It’s All About the Story

I thought before I posted my review of Toy Story I would comment a little bit on the big hand drawn vs CG debate.  Some in the blogosphere have put hand drawn animation on a bit of a pedestal bemoaning its reduction.  People will paint hand drawn in very glorious pictures and CG as its ugly tyrannical cousin.

I’m sorry I just don’t buy it.  Whether stop motion, 2D, 3D, CG or whatever else it all comes down to the story.  As last years Rocks in My Pockets showed you can have sketches, doodles and with the right kind of execution and story it will be compelling.

Toy Story, Up, Incredibles, Ratatouille, Wall-e, Lego Movie, are not masterpieces because of the animation.  It is the story. It is always the story.  Same with the Lion King, Beauty and the Beast, Pinocchio, Cinderella, Spirited Away etc.  The stories are amazing; thereby making the movie something that will last forever.  Occasionally you will have an artistic film like Fantasia that tries something new- mainly presenting a concert in the form of an animated movie.  In that case the story takes second fiddle to the art but it is the exception rather than the rule.

Still got 2D on that pedestal? Well think for a second that hand drawn animation gave us this little gem…

But I won’t be too defensive about CG either because it gave us this monstrosity.

But hand drawn can give us this glorious, emotional scene

CG can provide us with this.  For my money one of the greatest scenes ever in any film, animated or not.

If that doesn’t convince you both mediums are capable of great artistry and dreck than I don’t know what will.  I am an equal opportunity animation format lover.  I love great CG animation.  I love great 2D animation.  I love great stop motion animation.  I love great live action movies.  But in the end it all comes down to the story (I’ll say it a million times).

And I just have to believe in a world where an entire studio makes stop motion films- one of the hardest most laborious types of filmmaking there is, we will always be a space for 2D animation.  It just might not be from the big 2 (currently Disney and Dreamworks) and you know what? That’s fine with me.  (I can just hear some of you shouting at the screen). If the only 2D films we get are masterpieces like Song of the Sea from small studios in Europe sign me up.

I really see a 2D studio in the states starting up like Laika and putting out low budget films with an old school feel.   If that happens all it takes is for one of these studios to score a big hit with their 2D project and the bigger studios will take interest.  Even if it is smaller vanity projects I just don’t believe 2D is dead.  Check out Over the Garden Wall which was a stunning miniseries last year.  Watch the Simpsons which despite what some think has gotten artistically more interesting in the last few years.  Watch Song of the Sea, or this year we have When Marnie was There or The Prophet coming out.  We also will get Shaun the Sheep from the Aardman stop motion folks.  As I see it the world of animation is as rich and diverse as it has ever been.  Last year we had 20 animated films. 20!  I remember when we were lucky to get 2.  And really how great to not just get the big voices but a wide range of artists using different mediums that help them tell their stories.  I know I’m in the minority but I feel very optimistic.

But I digress.  My main point is I am not going to defend CG or its dominance in these Pixar reviews because I fundamentally don’t think it is a bad thing. I would put the animation in Ratatouille or Wall-e up against anything in the Disney Renaissance.  I really would.

But like I said, in the end CG, 2D, stop motion, live action whatever it might be the story trumps all.  Last year there was a movie about a man sitting in a car talking on his phone for 2 hours called Locke and I was completely immersed because it was a good story.

If you like 2D better that is awesome.  We all have our artistic preferences but just make sure you aren’t seeing it through rose tinted glasses nostalgia can provide.  It’s great.  I love it but I also remember the 70’s and 80s when the good animated films could be counted on one hand and we waited years to get them and that was a 2D world! Give me the last 20 years over that 20 any day CG and all.

Anyway, I am certainly grateful for the new tools Pixar gave us and the incredible stories CG animation has told. Because they are special, life changing stories however they might come to fruition in an artists hands.

So let’s enjoy these masterpieces and get started talking about what started it all for CG Toy Story!


