandise dollars.

Another aspect that is important to mention, Disney continually markets Winnie the Pooh. In contrast, Warner Bros. (or Time-Warner for that matter) has done little over the last 10 years. Let’s examine it together. Long ago, the Looney Tunes/Merrie Medodie shorts reigned supreme. Not only were the extremely popular, they were broadcast almost continuously, either as shorts themselves or as part of a TV show, e.g. The Bugs Bunny Show.

That time seems like the land of milk and honey compared to now. Would you be able to tell me where I could see a Looney Tunes short on TV today, or even this month? There’s no very many places is there? Sure we’ve had the odd marathon on Cartoon Network, usually on holidays when most people are distracted by turkey or what Santa Claus brought them.

Which brings us back to the age-old problem of “if it’s not readily available, no-one’s going to watch”. A fate which has befallen many fine cartoons and TV shows. Only a fool would try to convince you that an entertainment product can maintain its popoularity without advertising. Now when I say advertising, I don’t mean actual commercials, I mean the shows themselves! If a Looney Tunes short is on TV, that acts like a seven minute commercial that can entice people to watch another short.

The usual plan is to create a “new” TV show, or “update” the characters to the contemporary era, which in itself is a waste of time because within 5 years, the show is outdated. Remeber Lunatics Unleashed? Yeah, yeah I know, it still sucked when it was dubbed into Irish. Well, do you see any shows out there being “anime-fied”, doesn’t that seem so early-2000s? Well that’s basically what happens when you “update” classic cartoon characters, they go stale and end up getting locked in the Warner Vault.

So hear me out. Why not broadcast some of the classic shorts? Instead of, say, starting a TV show on the hour, why not show a short first? Your audience is already there, why not give them something new, or rather not really seen before? They’re still going to stick around for the show they got comfy for, right? The proof is in the pudding, Looney Tunes receipts are higher abroad then in the US. I know myself that RTÉ 2 in Ireland still broadcasts shorts during prime-time children’s programming. Guess how many Irish kids a re growing up with Bugs Bunny in their lives?

In addition, according to the NYT piece, there may be some new theatrical shorts on the way, not unlike “How to Hook Up Your Home Theater”, released in 2007. Well, that’s one thing, but why not plant the seed with some old favourites? Once you’ve guilt up a wee bit of an audience, you can then start throwing on some fertilizer in the form of new stuff. People are likely to be much more receptive to something fresh if they are more familiar with the old classics. Look at Tiny Toons, there was a TV show that gained a following all of it’s own. The classic crowd were mixed with newcomers, who eventually became popular in their own right, giving you a whole new property to exploit.

Personally, I think shorts should be filmed before every major feature film, not only does it increase my theatrical experience, I feel like I’m getting better value for money. That’s never a bad thing, eh?

While a new show is undoubtedly necessary to bring Bugs and Daffy in from the cold, a more comprehensive strategy is needed. Disney is the gold standard in this regard, Mickey Mouse is still as popular and well known as he has ever been, having said that, he as never exactly been out of the public’s attention either. Warner Bros. needs to do the same, starting with creeping the gang back onto screens slowly building their way up to the big stuff, i.e. films.

C’mon guys, Warner Brothers Animation is so much more than Detective Comics direct to DVD movies you still have plenty of fans out here.

Anime And Me (Or Anime And I For All The Grammar Police Out There)

Anime. It’s one of those things, you either love it or you hate it, for the most part that is. Unlike the Philly Cheesteak place in Mechanicsburg, PA, where there is no middle ground; you either leave bursting at the seams or still wanting more, anime does have its casual fans. On the other hand, anime seems to have its fair share of fans and detractors alike. As for myself, I don’t love it to death but I don’t exactly hate it either.

For the longest time, my only exposure to the medium was Pokemon and the like. No joke, there’s not a lot of otaku (fans of anime, among other things Japanese) in Ireland, or at least not back in the day when I was growing up. It was only once I moved to the US the first time that I discovered (not entirely by accident I must admit) Neon Genesis Evangelion.

I will freely admit that this is still the only anime show I have on DVD (unless you count one disc of FullMetal Alchemist episodes). It is by far my favourite for reasons I am still not absolutely sure about. It may be the characters who continually collide and explode (or implode as the series progresses) or the overall story arc, I don’t know. What I do know is that I was willing to cough up $50 for the boxset plus the End of Evangelion and I’ve never regretted it.

