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!


Pixar Review 1: The Adventures of André and Wally B

adventures of wallyWelcome to the start of my new project reviewing all the Pixar films and animated shorts.  The first 5 of these reviews are going to be shorts made by Pixar from 1984 to 1995 release of Toy Story. I have a fondness for these shorts because my uncle Mark used to work for Pixar in their financing department back in 1990ish. One year for Christmas he gave us a VHS tape with some animated shorts made by his company.  It had Luxo Jr, Knick Knack, Tin Toy etc.  I loved watching those shorts and I’ve always felt that I was an early Pixar fangirl well before Toy Story.  How many can say that? 🙂

That said critiquing or analyzing these shorts is tough.  By modern standards they seem crudely drawn and very simple.  For example, most of them are silent films without any dialogue just music.  But we have to consider these shorts were basically tools to help them create the technology that we now have with great CG animation.  In that sense they are not simple and are really quite groundbreaking.

The first short Pixar ever created is called The Adventures of Andre and Wally B.  It is a 2 minute bit about an android (that’s what John Lasseter calls it) named Andre that meets a bee named Wally B.  He distracts said bee and runs through the forest but is eventually outwitted and stung so hard it twists the bees stinger.

Adventures of Andre and Wally B was created by John Lasseter in 1984 when Pixar was a new division of Lucasfilm for a  conference called SIGGRAPH and it feels like something made for a conference, more to show off technology than tell a story.

The big breakthrough in Andre and Wally B is they were able to design a motion blur technology called the motion doctor that allowed for characters to not just be geometric shapes but move in a realistic way that flows.  Lasseter had been working at Disney and was brought on to animate the characters but I really think this short has more of a Looney Tunes feel than Disney with its physical comedy and silent movie feel.

adventures of wally3

What was really interesting in the audio commentary is technical lead Bill Reeves says “In retrospect it’s amazing that John didn’t do a robot.  Where would be today if he had?  Who knows but I’m so glad he didn’t”

So I suppose we can all be grateful for Andre and Wally B because it forced Lasseter to start designing outside of boxes like a robot would have been.  It would take 11 more years to perfect the technology to the level of a feature film but Andre and Wally B got the ball rolling and the creative juices flowing.

I have no idea what grade to give it.  Just enjoy it because it was the first and it is 2 minutes long…

What’s your favorite of these early shorts?  Next up the iconic Luxo!