Charles Kenny

Being tall, Irish and a civil engineer by trade, Charles stands out in the animation crowd, hence his position as the Animation Anomaly.

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.

A Few Words on Adobe Flash

There has been a fair amount of chatter over the last few days in response to a letter from Steve Jobs,  the head of Apple Computer, where he basically says that Adobe Flash is unsuitable for use in the Web 2.0 world.

Animators have been quick to jump into the debate, which isn’t surprising seeing as numerous TV shows have been made over the years including Cartoon Saloon’s very own Skunk Fu! as pictured above.

With a post over on Cartoon Brew, the debate is pretty much divided with plenty of people supporting the format and plenty of people against it. Having never used it, I can’t pick a side even if I wanted to. Sure there is some truly awful animation produced in flash, but there always has been truly awful animation produced at some point. it’s a poor workman that blames his tools.

Is flash perfect? No of course it isn’t. It was never designed for use in TV shows. It was meant for quick animations on the web. It’s great that someone figured out that it could be used to animate a TV show, but that’s kinda like me using MS Word to make a flip book. It can be done, but it’s not perfect.

Back to Steve Jobs. He’s within his rights to ban flash from Apple devices if he wants, that’s his way of doing things. However, I know myself how many places it pops up on the web because I use NoScript, and I have to approve a lot of flash stuff.

The only problem I have is that he’s trying to force people to move on to the next format (HTML5) when that’s not quite ready yet. This is similar to when he launched the iMac without a floppy drive. A brave choice but floppys stayed around for at least another 5 years.

The problem is that there is no immediate replacement, at least for animators. Sure they have some choice in regards to producing animation, but flash is by far the cheapest, most popular solution right now, and it will take time for a similar product to emerge.

I could get on my soapbox at this point and argue that we need some sort of open standards but that’s never going to happen, at least not for an industry such as animation.

Right now the whole thing is a bit of a moot point. We’ll all just have to sit tight until a solution comes around, which it will. There’s money to be made in one, and if that’s the case, somebody is bound to figure it out.

Anomaly Approved: Katie Rice

And now for something a wee bit different. Today kicks off a new feature here on the Aninomablog (still working on what the blog itself is called, suggestions always welcome in the comments). With the vast, vast, vast number or blogs I follow, vast, I figured it would be exceedingly selfish of me if I kept them for myself. So, starting today and running on a most likely erratic schedule, I will highlight the blog of people I follow and hopefully cajole persuade you into following them too.

The person with the honour of being the first in what will hopefully be a long line of blogs made famous by being feature here is: Katie Rice!

Posting on her personal blog, Funny Cute, Katie forms part of an unofficial group of people I follow of a certain style that I will refer to later when I get around to some more of them.

Astrid from How To Train Your Dragon

Katie posts a wide range of stuff ranging from doodles to full-on illustration. Seeing that a fair amount of said stuff is either funny or cute or both, you can see why I follow here (I like funny and cute stuff). Katie’s style is fantastic, she certainly has an eye for excellent illustration.

Katie’s illustrations display influence from the John K. school with curvaceous bodies and large eyes. Her attention to detail is superb, in the characters and the emotions they display.

Part of Katie's sbumission for Craig Yoe's Jetta book.

Besides here personal art, she has also treated readers to various samples of her animation work. Most recently this has been her storyboards for Nickelodeon’s The Might B! I always appreciate artists posting their studio stuff on their blog as it displays confidence that they always create good art.

Katie Rice is therefore absolutely worthy of being “Anomaly Approved” and she should be “you” approved to. Follow her blog and give her some love.

If you know a blog I should be following, please add it in the comments. 🙂

Why Aren’t There More Cable Cartoons on DVD?

Think about it. Of all the cartoons broadcast on the major cable networks (the Disney Channel, Nickelodeon and Cartoon network), how many have had a bone fide DVD release. As those who have waited so long to watch their favourite show whenever they want, surprisingly few.

Starting with Disney, they are actually not as bad as I thought. A quick search of Amazon reveals that DuckTales (have their own store!), the Gummi Bears and Rescue Rangers are all for sale. Recent stuff is a wee bit harder to come across and while you can buy Phineas & Ferb, you can’t get illustrator extraordinaire, Dan Santat’s fantastic show The Replacements.

