Monday, December 19, 2011

Can anything be too animated?

I have always always loved watching cartoons. The Road runner outwitting the Coyote, Tweety bird escaping from hungry Sylvester and Tom thwacking Jerry are some of my earliest memories of televised animation. My father used to record VCR tapes of the stuff for us when he lived abroad bringing us back a fresh quota each time he came to visit. I distinctly remember going to watch Yogi Bear at Chanakya cinema as a child and of crying great fat tears the afternoon I watched Dumbo on our TV/VCR.

After the awesome Lion King, on the cusp of adulthood, there came Finding Nemo, both path breaking mainstream films in their own times and right. Now here was a different league of animation from the jerkily hand drawn images of my childhood, animation as I had never imagined it before - fluid, sleek and ever so beautiful - mesmerising. I watched Finding Nemo again and again and again, at the cinema and then on DVD, never tiring of the storyline, the cresendo of music, the humour and accents of fish, always silently rooting for the father to find his child. The beauty lay in the subtle subtext; for while Marlin roams the Great Barrier reef looking for Nemo it was a journey of discovery - for him to take risks and overcome obstacles  - and to allow Nemo to take care of himself. A beautiful film if ever I saw one.

Of course then there was a spate and you always had the choice of watching something animated at the cinema. From the sequels of Shrek to many parts of Toy Story, the roaring of Cars to the super powers of the Incredibles there was movie after movie to choose from. Along the way I stopped watching any TV animation.

Of course the arrival of the Child has meant a re-introduction to the animated world. And even though he is only little and his TV is rationed for eye saving and in favour of physical games, I do let him watch animated series such as Peppa Pig and Thomas the Tank Engine. These are both British creations with cult followings and merchandising that could seriously harm the pocket. Thomas the Tank engine is, as the name suggests, about an engine. He is blue, his number is 1 and he lives on a mythical island where he and his other engine friend have 'adventures'. Peppa is a very pink pig whose daily life provides much entertainment with her family and many animal friends. Thomas the animated series has had many iteration and technological advancements over the years, going from stills of actual and very basic animated train models and a single person doing all the voices to a slick animated version very much computer generated.

The wierd thing is that my child always seemed to prefer this older version of Thomas and the line drawings of Peppa (though animated, very simple drawings) to teh slicker more modern versions. I would always be met with resistance at other TV animation such as Jungle Junction or Mickey Mouse Clubhouse (except for the opening songs because bopping around to a tune is his thing!) and it recently made me think about it. I too prefer the more basic animation than the 3D experience and the very 'plastic' quality of some animation. I have come to the conclusion that some of the modern day animation is so detailed that he cannot fathom, compress and process all that information in so short a time. The simpler drawings/ models and gentler, slower pace of the voiceovers is more attractive to him, much easier to compute as he makes sense of the world around him.

With animated movies and TV series being big business technology is pushing every known boundary in the arena. It's very very exciting and I can't even imagine what the next level of animation will be. And while I am all for better and sleeker animation I do wonder at what point does animated become so animated that it loses that basic quality of animation, the edge of belief in a character and become so plastic in a way that makes one lose interest? This is a rhetorical question - and just my very small opinion. I guess I (and my son) have catching up to do.

In the words of Bruce:
'I am a nice shark, not a mindless eating machine. If I am to change this image, I must first change myself. Fish are friends, not food.'

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