I'll start by saying hello! It's been almost a month since I last posted here, so I was trying to come up with something to post about. This is a concept that's been sort of floating around my head for a while now, but I also have no plan as I write this so - be prepared.
• Why Animation is Getting Harder to Judge
Essentially, what I can't stop thinking about is this: Does Good Animation mean anything anymore? Let me explain. I watch most animated movies, even if I think they look bad, because I'm aggressively interested in the genre as a whole and basically all movies for that matter. This sort of question has been surfacing for me since I watched Frozen 2, but it just keeps popping into my head now as I see more new animated films. I've shared before that I'm not the hugest fan of Frozen 2, I even did a whole ranking review of it here. And, despite not really liking, well, anything about the movie, I ended up scoring it higher than I might have based on plot alone because.. it looks like this.
And while that's great and all, it's made me start to question something as 3d Animation becomes more and more "mainstream". Not to say it hasn't been for a while now, but when everything started becoming 3d, that wasn't to say all the films animation was on par with one another. Shrek (2001, Dreamworks) looks a thousand times better than Chicken Little (2005, Disney) could ever dream to. But Shark Tale (2004, Dreamworks) looks way worse than A Bug's Life (1998, Pixar/Disney). Different years, different companies, different quality in terms of animation.
The original Toy Story (1995) really started the desperate switch over to computer animation. See, at the time, Disney's main competitor was Pixar, as they didn't own them then. So think about it - in 1995, Pixar released their very first theatrical film, and the first ever 3d animated full length film. And it's a humongous success. Totally unrelated, Disney is floundering in 1995. Do you know the movies Disney released in 1995? Pocahontas? A Goofy Movie? A horrendous skew of live action failures like "Man of the House"?? (Which has 14% on Rotten Tomatoes by the way..)
Now if we're all being honest here, we'd know that Disney was bombing that year because the movies they released were, well, sub-par. But from Disney's standpoint, they were just being outshone by the cooler, newer company and their revolutionary technology. (Seeing the Toy Story comparison here anyone?) So what does Disney do? They hop on the bandwagon and start making 3d animated movies themselves. (I'd like to clarify I'm well aware Disney had been using computer technology to create certain aspects and to digitally color assets in their films using CAPS since The Rescuer's Down Under, Beauty and the Beast, The Great Mouse Detective, Etc, so please do not attack me for my false information. I'm exclusively referencing FULLY computer animated films. Do not question me on my random animated film knowledge.)
But really, computer animation wasn't the issue, and Disney really didn't know what they were doing when it came to this new technology, so their first few films using the technique weren't so great. Chicken Little is kind of horrible to look at, I'm a bit enchanted by the awfulness that is that movie, so I'll rewatch it now and again and I swear every time I'll find a new object that is just sitting there, nearly un-rendered. It definitely didn't look as good as Toy Story. And while Toy Story looked amazing at the time, we've since seen improvement in the technology since then. There's a big difference between Toy Story 1 Andy and Toy Story 4 Andy. Like, a BIG difference.
(On a side tangent that may seem to undermine my main tangent, what is everybody's problem with the new Andy?? I'm unhealthily committed to the original Big 3 Toy Story Franchise, and am spending this whole post digging on new animation, but even I have no issues here. He looks better?? Please explain this argument to me. Same with that ugly guy Violet likes in The Incredibles why aren't you happy THEY FIXED IT.)
And this is really where I'm getting to my main point.
The difference between the Animation in Toy Story and Toy Story 4 is Big. Even the difference between Toy Story 1 and 2 is big. The difference between Tangled and Moana is big. The difference between a 3d animated film from Disney and one from Blue Sky was big. The difference between Monster's Inc and Jimmy Neutron is big, and they both came out 2001. There were a million factors contributing to the overall quality of 3d animation back then, the money, the technology, the artists involved. There were moments where 3d animation looked incredible and times where it looked like a nightmare. In comparison to all the many tragically animated scenes, how easy it was to make 3d animation head right into the uncanny valley, 3d animated films that looked good seemed to look really good. It was exciting! With time came new technology, and with new technology came new visuals.
Now I'm not trying to suggest that new technology isn't still being made. Pixar invented entirely new ways of animating hair just so Violet could use a blow dryer on hers in The Incredibles 2. What I am saying though, is that it is becoming unseen by the normal eye.
There is no huge visual difference between Frozen 2 and Raya and the Last Dragon, in my opinion. They both look good. Great, even. But there's not a discernible change in quality. Okay, so those movies were from the same company, it's true. Both movies had big budgets and all the new technology at their disposal. Of course they looked equally as good. But there is also no huge visual difference between Raya, a film made by the most prominent animation company, and Over the Moon, which came out a year earlier, and was THE FIRST EVER full length film made by "Glen Keane Productions". They look the same. They're both equal in quality.
This is kind of a huge deal. And there are good and bad side effects of this. I guess the good part is that almost every animated movie you will find now looks good. Even prior to the switch to 3d, quality of animation seemed to differ based on the prominence of the company behind it. You tell me, what looks better? Anastasia (Don Bluth Company, 1997) or Beauty and the Beast (Disney, 1991)? I'm not trying to discredit Don Bluth in the slightest, even though I think a lot of his movies were kinda bad, he was doing something pretty big at the time by standing up to Disney and making his own animation studio. (Plus, he's trying to bring back 2d animation, so we love him in this household.) But at the end of the day, Don Bluth movies were not Disney movies. Now, a new company can in theory create a film that looks equally as good as a movie from a big company. This seems like a good thing. But I'm starting to find it almost like an excuse for a bad movie. Let me explain..