28 thoughts on “It’s All About the Story

  1. It’s not just about the story. It is important, but animation is so much more. It’s artistry.

    Now, I don’t dislike CGI. I think that it has something to offer what Traditional animation can’t provide. But there is always a lot it can’t do but Traditional animation can. And yes, I bemoan that CGI lowered the number of Traditional animated productions considerably. Movies like “Song of the Sea” give me hope, but it is nevertheless a shame that the studio which practically invented this particular form of animation is not doing it any longer. I am not saying that they shouldn’t do CGI. I say that they should do both. And if none of the big studios is doing traditional animation, it is difficult to create a movie with the budget necessary for something truly ground-breaking.

    1. It’s certainly a valid point of view. Thanks! I would be fine with them doing both but like I said if it stays in the hands of smaller studios and for television that’s enough for me. Something like Over the Garden Wall was gorgeous last year and I assume done on a small budget. What I see happening is a studio like Laika will develp for 2D that will make it their niche.
      But I still say whether 2D, 3D, CG or not if the story isn’t good I’m not going to like the movie. If it is good I’ll forgive a world of animation problems. Every once in while there will be a Fantasia that is valuable as a piece of art and not really a story but it is the exception.
      I like 2D. I really do but if I was going to make a list of the most artistically beautiful animated films probably half would be CG. So to me it always comes down to the story. Thats just what makes sense to me but I respect your feelings too. Thanks for commenting

      1. “The Adventures of Prince Achmed” (stop motion, but still), “A Nightmare before Christmas” (also Stop motion), “Fantasia”, “Sleeping Beauty”, “Song of the Sea”, “Spirited Away”, “Paprika”, “Pocahontas” (which is truthfully not a good movie otherwise, but the animation is a reason for me to watch it from time to time), just to mention a few on the top of my mind. CGI? Well, I guess the Incredibles, Tangled and Big Hero 6 have some things going for them, and I dig the designs in “Rise of the Guardians”, but that’s it.

      2. You really wouldn’t have Wall-e and Ratatouille on your list? No Up? I think they are artistic masterpieces. To each their own.
        A lot of that is personal preference as I actually don’t care for the boxy animation in Pocahontas. To me it isn’t very pleasant to look at. But beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
        But I just see a world of animation where we are getting great variety in artistry, style and story. To me it is exciting to have Over the Garden Wall or the recent Mickey Mouse tv show both which have won emmy’s and are gorgeous 2D. Tale of Princess Kaguya, Song of the Sea were gorgeous storytelling and were recognized for it. I guess I just don’t see the big 2 not doing big 2D films as a real tragedy.
        But in the end for me it does all come down to the story. It really does. You could have stick drawings and if the story is good than that’s what matters to me.

      3. No, I wouldn’t. Creating something which looks as realistic as possible is not artistry to me. And that is all what is there to the movie…well, Wall-E might be the exception, there are some additional thoughts in it due to the setting, but nothing which particularly stands out to me.
        They are good movies, but artistic masterpieces, no, not by a long shot. And I think the reason why there is more artistic in the Disney movies is because there are a lot of animators who started out in traditional animation who worked on those movies.

      4. Interesting. I definitely disagree but that’s art for you!

      5. I can see your point of view though and how you look at art.
        if I was going on just artistry I would include as my favorites Sleeping Beauty, Fantasia, Alice in Wonderland, Beauty and the Beast, Little Mermaid, Lion King, Up, Wall-e, Ratatouille, Book of Life, Song of the Sea, Spirited Away, Princess Mononoke, Ponyo and Prince of Egypt, Tale of Princess Kaguya, Persepolis, Watership Down, Corpse Bride, Tarzan would probably be my top 20 (in no particular order). I guess I grew up in a home of professional photographers so the realism as art often takes my breath away. But art is completely subjective.

        I love 2D. Don’t get me wrong. I just don’t have a preference for it and I still feel like I get enough of it to be happy. If it was truly gone. There would be no more TV shows. No more movies ever than that would be sad but just the big 2 not doing it I don’t think is the end but I guess we could go all day on it. That’s my point of view. Thanks for sharing yours!

  2. I definitely agree with you: all kinds of animation can make something good.

    It reminds me of when Doug Walker was reviewing Disney films and wondering why Tangled did better than The Princess and the Frog: his theory was that these days, people have a belief that 3D animated films are fun for all ages while 2D animation is mostly for kids. That could be true, though I don’t think the development of stories and animation is necessarily connected in the modern era: these days, filmmakers just happen to be using 3D animation in more feature films, while at the same time, setting out to make their stories more marketable to all ages.