Fans of western animation sometimes tend to deride or sneer at anime. This happens in reverse as well I should point out. No one form of animation is perfect, despite what Pixar would have you believe. Indeed there is much debate about just what is “anime” exactly. Some consider it any animation to come from Japan, others consider it a more specific form of Japanese animation. I’m going to be lazy for right now and send you to Wikipedia, who is just as vague as you can get on the subject. I intend to post about the origins/differences in a later post anyway.

Anime in general suffers from budgets that would make most Western animators weep for days on end. That’s why they make so much use of recurring backgrounds, limited animation (to the point of using only two or three positions for the mouth, and often having that the only moving thing on the screen) and action scenes that are as generic as you can get. Imagine what the great John K. would say? Actually, not a lot. he has a grand total of three blog posts on the subject. Here’s a quote I couldn’t resist sharing:

A decade after I worked on shows like the Transformers and being ashamed of it, young Spumco artists in the late 90s would come up to me in awe and recite whole storylines about how Gangamons beat up Rotundabeast with his triple tread whitewall tires while his half-human, half-koala girlfriend chewed eucalyptus paste in delight and bore him 17 new Astroboys and girls – all with spiky hair as a reward.

Priceless stuff. Anyway, my opinion towards the medium is that it is certainly no better or worse than western stuff. There were plenty of horrendous cartoons put out for years (decades?) before things got funkier in the 90s. Granted, they were on a scale that doesn’t even come close to something like Pokemon, which has an episode count of well into the thousands at this point, but the quality was much the same.

As for the actual types of shows? Personally, I seem to be able to enjoy something as sugary as Paniponi Dash just as easily as Akira. Arguably, Japan seems to have been able to maintain a sizeable market in serious (i.e. non-comedic) animation. Such a market was sadly lost in the US a long time ago (even with the best efforts of Ralp Bakshi in the 70s).

I don’t watch anime on a regular basis (too cheap to pay for cable) but I do watch it if I find it one somewhere (airplanes, bored, etc.) and I still enjoy it. I guess in a way it’s my guilty secret, even though it’s not really guilty and it’s not really a secret. I did actually attend an anime club on a few occasions. It was fun, and I will say that I really do prefer anime fans to Twilight ones (ughhhh, just typing that gave me the shivers).

As for the genres of anime? Well they’re far more varied than in the west that’s for sure. You can have your pick of action, sci-fi, romance, comedy and even magical girls! Sure, there is some repetition among them, but it’s no worse than an American TV show where the whole family goes camping and calamity ensues when Dad tries to put up the tent or find “natural” food.

A lot of anime also get the feature-length treatment. It’s important to draw a line of distinction between anime TV films (and OVAs) and actual films though. I deeply love the work of Hayao Miyazaki, to infer that his films are on the same level as something like Escaflowne is something that just can’t be done.

We should not have contempt for anime. Sure, the fans can be annoying, the non-synching mouths can be distracting and the percentage of recycled material would make Al Gore proud. But I can’t help but think that even the most die-hard Western animation fan would have to admit that it has made a significant impact on animation here over the last 30 years. If you look past its shortcomings, it can be really rewarding entertainment.

Should Dreamworks Make a Sequel to Dragon?

Steven Zeitchik has an insightful post on the Los Angeles Times blog where he makes the case for not making a sequel to How to Train Your Dragon. It’s interesting to observe the changes in attitudes to HTTYD over the time it has been in the public consciousness.

Before opening weekend, it seemed that this would be one of the softer Dreamworks releases which we would go and see and enjoy but ultimately it would fade from our memory, just as Monsters Vs. Aliens has. At this point, there wasn’t much talk of a sequel at all, just the possibility of one.

However, since then, the film has shown remarkable strength, remaining at number two before reclaiming the top spot again. Attention was drawn not only to the resounding quality of the film, but also that strong word of mouth among cinemagoers was playing an important role.

Now, some weeks later (on a fine May evening that may have me going to see the film for a second time), details are emerging of a sequel, spin-offs and a TV series, in much the same vein as The Penguins of Madagascar.

Steven makes the point that HTTYD marks the first Dreamworks film since Shrek that has appealed to audiences on the same level as a Pixar film and that that company is a bit more selective in which properties it chooses to exploit through sequels. On a side note, he points out that the film has performed “…not bad for a star-less spring cartoon.” which as regular readers (all three of you) will know really grinds my gears, seeing as the film very much has all-star “talent”.

This is a fine analysis except that it ignores who instigates the decision to create sequels at Pixar. It would appear that it is Disney, not Pixar that is pulling the strings on that one. Not only was Toy Story 2 originally supposed to be a direct-to-video release, the slate of sequels announced in recent times have all occurred after Pixar’s sale to Disney, even though some films (such as Monster’s Inc) were released while the Emeryville firm was independent.