Nickelodeon fares a bit better, you can find all the classic Nicktoons as well as newer stuff available. The only caveat, they’re the “burn-on-demand” type. In other words, you can’t find the DVDs in shops because they don’t make them until you place an order. I appreciate this approach as you can get an industry-standard DVD with jewel case. The only downside? The cost is a bit on the expensive side, $36 for a 4-disc collection of Danny Phantom!

The Cartoon Network is perhaps the best of the bunch. Their list of shows is exhaustive if mainly confined to shows the network owns. Nonetheless it is nice to see shows such as HiHi Puffy AmiYumi (2nd hand only now) to Codename Kids Next Door receive proper releases. In addition, actual Warner Bros animation titles are available too, with shows such as Batman: The Animated Series for sale in full, most likely as a result of the nature of comic book fans no doubt.

Cartoon Network does have one nasty habit though. They have, on numerous occasions, begun to release DVDs of a show only to stop halfway through leaving collectors and fans holding the bag until they release the full series a few years down the road. It happened with the PowerPuff Girls and is currently the situation with Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends. Personally I will be quite annoyed if I bought two volumes of episodes and then had to go out and buy the whole series only to fill in the episodes I missed.

With the advent of video-on-demand (VOD) the whole concept of a DVD release may become moot anyway. With the likes of iTunes already offering a whole season’s subscription to shows like the currently-being-broadcast Adventure Time and my one of my all-time favourites, My Life as a Teenage Robot, the time may come where we won’t even care if a show is released on DVD.

The Declining Quality of Animation on FOX

It was akin to a religion for me, and the only night of the week when I would absolutely have to watch “my shows”, yet recently, I have begun to skip Sunday nights altogether. Yes, FOX still has a full schedule of animated shows that is completely unrivalled by other networks, save for perhaps [Adult Swim].

What happened? Where has the love gone? Well, I’m not entirely sure. Let’s start at 8 o’clock and go from there.

The Simpsons. What can I say that hasn’t already been said ever since Principal Skinner was outed by Martin Sheen as an impostor. The quality of the show has clearly fallen since the heady days of the 90s and some people have been actively campaigning for the show’s cancellation in recent times (shoutout to the Dead Homers Society).

While it is clear that the show will be around for a wee while yet, it is unclear just how much farther it can fall. For example, last Sunday night’s episode was about a beached whale and not much else. If it wasn’t for the combination of a thunderstorm and some ice-cream, I may well have nodded off.

The Simpsons continues to hobble along being a mere ghost of it’s former self. Even the shows that supposedly outdid it are themselves falling into laziness (see below). The future beyond The Simpsons does not seem particularly bright as they are such a hard act to follow, here’s hoping FOX makes a decent choice.

Moving on to 8:30, we now have the Cleveland Show. For the previous decade, we were treated to a mild-mannered Texan and is cronies. Looking back, I should have been more appreciative of Mike Judge’s unique brand of humour. In between the launch of The Cleveland Show, were were treated to the severely underrated Sit Down, Shut Up. I’ve made my thoughts known before, but suffice to say, I believe SDSU was sorely needed in a full-time slot. Sadly, FOX didn’t agree.

The Cleveland Show as we all know is a spin-off from Family Guy, which pretty much says it all. Even though the humour is not near as pointed as it’s parent, it is still recognizable for the crass jokes and wacky neighbours. As a show it is funny enough, but the show that follows does not do it any favours.

Family Guy is the comeback king (well, almost, Futurama has to be the comeback king, seeing as it was even deader that Family Guy when it was resurrected a few years ago) and since its return has proven to be a strong ratings success. OK, sure the jokes have gotten even more borderline and the plots have evolved to the point where the characters have practically no, um, character.

When viewed immediately after Cleveland, the similarities are too easy to miss. Both shows together end up leaving me feeling like I wasted half an hour in there somewhere, even though I didn’t.

The best show doesn’t begin until 9:30. Even then, it falls far short of the Simpsons in their prime but that didn’t stop me praising the show a while back. I still stand by that post. Why? Well compared with Family Guy and The Cleveland Show, American Dad! is breath of fresh air. OK, the first season was pretty lame with its overbearing political slant, but since then the show has matured enough to the point that it’s half decent.