    1. That’s very interesting. My initial reaction is that 2D have become more adult with anime and films like Song of the Sea having more of an adult feel about them but then there are Spongebob, Arthur 2D shows that are meant for kids.

      I know Doug feels differently but I think Tangled made more money than Princess and the Frog because it is a much better movie. Again getting back to the story the Frog story is convoluted and cluttered where Tangled is focused and a traditional fairytale. Tangled also made an attempt to appeal to boys which Frog doesnt do so that made a difference. Don’t get me wrong I don’t think Princess and the Frog is bad but despite being beautiful the story wasnt that great. It’s actually a great example to prove my point. What Pixar did great for so long was tell powerful stories. It’s the John Lasseter way. Of late the artistry has remained great but the stories not as good and the movies have suffered. It’s interesting.
      I’m really curious to see where animation takes us in the future because to me it is very exciting!

      1. Certainly there’s plenty of adult 2D animation out there – there was an animated series based on the Spawn comics which was extremely violent; I expect the reputation that Doug describes stems from earlier Disney and the TV cartoons that you mentioned.

        I agree that Tangled is the better film, though sadly box office does not always reflect quality.

      2. That is definitely true as we saw with the recent Home success.
        I think Strange Magic is an interesting example. It’s beautiful but the story is so cliched and the script so trite that the artistry can’t save it.
        It’s just hard for me to feel sad about the state of animation as some do when you have a year of How to Train Your Dragon 2, Song of the Sea, Tale of Princess Kaguya, The Lego Movie, Boxtrolls, Big Hero 6, Book of Life. That’s such variety both story and artistically speaking. And when you add what we have in the world of television and smaller mediums like youtube or streaming I feel nothing but encouraged.
        I would be thrilled if Disney announced a 2D project because I love it. But if the story wasn’t good then it would just be a gimmick for those with nostalgia for 2D.

      3. And what’s also frustrating to me is how much marketing plays into it . Great movies will get nothing and will be difficult for anyone to see like a Song of the Sea. It gives the impression the public wants things a certain way when in reality they may not even have any other choices available to them.

  3. I think art is in both CG and 2D animation. As you said, it’s about the story. I really, really loved 2D movies, but I won’t judge a movie before seeing it, just because it’s CG.

    1. Totally agree with you! But I guess I was talking to my sister and she likes these long fantasy YA novels that make me nuts. I get so bored with all the world building and mysticism. Just tell a good story where she can be happy with minimal story with a beautiful world she likes being in. Different perspective.

    1. Right! Tough to argue the inherent virtues of your art when you’ve got Adam Sandler in your camp. And hey CG animated Adam Sandler was infinitely better in every way

    1. I totally get that. Art is a very personal thing as far as our tastes. I don’t have a favorite style as far as the art goes. I’ve seen plenty of 2D that looked like crap and CG as well as the reverse. So for me it just depends. It is kind of like I don’t have a preference for watercolor, oils, or acrylics but I do have a preference for individual painters and paintings.

      1. Of course, there will be traditional hand-drawn that will be bad and CG that will be bad and traditional hand-drawn that will be good and CG that will be good.

        But if I had to choose between an amazingly good traditional hand-drawn scene or an amazingly good CG scene, I’ll pick the 2D one.

      2. For me it would just depend on what story I liked best

      3. If it was the exact same story and I had to pick between 2D and CG I’d pick 2D but that’s about the strength of my preference.

  4. I like both styles and I agree that ultimately story is most important to me. But that being said, there are definitely certain movies were the art totally adds to it for me. One of the things that annoys me about some of the CGI is that I feel like the characters start to look similar. Anna and Elsa have similar facial features to Rapunzel. The aunt from Big Hero 6 looks like Mrs. Incredible. I just feel like it starts to lack a little bit of uniqueness. I don’t know much about these things but that may not be from the CGI itself but perhaps more a lack of creativity or using a pre-existing model. Anyway, I adored Princess and the Frog, liked it more than Tangled, because for me it was a great story, had a story female protagonist, was artistically beautiful, and had fun jazz music.

    1. That is a very good point. I think the models for the CG have a similar facial structures which does lead to similar characters.

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