Why do I take issue with all new movies looking good? Shouldn't that be a good thing? I mean it is. I can't deny that. It is a good thing that animation is becoming better and better. Possibly even taken more and more seriously as it does. But at the same time, I'm finding this new animation being used to promote a movie as instantly "good". At a time, this was an acceptable way to present an animated movie. I don't think The Good Dinosaur is a good movie in the slightest, it's actually a pretty bad film.. but even just a few years ago in 2015, I had to give the movie props for looking so amazing and realistic (at least in terms of the scenery). And that's because then, in 2015, it was the most realistic leaves, water, and basically all other nature I had seen in a 3d animated movie. So giving it higher marks for cool animation felt reasonable.
But now - it's become so clear that making an animated film look incredible is, well, somewhat easy for these companies. Not to say animating is easy, but I think you know what I mean; it's easy for these companies to produce an animated film which looks good, just as good as the other movies at the time. In which case, when EVERY movie looks good, I can't find myself liking a movie more because it looks good. They all look good. When watching newer animated movies, those which we overall don't enjoy, I find myself and those watching with me saying something like "at least it looks pretty!" or "It's animated beautifully though." As a response to mentioning that the movie itself isn't good. This is my main point, what's bothering me about the good animation of late. Not inherently that it's all good, because at some point, we will have invented all the animation technology we ever will, and there will never be improvement again. And you can't hate a movie for looking good. But you also can't like it just for looking good IF every other movie also looks good.
I really like Meet the Robinsons, it's a personal favorite of mine, and I know looking back on it it looks pretty trashy, but I like it for the story and the aggressive Walt Disney quotes. I don't really like Moana for the plot all that much, but it looks very pretty, and Moana is pretty, so I find myself liking it more than I would have if it looked like Meet the Robinsons. Both these movies have good and bad qualities, and I feel like I can look at the animation as one of those qualities to judge the movie off of. But with a movie like Raya (which I also didn't really like, whoops) I can't like it better because the animation looks good. As animation grows stagnant, as all movies look equally as good, I can no longer hold up good animation as a reason to like the movie. Because no matter what the movie is, the animation WILL look good. It's no longer impressive to me to have good animation. It's too mainstream now.
This bothers me because I feel like recent movies aren't realizing this. They still think they can improve the way their film is looked at by having good animation. And I say that because so many recent animated movies are just very lack luster. It feels like they're trying to ride on the Animation. And while there was a time in which I'd say a 3d movie could attempt this, the time has passed. When every movie looks good, you can't expect a movie to be enjoyed because it looks good. It means that I'm becoming even more hard to please with animated movies, because it's no longer possible to enjoy it simply because it looks good. It has to pull through in all the other aspects (which should be the forefront of a movie to begin with) like the plot, characters, and music.
I think that's why recently, the only animation that seems to impress me, and seemingly others, is animation that looks "different". I mean just think about how big of a deal Into The Spiderverse was. ITSV looks incredible. And so does Frozen 2. But ITSV feels more incredible because it's different, because the style doesn't remind you of every animated movie before it. You can actually judge the movie based off of it's animation. I didn't like Frozen 2 even though it looks good. And even though ITSV is perfect in every regard, I'd still like it to some degree if the ONLY good part about it was the animation. Because it's new and unique and that makes it impressive. It's why we're seeing a tiny bump up back into 2d animation, because now IT is what feels different and unique in comparison to all the 3d movies, instead of the other way around. People didn't get excited about computer animation because it inherently looked better than all 2d animation. One of Pixar's first shorts, Tin Toy, absolutely DOES NOT look anywhere near as good as The Lion King. But there was so much potential in the new. And that's what made it exciting.
I know this post is kind of one big rambling rant. But it's something that just keeps Crossing my mind recently and I wanted to attempt to put it into words. I'm not sure it makes any sense or even has a point, but maybe you'll understand what I mean. It's less about what animated movies are doing, and more about how I'm perceiving them. Maybe I'm in the wrong for becoming disenchanted by beautiful animation. It has so much hard work behind it I know, and it's personally the art form that amazes me the most. It basically always has been. So really, it could be on me.
I think it's important to remember to look behind the scenes of a movie, and realize what all went into it. But I also believe it's important NOT to judge a movie by what it went through, and exclusively by the end product. I do a lot of research on movies, so I'll find myself being swayed by certain things. "Yes the movie isn't good, but it had a rough creation process, so that's why." or "Yes the movie is good, but along the way they scrapped a better version and now I'm salty." Which is why I try to not let myself do that, to put all the extra information out and just focus on the movie I'm being presented with, because at the end of the day, that's all the movie is. It doesn't matter what was cut because it's no longer there. So I guess from that viewpoint, it doesn't matter that a lot of work is going into the animation, if the movie itself isn't good. But then again, how can I discredit an artist because they're good, just because other artists are good to? I don't know where I stand on this point, I guess. I'm not trying to present a sound opinion here. It's just something to think about, if you're open to overthinking animation constantly, like me.
Did this make sense? Probably not. Do I still wanna know what you guys think about this topic? Definitely yes. Feel free to comment below if you have something to say about this! And also a question for an upcoming post, I'd like to know if you agree with me about this statement:
- Jeffrey Katzenburg was "wrong" for leaving Disney to start Dreamworks, but Don Bluth was "right" for doing the same thing. (This is the idea for my next blog post.. I wanna talk about why I feel this way, and so do a lot of others, but I'd also like to know your thoughts on this..)
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