For me though, it’s on a bit late, the curse of having to get up at 6 every morning in order to hit the gym before work. This late timeslot also seems to render it the forgotten child in the promos during the earlier shows. In the grand scheme of things, it continues to survive, which I am grateful for.

Having said all the above, I do appreciate that FOX continues to have faith in animation and does continue to look for new shows with the aim of replacing ones as they inevitably peter out. It’s just that right now, the evening is filled with shows that are so desperately boring overall, that I would much rather watch any one of Hayao Miyazaki’s films for the 20th time.

FOX needs to realize that staying in a comfort zone for too long isn’t healthy. I understand that they can’t add more hours to the day, but with the overall shift to on-demand viewing, they could easily vary the schedule from week to week without any severe damage. I have hope for the future, but right now, I’m just one fan who would rather watch something else on a Sunday night.

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.

Animated Musical Films

Disney has done them since Snow White & The Seven Dwarfs, but are animated musical films outdated in the modern market? The answer is maybe.

Disney is often given huge amounts of credit for the renaissance that the company managed to go through in the late 80s and early 90s. Their success lay in not only excellent animation, relevant stories and rock-solid songwriting but also the acceptance of the movie-going public to the films in general, a pining perhaps, for the glory days. A further excuse could be baby-boomers rekindling their childhoods with Disney films, but I digress.

Musical films are as old as the hills and yet what makes them so ridiculous also attracts us to them. For instance, can you imagine in the middle of a decisive decision you instantly burst out in song? People would thing you’re nuts! Yet when it happens in the pictures, we go along with it.

Animation is perhaps in more need than live-action for song interludes. Showing a character’s emotions in animation occurs on a different level than a real, live person. Music has often been used as a way to express such emotions without all the extra work involved in animating the character’s movements.

Disney has long been recognized as the leader of the genre. It’s films have had far more success than any competitor. However, as we all know, their fortunes took a bit of a dive towards the end of the 90s and ended altogether with the release of Home on the Range.

So it was today, while reading the Facebook wall of a friend that got me wondering. Does the animated musical film stand a chance today? I have not seen the Princess & the Frog yet, so I can’t account for that film, but if the critics are anything to go by (yeah, I still don’t like them) the songs were just OK.

My point is that after 15 years of Pixar-inspired CGI dominance, where the films have very little, if any, songs, is the public still as receptive to them as the once were? I would hope so. The classic Disney films are still fantastic in their own right. Many people remember the songs from Aladdin, Beauty & the Beast and the Little Mermaid among others.

Of course all three of those movies share a common element in Howard Ashman, the songwriter behind the majority of those songs in conjunction with Alan Menken. Not to say that a hit songwriter is what we need, far from it. The public has to become more open to the idea of such films. The initial trailer for the Princess and the Frog alluded to as much, it was just the film itself that didn’t exactly keep the fire going.

With the revival of traditional feature animation at the Walt Disney Company we are quite likely to see more musical films in the future. I just hope that they are of a high-enough standard to make people realize what makes them so great.

Animation Art: A Review Of The Book That Changed My Life

OK, perhaps that’s a bit of an exaggeration. It didn’t so much change my life as pop up in a pretty unusual place (a Borders in Bowie, Maryland). I like to think that a certain amount of fate was involved with that occasion.

I’m not a writer. In fact if you’ve read anything at all on this blog, it should be fairly obvious that my writing skills are, I suppose, not very good. I was a perennial ‘C’ student in English throughout school, except that one essay I wrote on Sylvia Plath. Where my vitriol managed to impress the teacher enough to earn me a very rare ‘B’.

I therefore have a lot of respect for people who write books. Not necessarily fiction mind you, that’s a skill in and of itself. I’m talking about non-fiction, in particular the type of book that covers a wide range of topics and time periods but depends on a bit of commentary to keep everything flowing along.

It should come as no surprise that I thoroughly enjoy the book pictured above. Edited by the supremely capable Jerry Beck and with a variety of contributors ranging from Chris Robinson to Mark Mayerson, Animation Art is a fantastic tome on the artform that is animation.

The book itself is filled with plenty of pictures, but of course, that is only part of the story. The text itself is a joy to read. It never preaches and is organized on a two-page spread layout, i.e. every two pages is a different topic, and there are a lot of topics.

