Animation – Why Should we Care?

I love animation. From a young age I grew up on Disney movies and the odd Don Bluth film (specifically ‘An American Tail’ and ‘The Land Before Time’). I grew up outside the US, in Germany, where American cartoons were rare, and not even having an antenna made it even harder to watch anything besides the videos my grandmother sent us. Videos with recordings of American cartoons. From these I watched Spiderman, X-Men, Batman (this one in particular got me in trouble a few times – more on the topic to follow), Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Gargoyles and even the Simpsons. There were other shows that I watched, Power Rangers and Beetleborgs to name a couple, but I always loved the cartoons, and lamented the fact that I never saw anything other than those episodes that grandma recorded, or the VHS tapes she bought for us.

Maybe a lack of exposure in my early childhood has allowed me to keep the fascination I have for animation? Possibly, but I hope that isn’t the only reason. Animation has plenty of merits besides nostalgic value, even if a large number of series are remembered purely because of this.

So why do I care so much about animation? A main factor is the potential it holds. So far in the west all we’ve seen as of late are humor themed cartoons, when the art of animation could be used for so much more. Humor is of course great in any story, but there is so much potential for other types of story telling, from dramatic to action. I like fantasy movies, unfortunately it takes a big budget to make such movies look as good as the Lord of the Rings. With animation it costs no more to make a fantasy themed movie or show than it does to make any other animation of equal quality.

Unfortunately for some reason too much western animation seems to be either developing atrocious looking art styles, or hasn’t improved since the sixties. A good example of this would be the Dragon Lance movie. I watched it, hopeful that I’d get a faithful adaptation to a book I quite enjoyed. What I got instead was the laziest job of animation that would have looked better if they’d just let the monkeys with the typewriters they used to write the script do the animation as well. The art style harked back to the style of the G.I. Joe and He-Man cartoons. And the animation quality was about the same. Actually, I think it might have been choppier.

Then we come into the use of CGI. I don’t mind CGI; in fact I love the Pixar movies. Problem? When you try to mix it with traditional 2-D animation, and do a bad job of it. I could go on about the lousy CGI dragons in the Dragon Lance movie, but I think we’ve suffered enough.

Sadly enough––when you get down to it––despite the fact that Disney fired the monkeys…I mean writing staff… and replaced them with baboons, they still have the best animation out there. Of course cost is always an issue, but I’ve seen amateur animation online that is better than what any non-Disney American animation studio out there produces.

Which brings us to anime. I love anime, the Japanese know how to take animation seriously and utilize it’s full potential. Anyone that has seen Cowboy Bebop can’t even begin to claim that it’s a childish cartoon show. Nor could they say that it’s nothing but a smut filled crap shot that adult oriented animation in the west has become. “Hey look, we can make our doodles say ‘Ass’.” Yes…let us leave it at that.

Anime is especially enjoyable because it isn’t stuck to a single genre. Where American cartoons seem to be stuck on comedy—with the quality setting set to juvenile—Anime knows how to not only mix intense action scenes and drama with comedy and slapstick humor, but has actually produced shows with moments that can bring me to tears. I had to try really hard not to cry during Hughes’ funeral in Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood. Now I ask you, when was the last time Spongebob made you cry? And I don’t accept tears of frustration. Has any western cartoon actually brought you to tears because of the emotion of the scene? Have they fleshed out the characters, suspended your belief long enough to make you think, “Is this really happening? Or are we going to get another cheap happy ending tacked on?”

Don’t get me wrong, I like happy endings, but it it’s no good unless we not only feel that the characters have deserved it, but that we as the viewers have deserved it. For example, ‘An American Tail’. By the time Fivel finally reunites with his family, not only has he deserved it, but we’ve been with him the whole way. We cried for that little mouse every time he thought he’d found his family but was proven wrong. We screamed every time he just barely missed them. By the time that movie is over, we were so emotionally invested in the character and his pain that we knew we deserved that happy ending.

Of course many of the issues with animation nowadays revolve around the shoddy writing. Seeing as I’m a writer not an artist, you can expect plenty of commentary on the writing. Of course I plan on reviewing more than just animation, but everything I review will have writing of some kind or another. But, to start things off, I’ll be focusing on animation.

Ultimately, I intend to endorse, and bring animation to the forefront of the public’s eye as a valid source of entertainment.

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