Steven calls for Dreamworks to hold HTTYD up as an example of their creative capabilities. I myself recommended at the end of my review that you should go and see it before its affect is reduced by the deluge of sequels to come.

Realistically, we will see sequels, lots of them. Besides being based on a series that encompasses seven books in all, Jeffrey Katzenburg has a long history of milking properties for all their worth. Shrek is perhaps the finest worst example and we’ll finally see that flogged-to-death series finally put out of its misery later this year.

Being an engineer means I tend to have more of an analytical mind than creative folks. I like to point out that creative folks are more likely to read The New Yorker while I tend to read The Economist. It also means that from a hard business perspective, sequels are a lot more profitable than the originals, mostly because studios tend to reduce the budgets and stretch everything just to make the extra nickel. In Monsters Versus Aliens’ case, the foreign performance didn’t justify a sequel. Fair enough, but I would rather see that movie succeed and get a sequel than  a superior movie like Dragon.

Right now the success and praise that HTTYD has received from the general public, fans and serious animators alike is certainly well deserved. Enjoy it while it lasts, because the second the sequel is released, the aura will fade.

Live-Action Movies Based on Animation

I very nearly went with Scooby Doo for the picture, but this one has Robert DeNiro in it!

Although the trend has died down somewhat, the genre just doesn’t seem to die. The Smurfs is the latest to get the treatment and although we will be treated to Hank Azaria as Gargamel, I still can’t quite look forward to it,

Although it has been common to mix animated and live-action characters (most notably in several Disney films and a scene where Jerry Mouse dances with Gene Kelly in Anchors Aweigh), the latest craze has been to use CGI characters.

There have been numerous releases over the last number of years and I can’t honestly remember a good one among them. People are familiar with the characters so that’s not a problem, but of all of them, the main problem seems to be the downright atrocious quality of the script or the actors hired (seriously, Daphne as a blonde???).

All of them have skewed towards the young market. Fair enough if that’s what you’re going for, great! But seriously, with the likes of Pixar churning out movies with complex, believable characters and smart, clever jokes, there really is no excuse for toilet humour.

Sure some of these movies are based on cartoons that were never great to begin with (thank you ACT) but at least they never tried to make us believe they were clever.

Of course, by aiming at kids, the adults who actually remember the cartoons when they were broadcast on TV, they are making a fortune. That’s why we got a sequel and prequel to Scooby Doo and why we’ll continue to see ever more annoying Alvin movies for years to come.

I realize that Hollywood turns out the same crap all the time, but as an animation connoisseur, I find it deplorable what has happened to some characters as they’ve been hauled out and flogged like a dead horse.

There are plenty of examples of studios being able to create interesting movies with original characters, why can’t we see the same with established characters, or do studios assume that the movies will coast on the remnants of the characters embedded in the millions of us who are familiar with them?

Sadly, it doesn’t look like the practice will die anytime soon. My advice? Spend your hard-earned money on an original movie with some depth to it.

Why Smoking in Cartoons Is Not As Bad As You Think

From Michael Sporn's excellent Splog

It’s an issue that crops up regularly: cartoon characters smoking on-screen (image above from Michael Sporn’s Splog). Kids (the usual, if regrettable, consumers of animation) are more susceptible than adults to what they see and hear, the whole “monkey see monkey do” factor at work.

What gripes me is the apparent need among people out there to go back and retroactively edit out any and all references to smoking in old cartoons. The article itself is from 2006, but is still relevent today as a practice that’s a bit reminiscent of Senator Ortolan Finisterre for sure.

I don’t agree with smoking on-screen, in fact, I highly detest the habit in all shapes and forms. But for old stuff, like Tom & Jerry pictured above, it’s important to remember that they were made at a different time, when smoking was not only much more socially acceptable, it was actively encouraged. There were advertisements for cigarettes everywhere.

Kids often grew up with one or more adults smoking in the house and it is widely known that kids learn more from their parents than anyone else. Also that if a parent smokes, the kid is much more likely to smoke too. The whole argument that a kid is going to start smoking because Tom lights one up to impress a lady friend smacks of pettiness. Did you happen to remember that Professor Utonium in the Powerpuff Girls was often seen with a pipe in his mouth? He never actually appeared to smoke it however.

Smoking has been absent from cartoons for a very long time. Today, kids are much less likely to start smoking from seeing a character smoke on-screen. Granted, they shouldn’t be bombarded with such images either. But it is fair to say that for all that cartoons I watched as a kid, not one of them made me want to step outside and light one up. Common sense has to prevail. If not, the world is poorer for it.