Laurelin's Light

Random Thoughts from a Confessed Film Snob

01 March 2006

The Sad State of Digital Animation

Update: Links to trailers have been added to each films's name so you can see for yourselves just what has gotten me so depressed.

Over the last five years, most major animation studios have abandoned traditional ink-and-paint animation to produce films which are digitally animated. The reasoning behind this is the belief that audiences don't want to watch hand drawn animation anymore, but prefer the new "realistic" digital method. The truth is that audiences want to watch good, interesting stories. That is why they avoid ink-and-paint movies like "Home on the Range," "Treasure Planet" and "Jungle Book 2" and why they flock to animated films like "Toy Story," "Finding Nemo" and "The Incredibles." It is not the style of animation that attracts people, it is the story which is being animated.

But when studios made the switch to digital, all they did was change the style without improving the substance. It's worth noting that even though more than half of the animated films released last year were digital, not one was nominated for an animation Oscar (the nominees are "Howl's Moving Castle" which is ink-and-paint, and "Corpse Bride" and "Wallace and Gromit," which are both stop-motion).

Which brings us to the current slate of upcoming digital pictures. There are at least eleven digitally animated pictures coming out this year and they all seem to have three things in common:

1) They are mostly all fish-out-of-water stories
2) they are almost all about talking animals
3) most look entirely forgettable

I have nothing against talking animal movies - in fact I think that "Finding Nemo" is a work of genius - but out of ten movies which were deemed worthy of production, there was only one idea more original than that?
(You'll notice that none of those Oscar noms feature talking animals either.)

Here below is a list of the ten digital movies coming your way this year and my first impressions from what I have seen so far.

Doogal - This one is already in theatres and given it’s initial box office take, you probably didn’t see it. Don’t even bother. (It’s Rotten Tomatoes rating is currently 6%.)

Flushed Away – This movie makes me sad. I had high hopes when I head of it, since it is being produced by Aardman, the studio behind “Chicken Run” and “Wallace and Gromit.” But instead of using Aardman’s trademark stop-motion animation, this is digitally animated, which means much less time (and love) went into crafting it. It looks like a pretty predictable story with ho-hum humor. The two biggest things it has going against it are the fact that Nick Park (the writer/director of “Chicken Run” and “Wallace and Gromit”) is not involved at all and the fact that it is being produced along with Dreamworks Studio, which is also putting out this:

Over the Hedge - Dreamworks' latest offering, about forest animals trying to survive in suburbia. Full of unoriginal and unfunny gags. A sampling from the trailer:

A squirrel asks a raccoon: "Want to see what I do with my nuts?"
A skunk spraying is represented by a mushroom cloud on a globe.
A possum (voiced by William Shatner) gasping "Rosebud" before "dying."
A turtle telling the raccoon: "You're the devil"

Happy Feet - This movie about singing and dancing penguins at least has an original premise. It may turn out to be a piece of inspired madness or it might just turn out to be a train wreck. Directed by George Miller, who is best known for the Mad Max movies, but who also helmed the gem "Babe II: Pig in the City."

Ice Age 2 – Sadly, this may be one of the better animated films to come out this year. The first was cute, but entirely predictable and by-the-numbers. I expect about the same from this one.

Open Season – A bear raised as a pet is brought back to the forest by a deer. The voices are provided by Aston Kutcher and Martin Lawrence and the humor is pretty much what you would expect from these two.

Barnyardabout cows who stand up on two legs and talk when people aren’t looking. From the director of “Ace Ventura 2.”

The Ant BullyA boy who terrorizes ants is reduced to their size and they get revenge. From the director of “Santa vs. the Snowman.”

The Wild - Disney's follow-up to the uninspired "Chicken Little" (yet another talking animal flick) is a "Madagascar" rip-off. A group of animals break out of the zoo and head back to where they came from. "Madagascar" wasn't even worth seeing, let alone copying.

Monster House – This one at least, is not about talking animals. This is a horror picture for kids about a house which is alive and the three children who fight back against it. I could be wrong, but this like pretty standard fare. Also, the animation looks ugly. Animating humans digitally is very hard and no one has done it convincingly yet except for Pixar in last year’s “The Incredibles.”

Cars – Riding to the rescue is the newest picture from Pixar Animation Studios, which is the one digital film NOT about animals. “Cars” is written and directed by John Lasseter who also created the two “Toy Story” movies and without having seen any of the above films this is already my pick for next year’s Best Animated Film. Why? Because the people at Pixar care about creating stories, not just about selling movies. That is why they have won more animation awards in the last ten years than any other studio. Out of the six features which they have produced only one (“A Bug’s Life”) has been mediocre; all of the others have been absolutely brilliant.

But more than just providing us with this year’s one original animated film, Lasseter and Pixar are now positioned to help change the entire landscape of animated films. More on that in a future article.


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