As explained on the cover, the book covers “From Pencil to Pixel, the World of Cartoon, Anime, and CGI”. With animation having been around for almost a century, that’s a pretty tall order, which I am pleased to say the book delivers on. Literally everything is covered at some point, from George Pal’s Puppetoons, to the first animation made in Japan, to the wobbles Disney went through in the 1970s, from Hanna-Barbera to The Powerpuff Girls and so on.

Amazon is listing a delivery date of about several months down the line. In my opinion, this is a book that is well worth the wait, especially if you are not as well versed in the background of animation as you would like. Even now, five years later, I continue to thumb through it fairly regularly.

Now I enjoy a lot of things in life, like Gaelic football, In The Mood: The Best of the Big Bands with Ken Jackson and of course, that feeling at 5 o’clock on a Friday evening. This book, in a way, confirmed for me that animation really is a passion of mine and after reading it, I felt renewed enthusiasm for the artform. Since then, I’ve joined ASIFA-East and have met many, many fine animators in addition to the usual famous faces.

After all that, I can safely say that the 1 to 3 month wait for shipping on Amazon.com is well worth it. No other book is put together as beautifully or with the passion that the writers and editor have for the artform.

Pixar and Sequels: A Mixed Bag

I admire Pixar and all they’ve done over the last 15 years or so. They really do deserve all the success they’ve earned. They practically revived the animation artform and movies in general with their unique (and oft-copied) form of film that’s universally acceptable for kids with enough adult humour thrown in there to keep adults entertained.

However, I find it somewhat deplorable that their resolve is gradually weakening in relation to sequels. Toy Story 2 was a bit of a one-off, where the Pixar guys became disheartened at the prospect of what was to be a straight-to-video cheapquel and decided to redo the entire thing properly.

Since then however, we have heard announcements of a “Monsters Inc. 2” and “Cars 2” and, God help us all, an Incredibles 2 (although my faith in Brad Bird remains strong until I see something concrete). I particularly hate sequels. Not only do they stifle creativity (in fairness though, Hollywood, for the most part hasn’t put out something really creative in a long, long time) and inevitably ruin the spirit of the original. The only exception I make is if the film is part of a trilogy and such a trilogy is outlined before the first movie is released.

Pixar has a proven track record of releasing hit after hit. Why do they feel the need to go back and revisit old stuff? They employ perhaps the most talented and creative team ever assembled and I find it very hard to believe they are running out of steam after 15 years.

The vast majority of sequels are made with an eye on the bottom line. Sequels already have market recognition, and, if the original did well, the sequel likely will too (Evan Almighty is an exception, but then that was also just a bad movie). That’s why studios love them, they remove the fear of the unknown. Yet it is that unknown quantity that make movies so successful in the first place!

I’m sure that when the above mentioned movies come out they will do fantastically well and all, but I just can’t help but feel that with each one, Pixar dies a little on the inside.

Spendthrift DVDs

DVDs are perhaps the best thing to ever happen to home video since the invention of, home video! Fancy that. Besides offering a resolution far beyond that of VHS (side note, what does CHS stand for? Hint: It’s not “Video Home System” The answer is at the bottom, no cheating!)

Besides that, DVD meant that extras could be included, such  as director commentaries and the now-ubiquitous “making of” documentary. All of these have had the effect of increasing the viewing experience. Animation-wise, this has meant the inclusion of animatics, pencil tests, character sketches and even side-by-side comparisons!

All of these things are taken for granted now, which makes it all the more ridiculous to hear that studios are removing extras from DVDs to encourage people to buy the Blu Ray discs instead. Now granted, we’ve already heard of this kind of thing happening to rental discs, but for regular DVDs? They’re having a laugh.

I can’t recall any good examples at the moment, but it’s slightly encouraging to see studios package DVD/Blu Ray combo packs, which should ease the pain of upgrading. The simple solution is to buy a Blu Ray player and hook it up to a regular TV, of course some players don’t allow that.

DVD is not going away anytime soon, certainly not as quickly as VHS disappeared. For plenty of people, the difference simply isn’t worth going out and spending a couple of grand on a new TV and player, complete with surround sound system.

Removing features will do nothing to increase the uptake of Blu Ray. And when you think about it, Blu Ray may be eclipsed by streaming anyway, where extras can be watched at will.

OK, a bit of a sloppy post I know, but it’s Friday and I’m about to run out the door. Did you guess the answer? It’s